Sit right down, because I’m going to tell you a story a bout my biggest failure as a creator and business owner and what I learned from it!
Before I get started, I want to be sure to say that the client in this case was absolutely, positively not at fault. The fault was entirely my own. This will become obvious once I get a little further into the story. 😉
Here we go!
A couple of years ago (about 7 months after I opened my Etsy shop), I ran a sale on my custom orders. During the sale, a custom order would cost $12. (Keep that in mind for later.)
In the fine print, the custom orders were listed as one 8X10 JPG file with whatever quote, song lyric, phrase, quote, or whatever you wanted on it.
That was it. Those were my only specifications.
I received an order during that sale from a client who wanted me to make the save-the-date cards for her wedding… and I was thrilled!
I dared to dream out loud to my husband, “This could be so big for me! If I do a good job, she might ask me to do her invitations, and if they get photographed by a wedding photographer and posted somewhere online, maybe more people will want me to make theirs!”
This was a huge deal to me, as someone who had only been in business for about 7 months. This could be my “big break!”
In my mind, she was doing me a favor by allowing me to make her save-the-date cards.
So, I happily got to work on her save-the-date cards and tried to replicate the examples she had sent me in my own style. I followed her instructions for spacing, caps and lowercase preferences, and sized it correctly.
There was a little of back-and-forth regarding some very minor issues regarding spacing and sizing of certain elements (“What would this piece look like a little bigger?” “Can we scoot that up?”) and other small changes.
But, when you make small changes, you have to make the edit, save it, export it, email it, and wait for the response before moving on (or worse, moving backward and trying again).
Other small changes included changing the entire thing from vertical to horizontal and changing the date (which I had typed incorrectly).
It was awhile (around 2 weeks) before we were both happy, but I eventually sent it off and forgot about it.
Over a month later, I received another message that said that she was trying to get it printed, but the printer needed a different file type from the JPG and PDF files I had sent her.
They also needed the card to have bleeds (which- what the heck are bleeds?! I had no idea!) because they were getting letter pressed.
To be completely transparent, I was in way over my head at this point. I was frustrated that I didn’t know what I was doing. I was upset because I felt like this project was coming back to haunt me. I literally wanted to be done and never think about it again!
I was able to Google “bleeds” and export the file to the correct type, but when I sent it to the print shop, they told me that everything was sized incorrectly and that I needed to do it again.
So I did. Again, it was not coming in correctly on their end.
Eventually, I sent them the original Adobe file and they were able to edit it correctly. They sent it back to me for approval, and finally I was finished with this project!
All in all, this project took about 2 months to finalize…
and I had charged $12.
Twelve. Freaking. Dollars. I was making pennies on the hour. I was so stressed out. I had terrible imposter syndrome. It was absolutely miserable.
When I was in the think of it, I completely blamed the bride. “She’s expecting too much! She didn’t even order the right thing. She’s impossible to please. This is taking forever.”
Custom prints normally take me between 30 minutes and 2 hours to make, plus whatever edits need to be made after the first draft is sent.
To add insult to injury, I had posted a vent in a Facebook group for lettering artists and basically outlined what was happening, that I was frustrated, and that I was working for pennies, that the bride had just come back asking for more, that I didn’t know how to do what she was asking… it was essentially a pity party for myself in this Facebook group.
Most of the responses were stern but helpful –
“Charge additional fees if you listed the original Save the dates as a specific file type. Custom orders should cost more than the listed item specifically for the reasons you listed. Revisions.”
“Omg girl, you should’ve charged at least 10x for your time and design.. but agree take this as a learning experience and maybe send them a PDF bc you’re not their tech support.”
“You have to be the boss. Tell them what they get for $12, don’t let them tell you what they want for $12. Know what you’re doing inside and out and that the file will print correctly and whether the file should have a bleed or be a vector, etc. As others have said use this as a learning process and adjust accordingly.”
But others… well, others weren’t so kind. I deleted those comments and blocked the people who made them, but to summarize:
“If you don’t know how to make a bleed, which is one of the easiest things in design, you have no business offering to make things for people.”
“I can’t believe you only charged $12 for all that work. You’re the kind of person who makes people not want to buy from actual professionals. Why would someone pay me $200 when you’ll do it for $12?”
“I hope you know that undercharging for your services cheapens the whole market and makes it hard for those of us who do this to put food on the table to feed our kids.”
I really, really took that to heart, and not in a constructive way. I fully stopped lettering for a month. I didn’t pick up my iPad, a marker, a sketchbook, anything lettering related for an entire month.
I wasn’t skilled enough. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a phony. I didn’t want to ruin other peoples’ lives.
It was debilitating.
Obviously, with a lot of support and encouragement from others, I picked back up on my lettering and started doing it again: fulfilling orders, creating new things, continuing to learn.
A Happy Ending
I am very happy to be able to tell you that this story ended well.
The bride ended up loving her save-the-date cards and asked me to make her wedding invitations as well, which I happily did (with a list of terms and conditions that she readily agreed to) and we both walked away from the experience happy.
I learned so much from this experience and don’t place an ounce of blame on anyone but myself!
Have terms and conditions in place for your business – Literally just this one thing could have saved me so much time and energy!
The minute I saw the order that was so far from what the listing offered, I should have responded with another message asking for specifications. From there, I should have taken a couple of days to put together a contract stating things like the exact specifications (1 3.5×5 JPG file), number of edits I would do for free, the charge for additional changes, etc. I could have worked with her and charged for my time appropriately.
Looking back, I should also have charged for working with a third party, resizing the file again, and exporting to a different file type. These things all took valuable time and effort away from the other things I should have been working on!
Charge my worth – This is a lesson I’m still learning, but I’m improving all the time! There is no way that I should have been charging only $12 for a custom, hand lettered print, not even if it was on sale!
My time is far more valuable than that, and I have definitely learned my lesson.
I would have felt a lot better about having to revisit the design over and over again if I was being compensated fairly.
Other peoples’ opinions of me should hold no more weight than my own opinion of myself – This one is a tough one. I want to go on record and say that I completely agreed with the girls who were saying that I undercharged. I knew that I would be taking business from other, more talented, more experienced people if I continued charging what I had charged this particular bride.
But, instead of accepting it as a
dumb move mistake and moving on, I allowed it to haunt me for far too long. I let their voices stay in my head when other voices were trying to push them out of the way. I gave these strangers far more power over me than they deserved!
Have you ever made a mistake (or series of mistakes, over and over and over again like above) that totally shook you? I’d love to hear about it and learn from it!
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