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    Crickets to Cha-Chings Episode 011

    Custom Orders - Should you do them?

    Custom Orders on Etsy - should you do them? How to best use your time to make custom orders work for your business.

    Hey guys and welcome to another episode of Crickets to Cha-Chings. I am so sorry that I am getting this up a few days late this week, as many of you know I just open the doors last week to my signature program Etsy Roadmap to Success. So I have been super busy getting those 70ish students loaded up in the system and ready to dive into that program this week. 

    As I’m sure you can imagine, it was a hectic little bit for me, and I just didn’t get quite far enough ahead to have a podcast episode ready to go Monday morning. BUT here we are now, and I’m excited about today’s episode. 

    Today we are going to talk all about custom listings

    • if you should take them

    • how you should take them

    • how to make sure they're going to be profitable for your shop

    • how not to get in too deep and really regret taking on that custom work for a customer.

    If you've been selling on Etsy for any length of time, you probably had a customer or two that has asked for a custom request or for you to change up the details of a product that you already have listed in your shop in order to make it more custom for what they're looking for.

    So you may be wondering if this is really good idea or if this is a road that you should go down especially if you're a new shop owner and you don't even have a full shop worth of products or your kind of debating  what did she want to sell in and what kind of product offerings do you want to have.

    Should you take on custom requests in your shop? 

    My overarching answer to the question to sum it up in one word is YES, you should definitely take custom requests. And here’s why - Especially if you are a newer seller or you don't have a really defined niche of products that you're carrying and you’re sort of debating still what kind of customers are trying to appeal to and what kind of products your brand is going to carry, listening to your customers and listening to what they are wanting from you in the products that they are looking for from your shop can be invaluable information as you move forward as a seller.

    So we’re going to move forward in this episode with that assumption - that taking custom orders is a great idea as you build your business, but that you also want to make sure that they are going to work for you and for your vision for your brand.

    There’s a few things we want to keep in mind as we are discussing a custom order with a potential customer, because while I do think they are a wonderful idea for new shop owners and a great way to grow your sales and your product lines, it shouldn’t be a blanket “I take any custom request that anyone every puts in front of me.” There are limits to what is valuable to you as the seller and owner of your shop, so you want to make sure that the custom order is mutually beneficial.

    The first thing I would advise you to think about is whether or not this item will sell again.

    Sometimes that is a little bit hard to know, especially if you are brand new to the platform. But there are also times that a customer requests something so so very specific to their personal tastes or their specific room design or something that it's just I'm going to have a wide mass appeal. 

    I ran into this when I was a newer seller with very custom burp cloths that I was making. There were times that someone would ask me for something, like a burp cloth design with a turquoise and yellow lightning bug design on it, and I just knew that it probably would never sell again. It just didn’t have a broad enough audience or a wide enough appeal to the average person that was buying nursery items to be a bestseller in my shop.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t do the custom request. I did, and made the ultimately very cute burp cloth set for the customer.

    But I made sure when I was pricing it that my costs for the design and any extra fabric that I was purchasing was covered. I had to buy a specific embroidery file for that lightning bug design, and I passed on the cost of that file to the customer because even though I kept the file in my shop, the set never sold again. And while the file was only a few dollars, maybe like $2-3, I wanted to make sure that was not a cost that I was absorbing in the cost of my burp cloth set.

    In contrast to that, there are times that buyers will ask for something specific and I know (or think) that it probably will be an item that will sell again. 

    When that is the case, there are times that I do not pass those additional costs on to the customers because I do think that I will probably get good use out of the custom design and I won't have a problem recouping be additional costs. 

    But that's always a risk that I take and at this point I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of what's going to sell and what's not going to sell, so I'm a little bit more comfortable doing that. 

    In the beginning I would definitely recommend passing those costs on to the customer, because if they want you to make something that is totally custom and they have a really specific idea in mind of what they're wanting, they probably are going to mind paying extra for that for you to be able to produce what they have envisioned. 

    The next tip I have for custom orders is to make the custom order work for you.

    Custom orders can be a huge source of new ideas or a way to change up your offerings and offer something new without having to create examples or prototypes for free. But you have to make sure that you are utilizing them so that you can reuse the design and the idea after that one order is created. 

    After making up a custom listing, I always take a picture of it for marketing purposes and list it in my shop as an option. 

    All of my items are made to order, so people are able to change each detail of it, and some of my most popular listings have been a custom order or a variation on a custom order. 

    Often times, someone will want me to create a custom set, and then someone else will want something changed on that set, and then it takes off and becomes widely popular. I don’t have a pulse on every single thing that is popular in my industry, so I can gauge the popularity of different themes by how often I get asked about them for custom orders.

    Some people get kind of weird about doing this in their shop -- as if they are stealing the buyer’s idea and using it for their own gain. But there’s no reason to feel that way. 

    Even with very specific things, like let’s say you create pet portraits and people send you pictures of their pets and you paint them, you can use that as a listing in your shop and an example of what you’re able to create for your customers. In that example, I would probably add verbiage into your policies that states that all items are subject to being used again as an example, posted on Instagram, etc. and you may want to run it by the customer just to make sure they aren’t going to pitch a fit about you posting it on the internet, but you always want to make sure that those custom listings are going to work for you in the future.

    My next tip about custom orders is more of a personal preference, but in my experience it has been true almost 100% of the time.

    I avoid people who have very precise, super clear and very detailed pictures of what they are wanting for their custom order

    (especially if they have trouble communicating those very clear ideas to you, and/or you are not in an industry where it is possible for you to give a proof of the final product before creating).
    I know this sounds awful, but I never take custom orders from people who are super ridiculously specific about what they are looking. 

    Perhaps it is the debbie downer in me, but I feel like if someone has THAT clear of an idea of what they want, there is no way that they will be happy with what create - kind of like they are setting me up for failure because there’s no way for me to read their mind and then create something that is an exact match for what they were envisioning. And I don’t want to take that risk - that I am going to spend all this time and effort to create something that they aren’t going to ultimately be happy with.

    Same goes for someone that is trying to match a particular item — I can do my best to get colors close, but I NEVER guarantee that I can match something exactly.

    So when someone sends me a picture and tells me to be creative and use these colors, that’s almost a guarantee that I will turn down the order because I am not going to be stuck in a position where I have to refund because they are mad about the color.

    And even if I set up the custom order and am protected so that they aren’t going to get a refund, I still generally don’t like to deal with unhappy customers so I am not going to take that risk. I do clarify to the customer that I can do my best to get close, but cannot guarantee a match and colors can vary on the monitor screen. If they are good with that, great. If they hem and haw around, no way. 

    Some creators see a custom order as a challenge for them - to bring to life the vision that someone else has is a uniquely neat thing for a creative and an artisan. And when it goes well, it can really create a customer who is in LOVE with what you’re making and your skills in making it. Just make sure that it also makes sense for your business and your profitability.

    And on that note, I want to talk about some logistics of creating and making custom orders to make sure that you are protected in your business.

    There are a few things to keep in mind when someone is asking you to do something custom to make sure that you don’t end up with an un-paid-for super unique skateboarding cat painting that the buyer seemed really interested in when they were discussing the details but now they’ve dropped off the face of the Earth once you’ve asked for payment.

    The first is to MAKE SURE you never start a custom order before the customer has paid you.

    If you take one thing away from this podcast episode, please let it be this: NEVER START WORK ON ANYTHING BEFORE THE CUSTOMER PAYS.
    That’s not my mean voice, I promise. That is my “this is super important and you need to listen up!” voice.  

    I just have to stress it to you. Don’t do it occasionally. Not with people you know. Not with your own mother (ok, maybe her.) Don’t do it! 

    I can’t tell you how many times I have seen sellers complaining of being finished with some crazy specifically unique item for a custom work but the buyer won’t pay for their listing. Don’t be this person.

    Make sure the customer checks out with a custom listing before you order supplies, start on work, or even spend too much time thinking about it. People change their minds all the time, even when they seem like awesome customers who are very interested in having what you’re making. Trust me on this one. 

    The next tip to protect yourself is to make sure you get all the details of the custom order in writing before getting started.

    Sometimes it takes a bunch of messages to work out all the details of a custom order. Sometimes people go back and forth with emails and Etsy messages and the info ends up all over the place. 

    Some customers even ask me to call them so we can talk about the details. No matter how we end up working through everything that we are hashing out, I always send a follow up message to lay out what they are wanting. I say something along the lines of:
    Hey Customer,
    I just wanted to make sure that I am understanding all the details of your order so there is no confusion. You wanted the yellow headband with your initials ABC monogrammed in the black cursive font, with the B being the last name for the center position of the monogram, correct? 

    Please let me know if there is anything that should be different in the order and I can create the custom listing for you to check out. Thanks!

    This way it pushes them to confirm the details so that there is no confusion on either of our parts about what they are ordering. I can also go back to these details when I am making the order if I forget what I’m supposed to be doing. This also lets them know that once they confirm all those details, I’ll set up the custom listing for them to check out, and then the onus is on them to check out before I get started.

    My last tip on taking custom orders and making sure they work for your shop is to price your item so that it is profitable for you.

    Custom orders take extra time. There’s just no way around it. 

    Making the same thing over and over is always going to be faster than making a unique thing and then another unique thing with changes each time. 

    To do an entirely new product that you have to look at each detail that you’ve written out will slow you down, which is not a bad thing especially if you are a new seller and don’t have a ton of orders that are being purchased, but you just want to make sure that at the end of the day you’re not working for $5 an hour. 

    Make sure that you price the custom order so that you aren’t spending a ton of time creating something that you are making hardly any profit on. This is especially true if it is something that probably won’t sell again, but even if it is something that you think will sell well down the road, you still want to make sure that you are valuing time and energy in the creation process. 

    Custom orders can be such a helpful thing for your business as you are getting started and really trying to expand your listings in your offerings. They can also can help you to see the things that maybe are not going to work for your shop simply because they're too time-consuming and you're not able to price them in a way that you will recoup the time spent on making it.

    I once had a custom order for a birthday shirt for a toddler who is having a paint party. And the mom that was ordering wanted a shirt with a paint palette and then splatters have different colors on it.  I was several years into my business but made a very rookie mistake of pricing out the shirt before I really looked too closely at the design that I was putting on it. And I ended up I think charging around $25 or so and the design literally had 47 steps. It ended up taking me I think like an hour and a half to make this one shirt.  

    And not only did I not get a very good value on my time, because after the time that I spent on it in the actual material costs that I put into the item, I probably made very little profit at all. 

    But it also ended up to be something that,  while it might have sold again if I had listed in my shop, I never did listed in my shop simply because it was too time-consuming. So it was not a good decision for me to take that custom order because it wasn’t a good product either in the short-term or a long-term sense for my business. 

    So when you are diving into custom orders and getting off the wall requests, I want you to go through this list and make sure that this is something that is valuable, helpful, and profitable for your business. And then make sure that you get paid ahead of time and the details are worked out so you aren’t going to get into an ugly refund situation, because that is a real moral killer, especially after you’ve poured time and energy into the custom listing.

    I hope that this episode has been helpful as you move forward in taking custom listings and bringing those ideas to life that your customers are coming to you with and wanting you to create.

    Custom orders can seriously be such a beneficial thing for your business and for you as a creative to be able to make something that allows you to express that creative and artistic energy  while also making a profit as long as you do it in a way that works on the business side of things as well.

     As always if you are wanting more Etsy help and wanting to  join a creative community of entrepreneurs who are engaged and kind and helpful,  I would love to have you join my private FB group, Etsy Roadmap by Lauren Keplinger. The link for that is, and I hope I’ll see you there! Bye for now.