I had an interesting (putting it mildly) exchange with a potential client a couple weeks ago.
I was still on a weekend getaway with my husband and received a request very early in the morning for custom work. The potential client sent me images, job specifics, and asked if I could get it done as soon as possible. I explained that I was out of town, but would be happy to take care of it when I returned, and provided my listing for the custom design request.
But my gut told me something was off with the whole thing.
Sending my Etsy listing wasn’t anything personal; it’s standard practice for many graphic designers to ask for at least a deposit up front. This is actually considered a best practice by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, or AIGA, a Professional Graphic Designer Organization, to prevent speculative work.
Speculative work is work that is performed with a chance that you won’t be paid. You can read more about it here.
The client was not at all pleased with my policy. After a back and forth email exchange, where I calmly and professionally explained that I had done design work without being paid only to be skipped out on, the client stated that they’ve never heard of graphic designers doing this and decided to look for someone else.
Even with my perfect 5 star feedback, the client did not trust me. At that point I had well over 150 sales, and many of those from prepaid clients. But I didn’t take it personal. Plus, I had my little voice gnawing at me before the events unfolded anyway. I know that there’s no possible way for a designer to be everyone’s cup of tea
But it did teach me some important things about my business. And I think you’ll find them useful, too.
The Importance of Setting Limits
It’s your business and you have a right to skip projects that make the little voice inside of you start to fret. It’s ok to have things that you won’t do, politely decline projects that aren’t your specialty, or have certain payment requirements. Do what works for you and your clients both.
In my case, I charge up front for a few reasons:
- It ensures that I’ll complete the work exactly as intended/agreed upon
- My client is engaged throughout the process.
- It’s AIGA Practices and Standards based
I’ve had two clients ask for custom work where I’ve went as far as doing the work and set ting up an Etsy listing and they never came back to check out. So I was out not only my time, but .20 for each listing as well.
Don’t be like me and unnecessarily cost your business money. Customer service is important, but you won’t stay afloat, or profitable if you’re not watching the bottom line.
Write Clear, Concise Policies and FAQs
Leave no room for ambiguity; come right out and professionally answer tough questions for your customers/clients. This can be questions in regards to payment, returns, why they should hire you, etc.
Until that exchange, I didn’t have an FAQ on my Custom Work Payment Policies. Honestly, I never thought I’d need it. You live, you learn, right? Having clear, concise FAQs will weed out clients who aren’t a good fit for your business and prevent awkward exchanges (like I had).
Etsy does have a builder to help you develop shipping and return policies, but the rest is up to you. Really take time to think about things your customers might ask, and add FAQs as they come up.
Stick to your Guns.
Even with limits, policies, and FAQs in place, some clients will bypass them or not read them. Don’t be afraid to politely and professionally cite your policies and that you’re happy to answer any additional questions they may have, or point them in the direction of someone else who may be able to help them.
If there’s one takeaway you get from this blog post, I hope its this:
If the thought of doing custom work without pre-payment makes you uneasy, don’t do it. This is your business, and it’s absolutely more than ok to run it the way you need to run it.