Negotiating Custom Orders

Part Two Of The Commission Process

A rainbow moonstone wrapped in copper wire. It has a tribal, viking like look that includes horns, chainmail, herkimer diamonds, moonstone beads, and wrapped copper links.
Completed Custom: Savage Femininity

Last week we talked about the beginning of the process for taking commissions: How To Price Your Product. This week we will focus on the actual process, from negotiating the terms to order completion.

The first time someone asks you to create a custom for them it can be an overwhelmingly joyous event that leaves you feeling flattered, eager to please, and forgetful of setting boundaries and guidelines. You might feel as though you are unable to say “No” to any portion of their request out of fear of losing the sale. You may also feel lost, and unsure of how to proceed.

Every creator approaches this process differently and there are a variety of factors to take into consideration that may make your process different from others such as: the type of work you do, how much creative freedom you want to retain, material costs, project due date, and many others. It is important to consider things that are unique to you, and develop a system that fits YOUR needs.


What Is The Project?

The first thing I like to do is assess my client's needs and wants, and compare them with my skills and abilities. I encourage the client to provide pictures if they can, to illustrate any specifics they are requesting. This is the time to ask as many questions as you can to determine what they want. They may not be able to put what they want into concise words. It will be up to you to ask questions until you feel you have a sense of what they desire. Use this conversation to attempt to shape and guide their choices towards options that fit your skill set.

Once you feel you have an understanding of what your customer wants, you need to consider, very truthfully, if you feel it is within your capabilities to bring their vision to life in a way that does it justice. Ask yourself:

  • Is this something I have made before or is it similar to items I have made before?

  • Can I make this item with supplies I have on hand?

  • How many hours might this project take me to complete if I were to sit down and work on it nonstop?

  • How long might I realistically need to finish this project given my other daily obligations?

  • Does this project require me to take time before hand to practice a new skill? And if so, how much extra time might I need to do so?


How Soon Do You Need It?

Presumably you have now decided if you possess the skills required, and are ready to move on to the next step: Setting the deadline.

Your customer may or may not need their order by a certain date. You need to assess the amount of work needed, and realistically determine if you can finish by the time needed. Make sure you account for the possibility of unforeseen delays. You can never know what might go wrong, but you can add extra time to your estimate just in case something happens. Your customer will appreciate getting their item on time, and may be impressed if you finish early.

Sometimes your customer may tell you that they do not need their item by any specific date, but you should still set a deadline for yourself. If you leave the deadline open, it's easy to be tempted to put it off, and delay beyond a professional point. Your customer might have told you they did not have a specific date, but they do still expect a realistic turnaround. If you have to order items to complete their project, make sure you communicate that ahead of time so they know to expect delays based on the speed of the mail service.


How Much Will It Cost?

So now we know what we need, and when we need it. We have a rough idea of how many hours of work it will take us to complete. We have a rough estimate of the materials needed to complete our project. This is where we use everything we learned in the previous blog post: How To Price Your Product.

It's a good rule of thumb to make sure you tell your customer that your price is an estimate only, based on how much material you actually use, and the actual amount of labor you put into the project. Make your estimate on the high side to be safe, and let your customer know how many hours of work you estimate the project will take. Reassure them that you promise to work as quickly and efficiently as possible, and if you finish in less time than estimated, then you will adjust the price appropriately. It's important that your customer can have faith in you, so make sure you do your best to work quickly and efficiently without sacrificing quality.


Nonrefundable Deposit Required

The ballpark price is agreed on, and you're ready to get to work! Not so fast though! It's time to ask for a deposit to cover the cost of your work and secure their commitment to the order. There's nothing worse than finishing a piece to your customers specifications only to have them flake out and not pay. If you make sure you get a nonrefundable deposit up front, you can at least make sure that any materials used on this project have been covered, so that you haven't wasted your supplies.

I like to use the inventory sheet that I linked you to in last week's blog post to figure out my deposit. (That sheet was updated to fix an error. Make sure you have the most current version) I just input the estimated cost of the materials and my estimated labor, and then tend to go with a price that is 1/3 of the estimated total. This will make sure that my supplies are covered, and that I get at least a small amount for my invested time.

A nonrefundable deposit should only be refundable if you fail to deliver the product at all, or you deliver something that is not what the client asked for. To avoid these situations, be sure to clarify your terms and conditions up front, and check in with progress pictures at major milestones so your client can request changes while changes are still possible.


Do The Work

The deposit has been paid. Time to start the work. If you are like most people, you have a life outside of crafting, and that life does not care if you are busy working on a paid project.

You need to keep track of the time you work on your project, and the simplest way to do this is to use a stopwatch, or a stopwatch app. Start the timer running as soon as you start actually working on the project. If you stop to feed the kids, or go to the bathroom, or have a smoke, make sure you stop that clock. Keep track of how much time you spend working on a project. If you have to start over and redo a large chunk of work because of an error on your part, don't time how long it takes you to fix your mistake. That was your error and it is not right to charge your customer for that. However, if the customer requests the change, then keep the clock running.

A rainbow moonstone wrapped in copper wire, with copper wire weaving.
Incorrectly set stone

I once had a piece that I had poured about 3+ hours into, only to discover I had wrapped the rainbow moonstone upside down, and it was not catching the light they way it should. I cut it apart and started over. Once I reached the previous point I had stopped at, I started the clock again. After all, your customer deserves the best you have to give.


Ready For The Final Payment

Now that your project is done, take a moment to take some quality pictures of your completed project to send to your customer for final approval. Include the final estimated price as well. You can use the spreadsheet mentioned earlier to figure out your actual total price. Remember to deduct the deposit from the final sale price. This is the final amount due.

Once your customer approves the completed work, send them an invoice for the final amount. Not only does an invoice look professional, but it is a great way to keep track of the work you have done. Money transfer services such as PayPal will often have built in protection for buyers and sellers, making using invoices preferable to using their free friends and family services.

If you have to ship your product, don't forget to include the cost of shipping with tracking and insurance when you send your invoice. Once your invoice has been paid, AND the payment has cleared (do not send the item as long as the payment still shows pending), go ahead and and ship the finished product. Make sure you package it well to prevent damage in transit. Remember, the post office is extremely over worked and they tend to chuck packaged around. Make sure your package can survive being hurled like a football!

Make sure you remember to upload tracking if your payment service allows for it. Some services, like PayPal, require the tracking in order for you to qualify for seller protection. If you have some where for your client to leave you feedback, include a reminder on nice handwritten note thanking them for their purchase. Don't be offended if they forget to leave feedback. Most people only feel motivated to leave feedback when they are really unhappy.


Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Have you found this article useful? Please leave a comment! I'd love to hear about your experiences!

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