99% of all transactions go over without a hitch. The other 1% are fraught with numerous errors; either from my end, or my client’s end, or both. Usually both. And, most of these issues are incidental and not really because anybody did anything wrong. Example – if the belt came out the wrong size, the replacement belt will be the wrong color. Then, the replacement replacement belt will get lost under a pile of leather. When it could not be found, another belt was shipped in its stead, which inexplicably wound up in Zimbabwe, never to be heard from again. Once the previous belt is relocated in my studio and shipped, the mail truck will catch on fire because of faulty wiring. The replacement replacement replacement replacement belt will be checked, checked, and rechecked again, it will be packed in feathers and fleece, double boxed, insured, and sent overnight, handcuffed to the wrist of a private courier trained in ninjitsu. The profit margin on the sale is long since spent and the deal is in a severe deficit at this point. After several sleepless nights, the client will confirm that they received the belt, that it is perfect, and that it was totally worth that 18-month fiasco. All other belt orders in the same time period were shipped, received, and enjoyed within a few weeks’ time.
The clients who start their email with, “Sorry for the slow response,” are by far some of the easiest to work with and the easiest to please. By the same token, the clients who use the disclaimer, “Sorry to be such a PITA but…” are the complete antithesis of a pain to work with. I find them to be charming and understanding if anything. Often it’s the client who seems to think that this is really simple and obvious that are the truly the most painful to work with. Even so, I find that the kind of people who will order a custom leather holster are top-notch quality folks, the kind of people that I’d probably enjoy having over for a steak and a beer, and wouldn’t at all mind sharing a fence with. The worst experiences I’ve had in self employment have been better than any given day in my memory of working retail.
Every client is important. However, repeat clients are many times more valuable than single sales, even if the single sales constitute a bigger portion of assets. The simple explanation to this puzzling phenomenon is that I will have less time invested in making a repeat client happy on any given order since I pretty much already know them and their expectations. Starting cold takes a lot longer, because it necessitates getting to know and tailoring to a fresh client. Besides that, my repeat clients are cool. More often that not, I wind up regarding my repeats more as friends than as clients.
Sometimes there comes a point in time when it is clear that the client will never be happy. One needs to go no further than Amazon reviews to see this in action. In those times, it is often best to wash your hands of the situation and move on. Sometimes that means a refund. It’s best not to be afraid to do whatever needs to be done to protect the integrity of the brand. For the best products in the world, if you take a big enough sample group, there will be someone out there who swears that it is a total piece of crap. Don’t let that person define your brand. This is where a satisfaction guarantee protects not only your client, but you in fact.
September sucks. Get used to it. Put back money through the year so September won’t hurt so bad and focus on getting caught up. Run a sale or something maybe. Don’t get too desperate though. The sales will come back. In fact, in October and November, you’ll get inundated with Christmas orders just in time to make Santa late.
The people I know who know how to start a successful business tell me that it takes about two years to get established. That feels about right. They also tell me that it takes something between five and ten years to be profitable and for the business to largely run itself. I’m looking forward to that. I’m still under the opinion that people who start businesses have screws loose in the head – myself included. Why in the world would someone subject themselves to a decade of this when it’s so easy to go work for someone else and get a ‘guaranteed’ paycheck? Well, in all actuality it is the fact that we see through the mirage of the ‘guaranteed’ paycheck and have become disillusioned with a more traditional working experience, as I’ve written about before. Oh well. We’re having fun anyway!