Working Your Way Through a Custom Order
Artisans in the handmade world are often approached in person or online by prospective customers who want something that you have, only different. The custom order is born! Custom orders are a wonderful way to expand your business, and many artisans already invite custom orders. But what happens when you get one?
Perhaps the hardest part of a custom order is getting the picture out of the customer’s head and into yours. We all communicate every day and take it for granted that we all are speaking the same language.
I know you think you understood what I just said,
but what you heard was not what I meant!
Nailing Down the Details
Take my cartoon… how long is “longer?” Or another favorite, “I’d like this in red.” Red Delicious Apple Red? Fire engine red? Barn red? Raspberry red? American Flag red? What color is red? Communication with your customer is key. Ask lots and lots of questions, exchange emails, even pictures to make sure that you understand what is in the customer’s mind. I’ve gone so far as to put yarn in my scanner, scanned it at a high resolution, and emailed it to the customer with the note, “like this?”
Determine a Price
Once you’ve worked through the details, you’ll need to quote a price. It’s certainly okay to quote a price that’s identical to a similar item which already exists, but don’t cut yourself short. If the custom order is different from the original item, you may have design/development time in this custom item, meaning it should be more expensive. And in the cartoon example, you’ll need more parts to make the custom earrings longer. Be sure to quote a price that reflects these things.
When you’ve settled on a price, be sure to state in that same communication what the non-refundable deposit will be. This is so important, and many times it gets completely overlooked. It’s not safe to assume that the person placing the custom order will follow through. The non-refundable deposit protects you from a complete loss. It can be a percentage of the total, or your best guess on what your material costs will be for the project. And by agreeing to this condition, the customer makes a monetary commitment to follow through.
The Custom Order Contract
In your communication stating the price and payment terms, it’s also a good idea to quote a completion date on the item. This gives the customer confidence that you will deliver, and also gives you a target date so you can plan.
It’s incredibly important in this communication to clearly state that there will be shipping charges in addition to the item price. You don’t want to surprise your customer later with a request for more money than you originally quoted. So your “business” email might look something like this:
This is a custom order for one hand knit baby blanket, measuring 32 inches square, knitted with variegated lavender yarn in a wave pattern. Total price on this item will be $60, plus shipping charges, to be determined upon completion. There will be a non-refundable deposit of $30 prior to beginning this blanket. The remaining $30 plus shipping charges will be due upon completion. Blanket will be completed no more than two weeks after receiving the deposit.
Collecting the Deposit
Even on a small, relatively quick custom order, be sure to give the customer progress reports. From the buyer’s perspective, there may be nothing worse than parting with their money and hearing nothing further. Keep those lines of communication open, even if it’s just a short note … Thanks for the speedy payment. I thought you might like to see a picture of all the pieces that go into your item. You may not even get a response, leaving you wondering if it was even received or read. It’s all part of great customer service, which certainly doesn’t end with the exchange of money.
Custom Order Complete!
Once the item is finished, you’ll need to contact your customer again to secure the balance due and the shipping charges. By all means, this communication should include a beautiful picture of the finished piece. As with the deposit, a direct invoice or item listing works to give the customer a way to remit the payment.
Once that payment has been received and the item is shipped, be sure to send the buyer a thank you note including any tracking numbers which may be relevant to the shipment. A custom order gives you a unique opportunity to bond with a customer. If the customer feels ‘special,’ they’ll be back again!
And What if it Goes Wrong?
This is earth and nothing is perfect. Perhaps the customer changed their mind 50 times since the deposit was received and now the item should be twice as expensive. Maybe life got in the way, and you no longer can deliver as promised. Perhaps the item has been received by the customer and it’s not what they thought they wanted.
If at some point it becomes apparent that the custom order just isn’t ever going to be completed, you’ll need to have a ‘no blame’ discussion with the customer. Strangely enough, life-long customer relationships can be established by handling a bad situation well on your part. This is one of those times when a lot of forethought on presentation will pay dividends in the end. If the issues are on your end, it’s always a good idea to refund the customer’s deposit (even though it was supposedly non-refundable). If the issues are on the customer’s side, go out of your way not to demean them. Try to understand that life presents obstacles that change everyone’s plan at some point and try to find a amenable solution for both sides.
Custom orders can increase your sales, help you build long-term relationships and expand your inventory. If handled carefully and thoroughly, they can be a wonderful creative experience.
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