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Why setting boundaries for custom work is necessary

October 12, 2016

As an entrepreneur, offering custom graphic design work via Etsy I often check out other entrepreneurs on Etsy that offer similar products. Looking at the competition can bring up negative feelings like jealousy or not feeling competent enough, but I try to use it to my advantage and get new ideas and inspiration out of it. One of the areas I mostly look at is what kind of shop policies other designers use and what services they offer to their clients.

One thing that really stands out is that part of the designers set clear boundaries when it comes to the service of custom work, and the other part doesn't. And if you are just starting up your business, offering custom work, you might be confused which way to go with this.

The specific boundaries that I am going to write about in this post have to do with the revisions of a custom made design. This does not have to be specifically in the area of graphic design, but it can apply to most custom made products or services that can have alterations in the design process to fit the customers wants and needs. So what exactly am I talking about?


For the purpose of setting an example we will use the creation of a custom logo design for a customer. When a customer hires me for such a design I will create a round of drafts (usually three drafts) to start the design process.

It's pretty rare that one of these three draft designs is exactly what the customer had in mind, so in most cases I will work further to revise the draft design that the customer liked best. With his or her feedback I then create a revision of the design and so we work further until we get a finished product.

The big difference that I notice between designers selling their products on Etsy is that one group offers custom designs with a limited amount of revisions, while another group offers custom designs with unlimited amounts of revisions.


While from a customer's perspective an unlimited amount of revisions may sound perfect, I can tell from experience that from a designer's perspective it is probably the worst you can do. I have learned it the hard way, believe me.

In my beginning days as a designer I did not set any boundaries to the amount of revisions for my custom designs. I wanted my customers to be happy and work with them on a design until they were totally satisfied. My big mistake was that I took myself and my own personality as an example for the average customer.

I am someone that makes decisions quickly, I don't go back and forth too much between options and almost never regret going with my first choice. But that is egocentric thinking. The world doesn't exist of only Daphne-like people, it holds so many different personalities and with offering unlimited revisions I quickly got to know the indecisive ones.

While my intentions were good and the intentions of my customers were good, offering unlimited revisions quickly created very stressful situations. In some cases customers asked for so many revisions that in the end when I calculated the amount of hours I worked on the project, the fee the customer paid for it did not cover all those hours. And I was to blame for that!

Conclusion, from my own experience: you should not offer unlimited revisions on custom design work. You are not serving yourself with this, but also not your client!


There are multiple reasons why you need to be clear on the amount of revisions your client can expect when working with you.

1. The indecisive client - as I described in the paragraph above I quickly got to know this type of client. They often present themselves to you as being a type-A personality and a perfectionist wanting only the best, but if you get to know them better, they are not really searching for perfection but just have trouble deciding. And if you offer unlimited revisions, these projects can linger on for months. By presenting more and more options, it gets even harder for these clients to make a decision. So while you think you offer your client the best you might get stuck in the concept phase forever.

2. The client that loves the attention and keeps contacting you - we all need attention from time to time, that's not a bad thing at all, it's human. The reason why I rather go to my naturopath than my regular GP is that the naturopath has more time for me to dig deeper into the issue I present. It feels good when someone takes that time and attention for you. But it can get out of hand.
While I know my naturopath has more time for me than the GP I also know that he has other clients as well and a personal life to live. He cannot be at my disposal 24/7. By offering unlimited revisions you might give some people the idea that you are there for them 24/7. But you have a live outside your work as well! Your clients deserve good attention, but there is a limit, and it's your job to set that limit!

3. The client that is obsessed with Pinterest - Pinterest can be such a great tool to find out what the ideas and visions of a client are. Many of my clients have already created an inspiration board when they contact me and it's really helpful to interpret their wishes this way. But when Pinterest becomes more annoying than helpful is when clients keep scrolling through inspirational images after presenting their ideas to you. In a lot of these cases they are so bombarded with new ideas every time they get on Pinterest that they keep changing their ideas and visions for their design. But hey, you offered them unlimited revisions, so what's the problem, right?

4. You get a creative burn-out and start resenting the project - well, that's the problem with offering unlimited revisions. If you have a client that really keeps you busy long after revision #35 you might get creatively burned out and end up resenting everything that has to do with the project. Including the client. Trust me, I've been there. While I am a very loving person with a lot of patience, I can tell you that I wasn't as loving and patient anymore after revision round #35. All I could think was: make a f#$*king decision now! Not so nice of me... and I was totally to blame for it myself, because I didn't set boundaries.

5. More does not always equal better - if I take my own work as an example for this, my first drafts are often the best and strongest ones. I am full of energy to start a new project, have some nice ideas how to bring my client's ideas to life and in these first stages of the projects the ideas almost come effortlessly. But let's be real, am I this sharp and creative when my client asks me for a revision for the twenty-fifth time? Of course not, and you probably won't be either.
Setting boundaries is not only necessary to protect yourself from a creative burn-out, but your client isn't served well either if you keep providing them with loads of drafts and concepts that are just not up to par.

6. You need to value your time and work - all work comes at a price. We all need to make a living and most of us do so through our jobs. If your job is offering custom design work, you make a living through the money you earn with that work. And you should value that work. Value all those hours and love you put in those designs. Serious clients will understand that you don't work for free. They will be willing to pay for all the hours you put into a design. With offering unlimited revisions on your work you run the risk of underpayment but also the risk of attracting less than serious clients. Clients with a mindset of  'I paid her once and now I can make use of her services for the rest of my life'. You don't want that for yourself, trust me. You are worth more than that!

So when it comes to custom work, please don't get nervous of your competition that allows their clients unlimited amounts of project revisions. Sure, you might get less clients than they do, but you will get the serious ones. The ones that value your time and effort as well. So set some boundaries, value yourself and your time and start attracting the right type of client with whom you can work on a satisfying and successful project!