In the past TEN years (oh my goodness, y’all), I’ve filled thousands of custom and personalized orders – and I’ve learned a ton! It’s a whole different ball game to do that kind of work than it is to batch produce something and ship it once it’s ordered, as I am sure you can imagine. That sort of work has a it’s own set of pros, cons, challenges and nuances, too.
If you are considering offering custom work or personalization in your product line, I hope the insights I’m sharing from my experience will be valuable to you in making that decision and having some foresight to work with as you go.
Before digging into this, I want to define a couple of these terms, so we are clear. Custom work is more of a collaborative effort between you as the maker and the customer. Usually, it starts with them seeing your work and inspiration to ask for something unique and original that isn’t in your shop already is more involved than “I like that, but I want it in another color.” Personalization is usually people picking their preference from a set of offerings for different elements like font or color. Custom work tends to involve more email communication, and you can usually handle personalization through drop-down menus or selections and order notes. You shouldn’t NEED further email communication most of the time for a personalized order.
Offering custom work AND personalization changed my business forever! It opened up many opportunities and ideas for me that helped me generate more business long term.
Here are four big benefits of offering custom work or personalization and how it can grow your business.
Please note that this list is not in any particular order of ranked significance.
higher price tags are expected
People will pay more for either custom pieces or personalization. They expect to pay extra, BUT they expect to be taken care of for that extra. So if you are going to offer this, you’re going to need to factor in and plan for being accommodating. Once you have a system in place, though, particularly with personalization, this shouldn’t feel like you are doing a ton of ‘extra work.’
Custom and personalized have the potential to really increase your revenue, especially when considering the application to major life events that are already tremendous opportunities like weddings, anniversaries, and babies.
gets the creative juices flowing
Offering custom work and personalization inspires new ideas.
Custom work, in particular, fosters an environment where you are always creatively thinking with a collaborator (your customer), and that inevitably leads to new ideas that you can incorporate into other work. If someone asks you for a custom project, there might be elements of that or that comes from working through that which are useful in other products! Your entire product line might benefit from just a few custom projects. I love custom projects because they always tap into a little part of my creativity that I haven’t tapped before, and I get new ideas for other projects. Custom work is excellent for expanding your horizons and knowing what you’re capable of.
Custom and personalized work is special for the customer, but it’s still within your style. (It also helps you own your style as an artist AND business owner. All of which boosts your confidence.) In either case, people are coming to you for personalization or custom work because they like your style and trust it! This is awesome for you – it’s a huge morale booster when people trust you enough to ask your opinion on personalization (which does happen somewhat frequently) or trust you to create their idea for them. And that confidence translates to everything you do in your business!
As I discovered while recording this episode, there is a hidden bonus fifth benefit in here that I think is worth highlighting: Overall, offering this kind of work helps you step into ownership as an artist and business owner.
If someone asks for something that you can’t do or don’t think will logistically work – let them know. The customer will appreciate that. You’re the designer; if they could DIY this (or wanted to), they would. They’ve involved you because of your expertise! If your expertise extends to understanding that you aren’t the person for the job, saying no or declining a commission is appreciated.
You’ll need to be clear about what you do and how you do it, and what it costs. No one is going to advocate for you. You have to be realistic, and as you grow into these offerings, you’ll find opportunities to practice advocacy and ownership, and those are essential traits for you to have as an artist and a business owner.
Fills out your portfolio
Custom and personalized work builds your portfolio + grows your skillset
You’re going to be working mostly within your zone of genius, but new combinations or special requests or tweaks, and of course, those custom projects are going to give you new work to show off! This is content for social, samples for your site, and new skills you’ve learned or polished along the way that help you long term.
If you have a product that lends itself to being personalized, you’ve probably heard or will, at some point, hear from someone asking for that even if you don’t already offer it!
Consider personalization for your shop and products if you haven’t, people LOVE personalization, and it tends to be very popular on Etsy in particular.
Try it out! You can always test it and see what happens.