Should You Take Custom Orders?

Should You Take Custom Orders?

Should you take custom orders? It’s the age old question wondered by Etsy sellers throughout history (at least the history of Etsy)… I will share my own story in this post and provide you with some resources that helped me decide what to do. Ultimately, however, you are the only person who can answer this, and that answer is not always cut and dry.

My Story

Maybe you are the kind of person who had every aspect of your business planned and systematized before you even dared to open an Etsy shop. You knew what you were going to sell, how you were going to ship, and where to find your ideal customer.

This was not me.

Rather, I started a business without realizing what I had done. I built a few pieces of furniture for myself. Then for my sister. Then for family friends and people at my work.  I ran my business for almost a year making random things people asked me to build. Floating shelves, wine racks, farmhouse tables, nightstands, cupboards, baseball signs, family name signs, chalkboards, desk organizers…the list goes on and on!

Running a business like this did not bring me joy, and with a full-time day job, I was 150% overwhelmed. I could not put any systems into place to make my life easier because I didn’t know what my next order was going to be. I felt anxious all of the time, and even thinking about taking another order filled me with a sense of dread.

After much consideration, I decided to take a firm stance and say no to all custom orders. This was the best decision I could have made. It saved my business and my sanity.

Saying no gave me creative freedom to build my business in a way that would make me happy.

Today, I make one made-to-order product. This product can be made with a variety of pre-made designs. I offer 5 colors and 3 basic sizes. I also offer exactly one custom design option (with specific parameters and an additional charge).

Will You Decide To Offer Custom Orders?

What will you decide about custom orders? Will you enable or disable your custom order option on Etsy? Here are some resources to help you think it through.

Make A List: Pros and Cons of Offering Custom Orders

If you’re a list kind of person, it may help to think about pros and cons of taking custom orders. I’ve made a basic list to get you started, but you may want to do this for yourself.

Pros and Cons Of Custom Orders

Source of incomeDifficult to decide what to charge
Provides you with new product ideasRequires extra time to design products
Build relationships with clients/customersDifficult to systematize
Lets you experiment creativelyYou may not enjoy taking on something that is not your style

Consider These Questions

So the list didn’t help? Maybe you’re more abstract and need to journal or make a mind map. (This is what I did!) If so, consider these questions:

  • What is my tolerance for the “unknown?”
  • Financially, do I need to take custom orders at this point in my business?
  • Do I enjoy making custom orders? How do I really feel about custom orders?
  • Am I good at communicating with customers?
  • Do I feel comfortable charging enough for custom work?
  • Do I have enough time to take custom orders?
  • If I say yes to custom orders, to what will I have to say no?
  • Will I be able to continue to grow my business if I take custom orders?
  • Is this the business model that I feel comfortable with?

The Customization Spectrum

I would also like to invite you to consider customization as a spectrum. This customization spectrum ranges from no customization to full creative partnership with a client. There are endless degrees of customization in each level, and you decide where on the spectrum you feel most comfortable.

Level 0: You Do Not Take Custom Orders

You take a hard-line stance. You list items in your shop without variations. You sell this item. You say no to everything else.

Level 1: You Offer Made-To-Order Variations And/Or Personalization

You offer a base set of products that can be customized with options that you have chosen prior to listing. These options are offered as variations. They can range from a few simple variations to several combinations of choices.

You may also offer personalization options where a customer provides an initial, name, or a word to be added to their product. Again, you provide a range of guidelines for their consideration.

Level 2: You Accept Custom Orders

You accept custom ideas for products in a general category in which you specialize. A customer may recognize that they like your style and ask you to design something that falls within your typical range of work.

Level 3: You Embrace A Partnership With A Client

You are open to a range of ideas. You either attempt to make a client’s vision a reality or you are given full creative control to make a product that a client has asked requested.

Review Other Sources

Here are some sources I used to help me make a decision:

Tara Swiger’s Month of Biz Love

Tara Swiger’s “How to Say NO to Anything” Podcast

The Merriweather Council’s Blog Post: “25 Lessons Learned From Filling 2500+ Custom Orders”

Should YOU Take Custom Orders?

Here’s the thing: handmade marketplaces love to advertise customization. They want to appeal to handmade customers. That leaves you, a handmade seller, feeling a lot of pressure to offer an option for custom orders.

Before you yield to the pressure, remember, it’s your business and you have permission to do whatever you want.  This is especially true if you’re a part-time seller who needs to make deliberate decisions in order to effectively manage your business with everything else in life.

The decision to take custom orders may not be easy, but it is yours. It is YOUR business and YOUR time.

Do You Take Custom Orders? Let me know in the comments below.

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Well, Hey There!

Are you ready to build a happy and fulfilling  creative business (that doesn’t add more stress to your life?) 

You’re in the right place.

I’m Elissa Carden, and my goal is to inspire you to start an online creative business that you can love and to provide you with the tools you need to make it a success.