Somebody wants to buy your art. That’s wonderful! Congratulations! That is the ultimate compliment. They love something you created so much that they want to give you money. Yet, for dozen of reasons, your buyer might flake on you, which results in you not getting paid.
How do you ensure that you get paid for your work? Usually, getting paid is cut and dry, but other times it gets messy, especially if you get commissioned for a piece of art. Here is some advice on how to get paid for your artwork.
Set Clear Monetary Expectations
Putting a price tag on your work can be difficult. It’s understandable. For something that you’ve poured hours, or even days into, you may think it’s priceless, or you may feel a little insecure and think that it’s worthless. At the end of the day though, to sell something, you need to give it a price tag.
If somebody is approaching you for your artwork, they like what they have seen. Whether they want to buy a piece you’ve already created or commission you for something specific, they need to know going in how much it will cost. Approaching the problem with a “Make an Offer” attitude is a bad idea because it makes you seem unsure of yourself. Set a clear price for your work that covers the costs of supplies, properly compensates you for your time, and is reflective of your skills.
Before you ever agree to a project or selling a piece, make sure your buyers understand the final costs, and have a clear explanation of why it costs that much. Nothing turns off a buyer quicker than a surprise when it comes time to pay. If you plan your costs based on how many hours a piece of art took or if the price is more associated with your skill level, have it written out clearly in case they have questions. People who are unfamiliar with how much fine art costs may not understand your price tag. Having it all written out will be handy when potential customers try to haggle the price down or dispute it.
Make A Contract
Contracts make everything more official. Everything from the government to small businesses use them to make an agreement legally binding, so why wouldn’t you? Setting up a legally binding contract may seem daunting, but once you’ve made one, you can make slight changes everytime you sell a piece or are commissioned for a new project.
A binding contract should cover all aspects of your project including:
- How you will be paid
- Payment deadline
- Details about the artwork
- What happens if the buyer backs out or doesn’t like the finished product
- Whether your work is copyrighted or not
- Your return policy
Not only will a contract ensure you get paid, but it will set you up as a professional and encourage your buyer to go through with the purchase. This is especially important if you do a lot of commissions, but it’s also great when selling any of your art. When hundreds to thousands of dollars are involved, having some legal backup is reassuring.
If you sell art through a website, contracts can be done digitally as part of the process of buying your work. This generally requires a buyer to click a digital consent button and you are protected if they refuse to pay or a check bounces. (Note: check out this post for tons of helpful resources: Resources for Writing a Solid Artist Contract)
Scams To Watch For
Depending on where you are selling your work, you might get some less than savory people inquiring after your art. This holds especially true if you post your work on Craigslist or eBay. Anytime somebody wants to buy your art with a non-traditional payment, be highly cautious.
A popular scam right now is to send payment in a money order/cashier check. Once you receive the money order, it will be over what you are charging for the art. The buyer will ask that you send back the money they “overpaid,” usually through a check or wire transfer. The issue is that the money order you received isn’t good and attached to an account with zero money. Your bank will accept a bad money order, but will catch the mistake later, pulling the deposited money out of your account. That means never accept money orders or cashier checks, especially if they overpaid!
Another common one you might see is trading other goods for your artwork. This includes trading with electronics, furniture, other artwork, and jewelry. You might think you are getting a good deal by trading for something only to discover it’s broken or a fake. Stick to legal tender or use online services like PayPal.
There are also scams when it comes to commissions. Someone might approach you wanting to hire you for a piece of art, and ask for personal information for “tax purposes.” They may be posing as a business looking to beautify their office with your art. Scammers want your private information like your social security info, bank information, and whatever information they think they can get. Then they steal your identity and rack up thousands of dollars of debt in your name. Do your research on the business to make sure they are legitimate and be careful with giving out information. Unless they set you up as a contractor with a 1099 form, a buyer shouldn’t need any information from you.
Never Give Them The Finished Piece Until You Get Paid
Occasionally, you may get in a situation where your buyer refuses to pay until they have the painting in their possession. These situations are the worst, because if they don’t like the work, you don’t get paid. Do all you can to avoid these type of circumstances.
Yet, no matter how hard you try, desperation and promises of piles of money may force your hand. Be prepared to feel like the kidnapper in a hostage negotiation, holding the art ransom, because you don’t want to hand it over without first getting the duffle bag filled with cash and an escape helicopter with enough fuel to get across the border.
If your customer demands to see the art before paying, send them a few different pictures of the art that highlights the positives. That way, they can see the finished product, but don’t have it in their possession. From there, you can demand payment and hand over the art once you safely have it in your bank account.
You can also use an escrow service. This is where you send a trusted company your art and the buyer sends over the payment. The escrow company then ships the art and payment at the same time to make sure nobody gets stiffed. Just be careful to use a legitimate one as there are some scammy or fake escrow sites designed to steal from the unaware.
What Happens After You’ve Been Stiffed
Sadly, you might get stiffed. You might have a painting of a family that you can’t sell to anyone else, so it will awkwardly sit in your room, too valuable to you to throw out, but not valuable to anybody else. It might be that a painting you spent days working on went out to a buyer, only you never got paid for it. If you have a contract with the customer, you can pursue legal actions to ensure you get paid, but without one you’re kind of dead in the water.
Take some time to reflect on why you aren’t getting paid. Were there any red flags about the buyer you missed? Was this art your best work? What could you have done differently? Once you have figured out what happened, make plans to prevent it from happening again.
What are you doing to make sure you get paid? Have you ever been scammed when selling your art? Share your experiences below and help educate other artists.
About Today’s Guest Blogger: As a freelance writer, Ben Allen understands some of the trials artists face when looking to sell their art. He enjoys bringing his expertise to others and helping them not make the same mistakes he’s made. He also writes about working as a freelancer, running a small business, effective digital marketing practices and occasionally geeks out about video games. You can follow him on Twitter to read more of his work.