Etsy is a selling platform that encourages customization and personalization, but should you enable custom orders to begin with? Sometimes doing custom orders is an important part of your business, but sometimes it’s not worth it.
When I say “custom,” I’m talking about things that are created specifically for a customer from scratch. This isn’t the same as personalization, which is when a customer chooses pre-set elements from a menu that you provide in order to add a personal element like a monogram.
“Custom” in the sense I’m mentioning is more than that, it’s basically when the customer designs something and you make it. So should you do that, or not?
When you’re deciding whether to take on custom orders, you need to think about what level of customization you would want to provide, and whether you have the time to do custom items at all.
True custom items require a lot of back-and-forth with customers to get their ideas fleshed out, sketches approved, and then time to make the item.
This might be something that you do or don’t want to deal with, so it’s a personal decision about whether you want to offer custom items in your listings.
How to turn on the Etsy custom order requests button.
To enable the button in your shop that says “request custom order:”
- From your shop dashboard, click on Settings.
- Click on Options.
- In the first tab, scroll down and click on”Enabled” so that the custom order requests button will show up in your shop.
- Click Save at the bottom of the page.
- Check your shop homepage to see that the “Request Custom Order” button is showing.
When the button is toggled off in the settings, the Request Custom Order button won’t show in your shop.
Clicking the Request Custom Order button will send the seller a message through the Etsy message system that will have a “make this a custom order” button on the message.
If you agree to do the custom order, you can click on that button in the message to create the order, and Etsy will send the customer the link directly when you publish the listing.
That customer will be the only person who sees the listing if you create it that way, and you won’t pay the 20 cent listing fee until the customer buys the listing.
If the customer just sends you a message directly without using the button, there won’t be a “make this a custom order” button, so if you create a custom listing you’ll have to create the actual listing and publish it.
If that’s how you do it, anyone will be able to see the listing, and you should name it something like “Custom listing for Susan” (or whatever the customer’s name is!) You’ll also have to pay the 20 cent listing fee to publish the listing even if the customer doesn’t end up buying it.
It’s not unusual for someone else to buy a custom listing even though it has someone else’s name on it, so you’ll need to send the customer the link as soon as you create a public listing to tell them to buy it as soon as possible!
I’ve also had custom listings that the customer never came back to buy, so that’s not unusual either.
Those are the basic mechanics of how a custom listing works, but the question remains…Should you do them at all?
The pros and cons of doing custom listings on Etsy.
The good thing about doing custom listings on Etsy include things like expanding your product line, giving yourself the opportunity to take on new jobs, and getting direct feedback from customers about things that they like.
Some of the cons include the fact that custom orders need a lot more contact with the customer, they can end up with you spending more time on the order than you think you will, and you can potentially end up wasting a lot of time.
Because custom orders do involve taking guidance from the customer to basically let them tell you what to make, they always take more time than just making something that you’ve made before. You’ll have to go back and forth to get the details straight, and that can take a lot of time.
The good thing about that is that you’ll have the opportunity to see directly what customers want, and you can get some good ideas about new products to add to your shop. If you can control the amount of time that you spend on an order, custom orders can be a good way to get inside the mind of the customer.
For me, the problem with custom orders is that people generally want me to print things that are copyrighted, like Disney characters or superheroes. Since I won’t do that, I’ve stopped making custom orders easy to request, and I turned off the custom order button.
I still get messages asking if I can tweak listings for people, and sometimes I can, but sometimes I can’t. I definitely don’t do anything totally custom anymore, though!
If you do decide to offer custom orders, there are some things that you should set up to make the process easier.
How to handle custom orders on Etsy.
There are a few rules that you should put in place so that you have a process for custom orders. This will make it easier for you and for the customer, and it will prevent misunderstandings and complaints.
1. If you do a lot of custom orders, put a questionnaire-type form together to send to anyone who sends you a request. Have them fill it out and send it back to you so that you can take a look at what they need and see if you can fill the order. If they send it back without filling it out, you can send it back and have them send you all of the information. This will save you time and get everything on the form in one place.
2. You should have some payment process in place. I suggest that you get full payment up front so that the customer doesn’t have the opportunity to not pay you the second payment. A lot of people do a deposit and a final payment, but if the customer decides not to pay you the second payment, you’ll be out of luck.
3. I would suggest charging a design fee for large projects where you’ll be doing preliminary designs before making the item. It should be a non-refundable design fee, not a deposit, so that you get paid for the design, not the product. If the customer approves the design, you can then create the listing for the order and they can buy that separately. If they decide that they don’t want the item, you’ll still have been paid for your time in designing the item.
4. If you do charge for your design, the customer will own it, so they can take it to other people to make. If you don’t want that to happen, make sure to be specific about whether they can do that or not, but once they pay for your services it shouldn’t matter since you’ve been paid!
5. Make sure to specify beforehand how many changes and revisions the customer can have, or some people will go crazy and try to make you change a design a hundred times. I’d suggest saying that you’ll do the first design, then they can have two revisions at no charge. After that, there should be an additional fee for every change, with a limit of one or two more. If you don’t set limits up front, you’ll get people who are so indecisive they’ll change things so many times you’ll end up not being paid enough.
6. Once the design is approved, the customer should pay for the final item before you make it (see #2 above.) If the customer wants to pay you over time, Etsy offers Klarna as a payment program. Etsy isn’t set up for sellers to make arrangements for individual payments over time, so it’s safest to collect payment in full up front.
7. NEVER agree to match a specific color. Colors are very tricky because of computers, and they can look very different from one device to another. Tell customers that you can get close to the shade that you see, but that you can’t guarantee an exact match.
8. Never tell a customer that you can do something exactly like a photo that they sent, because you won’t be able to mimic someone else’s style perfectly.
9. If you feel like a customer is too bossy or demanding, don’t feel bad about turning the order down. When someone is pushy to start, it won’t get better. Refer them to someone else, and don’t be afraid to say that you’re not comfortable taking the order because you don’t think you can deliver what they’re thinking of.
10. Practice saying “No.” I tell people “I’m sorry, I’m not doing custom orders anymore.” I don’t say “at this time,” or “right now” because that tells them that they might be able to change my mind. I just say no.
11. Always estimate high on the time that you think a custom order will take when you’re pricing it. Things usually take longer than you think they will, especially if you’re doing something that you haven’t done before as far as a new design goes.
12. Make sure to charge more than you would for a regular listing that’s already designed. Custom work costs more no matter where you shop. People expect to pay more for something totally custom, so don’t shortchange yourself.
13. Don’t do the work until you’re paid to do the work. Until the customer orders the item and pays you, it’s not an order, it’s an inquiry. This includes doing a lot of design work ahead of time, too. Just don’t do it.
14. If you think that the custom order is something that you could sell again, and the customer hasn’t paid for any extensive design work that they own exclusive rights to, don’t list a private listing. List the item as a new listing the normal way, then let the customer buy it from that listing. That will give the new listing an instant boost in the Etsy algorithm, and Etsy will be more likely to show it to more people.
If you handle it right, custom orders can be a good way to expand your products with things that customers have proven to like. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of working too much for too little money, or before you get paid at all.
Make up a set of rules for yourself and for the customer, and custom orders will be a lot easier to manage. And remember that you can always say no!
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