I think there are a few steps to get through before you even think about doing custom orders. If you have a great product and people hear about you, they are going to eventually want to use your services and not simply buy what you have in stock. It can be a good problem because that means that what you are doing is valuable and people are willing to trust you and pay you to create something specialized.
BUT and yes, it’s in a caps – you need to make sure that you know your craft. That means practice and be comfortable with every step. Start by selling your wares and get feedback from those customers. Secondly, pay attention to your craftsmanship. These things are so important because once you take on doing a custom piece you want to a)have the confidence that you will be able to complete it well b)not mess up the piece because you now have someone you are accountable to.
Once you start your custom orders you are really no longer the boss. You now have a boss and that person is your client. That means that you need to make sure they are happy at the end of the day. Where it gets tricky is making sure you set expectations.
1. Cost Estimate
2. Time frame
4. Options (if applicable)
Cost Estimate & Time frame. I think it’s important for everyone involved if you give an estimate on cost and time. This takes some number crunching on your end as you come up with the appropriate cost for the size project you are delivering. The bigger and more time intensive piece, the greater the cost. Of course when dealing with furniture, that’s not straight forward either because you must consider any detail work (example: painting an interior a different color, etc).
Then there is YOUR TIME SPENT. I must admit that I am not diligent in charging for my time. When starting your creative business I think you need to put in the hours necessary. Then as you gain momentum you can really start to charge for your time. I’m still of a mindset that I want to be really nice and fair. My DT (Dear Therapist) would then ask me if I was being “nice and fair” to myself. Ah, we all have things to work on, don’t we?
Style & Options. Another important thing to consider is not giving your client too many choices. Offer what is do-able in your time-frame and what you are comfortable accomplishing. Do not try anything new or fancy! It’s too much pressure and you may not be able to deliver and everyone will feel badly in the end.
Stay true to what you do. For example, I am not a girl that loves the color orange. If I’m asked to paint in a color that really doesn’t fit who I am or what my brand is I don’t really feel it’s wise to accept the project. You need to maintain the integrity of what your business is and that may be turning down business sometimes if it just doesn’t fit with your image. It’s okay and it’s the right decision.
Pitfalls. There always are pitfalls along the way. If something goes wrong as things tend to do sometimes the answer is communication. For example, the secretary above had some sort of stain on the wood tainting it a bit red. I had no control over this. It sometimes happens with certain pieces and certainly a lighter color like the Old White will make this bleed through a bit. It was not in my control, but what was was me communicating to my client and make sure she knew what was going on. Do not simply wait for the delivery and then explain. Keep the client in the process and that will make a happy relationship and hopefully repeat business for you.
You should feel honored that someone trusts you enough to pay you to do something specialized. Think about yourself though and make sure you want to before you offer it. Custom orders can almost double your time because of the interaction with the client and the extra care you will want to spend with the project. Good luck!