Some people in creative business shy away from custom work, fearing it will ruin their creativity. While others do custom work almost exclusively, never holding an inventory of pieces for sale. But how do you start out? How do you get custom work in the first place, and how the heck do you price it?? I've had a TON of questions on this topic, so let's dive in and figure this out together...
(By the way, by "custom work" I mean refinishing a piece a client already owns.)
You will be nervous.
First things first. The first few (or 100) times you do work for a client - whether it's refinishing one of their pieces, or customizing a piece you've sourced for them - you will be nervous.
The moment you hit "send" with all the final photos, or when your customer arrives to pick up the piece, will make you sweat. All the questions will go through your mind, "what if they don't like it", "what if I'm actually not good at this", "what if I scratch it on the way out the door", "what if this is the wrong color", and on and on it goes.
This is all totally normal, and it WILL BE OKAY. All of the above could happen, but it rarely does. So take a deep breath and put a smile on your face.
Have you ever liked something in the store, just to bring it home and be "so-so" about it? Until your best friend comes over and gushes over it - telling you how perfect it is in the space, etc. Then all of the sudden you realize you LOVE it. Sometimes this happens with custom work.
Occasionally you'll get a client who needs you to assure them they've made the right choice (of course be honest if this isn't the case). Present your work to them with confidence that you love it, and did your very best work. That excitement will be contagious to your client.
I also remember when clients started asking my opinion on a piece - in my head I was thinking, "who do you think I am, a designer?" and then I realized, yep, they sure do. I have an authority in the refinishing space, and if they are asking my opinion on a color, finish, etc, then I should give it to them!
You also need to show confidence in your abilities so your customers know you are the right choice for the job.
Start with techniques you know you are good at.
More than likely you have a particular skill within your industry, something you are known for - a style. While this can grow, expand and change from time to time, it's good to have a foundation.
If Sally emails asking you for a full strip and refinish on her grandma's heirloom dresser, and you are only really familiar with painting furniture, you should politely turn her down. Or convince her to paint the dresser.
Don't go so far outside your comfort zone that you stress yourself out about the finish. Sometimes you will have a fun client who actually wants you to get a little wild on a piece, but more often than not - they've seen something online and want you to re-create the look. If you are confident you can do it, then say so and send a quote!
Practice your craft.
This ties in with having a style and sticking to techniques you know you are good at... but it needs repeating. Figure out what you are good at, and then get even better at it.
This will be helpful in a myriad of ways: It will set you apart from the 5 million other furniture painters out there. It will give you confidence in your own niche, and you will attract clients that fit your style and ability. This will ultimately allow you to have fun in the custom work process.
Stick to your style.
Some artists shy away from custom work fearing their creative side will shrivel and die as they paint 100 white dressers in a row. I was also a little afraid of this, but haven't found it to be the case.
There are seasons of the year when custom work is busier for me, and I don't have as much time to work on "my own" projects. However, when I finally do get a free second, I find myself even MORE creative than before. Sometimes you need the mental break (either in custom work, or a literal break) so you can come back refreshed and fired up to go bananas on a piece of furniture.
I also have noticed that staying true to my style and brand overall, attracts clients who have similar tastes. This allows me to be working on pieces that I enjoy much more often. It takes a while to get to this point, but when you do it's wonderful!
Create a gallery.
Make sure you have photos of pieces you have refinished. Whether you have a 3 ring binder full of photos, a website gallery or a "sold" section of your shop, make sure you have a place you can direct potential clients to.
This is helpful to both of you. They can get a sense of your style, technique and ability, and you can direct them to the finish you think will look best on their piece.
What to charge?
Okay, so we've got all that worked out, now what to charge for custom work?? Just like I said in my article on pricing, this is really all up to you. It's YOUR business, so YOU get the ultimate say in price. You may be higher than everyone in your area, but if you are getting the business you want, who cares! Or you may chose to be lower in price because you don't have much overhead, or you are just starting out and building your portfolio. Whatever your reasons for the price, it is UP TO YOU!
Here's how I think it through. Custom work is really the same as the piece of furniture I found and refinished minus the cost of the furniture itself. So I usually take off 50-100 from my "retail" prices for custom work. My price list is just a BASE, so depending on the client, and what it is they are asking me to do - I adjust the price up or down from my base point. I do recommend having a price sheet of your own, because it's REALLY helpful, I reference mine all the time! (You can see my price list in this article - feel free to steal it and adjust as you see fit).
This may not need saying, but I'm going to. Say you really hate painting chairs - you have complete authority to quote those dang chairs super high. That way if you do end up getting the job, at least you know you'll make bank!
So the next time you are asked if you do custom work - say YES!! Give it a try (if you don't already) and see your business and your skills grow!
If I missed anything, or you have any questions, leave a comment!!
Until next time,