Artisans, the SCA, Regalia, and RFP’s
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I posted on Facebook the beginnings of this blog post just a few days ago and it was so well received, that I thought I would expand it and share it here. Expanded it from the many suggestions and comments on the original post, I would like to thank all of my friends who discussed this and make suggestions.
As an artisan, when asked to create a proposal for regalia, I normally have a conversation similar to the following.
Group representative: “We want you to send us ideas for [regalia type].”
Me: “Do you have any budget, ideas of what you want or requirements you can give me?”
Group representative: “What? No. Just send us some ideas.”
Me: “So you have not got a budget, ideas of what is needed or required for the project?”
Group representative: “No.”
Me: “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
So, this sounds pretty bad, and it is. This is a guaranteed way to end a conversation with an artisan.
As an artisan, we get vague requests all of the time. Asking an artisan to spend hours of their time drawing, sketching, planning, pricing, and writing a proposal that is 95% certain to be ignored or dismissed for any number of reasons is to say the least, not very polite. (In my case as a jeweler, this runs from 4 to 20 hours depending on the project.)
I want to state up front that I am a jeweler and as such my advice will come from that viewpoint. Other artisans who use different types of media will have slightly different questions and requirements.
I have had many conversations about making regalia and at some point, I will ask if I can be provided with a Request for Proposal (RFP) and received a blank look in return. Because of this, I am sharing this information as a sample “Request for Proposal” to be used by groups when asking artisans to submit bids for regalia.
What is a Request for Proposal?
I should probably clarify what an RFP is. You can go online and find some very long and professional definitions that are several pages long. There are people who make careers of writing and helping others write Requests for Proposals. But as the SCA is a volunteer organization, I will use my short (And I hope accurate) definition.
In my definition, an RFP allows a group to do 3 things
1. ask for proposals from artisans
2. Collect offers from various artisans
3. Select the artist that best meets their criteria, both in regards to skill and budget.
As an artist, I translate this as follows:
• We want something. Let’s ask people if they can make it for us and what will it cost.
• Can you make this and what would it cost?
• This artist has a good design, it fits our budget, let’s ask them to make it for us.
To begin, lets get to the basics of what to know when you are considering a project that will involve artisans.
• Many times, the group requesting items have no idea of the cost of an item. Some inquiries should be made so you can have a rough ballpark of a realistic budget to begin with. Find groups who have similar styles of regalia and ask them what it cost to make.
• Materials for a project can run from a less than the cost of a happy meal, to hundreds of dollars. Be aware of this when budgeting. Materials can make or break a project, but using the cheapest materials available can lead to a project that does look as good as it can, not wear well, and needs replaced sooner than later.
• Hourly labor for the work of an artisan should NEVER be less than $15 an hour. $20 or $30 is a pretty standard hourly rate in the SCA. You can ask for a lower hourly rate but know that the hourly labor rate quoted by many in the SCA is already heavily discounted.
• Please do not ask for an artisan to donate materials or labor. If they so choose, they will. But do not count on it or ask. It is rude.
Telling an artisan that they should donate to the project because it will be “Great Exposure” is like the Nike slogan in reverse. “Just Don’t Do It”.
• Most artisans expect 50% down of the quoted amount, non-refundable to begin work on a project. This protects them from doing work and having to foot the bill for the entire project if something goes south.
• Most proposals are not exact. Expect the quoted amount to vary by as much as 10% higher or lower at the conclusion and delivery of the project. Any time the costs go over 10%, the project should be stopped and the proposal reviewed.
This is what I like to know before I decide to spend hours sketching and writing an RFP. These suggestions are my opinion, and as such may not work for all projects.
Writing the RFP
To begin with, you should have your group answer these questions. If you answer these and PUBLISH THEM, you will have a better chance of receiving proposals from artisans as they will have a framework to work within.
These will be part of the information and questions shared in your RFP.
- Will there be a Regalia Committee making decisions?
- What regalia item are you looking for?
- Why are you looking for this regalia item?
- What is the expected budget for this project?
- How many bids would you like?
- What additional financial information needs to be shared?
- Have the estimated funds been put aside?
- Who is the project contact?
- What is the postal address, email, and phone number of the contact?
- Who is the backup contact for the project?
- What is the time frame for gathering proposals for this project?
- Will there be a period of sending feedback to the artists for further updates to the proposals? And if so, what are those dates?
- Will there be a period where the populace can comment?
- What is the expected date that artisans will be notified that their proposals have, or have not, been accepted?
- What is the expected delivery date of the regalia items?
- Project suggestions.
- Project requirements (rigorous travel schedule, color fastness, size, material types, design motifs that must be or not used, flame retardant, air travel, etc.).
- Are there any additional notes for the artisans to be aware of?
- Do the artisans need to include examples of their previous work.
Notes for the artisans
keep receipts and get EVERYTHING in writing. No verbal agreements, no handshakes, no “I’ll pay ya when I get the item”. EVERYTHING IN WRITING. No exceptions.
Document every step and conversation. copy every conversation into a word document if it is not verbal. iWhen you speak with people, take notes, with the name of person spoken with, date, subject, place conversation happened.
In a perfect world, you will never need to refer to these notes.
All payments should be by check, money order, or funds transfer. No cash ever. Period. Please do not ask the group to pay cash. As the SCA is a 501(c)3 Educational Not-for-Profit organization, this should not be an issue as we need to track every purchase to maintain our tax status.
This post is not aimed at anyone who gathers together with others to make items for their group. The SCA (in my experience of over 3 decades) is about teaching and learning. I for one am happy to have people come over to my shop and work on projects. for themselves, others, or the group. That is a teaching opportunity. This post is about how best for groups to ask for professional services from artisans.
About the SCA:
Mission Statement: The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is an international non-profit volunteer educational organization. The SCA is devoted to the research and re-creation of pre-seventeenth century skills, arts, combat, culture, and employing knowledge of history to enrich the lives of participants through events, demonstrations, and other educational presentations and activities.