As many of you know who have been reading my advice for any amount of time, I am a HUGE fan of custom orders. It shows the customer trusts you, and that kind of trust can last a lifetime.
My colleague and accomplished, award-winning jewelry maker Stefanie Somers (http://www.stefaniesomers.com) sent me an AWESOME note PACKED with ideas on handling custom orders. I’ll provide some thoughts about her ideas after sharing them with you, and I’ll also give you some ways to contact Stefanie at the bottom of the post.
So, I’m turning this blog post over the Stefanie — she said it better than I can:
I have a suggestion for folks who do the commission route, and are concerned about getting agreements in writing …
Almost all (99%) of my business is custom, most of it in the $500-$1,000 sale range. I (usually) don’t take deposits, and I don’t have written contracts. Granted, most of my business is in a somewhat small circle where I have the ability to vet people if need be, but even when working with someone outside my usual niche, I just haven’t had problems.
Here are four keys to my process:
Key #1: I always obtain a credit card number and signature… I say to the customer, “I don’t charge anything to your card until your custom piece is ready to go, but I do require a valid card number and complete information in order to place you on my bench schedule.”
I use a regular merchant account that enables me to validate a card number without charging it, so I know I’ve been given a real number. Occasionally a card will be stolen or compromised in the interim, and won’t clear when I do charge it, but very rarely, and I can only think of one time in the last five years that I was not able to get a custom piece paid.
Key #2: When the client and I have agreed upon everything, I put it all into an email, and spell it out… design, color palette, costs, and timeframe, along with any supporting sketches, photos or references.
I keep it light, like, “Hi David! I’m so glad we figured out those colors. So here’s what I’m going to do for you… This design…. those colors…. I have you on my schedule for the week of…. with a tentative shipping date of… your card will be charged on… you’ll receive a tracking email from me when your custom piece leaves us! Please let me know if you have any question or concerns, and of course, I’ll let you know if I need any further info from from you. Thank you so much for the opportunity to create for you!”
This literally “puts it into writing” and offers an opportunity to iron out anything that’s been misconstrued. I can honestly say that I have NEVER had a problem with this method.
Of course, you can twist yourself into knots trying to work out a system that will keep you from being taken advantage of, but I find that at the point where I know someone well enough to do custom work, they are not focused on taking advantage. And if someone really does want to screw over a jewelry maker, they’ll find a way to no matter what system you put into place. I’ve found that most people will live up (or down) to whatever you expect them to, so I give them a high bar to live up to. And that works well for me.
The only time I ever ask for a deposit is if the hairs on the back of my neck go up, and then, I’m actually more liable to walk away. I have learned (after second-guessing myself many times) to listen to my intuition. It is seldom wrong! If I get a hunch that I shouldn’t or can’t trust someone, I now trust my instincts and pass on doing business with them.
Key #3: Thanks to a suggestion from my business coach, I have started asking for a Custom Design Consultation Fee. THIS has worked out extraordinarily well. It covers my time in cases of tire-kickers, and I think it makes for what I think is a more professional over-all process.
Here’s how I do it: For a truly custom piece (not the top from this, the drop from that, in the color palette from the other one), I charge a $100 non-refundable consultation fee up front.
If the client buys what I have designed for them, I apply the $100 to the final price of the piece. If not, it’s forfeited, and I put a 30 day time limit on it. I was initially scared to to do this, but it’s actually saved me from losing time (which is money for jewelry makers, too) on a few pieces I put a lot of time into but which the client ultimately didn’t follow through on. Interestingly, I’ve had several clients tell me it made them feel less “obligated!”
I’ve been doing it for about a year, and I’ll never go back to not using it. I don’t use it with repeat customers that I feel comfortable with, but for new ones, absolutely! I have a form specifically drawn up for it, with a signature, that can be signed “electronically” … a great idea that I highly recommend.
Key #4: I charge a Rush Fee in certain circumstances. In my niche (pageants, weddings, and events in general), there are a lot of procrastinators. They have a lot going on preparing for a major event, and sometimes that makes it difficult for them to make decisions about the jewelry in a timely way.
I hate to turn anyone away, but the last couple of years, I’ve noticed people placing orders very close to the date they need a piece; I want to be able to accommodate those clients without disappointing others.
So, in my busy season (for me, April through November) orders needed in less than 4 weeks require a $50 per piece rush fee. The rest of the year, this fee applies if the piece is needed in less than two weeks.
I am considering using the 4-week rush fee throughout the year, though. I’m also thinking about charging a percentage of the piece rather than a flat fee, but either way, it’s a fee I will definitely keep. (This is also courtesy of my business coach.)
I don’t think I’ve lost more than one sale in the year I’ve been using it, and it’s generated quite a bit of extra income. Also, it’s a small form of compensation for having to stay up all night finishing a last-minute order!
I hope these ideas help other jewelry makers create more successful commissioned arrangements! 🙂
Stefanie — thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to share these tremendous ideas with readers around the world … I truly appreciate what you’ve shared!
Your methods show that you are comfortable charging what you are worth and doing so in a way that “secures” the process.
I like that you use the e-mail as a confirmation and also a complete understanding of the process and expectations. Putting it in writing — no matter what the format — confirms mutual agreement, and that is the goal!
As a psychologist, I agree strongly with the rush fee idea. In fact, I think that people who ask for rush jobs understand, at some level, that this requires something extra from the jewelry maker, and I’m not surprised that people willingly pay it. They believe, at some level, that they owe it.
For everyone reading this — feel free to post comments/questions below, and I hope Stefanie will stop back periodically to reply!
You can see her outstanding work and connect with her here:
Stefanie Somers, Inc.