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February 2012
As an artist or crafter, you're often asked about custom work in your own individual style. In this classic article, we'll discover a few key points to keep in mind when discussing or accepting custom work.Take a look below!

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Ten Steps to Successful Custom Work
by Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and creativity coach. See her work at Quinn Creative

Mosaic Side Table by Mooma Moosaics in the FNO Marketplace

Custom work can be rewarding and exciting, but it takes time and good communication skills. If you like talking to clients, are interested in others' ideas, don't mind sticking to deadlines, and are good at follow-up, custom work can be rewarding-financially and artistically. Here are some steps that will help both you and your client to enjoy the experience.

1. Decide whether or not you want to do custom work before the client asks. A client who hears "I'm not sure," or "I guess so," is not filled with the confidence that leads to a successful transaction. Until you are sure you want to, say 'not yet,' to clients.

2. Get off to a good start with a client. If you are in a store or at a show, agree on a time to talk at length. Taking down details while you are helping other clients is too distracting. Follow up and call the client at the time you said you would.

3. Listen. Try to picture what the client wants. Let the client talk without interrupting. Take notes to remember questions. Repeat what the client said to make sure you are both saying the same thing. Once you are clear on the idea the client has, you can introduce your own viewpoint.

4. Talk money. Once you and the client agree on size, complexity, colors, exact wording or image, materials, and delivery time, you will want to clear the price with the client. If you can't figure it out immediately, tell the client you will get back with the estimate within three days. Be clear about how you get paid-by the hour, by the word, by the project.

5. Deliver the estimate in writing-either in print or via e-mail. Keep it short and clear. Repeat all the details the client wants. Give the estimate amount, and then spell out how you want to be paid. A deposit of half and he remaining half at delivery is fine. Include information that clarifies the amount of client input. For example, agree to show the client three thumbnail sketches to get approval on layout and overall idea, but once the thumbnail is approved, any other changes will result in additional charges.

6. Get the client's signature on your estimate. The signature shows the client you are serious, both about the work and about getting paid. A useful contract explains that if the client has a change of heart, you will be paid for your time and materials. If the client is hesitant about signing a contract, don't start work until you have the signature and the deposit. If a client wants to pull out, the ideal time to do so is before you start work.

7. Don't make business decisions out of fear. Most mistakes happen because the artist is afraid the client will be offended talking about money or rules. In 15 years of doing custom work, the only time I ran into trouble was when I wasn't clear about how I charged.

8. Stick to the schedule. Build in extra time for yourself as you make the schedule. Give yourself one extra day for every three days you think it will take. That gives you time for family and work emergencies

9. Prepare for the presentation. Before you show your work to the client, review the details from the original discussion. The client might not remember that she asked for "something romantic" and is now thinking along the lines of "whimsical." Getting back to the original is a great way to stay on track. If your preliminary approval sketches are very different, explain what makes them different. Then show the client the choices you brought.

10. Be the expert. The client hired you because you are an expert in your field. Keep artistic control at the approval stage. Avoid having the client combine elements of all your ideas. You want the client to be attracted to one style or concept, so say, "you can choose or reject anything I show you, but you can't combine parts of the separate concepts." Setting up the rule first helps that happen.


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