Piece Makers

I have a Custom Order... now what?

I was both excited and filled with anxiety the first time I received a custom (commercial) order. I had previously done custom work in stained glass and mosaics for individuals, but there seemed to be more anxiety involved with doing commercial custom work. And so it was for me.
My desk became a snowstorm of papers as I figured and re-figured the cost of my supplies for the job and tacked on my personal fee. It was troublesome because I knew I would have to order some of the supplies online and I didn’t want any holdups. I kept this information to myself until my customer and I had settled all of the details. As a general rule, I do not disclose to the customer the cost of my supplies. I just add it to the cost of the project.
I worried – Was I a good enough artist to do commercial work? Would I be able to meet the deadline? Would the customer like the custom work I did for them? I tried to put all “What ifs” out of my mind. But still, a specter of multiple choice questions haunted me at 2 a.m. Then there was the back and forth emailing between us, getting all of the details finalized before I actually committed to a price. I read each email I received at least 3 times and read and reread my email responses to make sure they were clear in every detail, not to mention spelling and grammar. With each new email from the customer, I’d have a flurry of questions. It is extremely important to get all of the details agreed to in writing, prior to starting the job. When we had all of the details worked out and a price and timeline agreed on, I could start gathering my supplies. Since ordering online takes the longest because of shipping time, I did all of my online ordering first. I did the rest of my shopping over the next couple of days. By the time my online orders had arrived, I had already drawn, sawed out, and primed my substrates. My psyche was on fire!
I gave my website address to my customer so that she could follow my progress on my “Sneak Peek” page. I didn’t know until the job was finished and I sent her photos, that she had, indeed, been following my progress and was thrilled to be a part of that process.
I lucked out on the first custom commercial job, in that the customer allowed me to set the deadline. So I set the deadline out far enough in case I got the flu or something, but not so far out that the customer would question the amount of time it would take. It worked out great!
I did not get the flu, Elvis did not return from the grave, my supplies were plentiful and I was able to ship 4 weeks ahead of my deadline. I contacted my customer before shipping to let her know I was ready to ship so I wouldn’t catch her unprepared to receive the order.
I shipped using UPS as my carrier. Because I was already experienced in having an order arrive broken the year before, I knew to tell my customer to save all of her packaging and not throw anything away if an item arrived damaged in any way, and to take snapshots of the packages before, during, and after opening. These are things UPS requests if a claim is made. Fortunately, everything arrived in great shape.
So, to recap:
1. Get everything in writing between you and the customer.
2. Save all correspondence related to the job.
3. Double and triple check your costs for supplies and your time.
4. Keep notes on the details of the job in your work space to refer to.
5. Keep the customer informed as to how the job is going if it takes more than a few weeks.
6. Find out if there is a time deadline and put it in writing. Everything MUST be in writing. It could save you a headache later on.
7. Let your customer know when you plan to ship and get their input. You don’t want to ship to them if they are going to be away when the package arrives.
8. Send a receipt to the buyer.
9. Keep in touch with your customer during the shipping process. Provide tracking numbers and request that they contact you upon receipt. Waiting for a shipment to arrive at its destination is near torture for me and most artists I know.
10. Most carriers can tell you what day the package will arrive at its destination, so if you don’t hear from the customer that day, contact them the next day to ask about it. Since you will also have access to the tracking numbers, you should be able to tell if the shipment has arrived, but you’ll want to know the condition of the order when it arrives.

Happy Creating!