Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Keeping your cool with special orders



A while ago, an organization requested that I make items they could give as gifts. This was a whole new concept for me- making a large quantity of similar items for one group. I learned a lot (I hope!) from this experience, and thought I might try and pass on some of it.

First of all, stay on top of the project. I was first contacted a full 6 months before the date of the event. I happily made samples, and expected to hear back soon. But I didn’t. I emailed a couple of times, even called once as the date approached, but still was not even sure they wanted anything. Then the event was a month away. I did not want to push, but I know I can only move so quickly when it comes to bead making. And what if I needed more glass, silver or other supplies for the project? That’s another week of waiting. I was getting nervous. They needed a lot of pieces, and I was beginning to feel it would all be un-doable. And I really did want to do this. Not just because the money would be nice, but also to stretch myself, see how I did, and of course the exposure never hurts.

So I made my case- nicely, of course. I called- again. I hate pestering folks, but I also didn’t want to disappoint them by letting the deadline come and go. I needed 3 ½ weeks to get their order ready. That gave me a week to order supplies, and 2 ½ weeks to make, clean and bail the beads. Every day that passed made me more uncertain that I could finish this in a timely manner. While I waited, I tried to beef up my regular inventory and clear the way.

And then things began to happen.

First was the phone call. I realized then that a) they really did want me to make something, and b) they were very busy themselves, and I was being squeezed in. Emails went back and forth, and a meeting was set up. During this time, I became aware that there was a lot of communication needed about what I could and could not do. I was very straightforward about things, and twice had to flat out say no, I can’t do that. I realize now that this was because they were unfamiliar with lampwork glass, and I was not explaining it well- or at all! I thought that, since they had approached me, they understood what was involved, but this is not necessarily so. To my surprise, they did not just drop me at this point, but still wanted to meet and look at the samples, something I had been encouraging from the beginning. I don’t think this project would ever have worked without the face-to-face meeting.

So on to the meeting. This was where the design ideas I originally came up with were pretty much summarily rejected, though a small part of those designs did end up in the final pieces. Fortunately, I had brought along a few beads to show sizes and shapes. And some of them were more along the lines of what they wanted. Hooray! Now we had a design plan. I never realized that they would be able to help with the design. But this is actually quite important. It gives them, hopefully, exactly what they are looking for, and allows them to be a part of the creative process. The buyers become an integral part of the process, and the piece is truly theirs.

Ok, time was really getting short now. Nearly a week had gone by, and only now did I feel like I knew what to do. I set my alarm and got up at 4:30 the next morning to make four more samples and bring them over by 10 am. Fortunately, things went well that morning, and I ended up with four different pieces that were similar. I rushed to get them semi- clean and over to the office by 10. And the person I needed to talk to was in a meeting! Oh man. I hope she didn’t realize that I was nearly frantic by now! I’m afraid that my exhaustion and panic became apparent when she asked how I’d gotten them all ready and nice so quickly. I blurted out before I left that I did it by getting up at four am. Jaws dropped in the meeting (they were all there watching). I left in embarrassment with the promise of a call later in the day. And the time went by…. It was late Friday afternoon when I got a confirmation. And they liked all the samples- I wouldn’t have to make everything exactly the same- yay! And they only needed half of what I had originally been told! Double yay!!! Things were looking up. I don’t know what I would have done if those pieces had not worked for them.

Fortunately, I have some glassy pals in town, and there’s a glass shop too. I started calling and emailing in desperation, looking for the proper pink glass. Just enough to get the project started, so I could make things while I waited for a glass order. Here I was, again, very lucky. My pals came through in spades, and when I went to the glass shop, I found that there was some glass that would work perfectly. So there I was, set for glass, design, and having the time I needed to finish the project. Hooray! All I had to do now was make beads.

I finished the project and delivered it in two weeks- a week and a half before the event, which makes me happy, and allows them some extra time too.

And what have I learned?

1) Always be friendly and professional.
2) Be clear about what you do and what your limitations are.
3) Don’t be afraid to suggest ideas and designs, but don’t be surprised if things go a different way, i.e. be flexible. Help them to be a part of the design, and make the piece truly theirs.
4) Let them know about your deadlines. If you feel they may have dropped the ball, call or email- or both- without being pushy. They most likely don’t realize how much time it might take you to complete the project, and the considerations such ordering the glass and supplies (and finding a company that has everything you need- in stock!). Most folks are unfamiliar with how difficult it can be to simply get the needed supplies in the glass world.
5) Don’t let them see you panic. Try and hold it together, even as you see your personal deadline come and go. Of course, don’t let it get to the point that the project is un-doable. So what is your absolute deadline? This can be difficult to know with a large project.
6) BE NICE! Some of the ‘extras’ included at the end of my latest project:
...Tiny tags that have their event information on the front, and information about the beads and my email address on the back. That’s good for both of us!
...Little favor boxes that I picked up at the dollar store. Ok- I probably should have asked what they wanted and added a box charge to the items. Next time I may do that.
...Three extra pendants. I always make a few extras, and included these free of charge ‘just in case.’ What if they forgot someone? Anyway, this was their design, and what else could I do with them?!
7) And lastly, be thankful when the project is successfully finished- thankful for the opportunity, the learning, and of course the added income!

4 comments:

JanelDudleyBeads said...

Great advice Laurie! Thank you for taking the time to write all this down! I'm glad the order worked out smoothly!

Maybeads said...

As always, you have another informative and timely post. I really appreciate learning about this from you, Laurie. I'm starting to get some larger (for me) custom orders and it's tricky to negotiate what you can and can't do. That is the hardest part for me, so now I'll follow your lead and be clear about it. Congratulations on finishing such a monumental order, and thank you for sharing your experience!

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Excellent info. I'm pulling my hair out with a custom order right now! Good advice all around!

Sonnee McCabe said...

Thanks for the good advice. I will definitely pay attention to it.