Monday, October 18, 2010

Saying No

When you have a handmade business, you obviously want to sell your work.  As a result, one of the hardest things for artists to do is say no.  I see comments and questions on this all the time.

Most of our customers are perfectly lovely people who buy things and pay right away, never ask for changes and are happy when they get what they purchased.  But occasionally someone will put us on the spot.

It can be very awkward to respond to their request sometimes.  In some circumstances we find it easier to just acquiesce to what they want us to do, even when we really don't want to or don't think we should.

So how do you say no to a customer request?  What happens if you do say no?

I like to make my customers happy.  I will usually try to work with them to help them get a piece they want. 

However, there are certain instances when I just have to say no.  It's never easy, but it is ultimately my business and I have set my policies to what they are for very good reasons.  It's also important for people to understand that like many other artists, this is not a hobby for me, it's how I make my living.  It's how I pay my bills and buy food and other frivolities.

I lost a very large sale of several pieces this weekend because I had to say no.  I knew I would lose the sale, but I couldn't bend my policies out of necessity.  I realize my potential customer didn't really understand why I wouldn't despite my explanations.  It was unfortunate, I didn't want to make them unhappy, but I couldn't accommodate them.

I thought maybe I would go over a few of the things I say no to.  Possibly it will help someone else out there who is reading this and wasn't sure what to do in the same instance.  Please keep in mind these are just my policies, they are neither right nor wrong...they are simply what works for me and I an not suggesting that you should or should not do any of these things...that's entirely up to you.

When it comes to shops I do wholesale, but I always say no to consignment.  The reason I have never done it is because if a shop has your piece on consignment they aren't responsible for it if something happens.  If their shop burns down, floods, etc. or the piece is stolen it isn't covered by their insurance and they are not responsible for restitution.  You are simply out all the money, time and effort you put into your work.

I say no to lay away.  I realize that people like things and they don't always have the money right on the spot to purchase something.  Believe me I have been there.  As much as I would like to do lay away for people, I simply can't.  I have limited space, and if I want to make new pieces, sometimes the pieces I already have need to go out into the world so I have room for more.  I will reserve a piece for up to seven days though.  I have been in the circumstance twice this year that bears were offered to me at a later date that I had wanted and didn't think I could get because they were sold.  They became available and I wasn't prepared for it, so both times I had to ask if they would mind holding the bear until Friday.  But believe me, paying for them was my very first order of business on Friday.  As a rule I never order anything unless I know I have a way to pay for it right there because it's not fair to the artist who is counting on that money.

In this day and age of credit, it's very easy to find a way to pay for something if you really want it.  If it comes right down to not being able to afford it, then I simply don't tell the artist I want to buy it.  I will wait and hope it's still available when I can.

I always say no to reducing the price.  To be honest, this is the one request that just makes me genuinely annoyed.  You don't go to the department store or the grocery store and haggle over the prices, so you don't get to do it with me.  I have a formula I go by to set my prices based on supplies and work involved.

This also applies to shipping.  I will reduce shipping for combined pieces since they are being put into the same box, but I can't negotiate prices with the post office.  Shipping just costs what it costs.

The next request I get sometimes is to say the item is a gift if it's being shipped overseas so the customer can avoid duty fees.  I understand that many customers don't really realize the implications of what they are asking and the position they put us in as business people.

I also say no to obscure shipping methods.  You can have it delivered by USPS, UPS or FedEx if you're in a rush.  Anything else is always most emphatically a no because too many people who want it shipped by some unusual method or courier are running a scam.

I rarely get asked to change something on a piece, but occasionally it does happen.  When I sit down to make a piece I do it in one of two ways.  Either I know what it's going to be before I even begin, or I let it develop and tell it's story about who it is as I create it.  Either way my vision of that piece comes together into a finished product.  I have put a lot of hard work into making it just the way it is.  I don't really like to change things once a piece is done.

I also usually say no to custom pieces unless it's a simple thing like shade of fur, color of bow, ect.  I know that might seem surprising since many, many people do custom work.   I used to try to always do them, and on occasion I will still do one if I know my customer well enough.  But there are two reasons I say no, one is because pattern designs don't come easy for me.  I am a perfectionist and it takes me a while to get to where I want something to be.  So if you ask me to make an animal that I haven't made before it's going to take a while...a long while probably.  Since it takes a lot of time it has to be something I know I want to make again.  I am also hesitant to make custom pieces from existing patterns for two reasons.  One is that the customer is asking me to recreate a piece I have sold.  I normally make one of a kind or one of a few things. It isn't fair to the person who bought the piece in the first place thinking that was the only one like it. 

The second reason is if a customer wants something they envision in their head.  I can't see inside your head.  *grins*  Whatever I make won't look like the image you're picturing in your mind.  Bears and their friends have a way of turning out how they want and I only have so much control over it.  The good news is, if you like my work and are patient you will most likely find a piece in the near future that you love.

I know that seems like a lot of things to say no to.   I don't like saying no, but it has to be done at times.  I try to do it in the most polite way possible.  There are always going to be exceptions to the rules.   The good news is that I get to say yes a lot more often than I have to say no.  I hope maybe you took something useful away from this.  Just remember it's your business, and you have the right to run it how you see fit.  Sometimes that might mean doing something unpleasant like saying no.  You might lose a sale, hopefully the customer will respect your business in the end and you won't.   But a bird in the hand isn't always worth two in the bush in our line of work!

Have a great day, I hope you get to say yes yes yes all day long to happy things!

I would also like to say thank you to everyone who took time to stop by my Halloween party post and leave kind comments!  (If you missed it, it's in the previous post.)

Hugs, K. <3


Wayne said...

Hi Kelly, I have read this long post today. I agreed with the things you mention and thanks for sharing, this give me an idea how business should be done.

I am a new artist, I don't do full time and I have a day job. I am also not trained to do business and I m learning to handle my part-time bear making hobby/career.

I understand how you feel on different occassions and i know i would possibably encounter them sooner or later. After reading this, i m more prepared to see/handle such situations.

Thank you once again, have a great day at work and happy bear making =)

Cheers, Wayne

Katy Cameron said...

Like Wayne this is not my main job, but I completely agree with your policies because one day I would like it to be, and don't want to get into a situation where something is expected of me from previous experience.

Saying that, a colleague that I see a couple of times a week always opens his notepad, writes one word, holds it up, and says, 'Have you said this word today?' That word would be 'No'. Err, I don't do it often, maybe you can give lessons!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely don't agree with this post.
Only No No little changes in the creations already orders...
I think it is not a kind way to take customers and collectors, I think collectors will choose other artists much more kind and friendly when they want to adopt a creation for their collection!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kelly. Without meaning to reduce bear creation to crass profit-making or be unduly negative, it is invariably the customers with the special needs who take up a greatly disproportionate amount of the creator's time and energy with their requests. They also often tend to want to reduce the price and want more changes than the average customer. Catering to them actually does not make good business sense, unless bear making is just a hobby and not a profession.

Amanda said...

Oh dear to the last comment....but if thats how it works for you Kelly, well thats how it is.

I actually agree with much of what you said, I've had a lot of the things happen or come across. I can layaway for a bit longer than the week but only because its not my main income, but not much longer.

I've done custom orders before but it does stifle me and like you say, you can't mind read. They always made me on edge so I don't do them now. I worry too much!

At least you were upfront and honest and bottom line its a business, not a hobby, pastime.

I too will think this will help customers and other business to see things differently.

Kelly said...

To the first anonymous's not a matter of being unkind. It's a matter of running a proper business and not being taken advantage of. I have bills to pay. Mohair costs on the average 200.00 a yard. So I have money and time invested in those pieces.

I cannot have five pieces sitting around for a month that hadn't been paid for. Especially from a customer who wanted more favors, but had never bought anything from me before and didn't even give me any money upfront.

I am willing to work with repeat customers a little more, but I have no idea if I pull those items aside if the new customer will even end up buying them or just change their mind.

I have been in business for 30 years, most people don't have a problem with the policies. They understand it's an issue of mutual respect.

Claire said...

Hi Kelly

My name is Claire, Ive been following your blog for over a year now. I just wanted to thank you for the Saying No post. I think that what you are saying is very valuable, people need to understand how challenging it can be to be in such a business. The other thing is the amount of time you spend writing your blog for us, etc. Thankyou for everything, and for your honesty. Claire

Kelly said...

I just want to say thank you Claire, and to the rest of you who made kind comments and do understand what it's like to be an artist.

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