can’t go over it, can’t go under it

Devils Marble by David Ryan

I hate doing custom orders.

They give me this crazy anxiety, send me into a procrastination spiral, and generally make me feel like my hair is on fire for days on end.  Yet my business was almost completely made to order.

In the beginning when I didn’t have money, materials, or a good sense of what would sell, making to order seemed like a sensible idea. I didn’t want to tie up what little money I had in products that might not sell. So every time I sold something, I photographed it and listed it as made to order. Soon I had many custom orders, and my stress levels went up, but I didn’t quite see that it was the custom work causing it. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized how miserable it makes me.

Then I though that the problem was spending far too much time creating new customer directed designs and searching for the perfect fabric while being paid far to little.

These last few weeks have proven that wrong. I have been working on a custom order. I am being paid appropriately; it’s not a fussy or new design. The customer has been great, everything is great.

Yet my hair was still on fire.

I have to accept that this is just me.

Making a custom item stresses me out. I cannot see how to change that about myself. So I am no longer making quilts to order.

I talked last time about how I am taking the time to reevaluate my work practices, and this is one of the decisions I have had to make. In fact, I think ending custom work is an important part of growing up in my business. It is scary to think of being offered cash in hand to make an order and turning it down. But I am trying to think about long-term profitability, and custom orders are not the path to that for me.

The funny thing is that since I wrapped up the last custom order, my productivity has skyrocketed. My output has doubled. I am bursting with ideas that I can actually work on right now, not when I finish the pending orders.

That was when the lines of that children’s rhyme (I think it’s called “Lion Hunt”?) started running through my mind.

Can’t go over it,

Can’t go under it,

Have to go around it

I was spending so much of my time and energy trying to climb over, or tunnel under the giant boulder in my path when I didn’t need to. 

I can just go around.

I don’t need to do custom work to be in business. This is my business and I can run it the way that suits me.

Are there obstacles in your business that you are approaching in the most difficult way possible? Are you trying to drill through solid rock when you could just go around it?

7 thoughts on “can’t go over it, can’t go under it

  1. While I adore doing custom orders (though illustration is sort of geared that way, anyway), I can definitely understand the boulder-in-the-path issue. I sing the “Bear Hunt” song (learned at camp many, many moons ago) quite often to myself, in just those situations.

  2. This is a great peek inside the simplicity of the light bulb going on. I completely understand what you’re saying.
    Thank you for the reminder!

  3. I made this same decision about a year and half ago.

    I actually enjoyed taking other people’s ideas and executing them as paintings…but the whole process just made me generally stressed out. And I decided that, yes, my income would probably go down a bit, but if I had to be stressed out all the time to make money, I might as well go back to a “real job”.

    My income DID go down a bit but I now have time to make up for the loss in other, less stressful ways.

    I think a lot of times we give into the shoulds of indie businesses automatically without considering whether they really fit us as individuals…and without realizing that, hey, should doesn’t mean must!

  4. I totally relate. I don’t mind custom orders for products I already make, but I completely stress out when I make a totally new product as a custom order. It’s usually for friends and not often, so I still do it. For me it’s a good exercise in stretching myself, but I don’t want to do that too often. It’s too stressful. I could never have a business that was mostly custom orders. Yikes!

  5. Thank you for this post! Even though I have had some pretty nice experiences with custom orders, I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about. I just am not that interested in pursuing custom work because it makes me a little crazy…

    It’s perfectly fine to change gears every once-in-a-while. We change, our needs change and so should the way we run our business. No apologies required!

  6. That’s so weird, I have the same problem. I have a certain type of necklace I make which I love, they are all one of a kind because of the material I use and it’s so fun finding the beauty in each one. I have a lady who buys a ton of them from me wholesale and we agreed she would distribute them in certain areas exclusively. She buys enough each month that it basically pays my rent but ever since I agreed to the deal it killed my desire to make them, it’s like it killed my creativity some how.

  7. I’m always finding ways to delay or deter inquiries for custom orders, and I’ve felt guilty about it because it’s something I know I *can* do, but I am exactly like you! I always find myself saying yes to one and then taking FOREVER to do it, feeling guilty about THAT, dragging my heels on it, stressing out about it… I think as much as I wish I could gleefully produce dozens of custom guinea pig portraits for my customers, it just might not be a good fit for my business. It’s hard to turn people down, huh? I’m always quicker to self-sacrifice than to put my needs first in this way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *