by Rena Klingenberg.
Can turning down jewelry orders actually be a good thing for your business?
When I first started selling my handmade jewelry, I never turned anyone down.
I wanted to build my jewelry business, and I didn’t have much of an established customer base.
So unless the project involved skills or tools I didn’t have (and couldn’t acquire quickly), I said “yes!” to every jewelry order that came my way.
But then I came up against a jewelry order that made me do some re-thinking.
A new customer asked me to make a wire prong ring for a large, expensive, faceted gem she had.
Wire prongs did not come easily for me then, and I was intimidated by the gem involved in this project.
But I still said “yes!”.
Then I got home and started to panic
about creating this ring.
For several days I struggled with creating practice versions of wire prongs, trying to get the technique just right so I could create a secure setting for this valuable, imposing gemstone.
But I still couldn’t consistently come out with prongs that were the right size, nicely formed, and without tool marks.
I wasn’t getting anything else done, and I was stressing and sweating over not feeling ready to step up and make the final version of this dreaded ring.
Finally I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to get to the point of feeling comfortable doing this project.
And that the time (and wire) I’d already wasted on trying to get ready for it had probably eaten up the profit I would have earned from making it.
So I gathered my courage and contacted the customer to explain that I wasn’t able to do this project after all.
Naturally she wasn’t happy about the delay I’d caused her, but she appreciated my honesty.
As soon as I returned her gem to her, I felt hundreds of pounds lighter, and so much happier.
And I realized that I shouldn’t have accepted that order in the first place.
Reasons why turning down a jewelry order
can be the best choice:
- You don’t have the skills or tools required for the project.
- The customer wants you to copy another artist’s work.
- The customer is difficult to work with.
- You’ll have trouble meeting the deadline for the finished piece.
- You already have all the work you can handle.
- The project would take your work in a direction you don’t want to go.
- You wouldn’t be able to make a fair profit for your work.
- For any reason you feel that you couldn’t do your best work on the project.
Customers actually respect artists
who graciously decline orders
They appreciate your professionalism and your focus on quality.
Whenever you do turn down a jewelry order, try to recommend another artist who might be a good fit for the project.
The customer (and the other artist!) will appreciate that – and it’s possible that the other artist will refer some work to you someday in return.
Do you turn down jewelry orders sometimes – and how do you handle the situation?
I definitely agree with this. I used to have a bridal jewelry business and did a lot of custom orders. I was lucky that most orders were great, but there were a handful that I regretted accepting. In a way it’s good to have this experience to know your limits, but at the time it’s agony!!! Thanks for this great article and sharing your experiences!
I agree completely about not taking on a job that feels “wrong” from the get-go. I, too, learned the hard way… over and over and over. I know very well that sickening dread in the pit of my stomach even as the person is explaining what they want me to do. “No” truly is the hardest word in the English language to say, and having a name and phone number for someone else handy is a lifesaver.
I’m still surprised by how other people are shocked that I would refer customers to them, but no one is equally good at everything. It’s critical to have a list of people to refer work to. Contrary to what you might expect from the customer, they will respect you for your professionalism and collegiality (if that’s the word) with your fellow craftspeople/artists, nor will they desert you.
In fact, usually what happens is it comes out that they’d still prefer to deal with me, and so we come up with a different design that is something I’m more comfortable and skilled doing.
Tara Hutchinson says:
This was a great post! Being in the retail industry, I think we sometimes feel as we have to say ‘Yes’ to everyone who asks us to complete an order. I have had numerous examples of this, in fact, I used to dread doing commissions because of this. I took in a few projects that were impossible to create, and had to charge the customer an exorbitant amount of money to cover my costs. Now, I look at a project in its entirety before I commit to it, and have the customer sign a form agreeing to the price before I start. This makes me feel better, as I know the components involved, the steps I need to take to finish the project and what I need to charge the customer in the end to make a profit.
Thank you for writing such an honest post about something all jewelry artists should consider!
Alice Olsen says:
I’ve not given a price for all custom work and would have felt more comfortable if I had. Will sure to so from now on. Thanks for pointing that out.
April Schawgerle says:
This is excellent advice! I’ve only had to turn down one request so far, but I learned this skill from selling real estate. There are just some situations that are not worth the time, stress or loss of sleep! If we don’t have the passion, the project will most likely not turn out well anyway.
At a craft show a woman came to me with a very pretty necklace with a broken clasp, she asked me if I could fix it. I remarked to her how beautiful her necklace was and she said ‘thank you’, then I told her I have never seen a clasp like the one on her necklace and that it would probably be best to take it to a jewelry store. She thanked me and said that that was what the other vendors told her too. I did not want to chance messing up that necklace.
I’ve also learned that some customers are just too much work for the sales that eventuate – they use you to burn off their creative energy getting you to change the item and change it repeatedly, before going back to something remarkably like the original you started with. They use up excessive materials during these changes and drain both your time and energy.
Of course you won’t know this the first time, but if you find you have a customer like this, it’s much easier to decline and recommend them to go elsewhere early on!
I have turned down orders but often question my reasons for doing so. Unless it’s something obvious like working in a medium I have no experience with or lack of the necessary tools, I wonder if….
Maybe I’m just insecure about my skills,
Perhaps this “customer” makes me uncomfortable and I don’t want to do business with her/him.
Do I think its too much work for too little money?
More often than not, my special orders have turned out exceptionally well.
My skills were right on or I learned I could do it and learn something new.
My customer was just somewhat quirky, like me!
It was not as much work as I thought, the customer ordered more and recommended me to her friends.
Understanding WHY you turn down an order is vital. Without that you could lose out on expanding a customer base, growing in more directions previously untapped and most of all – having confidence in your abilities.
I do agree that it is very difficult to build your business and have to turn down a jewelry project (or client) that may not be right for you!
Chayas Gallery says:
Wonderful post ! I always check my how I actually feel about a particular custom job – if the feeling’s not good then I start to try and find out why.
Rena Klingenberg says:
Thank you all for sharing your experiences and thoughts on turning down work.
It does feel awkward to turn down a jewelry order when you’ve put so much effort into promoting your business and drumming up customers; but it feels so much worse to allow yourself to get stuck with an order that isn’t right for you.
Saying “no” to customers is something I still struggle with a bit, so I’ve come up with a quick “litmus test” for whether I’ll accept a jewelry order:
Does doing this project for this customer make my heart sing?
If so, then my answer is “yes”.
If not, then I need to politely decline and refer them to someone else.
Suzanne Linch says:
I am exactly the same Rena, the jewelly piece has to talk to you and excite you, saying no is honest but hard
I’ll have to listen to my heart more often – perhaps when my head is quiet.
janmary, N Ireland says:
Definitely something I am getting better at!
At first I was reluctant to turn away any work, but now I have confidence in what I CAN do, what I DON’T ENJOY doing, and what wont make me any profit!
Oh, boy, do I wish I had read this advice a long time ago! I am slowly learning this and am saying no more often. No more repairing old, cheap jewelry. No more having to learn new techniques that turn out to be more work than I can charge for. No more doing exactly what is described in this article..making a pronged setting for a faceted gem. Now all I have to do is learn to agree on a price up front, before I do the work! Thank you for the timely article!
Linda B says:
I have just finished quoting a client for a bulk quantity of 1 of my popular items. I normally don’t do wholesale yet, but this would be a nice order and get my name out there in my target market. I reduced my labor rates in my quote, but said if we break up the materials order into 2-3 orders, I need to add more time onto the quote. She took this to mean I was doubling my price!
I’m a little offended, but I came up with 2 quotes for her and a deadline for her to let me know if she wants to proceed. The best quote is within her budget and my ordering preference.
The ball is now in her court and we’ll see how it goes.
I have been turning down orders from day one. I know my own limits and I stick to them. This doesn’t mean I turn down custom requests that I know will stretch my skills, but when I know someone else can do it better, more quickly and at a lesser price I always do the referral rather than take on the client.
I remember the story of how Sears once came from behind back in the early days by making it a corporate policy to always refer customers to other sellers, no matter how competitive, when Sears didn’t have what the customer wanted. This policy made Sears a huge name for itself for friendly and complete customer service. Sears has long since ceased using this policy, but in the beginning it created many loyal customers by doing just this.
So I adopted that policy from the get go.
Lyn Cheramie says:
I love making jewelry but I am not into the retail end of things. Some people do like my items, but I tend to short change myself on pricing and promoting. I have decided to give it another try, Rena thank you for taking the time and effort to encourage us to move forward.
Catherine @ Shadow Dog Designs says:
Yes, I have turned down requests for various reasons: time constraints, don’t have the expertise, etc. I always try to refer the customer to another artist who might be able to help them. They are always thankful for that and several have come back and actually made a purchase from me after they got their custom piece (:
Cat Slavin says:
What timing! I had to do that today in fact.
And I felt good about it, and the customer understood.
I just had a similar situation just last weekend! It involved some metalsmithing or some other technique to attach a large piece to a ring finding. When she asked if I did custom work I simply said, yes…depending on what it is you want. I thought that was a good way to gently decline if it was beyond my scope or comfort level! Good to know that others feel the same way…besides, we don’t need to know how to do everything…that is why we are all so good at what we do!
MyCarolAnne Artisan Jewelry says:
I definitely have turned down work. If I know a peer whom I believe can do the work, I offer to discuss it with them and get back to the customer. Sometimes it is easier to talk to my peer myself then just give the customer their name. Usually my peer accepts the work and the customer remembers both of us.