Packaging your skills in a way that gives the customer choice, can be a valuable way of increasing profit margins and effectively using your lampshade making talents. This said offering bespoke lampshade commissions as an additional service, needs careful consideration and preparation to successfully adapt in line with your customers and your own expectations. In this BEAM post, we’ll run through the pros and cons of making bespoke lampshades, what you'll need to think about at each stage and how to advertise your bespoke lampshade making service.
Commissions can come in the form of a drum shade in a client’s chosen materials to a full restoration of a dilapidated antique frame, or maybe even a request to create a collection of lampshades, for interior designers or commercial clients.
If you only make ‘hard’ lampshades this is still enough to offer a bespoke service, particularly if a client wants to use their own fabric for the outer of a shade, to maybe match other soft furnishings or a particular style. With the wide range of linings on offer – think double-sided, metallic or vinyl – adding extra bespoke touches are a definite possibility and worth changing extra for.
If you’re an accomplished soft shade maker, as well as bespoke commissions, renovations also become a possibility. As the variables are broader for a soft shade making, such as shape size, shape, fabrics, embellishments, linings etc, thinking ahead to what you’ll charge based on the time it will take to complete the commission, is an important part of running your business.
How to cost up commissions
Similar to Pricing up your lampshades to sell, breaking down the production, overhead and labour costs for a commission means you can put a structured cost together. It’s best to use your own knowledge and experience to guide you, so for example, if you know a large soft shade frame, will take three times as much time and effort to make as it would make a drum shade, then factor this into your pricing model. Soft Making Shades come in many sizes and styles, so if you’re aware that a particular style of shade is a ‘tricky make’ factor this in too.
The nature of a bespoke shade means that it’s more than likely that the client will want to use their own choice of fabric and/or trim, which will lower the production costs if they are providing these themselves. Alternatively, sourcing this for the client can be a time-consuming job, so ensure you get a clear brief with inspirational images, samples and shopping links, if possible. You may want to consider replacing these elements of the production cost with your own time, which sits outside of making the client's shade.
Communicating with your client
As paramount as the final product, good communication with your client is a key part of the process and here are our tips on what to consider:
Before pricing listen to what the client wants, ensure you have understood their commission in full and clarify any areas they have not mentioned (having a checklist of the decisions that need to be made for a lampshade can be helpful as a pointer at this stage).
Try to pick up where the client may be unsure and determine if you need to use your knowledge to support them to decide. Sometimes the client just needs a recommendation from yourself, as an expert, on small details like the length of the trim.
Be clear on price, expectations and timescales from the outset. It is important to explain at what stage the lampshade, fabric, trims, finishes will be finalised and set in stone, which allows you confidently start making.
Use visuals to communicate too, especially if you are ordering the materials. The client seeing all of the elements together before you start can really help!
Be patient! A client might contact you with lots of initial enthusiasm that then dies off. Be gentle, but persistent when checking if they want to take the lampshade forward.
As a commission is not an off the shelf product you’ll need to consider how you charge for the service. Many of our professional makers charge a 50% up-front payment and the remaining 50% payment on completion of the lampshade. To protect themselves many makers don't use the word deposit, as this suggested that the client could ask for the money back. Once you’ve received the first payment and started work on the shade there is a commitment from both parties. You can find more information on deposits on the Citizens Advice Bureaus website.
Commission contracts and terms and conditions
When you invoice or initially enter into an agreement with the client it’s useful to lay out the terms that you want to work to, which you can send or email with the invoice in the form of a commission contract or have available as terms and conditions on your website or selling platform. This ensures there is clarity around what’s expected from both sides.
A commission contract generally includes:
The product/ project – specific details of the lampshade that is being commissioned
Hard shades - such as lampshade style, frame shape, outer material, lining/ inner material, size, dimensions such as diameter and height, trim, trim depth, method of attaching trim, trim placement, etc.
Softs shades - in addition to the above details, others may include the number of panels, position of a particular print or design within the panels, placement of trim, trim type etc.
Payment Terms (see above)
Timescales/deadline – the agreed deadline for the completion and delivery of the lampshade
Delivery – the type of delivery service and if the delivery is guaranteed
Returns and refunds – details on if you are willing to accept refunds and at what stage you are willing to accept them.
Terms and conditions are similar to a commission contract and are often available on your website if you have one, or in the FAQ pages on your online selling platform. It’s good to make any client aware of these, so attaching a link in an email or a PDF will work just as well.
In relation to bespoke commission these don’t have to be written in legal jargon but simply set out what ‘rules’ you are prepared to work to in a friendly way. Take a look at the terms and conditions on 'Bespoke Lampshades or other soft furnishing items', which are used by professional lampshade makers The Lampshade Loft, Silkworms and Cottontails and Mono Handmade, which clearly state what they can and can't do.
How to advertise your bespoke commissions
Attracting bespoke commissions is similar to bringing in off the shelf lampshade business and you'll need to utilise all your customer-facing engagement tools such as your website, social media and blog, if you have one. We liked this web page below from Palour Made, which give the client plenty of information, options and inspiration for a bespoke shade.
Our professional makers often comment that craft fairs are a good way to attract customers who may want something different to what you have on your stall. Have business cards at the ready or take an email and offer to contact the customer with more details of what you can do.
The best way to advertise, of course, is to show off any commission you make, even if they are for friends and family as a test of your skills. Visuals on social media can make a big impact as Jane Warren of @thelampshadeloft testifies below.
If you want to do bespoke one-offs for clients then you need an excellent website with very good SEO. Take out an ad in local parish mags, do a demo at the WI. I get loads of work via Instagram and my website.
Once in a while a challenging commission comes along, that may test you and your business principles! Before accepting it’s good to ask yourself the following;
What will I learn from the experience?
Will this give me new skills that I can use in the future?
Will I be able to complete the shade to the standard that the client expects and that I'm happy with?
Will I make or lose money by taking on the commission?
What time do I have to commit to this commission and what else in my business will it take me away from?
Often commissions are a good way of learning new skills, pushing barriers and also a great opportunity to show off what you are capable of, but considering how this might impact your client and business are important too.
More BEAM posts
We aim to support our lampshades makers in as many ways as possible and if you're looking for ideas to set up, expand or inspire your lampshade making business take a look at our other BEAM posts on the blog by clicking the button below.
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