Here are my six tips to hopefully make reaching out to a designer less intimidating.
Search around and approach someone whose work you like, and who already does something similar.
Firstly, there's a practical skill side. If you have an idea for a skull encrusted gold ring, you should probably approach someone who makes rings, rather than say, someone who makes festival crowns. Unless they make gold skull encrusted ones, in which case, there may be a cross over they are happy to try out!
Secondly there's a style side. If you have an idea for a complex gold skull encrusted ring, you probably shouldn't be approaching someone who only ever makes simple rings covered in flowers and birds. Unless you want to incorporate their style into yours, and get skulls, flowers and birds.
The worst that happens is they say that they don't do commissions, or don't have that skill, or can't right now, and usually they'll point you to someone else who probably can help you.
Have a budget in mind.
Don't worry about asking what the possible price will be at your first enquiry. For a commission piece expect to pay a little more than a ready made item, as the designer needs to spend time in discussion with you, time creating concepts, and some materials may need to be specially bought in. Be prepared for a vague starting quote if you are asking for something the designer hasn't done before, as they'll need time to work out the details, and provide a more precise cost along the way.
Also don't be afraid to say up front if you have what you feel is a limited budget, a good designer will help work to that, and would rather know sooner, than have you abandon the project midway! The worst that happens is they say they can't work to that budget, and suggest another designer, offer an alternative, or help you to understand the true cost you need to save up for your dream piece.
You can be as precise or vague as you like, but be prepared to adapt.
The two big things to bear in mind are:
1. Don't ever commission something which rips off someone else's work.
2. The designer might need to tweak your dream idea because of practical details. The skull encrusted gold ring you want may not be possible with a band that delicate, your vision might need adapting to become a real physical object.
Ask about the process.
If you aren't sure what to expect, be it paying a deposit, drawings, mock ups, email or phone calls, studio visits... just ask and most good designers will be very happy to clarify before you agree to work together.
Don't feel obliged, but please do be kind and honest, and meet agreed costs.
You may go through a couple of redesigns, and still not be happy. You may even pay extra, to get more designs than are included in the standard process. And still, it's not right for you. It's totally valid to explain to the designer at this stage that you would rather not proceed.
Now, there is the very slight chance that you don't want to go ahead with your commission because you feel the designer didn't clearly cost things out at the start and now you're being told it'll cost more than you can afford, or because you're increasingly upset at their customer service in some way. Different reasons can crop up. Be honest and factual in your feedback, as that feedback is what helps a designer get better at their business.
Remember that they have put a lot more time and energy than you probably expect into this, maybe bought materials to work with, and it's perhaps about two different opinions, rather than solid facts.
Remember that you may not have your deposit returned, or may be asked for a part payment, depending on the terms and conditions you've agreed to. The designer has still been working for you!
Do let me know if you are taking the leap and going to look for someone whose ability and style seems right, and, conversely, if you're still holding back, comment below - I might be able to help debunk some myths and settle some worries!