How to design an epic custom order experience that WOWS!

How to design an epic handmade custom order experience that wows! Click through to read the full post!

Receiving a message requesting for a custom order is really exciting! Someone loves your work and style so much, that they’re willing to take the first step to see if you can create something special and unique just for them! Congrats!

So, when someone does initially message you, what do you actually do? It can feel overwhelming going back and forth without an actual plan, a realistic and practical time frame and trying to ‘wing it’ as you go. You may think to yourself:

  • What are the essential bases to cover for a custom order?
  • How do I know when I should ask for money? How much can I charge?
  • How can I help the customer trust me to follow through on the purchase, when they haven’t even seen the final product?

In today’s blog post, I’ll be walking you through how to create a custom order process to help you guide your customer through the initial design phase, develop trust and confidence in you and follow through to checkout and become a true fan who’ll return again and again!

Listen to your customer and develop an initial questionnaire

Depending on the customer, they may come to you with a fully thought out idea or just a vague idea. It’s your job to make sure you really listen to what they want and make sure you understand what they’d like so you can determine if you can help this bring this idea to life. Sometimes this may mean multiple emails or messages back and forth. For others it may be easier to set up an informal Skype or phone call or even sending through an initial questionnaire to cut down on your time and having to go back and forth so much. Some questions you should consider in this initial questionnaire includes:

  • What occasion do they want to use it for?
  • Who’s it for? Is it a gift?
  • What’s most important to this customer?
  • How often do they plan on using it?
  • What are their preferences for sizing?
  • What colours do they prefer?
  • Are they allergic to any materials?
  • When does the customer need it?
  • What’s their budget?
  • What kind of finish would they like?

When you’ve understood what the customer would like, present a rough sketch, with exact dimensions, materials and finishes to them as a design proof. This could be a nicely presented PDF you’ve created using Adobe Indesign or a picture (if you’ve hand drawn) you’ve taken on your smart phone. This way – as it’s not in an editable format like a Microsoft Word document or Excel or similar – the customer can’t later edit it and later go back and say: Hey, I had this in the proof, but the final product isn’t the same! Presenting a design proof allows you to clearly confirm that you’ve understood what they’d like and the scope of the project. Small details may get lost and forgotten in the long email chain – so the design proof is a nice and simple way to sum it all up.


Get your EPIC custom order experience checklist straight into your inbox, so you’ll know the exact steps to guide your customer through an unforgettable custom order experience!

Guide the customer through your custom order process

Although the initial receipt of a message inquiring about a custom piece is exciting, it’s important to field out the customers that are actually serious and others who are just shopping around. It may be helpful to initially outline the process you’ll take the customer through when you send the initial questionnaire:

  1. Completion of initial questionnaire
  2. Follow up with any further questions
  3. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may be required to source materials or need outside assistance (i.e. if you’re a jeweller and the customer wants a piece engraved, you’d need to source an engraver and get a quote from them) to complete the piece. It would be worthwhile charging a ‘design fee’ that is redeemable off of the final quote if they choose to proceed. Then at least, if they choose not to go through with the final design, your initial time and effort for this time is covered.
  4. Don’t be afraid to charge this design fee! You will save so much of your precious time, asking up front for a fee. It doesn’t have to be a lot – just enough to cover your time. If the customer thinks you’re a good fit and trusts you in this early stage, they won’t balk at the request of the design fee. If they do, you know that they weren’t serious.
  5. Confirmation of design proof and drafting an initial quote – inclusive of costs, dimensions, materials, finishes, number of revisions (if applicable), estimated time line to completion, shipping costs, instructions for deposit or full payment. Explanation of your refunds and returns policy for custom work.
  6. Depending on the price – it may be helpful splitting up the fee in instalments or 100% paid up front before commencing work. E.g. If the item is less than $100, I ask for the whole amount up front. If the item costs more, does a 50% initial deposit, followed by the remaining 50% before shipment make sense? Use your judgement.
  7. If the scope changes before you get the OK – it’s OK to change your pricing accordingly too! Provide reasons and explain to the customer the change in price.
  8. After payment has been made, remind the customer where they are in the process and what your next steps are.
  9. Don’t forget to periodically update them on the progress on their item! This builds excitement, whilst continuing to build trust! How will you share your progress?
  10. Don’t forget to update the customer if you experience any unexpected delays! Usually customer will be OK and even appreciative when you communicate about any unexpected delays, as soon as practicable. Always be upfront and transparent.
  11. Let your customer know when you’ve shipped out their item and approximately when they can expect it in their mailbox! Express your thanks for choosing to work with you.


Know what you’re worth and charge for it

Think about your existing workload and how this custom order will fit in. How much time will it require? How much time have you already spent in the initial design phase? Keep track of all your time spent on this project. I like and using excel to keep track of all these details, including quotes sourced from outside suppliers, all materials etc.

For custom work, it can be really easy to under-price and not charge appropriately for your time and expertise! If you’re unsure about how to price your work, check out my pricing blog post here:


Create a custom order graphics template

To save time, it’s useful to create a template in Photoshop or similar, so that when the customer is ready to check out, you can make some quick text edits to the template and list the item in your shop quickly.


Get your EPIC custom order experience checklist straight into your inbox, so you’ll know the exact steps to guide your customer through an unforgettable custom order experience!

You can say no and it’s OK!

  • Are you confident you have the necessary skills and tools to deliver the project? If not, can you learn some new skills and adapt?
  • When something is really out of your capabilities, refer them to someone else who may be able to help them. It may suck, losing out on the work, but the person you referred them to, would be thrilled! The handmade community is small and it pays to pay it forward and who knows, in the future maybe they’ll refer work back to you! What goes around, comes around.
  • Does what they’re requesting, fit in with your style and existing brand?
  • Are you excited about this project?
  • Do you have enough time in your schedule to take on this custom project?
  • Always be up front and transparent. If what they’re requesting isn’t practical, tell them in plain English (without all the fancy jargon) and offer up other alternatives that they may not know is possible! You’d rather do right by them, than just quickly make the sale and have them return later as an unhappy customer.


What can I do to differentiate my shop from my competitors for custom orders?

  • Upgrade your packaging

Can you use exclusive and special packaging for custom orders? E.g. Instead of the usual boxes, draw string bags etc you use, can you upgrade them that’s made from a more luxurious material?


  • Send a hand written thank you note

Simple and very easy to do and ideally should be sent out with all your orders – it makes for a special finishing touch, receiving a special handwritten thank you note from the maker that’s been communicating with you to bring your idea to life!


  • Encourage social sharing of their custom order!

Encourage your customer to share a photo of it on social media for a chance to be featured on your account.


  • Sweeten the pot and throw in an unexpected freebie

Consider giving them a free shipping coupon or similar for their next purchase to encourage repeat business.

Is there another freebie you can throw in to sweeten it up? Depending on what you make, can you add in something from the lower end of your range as a gift? Or a special item that isn’t available anywhere else – that’s just for custom order customers?


  • Respond to their messages as quickly as you can!

Often, customers initially send out the same enquiry to multiple shops and usually go with the first shop that responds! When you respond quickly, it gives them confidence that you’re responsible and responsive and will remain so – throughout the whole process. This is great to quickly establish and build up trust – which is so vital – especially when the customer is not able to see the final piece before placing money down.

Of course, once they’ve paid you money, you should continue this level of responsiveness and attentive service throughout the whole project!


Evaluate your custom order experience and implement improvements

Hurray! You’ve successfully completed the custom project, shipped it and they’ve messaged you to let you know it’s safely arrived and they love it! If they haven’t yet, this is a great time to prompt them to leave some official feedback in your shop or write a testimonial to put on your website.

Proactively seek feedback and ask the customer what they thought worked well during the process and what areas can be improved. I like collating all this feedback into an Excel spreadsheet, so I can clearly see it all and tweak your process as need be.


Get your EPIC custom order experience checklist straight into your inbox, so you’ll know the exact steps to guide your customer through an unforgettable custom order experience!

Monica is a corporate cubical escape artist turned jewellery maker, designer and creative business infopreneur. She helps fellow artists, designers and makers launch and grow a handmade business they love.
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