If you run a creative business it is highly likely that you have been asked to complete a custom item for someone.
It is an exhilarating feeling when you are asked and it is easy to jump straight in with all of your enthusiasm. It is a wonderful thing to find a customer willing to put the time, money, and trust into what you love.
However, there are a lot of potential pitfalls for the new maker. In order to make the experience smooth, professional, and enjoyable for both you and your customer, there are a number of important steps to the process that you need to consider.
Often a customer will be inspired by what you make. It may be the materials, colours, design, or respect for your craft. Being commissioned to create for someone is an honour.
A possible hurdle is, of course, the vision. What the customer sees in their mind and explains to you will never be exactly the same as what you see and how you hear their explanation. If it is a colour change for example it is much easier to discuss. A whole new design can be very difficult.
It’s important to get the vision locked down into reality as much as you can before you start making. This might mean sketches, dimensions, exact raw materials, etc.
Always be realistic with your ability. Don’t make any promises you may not be able to keep. The final plans must be achievable.
How much time will it take? (It is very easy to underestimate this!) Can you source the materials? There is lots to think about so ensure you are honest with your customer about these aspects.
Once the details are decided it is very important to ask for a deposit prior to starting work.
Depending on your craft this can be any amount up to 50% of the agreed sale price. The purpose of this deposit is to cover the cost of materials and the bulk of your time.
It should be agreed that this deposit is non refundable.
You need to cover your costs regardless of the outcome. You may lose contact, they may change their minds, they may be unhappy or they may never make the final payment. This deposit covers you and your business from any loss.
I know this may sound harsh but it is a smart business decision and the right customer will understand that. The payment of the deposit also lets you know they are serious about the purchase which is wonderful news, and allows you to go ahead with the commission.
This does not need to be a largely detailed or legal document.
The purpose of this is to outline the basic details that both you and the customer agree on.
Price, timeline, design details, quantity, size, deposit details are all great examples of basic policies to be included in an agreement. Having all these details in black and white prevents any possible confusion during the process.
Communication is very important. The customer will be anticipating the completion and so keeping them updated through the process is vital to keeping them happy, cared for, and engaged.
It’s also exciting to be able to share the progress. Email some photos and really share the experience. Importantly if you need to change anything, or you need a little more time always let your customer know in advance.
One of the most exciting moments of your creative biz is when you finish a commission.
Usually it comes with mixed emotions of excitement and nerves as you doubt yourself (as most creatives do in this part of the process!) while also feeling proud.
Make sure you collect remaining payment as written in your agreement prior to delivery, deliver with love and care, and of course celebrate your achievement!
Custom orders can result in a time-consuming and challenging process, but if done right it is a very rewarding aspect to your creative business.