Navigating Custom Orders for Your Handmade Business

Navigating_Custom_Orders

Navigating the waters of custom orders for your handmade business can sometimes be tricky, but it’s also a great way to boost sales and establish deeper connections with your customers. I’ve been offering custom orders for more than 4 years, and I know first hand both the struggles and satisfaction of creating personalized and unique tshirts for all sorts of occasions. Maybe you’ve received inquiries for your own business asking for a variation in a product you already offer? Today I’ll be sharing some tips that will allow smooth sailing in the custom order process while providing a buying experience that will keep them coming back for more.

First and foremost, approach custom orders as a customer collaboration. I’m working, not for, but along with my customer to create a unique design that fits their requests but also keeping in mind my own limitations.

Two important things you must do:

  1. Ask questions and set clear boundaries. 
  2. Be sure to cover the details (colors, sizes, design features, deadlines, costs)
Print by jaredauble

You’ll undoubtedly get a strange request (or two.) People assume because I sew clothing, I can make anything- or that I’ll put anything on a tshirt. If I had a nickle for every time I’ve been asked to recreate a trademarked character… (I won’t.) This is why it’s smart to have a clear set of custom order guidelines posted in your policies and/or shop listings. I’ve learned that just because I “can” make a requested item doesn’t mean I “should.” 

Next verify that details and specifications are correct- if everything is in order set up a listing or invoice directly. Include the whole design specification in the description. (Remember to protect your customers privacy, remove any personal information like names, addresses etc from the listing description) Be clear about what happens once they place their order. Don’t begin work until you’ve received payment in full. I’m aware that some are apprehensive about charging for a product before its made. You don’t have to ask for all the money before you start, but a partial payment of 50% is more than acceptable.

 As you’re completing the order it is vital to keep the lines of communication open, why not update a work in progress? You can do this on your social media outlets and email customer saying, “Hey Kate! Having fun working on your order & just shared a peek of it on my facebook page!” (include link) Once you’ve finished send another photograph and let them know their package is on it way. If for any reason you’re unable to produce the item within the time frame promise let them know.

In a nutshell:

  1. Make sure everything is very clear, specified up front.
  2. Get payment in advance.
  3. Deliver when you say you will.
  4. Communicate with your customer.

I can not stress the importance of your shop policies when it comes to custom orders. I’ve had the privilege of shipping my TrashN2Tees products around the world and more than 65% of my orders are custom made. I’m honored each and every time I get a request, I feel like it’s a direct invitation to their celebrations. Also understand that there may come a time when fulfilling custom orders is more work than it’s worth for your business. Know that is okay reply to any future custom order requests with a simple, “Sorry, I am not accepting custom orders at this time. Thanks for your interest!”

What are your tips or experiences with selling custom work?

  • http://www.peetswea.com/ Kristi

    Such wonderful advice Jenelle! I have found that custom orders produce some of my most favorite results. I think that creating with a specific person in mind gives me an extra boost.

    I especially like your comment that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should! I’ve fallen into that trap a time or two.

  • http://onegirlcircus.com Karen

    Custom orders are almost my entire business! I love making a client’s dream come true: whether by making their favorite garment to wear, or by making something that shows off their fabric designs. I love how you call it a collaborative process. At best, it truly is. I have learned also, to not take on custom orders until I’ve had an actual conversation (via phone, in person,etc.) because email-only conversation can lead to misunderstandings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/littlebellies Karen Cunningham

    It’s funny, I’m planning to introduce some custom variations to my products soon, and I’m struggling to feel I have a good balance between the fact that I started the business to make things exactly how I want them, but also to offer customers a better product. Does the time that might go into a custom order pay off? I’ll pop back here and learn from others. 🙂 http://www.facebook.com/belliesdinnerware

    • Jenelle Montilone

      Hi Karen! One thing I’ve learned is that as your business grows and evolves so do your products and offerings- and it’s okay! Here’s a really great link that might better help you managing your custom options. http://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2012/ten-tips-for-managing-custom-orders/

      Custom orders do take longer than others, you’ll have to account for additional communications (several times), setting up new listing or invoice, and producing the product- but it’s been my experience that people are willing to pay more for this service.

  • Jennie

    My business is fueled by custom orders as well – custom doll orders. I find the only drawback to this is the extra cost of having to have all the materials my customers might request on hand. Other than that, it doesn’t take much more time for me to make a custom doll as a ready-to-ship one, and I get a lot more business by offering this service (probably 90% of my doll orders are for custom made dolls). Thanks for the article!
    http://www.wildmarigold.etsy.com

  • http://twitter.com/Stitchknit Stitchknit

    Just received a custom order this AM, the 2nd from the same client. Love the custom work, but I agree, it is impossible for me to have all the materials on hand. So, I end up doing some retail purchasing, which makes me a bit cranky, but I can’t see a good way around it.
    I am so grateful for digital cameras, as I send pics throughout the custom order process. First one is to OK the color choices & materials….before I start in. I love getting the ‘go ahead’ email after a client has seen the options……extra confirmation never hurts!

  • http://twitter.com/TrashN2Tees Jenelle Montilone

    If you’re interested in reading more about my own customer collaborations, I just shared a post The Stories Behind the Tees http://www.trashn2tees.blogspot.com/2013/05/customer-collaborations-stories-behind.html

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