September 4, 2018

My struggle with custom design work

Summer was long and hot over here in the Netherlands. The heat and the enormous amounts of sunshine did great things for my tomato plants in the backyard, but they also diminished my desire to get behind the computer and write blog posts. But with Fall slowly making it's presence known I got some new inspiration again for blog articles. One thing that has been on my mind for a while is how I struggle with custom design work. While this blog post is going to be about my personal experience with it, it might help other business owners to decide whether or not they want to offer custom services or not. Here's my personal take on things.

Ever since I have started this blog I have also been creating digital stuff, from clipart to logos and Blogger templates. I sell all of my products in my two Etsy stores and on some other platforms for digital/graphic designers. I love making these products and the sales I make with them provide me with a nice income. As any creative person has probably experienced, once your work is 'out there', whether that is online or in a physical form, there will be people that are drawn to your work.

They like the way you work with color, or the materials you use, or the style of your work, you name it. Some of them will love a certain item or service and they purchase it from you, while others might love your overall style but can't really find a specific product or service that really appeals to them. That's when the requests for custom products and services start to come in and you will have to decide if that is something you want to offer or not.

In February 2019 I will be selling on Etsy 5 years. In those years I have dabbled back and forth from offering custom design work to only offering premade designs. It's a struggle for me. As with anything, there are pros and cons to offering custom services, and right now the cons are outweighing the pros. So I am no longer offering custom design services. What made me decide that? And how can you make a good decision for yourself?


Attracting more clients and work
From a business perspective there is one big advantage to offering custom work: you attract more clients and work. Next to the people that were already purchasing your ready made products, you have a second market with people that need customized products and services from you. I definitely saw my clientele and revenue grow during the times that I offered custom designs.

A deeper connection to your client
If you are a people person, offering custom services might just be the thing that will make your heart sing. To come to a great end result for the custom product or service you have to connect and communicate on a deeper level with your client than when he or she would have just bought a ready made item from your store or website. You will invest more time in the client and his or her wishes and therefore the connection with this type of client will be deeper and will probably feel more meaningful.


For me, at this moment in time, the cons unfortunately outweigh the pros. The things I struggle most with are:

It is really time consuming
If you are creating a product or a service based upon someone else's requirements it takes time. Time to make that product or service, but also time to communicate back and forth with the client about the custom order. So you should ask yourself if you have that time and how many clients you can be working with simultaneously.

I personally got turned off by the enormous amount of communication. The thing is, once you are offering custom work, you are not only spending time communicating with the clients that already ordered something from you but also with potential clients. People that are interested in custom work, but first want to ask a million questions before they place an order. The fact that they are in communication with you does not mean that they will eventually order from you. 

Clients can be really demanding
Clients that order a custom made item or service do so for a reason. They want something special made for them and they are willing to pay the price for it. That sometimes results in a very demanding attitude.

I say 'sometimes' because I have worked with a lot of really nice people on custom designs. But it is my personal experience that there is a larger percentage of people amongst the custom clients that is more demanding than the regular client that comes to my shop for my premade items. By demanding I mean that they keep asking for more changes and adjustments than agreed upon or they have trouble making up their mind about what it is they really want. Not only is this time consuming, but most of all it is energy draining.

My creativity is not something that can be turned on at the snip of a finger
This is I think a very personal reason why I decided to stop offering custom design work. My creativity comes in waves. There are weeks that I work from morning till night to create new designs for my shops. I'm in some kind of creative flow at those times. Ideas come easily and I can vision the end result clearly in my mind. Then there are times that my creativity is more blocked, kind of like a writer's block, and I won't create a new product for weeks.

Having to bring someones ideas to life in those times of blockage is really challenging and maybe not fair to the client as they are not receiving my full potential. For me this is a big reason to stop offering custom designs.

While I have decided to stop offering custom design work, that doesn't mean you should. You might be that people person that loves communicating back and forth with a client, or you might get an energy boost from bringing other people's ideas to life. Then I say: go for it! But for me, the extra money I gain from it does not make up for the energy it costs me. Energy that, at this moment in time, I need for other things in life.

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