18 Apr 2009

Do you offer Custom made goods?

Lately I have been hearing a lot of mutterings around the hand made market place about custom orders that have gone wrong or from people saying they don't do any custom orders because they find them too stressful. This saddens me greatly, because I adore ordering custom goods for myself and family and I also love to make custom goods for other people. Yes custom orders do have an added risk of not turning out exactly as you expected, but I've often found that the results far out strip my wildest dreams and the results are way better than I had expected. Just because there is a little extra work involved for both buyer and seller, don't be put off. Receiving goods especially made for you is such a huge buzz and very exciting, and creating new items for someone following their design wishes is a challenge and it fun.

The key thing to custom orders is good honest communication.

Mommayaya custom made these beautiful slippers for me.

As a buyer:-
I like to write down my ideas for what I'm looking to get made so I am clear in my mind what I need the item to look like, what functionality it must have and how soon I need the item by. I then go looking for someone I feel will have the skills to make the item. I will give that person my ideas and ask them if it is possible. If they come back to me and say yes, then Yippeee it's time to get down to specific details of materials used, colours etc discuss time scales for the making and the all important costs.

If they say "No, that's not possible" it is time to talk modifications or to see if someone else can do it. Remember the reason you are asking this other person to make the goods is because they have a skill you don't and they know what will and won't work using the skills they have, so be guided by their experience, ask them questions and really listen to the answers they give you. Having unrealistic expectation of what the goods will be like when they are finished will only result in disappointment for you and frustration for the maker.

When you have found your maker, and have negotiated with them price and payment methods, time scale and design, remember that is not the end of your input. Ask the person for regular updates and ask to see photos of the work as it progresses. That way you will be able to save them and yourself money if things start to go in a different direction to the one you thought you had agreed to.

Pouch custom made this fantastic Dilly bag for me.

Keep communicating throughout the process and you will find at the end of it you will end up with goods that are just what you wanted and in some cases are beyond your wildest dreams.

As a seller:-
The most important thing as a seller of custom made goods is to be frank and honest about what a buyer can or cannot expect from the process of ordering something from you. That way there will be no big surprises for the buyer which could result in them refusing to pay for the finished goods. If you can't make exactly what they have asked for say so. Don't just make something slightly different, that you can make, and hope they won't notice. They will!

A bag I custom made for a customer.

Have discussions about what is going to be made. Get clear written details of what the buyer wants. Any changes that need to be made need to be negotiated and again written down and agreed by both parties. Usually, for me, this takes the form of emails back and forth. Remember to always listen to what your customer is saying. Do not rail road them into having something made your way just because it is easier for you. There is a good chance that they will be disappointed with the end results if you do. If at any point it seems that they want something you cannot make, be honest and end the contract before it begins. Wish them well and if you know someone that can do the work, recommend them. Contrary to popular belief, this will not lose you sales in the long run, it will gain you more, because you will get a reputation for being helpful and trustworthy.

If you are able to make the goods and you agree the design, price and materials etc, it then comes to the question of money. When you make custom orders remember it is a contract for both you and the buyer. To that end the buyer needs to show that they are entering into the contract with the intent of paying in full for the goods at the end. I always ask for a 50% deposit at the start. In receiving this money I am agreeing to keep within the brief agreed with the buyer and agreeing to keep them up to date on their order and agreeing to complete the goods within a given time scale. If I break any of those terms the buyer is entitled to their money back. The rest of the moneys will be owed on completion of the work, to the buyers satisfaction. In taking a deposit you are covering the costs of materials in the event of the buyer backing out half way through the contract and you are also gauging the buyers intent to see the contract through.

The detail of a train on a custom made hat.

Keep in contact with the buyer through out the process of making the goods. Send them updates on the work including photographs. If you encounter any delays, such as materials not being delivered, or you fall ill and have to stop working on the project, tell your customer immediately. Keep them in the loop so that they know what is going on at all time. This way you will rarely have problems and the transaction should run smoothly and to the satisfaction of both people.

In doing all of this I have found that very rarely do custom orders go wrong.

Written by Lynne of PiratePixieCrew and Hyperloop Hoops


  1. Fantastic advice.
    I actually love rising to the challenge of custom making as it pushes me in directions I might not normally go. On many occassions it has worked really well and I've taken the ideas to further levels in the future.
    Yes, you do get clients who want you to do things that are toatlly impossible and won't work. In these circumstances, experience helps a lot as does good communication skills to move "their ideas" in to workable solutions.

  2. Brilliant advice in the post above - thank you x and I LOVE the slippers

    I have done custom orders on my baby slings but only a couple so far - my latest custom sling is on this post:
    I REALLY enjoyed making it but got very nervous as I finished it in case it wasn't exactly right.

  3. Rach, the sling is beautiful! I'm sure the buyer will love it!!

    Crystal, sometimes I find that by being honest and saying "No that's not possible, but..." ends up with some of the best collaborations anyway, because it combines the skill of the maker and the imagination of another person and the resultant creation wows both the maker and buyer.

  4. Great post. I do make custom orders but on the understanding that I get all the info up front. If its a complicated item I'll run up a "blank" first using cheap fabric or try to provide some sketches for approval before beginning the order. If I genuinely feel that I just can't provide what the customer wants because we're not on the same wavelength or because of my skill level or ability to get hold of materials I'll always recomend someone who may be able to do a better job or if I've already seen them produce something similar. I love custom orders because I know how nic it is to have something with your own mark on it.

  5. Wonderful post! A lot of my work is custom and I've always had really wonderful experiences. I feel that these projects challenge my creative spirit.

  6. When I set up my coriandr and etsy shops I offered custom orders. I haven't had any yet so this is good advice. Thanks.

  7. Great post!

    I find customs orders easily the most rewarding of any of the work I do. I don't offer them, as such, but if anyone asks me...

    I made a custom book for a friend who was going overseas a little while ago. It actually moved her to tears, and it's so wonderful to think that the book I made will become part of her trip in the way a stock one never could.

  8. great post, thank you. I have made a few custom orders now and enjoy it every time

  9. Good post, great advice! I do custom orders and almost all of the time it's fun and rewarding... Every once and a while a buyer will keep changing their minds and want you to change accordingly, and that's tricky.

  10. I offer semi-custom work online - items that are in my general range of products - and so far no issues with it. Having done freelance graphic art and web development my whole adult life, I'm familiar with working with customers and getting projects into some degree of doable.

    As a buyer, the few items I've needed custom work on were all delightful!


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