So, you've officially decided to start making money with your hobby. That's a big, exciting step!! You want to find a ton of customers who love what you do and keep coming back for more. But how do you do that? How do you find customers that appreciate your work and are willing to pay for the time you've spent mastering your craft? What traits do those kinds of customers have?
Being able to tell if a stranger will make a good customer is a skill that takes A LOT of practice. It definitely took us a couple of years to be decent at it. This concept of determining whether or not a customer will be good for you is called "pre-qualifying", and it's critical to learn because you're WORTH good customers! You shouldn't have to deal with people who don't want to pay what you and your products are worth.
So let's dive in!
We have 3 categories that we put potential customers in:
GOOD, DANGER ZONE, and BAD.
In each category are "traits" that the person exhibits when you're talking to them, and "details" they may request when talking about the project they want you to make for them.
The customers in the "Good" category are pretty much no-brainers when it comes to accepting their build requests. These are the people that understand what you're doing, see the value in it, and are willing to pay what your time and skills are worth. You've hit the jackpot with these ones, and there's a higher chance that they'll be repeat customers for you. So let's get specific! Good customers:
Spend Money Freely
These people don't nickel and dime you on the price. They're not discount-hunters who refuse to pay full price for anything (I know you know some people like that!). These people simply buy what they want when they want it and don't really ask questions about the price. Some Makers have a hard time believing people like this exist - TRUST ME - they do! They're everywhere. You just have to go out and find them.
Are Buying a Gift
A lot of times, when people are buying a gift for somebody else, they're not as picky and micromanaging on the design details. There's a higher chance that they won't spend days talking back and forth with you before they make a final decision.
Also, people are usually willing to spend a fair amount of money on a nice gift for someone else. If they're coming to you for a custom-built gift, they've probably already committed to the fact that it's going to be pricey. We've had SO many people order gifts from us who say, "I don't really care how much it costs, I just want it to be REALLY NICE". That's the magic phrase right there!!
Want to Support YOU
Sometimes the people you know just want to support you! And that's awesome. These people already see the value in your work and are probably willing to give you quite a bit of creative freedom and pay your price. They know they can get it cheaper at Ikea, but they want to be a part of your business journey. These people can be friends, family, friends-of-friends, co-workers, anyone who knows of you and thinks what you do is cool.
Because let's be honest, you're not just making furniture. You're making functional art. People who appreciate your skills aren't the ones who will nit-pick every aspect of a design. A lot of times these people will say "I want it to look like this, but I trust you." or "I know you'll make it look nice".
DANGER ZONE CUSTOMERS
These are the people who throw a couple of red flags. They still have the potential to be a good customer, but there's something that doesn't quite seem right to you. Sometimes you may just need more information from them. It's up to you how many customers you take from the "Danger Zone" because they could really go either way. You need to balance how many Good traits they have vs. how many Danger Zone traits they have. That'll determine if you take them on as a customer or not. Danger Zone customers:
Are Obsessive Over Little Details
They ask a TON of detail-oriented questions about the design, the process, or the price. Obviously every customer will ask questions - it's inevitable. But these people dive deep on wood species, stain type, exact angle measurements, sanding, etc. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing! Some people are just naturally detail-oriented people. They may turn out to be wonderful customers who don't even question the price, but they also might be difficult throughout the whole process - requiring you to charge them as such.
Mention That "Nobody Else Would Take the Job"
If somebody is coming to you because other Makers or contractors have turned them down, this may be a red flag. This could mean that they were difficult customers and other people didn't want to deal with them. HOWEVER, it may also mean that the customer was talking to the wrong people! Maybe they were trying to get a custom woodworking piece from a contractor...who simply doesn't do that kind of work!
This is why Danger Zone customers aren't always bad. For example, 3 years ago we had a very sweet lady reach out to us to build a custom display case. She said that nobody else would take the job, and was willing to pay whatever it cost to get this thing built. It turns out there just weren't any other custom woodworkers in Minot, North Dakota at the time! She was simply talking to the wrong people! She turned out to be WONDERFUL!
Throw Around Contradictory Terms
These are the people that will say things like, "I want a natural wood table top, but let's stain it" or "I don't want farmhouse, so let's use chalk paint for the legs and distress it". They mean one thing, but say another. This could mean that they actually have no idea what they want and might not like the final product because you built what they said, not what they meant. On the other hand, they may not know what words to use! They're not woodworkers! That's why they're coming to you - so it's your responsibility to clarify as much as possible.
Don't Know What They Want
This trait is fairly similar to #3. These are the people who don't really know what they want, so they don't email you back or take 2 weeks to figure out what stain color they want. These people have the potential to be really flaky...and the last thing you want is someone who flakes out on paying. However, as the woodworker and business owner, it's your job to direct the conversation in such a way that even people like this can get you answers. Sometimes it may not be the customer, it may be how you're asking them questions!
These are the customers we avoid at all costs. They don't understand what you do or see the value in your work - and they're definitely not willing to pay your prices. If we're talking to someone who has these traits, we will find a reason to say no to their job. So here's your permission to do the same!!!! Bad customers:
Already Know A Lot About Woodworking
Selling to other woodworkers or people who grew up woodworking is very difficult. They already know EXACTLY what you're doing, how much it costs, and how much time it takes. They will most likely be very controlling on how you build their products and what materials you use. They'll probably try to low-ball you on the price because "they could do it for cheaper if they were building it themselves". This is a definite No for us.
Ask for Discounts
These are the discount-hunters. The ones who brag about saving $0.50 at the grocery store. They'll ask you things like, "I saw this on Etsy and was wondering if you could do it for cheaper". No matter what you do, they'll almost always have an issue with the price you give them. They clearly don't understand the value in what you do.
Don't Communicate Well
These are the people who never text you back and can't decide whether or not they want to commit to buying. If they take 2 weeks to return your call about the color of their coffee table, who says they won't take 2 weeks to pay their invoice? There are plenty of other good-communicating customers out there for you.
Are Hard to Work With at Your Job/School/Etc.
If you have a co-worker that is hard to work with at your job, and they want you to build them a table....chances are they're going to be a difficult customer to work with as well. These people are partially pre-qualified already!! You're already aware that they're difficult somewhere else in life, so there's a pretty high chance that they'll be hard to work with within your business, too.
We hope that these "customer traits" help you pre-qualify which clients to work with or pass on in YOUR business! It may seem like a lot of work just to decide whether or not you'll build somebody a table, but as you get more experience in working with clients, it'll become second nature! It took us yearssss to even figure out what items to put on this list.
Just like anything, practice and repetition will make you a seasoned pro!
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