Friday, January 14, 2011

Custom Work – To Do or Not To Do?

While most of my custom work experiences have been positive, there have been a few bumps in the road.  As a result, I've learned a thing or two and here are some tips that you might find helpful when considering this as an option:

1. DO WHAT YOU DO BEST: If you specialize in small, pet portraits and someone asks you to do a large, abstract sculpture, you might want to pass. The customer may love your style and think you totally rock but your style may not translate well into a different subject matter, medium or format.

2. EXPERIMENTATION: Like many artists, I’ve had some amazing experiences when faced with a new challenge. And experimentation is an integral part of an artist's creative development and growth.  That said, I've learned the hard way to reserve that process for non-commission projects.  See point #1.

3. I DON’T LIKE IT: There's a possibility you'll hear that indelible phrase and then have to fix/adjust/start over/call it quits. In one instance, I re-worked a portrait four times before the customer accepted it and even then, I didn’t get the feeling that she was thrilled. My vision (of beautiful) was not shared by my customer and it was frustrating. But as a result of this experience, I learned a few things. First, that I might need to invest more time into a custom piece than I'd spend on a comparable non-custom piece and second, that I should factor this into my work plan and fee. And for those eternal optimists who don't enjoy my 'worst case scenario' concerns, there’s also a good chance you’ll make an awesome piece that your customer loves instantly.

4. CONTRACT: Simply put, do it. It eliminates confusion.

a. Your name, business name and contact information
b. Customer’s name and contact information
c. Project’s scope – outline what you intend to make/do
d. Materials
e. Dimensions
f. Price
g. Timeframe
h. What’s included and what’s extra (site visits, photo shoot, sketches, framing, samples, proofs, delivery, installation, etc.)
i. Return Policy (yes or no)
j. Deposit (refundable or not)
k. Shipping/Delivery/Pick-up

5. GREEN LIGHT: Ok, so you’re totally excited to get started. But wait, did you get the official go ahead? In the scheme of things, it’s not a big deal if you don’t and you create the piece. But what happens if the customer doesn’t want it? What if it’s something you'd have difficulty selling to someone else (think portrait of Nana and grandkids). Unless you want to add that new piece to your own collection, keep this in mind.

6. DEPOSIT: You could require a non-refundable fee in the event the customer doesn’t end up buying the piece.  This ensures that you receive some compensation for your time. Or you could request a deposit (partial payment) to confirm the project or cover material expenses, etc. Or do neither, it's your call. 

7. RETURN/REFUND POLICY: This can range from “NO returns on custom work” to “a flat fee/restocking fee within 30/60/90 days” to “100% money back guarantee”. It all depends on your comfort level, your medium, your price range, and how you want to run your business. Whatever you decide, it’s helpful to think this through prior to a situation arising. Hint, hint.

8. NO, THANK YOU: Cut yourself some slack. If you’re not 100% comfortable with the project, for ANY reason, trust your instincts. Just. Say. No.

9. SPREAD THE WORD: If you have good experiences, positive customer feedback and want to increase this aspect of your business, let people know that you do custom work! Highlight it as an option on your website, business cards, postcards, emails, social networks or wherever you’re exhibiting your work. Referrals from satisfied customers and photos of completed projects have a big impact too!