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Monday, January 11, 2010

Etsy Sellers tips – Custom orders

The world of custom orders is a tricky one for any Etsy seller, because we enter the minefield of creating something unique to a buyers design specifications. We hand over some or all of the creative control to our buyers, who are often unaware of the limitations of our craft and the time that their items take to create.

I know of many Etsy sellers that have fallen foul of custom order requests gone wrong: Where buyers expect way too much for no increase in price, or when communications have not made it clear exactly what they want before the seller starts work, causing sellers to redo items over and over wasting precious time. The steps below are designed to help you work out the kinks of your custom order process so both you and your buyer are clear on exactly what you expect from each other, hopefully meaning that you both come out happy with your transaction.

1. Talk to your buyer about what they want.
Colors, sizes, design features etc. Ask for images or links for reference if applicable and make sure you get as much information as possible. If your buyer asks for a quote at this point give them a ball park figure if you can, but be clear that until you have decided on ALL the details you can’t give them a specific price.

2. Be honest about what you can and cannot do.

Sometimes buyers assume your craft is capable of things that are just not possible! Be honest with your buyers about what you can and cannot do, it is much better for the both of you if your design specification is achievable right from the beginning. If your buyer sets a low budget, be clear with them about what you can accomplish for their price range.

3. Write up a clear design specification.

When you are sure you have all the information you need: Write up a clear design specification. It sounds so simple and yet it is very easy to get crossed wires even at this early stage, especially if you have had several convos already and important information has to be sifted out.

Write out all the details you have discussed and put it all in one place, give them a price based on this information. Ask your buyer to check it and if they make any changes make sure you adjust the price accordingly if you need to.

Include the shipping cost and the time it will take you to complete the order in your design specification as well. Overestimate the time it will take you by about 20%, this gives you some wiggle room should unforeseen things happen, and if you get it done before you said you would this will make your buyer even happier.

It is a good idea include small piece of text making it clear that changes to the design specification later will incur additional costs, if your buyer keeps changing their minds and costing you time then it is fair that it should cost them more money. Make sure they are aware of this when they are confirming their design specification.

4. Ask for payment before you start work.
You don’t have to ask for all the money before you start, but a partial payment of 50% is more than acceptable. Most professional businesses require 100% payment before they start on an order, and I see no reason why an Etsy seller should not ask for the same.

Some sellers prefer not to take this approach, and of course the decision is up to you. If the item you are making could be sold in your store as a non-custom item then you might choose to risk it and not ask for payment ahead of time, then should something happen you could place it in your store to resell later. However if you are making something that you could not resell, I would highly recommend that you ask your buyer to make some kind of financial commitment before you start work. This is a common policy for most professional businesses.

5. Set up a listing on Etsy so that your buyer can pay
Include the whole design specification (omitting any personal information that the buyer does not want to share). By doing this you receive payment as well as having a new transaction and feedback options.

6. Keep the lines of communication open as you work
When you wrote out the design specification you set a timetable for the work to be completed. If the work will take more than a week, make sure you keep your buyer up to date on how their item is coming along. If you are having difficulties you did not foresee (such as materials out of stock from your local craft store, or technical problems with some of the design specifications) make sure you keep your buyer informed. Buyers would much rather know about things like this ahead of time than be surprised with them later on. Managing their expectations in important for your customer service record. You don’t need to send a convo every day, but a quick update once a week will really help your buyer feel as if something is happening.

7. Send photos of the completed item to your buyer
Give them the opportunity to suggest any changes they would like you to make. If the changes they want are significantly different from your original design specifications and will cost you more time to do, then make them aware what extra cost they will need to pay to cover this.

If the buyer does request changes repeat step 7 until they are happy with their item.

8. Get the rest of your payment
If you took partial payment before you started work, ask for the rest of it now before you ship the item off.

9. You’re done!
Ship off their items promptly and make sure to let them know how long it should take to arrive.

It helps to write about your custom order policies in the Policies section of your Etsy Store, you can then direct your buyers to read this section as you start convoing about a possible order. Include information on possible costs, construction times, additional charges to changes in the design specifications, when payment is due etc. The more information you include the better your customer will know what to expect from you, and the more protected you are should something go wrong. For example if a buyer claims that they did not know changes that require more work on your part would cost them more money. If it is there in their policies, and you have been clear about it in convos they do not have a leg to stand on.

So many of us rely on custom orders for a large proportion of our income, and many new sellers on Etsy inadvertently allow buyers to walk all over them. Buyers that demand a great deal of work from a seller for a low budget often get a very good deal while the seller is left running in circles for a pitiful amount of money. Don’t allow your need for more sales cause you to undersell what you do.


1. Talk to your buyer about what they want.
- Colors, sizes, design features etc.
- Collect together links, images and any other reference material.
- Give a ballpark figure on cost if requested

2. Be honest about what you can accomplish, especially if a low budget it set.

3. Write up a clear design specification and ask your buyer to check it.
– All the details you have discussed, colors, sizes, design features, links, images and reference material etc
- Total price for the work including the Shipping cost
- Time it will take you to complete the order
- Be clear that major changes to the design speciation will cost the buyer more money.

4. Ask for payment before you start work.
- Partial or full payment, however you decide to do this.

5. Create a special listing in your Etsy store so your buyer can pay. Include the whole design specification in the description. (Remember to protect your customers privacy, remove any personal information like names, addresses etc from the listing description)

6. Keep the lines of communication open.
- Keep your buyer up to date once a week on how things are progressing.
- Let them know if you are having any difficulties with their order, especially if this will affect the construction time.

7. Send photos of the completed item to your buyer.
- Ask for their opinion and any changes they might want.
- If they want changes that are significantly different to the design specification and will cost you more time then give them a quote for the additional work.
- repeat step 7 until your buyer is happy with their order.

8. If you took partial payment before you started work, ask for the rest of it now before you ship the item off.

9. You’re done! Ship off the item promptly.


  1. awesome tips..
    i always ask the%100 of money before making the order. because i know myself but do not know the customer!!

  2. Great tips! there should be something like this for buyers too ;)

  3. Sounds so logical, but this is definitely advice I should take to heart! Some of my books took so much time to make and that wasn't reflected in the price at all. We learn...

  4. sometimes as sellers we are so eager just to sell something to anyone that we often underestimate the time, investment, and effort that we put into gathering the supplies and making the custom item(s)...this is a great article wake-up call!


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