Here’s our complete guide to selling custom orders, commissions and personalised products online – including practical information on pricing and how to list custom orders in your online shop, guidelines for communicating with your customer, and tips for getting more sales.
If you’re thinking about offering personalised products, read this guide first and add any of your own tips in the comments below.
The benefits of customisation
Over the last few years the popularity of personalised products has soared – a search on Google Trends reveals that the number of searches for “personalised gifts” on Google has tripled since 2005. Personalised gifts offer shoppers the opportunity to give a present that’s clearly one of a kind. It’s a service that independent makers are uniquely placed to offer and one that can set you apart from the High Street.
“One of the best things about personalised orders is customer satisfaction,” explains Emily from Pobble and Ping Pencils. “They aren’t having to settle, which can often lead to really loyal customers who keep coming back.” Everyone knows that happy customers are your best advocates, and if they’ve built a relationship with you over a personalised order, they’re more likely to tell other people about your great customer service. “We did a personalised Christmas card, and the customer talked about it on the Folksy forums, which led to more sales of that card,” recalls Sarah from Eskimo Circus. “People love to show off unique items so it’s win-win if you can do something special for a customer.”
For independent makers, custom orders are also a chance to work directly with clients and understand what customers want from your products. They are an opportunity to experiment with new ideas, tweak current pieces, expand your product range and be a point of differentiation for your brand. “I started doing custom portraits last year and they’ve been a huge success and very enjoyable,” says Viktorija from And Smile studio, whose personalised illustrations have become hugely popular and can be seen on many an Instagram avatar.
How to list customised products in your shop
There are lots of reasons then why offering personalised products can be good for you and your business, and luckily creating custom orders is easy. Once you’ve created a product that can be customised, here’s how to list it in your shop:
- Create a new listing as normal.
- Include keywords in your product title and description (eg ‘personalised gift’, ‘customised’, ‘custom pet portrait’). [Learn more about keywords]
- Clearly list all options so the buyer understands what can be personalised. Don’t confuse shoppers with too many choices.
- Include example images. If the product comes in a variety of colours or styles, use your five picture slots to show the different options.
- In your description, include instructions to the buyer to leave you a note at the checkout with their choices or personalisation details.
- Tag your item ‘personalised gift’ and other appropriate words or short phrases. [See our guide to using tags]
- Set the shipping time – giving yourself plenty of time to make the order and allowing for any mishaps.
- Tick the ‘custom order’ box in the Returns Policy section.
If you are creating a custom order for a buyer following a request, create a new listing as above but remember to state in the listing title and/or description that the item is a custom order for [buyer name] so nobody else buys it. You can then list the item and email the link to your buyer. Once the buyer has completed the order and you have received payment, you can start making the order.
Pricing custom orders
How you price a custom order depends on whether you are making something brand new, tweaking something you already sell, or simply altering the personalisation details (eg the wording). The crucial thing is to make sure your price covers any extra time it will take – that means design time and admin time, as well as making time.
“Our price depends if *custom* means completely different each time or a similar version of something we already make and sell. Factor in time + materials + energy from the offset,” explains Allison Sadler. “A little tweek to a design for no extra charge is good,” adds Abi Watkins, from Rock Rose Jewellery. “I only charge extra for time spent designing different things.”
If you are creating something entirely new, bear in mind that it will probably take longer than you expect. “I just completed a custom order and the pitfall was pricing it,” warns Ava Kitsch. “I had never made it before and it took longer than I thought.”
If you are working to commission, be clear exactly what is included and what isn’t, so if a customer suddenly wants to add something at the last minute, you both know whether that will cost extra. Also ensure that your client is aware that, as a bespoke piece of work, it is not refundable unless it is faulty. In the case of commissioned work, you can either ask your customer to pay you a deposit (50% is standard) before you start work, which covers your design time, with the rest payable on completion, or pay the full amount before you start work. Whichever you choose, make sure you receive payment before you start work. “I have been on the wrong side of not taking a deposit. I did all the work and they changed their mind,” cautions Mr Mylo.
Tell people you are open to custom orders
Some customers might not be aware that you accept custom orders, so use every opportunity to tell them. Share pictures of previous custom orders on your social channels: start a Facebook album of custom orders, repost any pictures from happy customers on your Instagram account (making sure you ask them first and credit them if you use their photo), and/or start a board for your personalised products on Pinterest.
“Photos of previous custom orders on places like Facebook build trust,” explains Mairi from Maram Jewellery. “I post pictures of all custom orders on social media, reminding people it’s an option,” adds Amy Paterson from Poumi Stamp Studio who creates personalised rubber stamps.
You can also post your personalised products in this thread on the Folksy forum or tweet us with your suggestions for our guide. If you offer a few personalised products, why not create a collection just for those products [learn how to create Shop Collections], and tell people in your Meet the Maker profile or shop tagline that you love doing custom orders and you are open to ideas.
How to deal with customers
Good communication is crucial in custom orders. Throughout the process, keep the channels of communication wide open. Let your client know what stage the project is at and keep them updated with drawings and photos. Make sure they feel they can ask questions, and respond to them as quickly and clearly as you can.
If you can build a good relationship with your client, you are much more likely to come out of the process with a successful commission and a happy customer. So when a client first approaches you, whether this is through Folksy, by email, social media or in person, try to find out exactly what they would like you to create, and pin down as many details as possible: how soon do they need it, in what material and size, and are they looking for an entirely new piece of work or a bespoke version of something you already do?
Be honest with customers from the outset, so if you don’t think it’s something you can achieve within the time they want it, tell them and set a realistic timeframe that you are sure you can meet, rather than hoping you can get it done and then letting them down. “I often make within 24 hours of order but I give myself five days in case of kids / illness / calamity,” explains Clare Freemantle from Serious Stamp. “It’s better to under promise and over deliver!”
If it’s a complicated commission, it can be worth getting your client’s approval at each stage of the design. “Creating custom artwork can be tricky, so I find it useful to produce an outline idea, then a drawn design and then a proof print and get approval for each step and stage payments accordingly, so the client has confidence in the outcome,” explains printmaker Alison Deegan.
If you feel uncomfortable with what they are asking you to do, for example if you feel they are asking you to make something that isn’t your style or copy someone else, don’t be afraid to say no. “I love working with people on custom orders as I spend most of time designing and making by myself and I love the collaboration process, although I have said no to some requests because they were too different from my designs and I prefer to stick to my niche,” says Mandie from Imogen George Jewellery.
Stay true to yourself
Some designers find that their best work comes out of a commission, as it opens them up to new ideas, takes them in a slightly different direction and pushes them to produce something they wouldn’t otherwise have considered. “Many pieces in my collections have been adapted or enhanced by ideas triggered from commission pieces,” says Gemma Atwell from The Silver Shed.
But there can be times when you are asked to do something you feel uncomfortable with, or even copy someone else’s design. Don’t. Remember that your client has came to you, so make them a piece of your work. If they didn’t like your style, they wouldn’t have asked you.
To get the most from a commission and create something you are both proud of, ask your client for images of things that inspire them, which pieces of yours they particularly like and why, talk to them to find out more about their style, and see where that takes you. It might be somewhere you never expected… but make sure it’s somewhere you’re happy to go.
Important things to get right
- Don’t copy and paste. When listing custom orders in your shop, don’t duplicate the titles and descriptions of your products as this can make your listings invisible to Google. [More about this here >]
- Make it obvious you take custom orders. If you are open to accepting customised orders, state somewhere (eg. in your profile, shop tagline or at the bottom of your listings) that you are happy to accept custom orders and that buyers should contact you through the Folksy messaging system if they have something in mind.
- Create listings. List products that can be personalised to show people what you can make rather than waiting for them to ask. “Tell people what can be customised. People have less imagination than you think,” suggests Clare from Serious Stamp. “I found I sold more once I gave customers ideas. Introducing items that could be altered made my business take off.”
- Set a realistic lead time. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make and send the order. “Lengthen your schedules for bespoke orders. Customers are happy to wait for something made especially for them,” advises Emma Iles from Seaforth Designs.
- If you can’t do it, say no. “At first you want to say yes to everything, but some things are too expensive to make and aren’t worth it,” warns Natasha from Baillie Day.
- Have clear guidelines. “A commission is a very personal process, which can be tailored to any customer, but strict guidelines help to work it out,” explains Viktorija from And Smile studio. “I give customers a timeline for when I need information, when they will receive sketches, when the portrait will be sent out and delivery times. And of course I can change anything if something doesn’t work to make sure they are super happy.”
- Get approval in writing. Ask your customer to sign off a proof before starting work on the final piece (you can do this by email). “I always send a proof unless a customer specifically asks not to see one. That’s when I get told I’ve misspelt something, which pretty crucial!” says Amy from Poumi Stamp Studio.
- Photograph completed orders. Photographing all your custom orders means you have a record of your work to use as examples in listings, share on social media and show future customers. “I photograph everything and rename photos so that I can recall them easily for future enquiries too,” says Mairi from Maram Jewellery.
- Only post once paid. Never send a piece of work unless you have received payment in full.
- All enquiries received through Folksy must be sold through Folksy. If your receive a custom order through Folksy, or if a customer first makes contact with you through Folksy, the final order must be placed through Folksy – even if your conversations since have taken place in person, via email or other social channels. If you complete the transaction off-site, this is classed as fee avoidance and can lead to the suspension of your Folksy account.
Five tips for selling custom orders online
Jeweller Gemma Atwell from The Silver Shed shares her top five tips for working with customers on personalised orders and making the commissioning process run smoothly.
1. You are the designer, not the customer
I will admit to finding commissions fretful sometimes as I have a tendency to need complete control and that isn’t possible when it is someone else’s imaginings. However, I have learned that it’s ok to say no if you’re not comfortable with a request. If I’m asked to make something that doesn’t fit my brand, then I suggest how I could maybe use their ideas but make it in my style.
2. Never agree to copy
I have occasionally been sent photographs of other designers’ work with requests to make a copy. This is something I won’t do. Instead I will politely suggest how I can make something unique to them, maybe in the theme of what they have seen, but a new design in my style.
3. Ask questions
Get a clear picture of what your buyer wants. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: what is their budget, when do they need it etc. Get them to send you photos or sketches of what they have in mind, and send sketches to them. A visual diagram is much easier to work with.
4. Be realistic
It’s important to be realistic about your time schedule and how much you need to charge.
5. Only start work once a piece is approved and paid for
I have also learned the hard way to take payment before sending an item. It’s unlikely you can resell a personalised piece of jewellery, so make your buyer aware it is non-returnable once they give the final go-ahead.