I completed my first custom order this week on Tuesday. I received a request for 10 Triple Town Bears:
First of all, W.O.W. 10 bears! Awesome! Second, did it in 7 days --- 3 days faster than my quote! I accomplished this by pulling an all-nighter on Monday (Feb 27). Soothed by the sweet sweet song of Buffy's voice, I crocheted into the darkness... and into the light again, passing out briefly between the hours of 8AM and 1PM from exhaustion and the oh-so-preventable mistake of taking a hot shower and eating a warm breakfast at 7 o'clock (sequentially, not at the same time.) Full tummy + warm body = sleepy time.
My first custom order was a wonderful learning experience. There were lots of things I did wrong. And lots of things I did right, though I couldn't name them for you because I really only remember & focus on the screw-ups. Looking back, I thought I'd share some of the things I feel I could improve upon. May my experience contribute to your wisdom. Or at least comfort you in knowing you're not the only one who did that...
#1 Quote Realistic Time-To-Fill
I said "10 days". What I should have said was, "10 business days". This is the equivalent of 2 weeks. Though, in all reality, I really should quote it as 2 to 3 weeks. Lesson learned: give yourself a buffer. I did it in 7 days, but that's because I pulled an all-nighter on Monday, crocheting for nearly 18 hours straight. Had this been broken out over multiple days, I would have needed an additional 5 days to finish the project --- more than 10 consecutive days. Scary thought.
Another factor I did not think about was me time. To fill this order, I sacrificed a lot of me time. On the whole, it isn't as bad as you think. I just didn't make it to the gym, like, at all. I also didn't get any laundry or house cleaning done. Factoring in my house wifely duties and me time into the Time-To-Fill equation is a must for future orders.
Time-to-fill sets expectations for your customer and yourself. So, it would make sense to factor in BOTH the time you can dedicate to the order AND the time you need for everything else. Also, should you pull it off earlier, you blow your customers' expectations out of the water and really set the standard for customer service.
#2 Keep Extra Supplies on Hand
Keep extra supplies for things that take a while to get on hand. Safety Eyes, buttons, yarn, anything that requires buying something from somebody else. I did not have enough safety eyes to fill this order. To make matters worse, I had completely bought out the local Joann's. So, it wasn't like I could just hop in the car and run to the store. I spent the first 48 hours looking for a solution that wouldn't cost me an exorbitant amount of money. I found my solution, 6060 on Etsy.
If I hadn't come across cheaper to ship venues, I would have had to drop nearly $25 in shipping costs to get $10 of plastic in time to fill the order. Also, buying safety eyes, etc, through venues NOT Joann's is incredibly cheaper on the whole. I can pay $9.99 at Joann's for 10 pairs of safety eyes, or $6 at 6060. Savings, please.
#3 Crochet More Than You Need
This builds on the previous two topics. I did not have any extra bears on hand ready for assembly or shipment. I had one bear, which is currently listed for sale in the shop. But that bear is reserved for whoever orders it---it does not ship in a custom order. No other bear parts were to be seen. Everything was still just balls of yarn, so all my time was spent crocheting bear parts. The assembly process is short. I can stitch together a bear in about 30 minutes.
Truth be told, I did not expect to need parts for 10 bears on hand. I was quite content with having 3 already made for the shop. I told myself, when I'm down to the last bear, I make 3 more for the next listing. That mythical "when" is now. Had I been through this experience already, I would have had 9 bears on hand --- 3 listed, 3 for the next listing, 3 for a buffer --- and parts for 15 more in a box. While I have completed the custom order for 10 bears, I am not done with everything I need to have in place.
#4 Don't Shy From Shipping
I absolutely hate asking for the money I need for shipping my products. I don't know why. It's not like I don't know what to tell people: $6.50 for phone cozies, $8.00 for Triple Town Bears (packing supplies + shipping). I ship Priority Mail, flat rate if the order fits in the box, with Delivery Confirmation (aka, tracking.) You get your item in 2 - 3 days from the moment I drop it in the post barring unforeseen circumstances: plague, baby pandas, holidays.
Right now, I'm eating part of the cost of shipping for everything I ship. I can do one of two things to remedy this: raise the cost of my items or raise the cost of shipping. Since raising the cost of the item won't adequately reflect what I'm doing, I'll have to raise the cost of shipping. At the moment, it doesn't make any sense to charge a little for shipping in the item price AND charge shipping.
#5 Be Wise With Time Else You Work All Night
Two words: Time Management. No matter how much buffer you give yourself, no matter how many weeks you quote the client, it's critically essential that you manage your time wisely. All the extra supplies and money in the world can't help you if you've whiled away your time for 3 days and made little progress. I don't know what it's going to take to get my time management under control. Perhaps a calendar or robotic prison guard. Scheduled crochet time? Less Internet, for sure. I can waste a year watching my "shop stats".
If it comes down to a few days before a deadline and you are not in the final mode of putting that last stitch on the duck or heading downstairs to start the washing & pressing process of your order, you are in trouble. It would be at this point that I'd recommend pulling an all-nighter to catch up. The all-nighter is a powerful weapon. It's like having a nuclear missile or truffle salt. If you use it all the time, you'll ruin life as you know it. But, when applied sparingly, it can be quite effective. Also, it's OK to pull an all-nighter. I found it kinda relaxing and fulfilling. Alarming. But not terribly bad. The best part? Should you come out the other side all caught up, you can spend the day napping in the sunlight.
I'm very satisfied with how everything turned out on this project. Not only did I meet my goals, I made my customer happy as I was able to complete and ship the product in time for their needs. I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep this shop going. I want to turn it into a profitable venture with an excellent reputation and decent customer following. MY own business. When I graduated from college in 2007 with my BSCS, I NEVER thought I'd be here. But, I am. Cool.K.Thx.Bye.