How do you go about finding out what a client really wants?

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I've recently been offered my first chance to do a commisioned piece, up until now I've only done woodworking as gifts for family and friends. She is a friend of my sister's that saw the jewelry box I did for her last year and she wants one to give as a gift. I gave a tentative yes and said we could talk about the design over the next couple of weeks while I finish up my current projects.
The thing is she doesn't seem to have any idea what she wants. With family/friends it's easy enough to come up with ideas for what they would like. I know them. I've been in their homes. I've seen their stuff. And I don't have to go through a process of communicating with them, I just make it and they either like it or not. Here I am twice removed from the person who is actually going to get the piece, which I find a little disconcerting. I'm lacking enough input to get the creative juices flowing. All I've gotten is "she loves work made by New England artisans." Right, could you vague that up for me a little?
It's also more difficult because she is on the other side of the country and our primary communication is by email. I do not have a large volume of work that I can show her, I've only done the one jewelry box, and only recently have I had a digital camera with which to take pictures. I suggested to her to have a look online to try to find something she likes, and suggested one site that I had looked at when I made the first one. That was over a week ago and she hasn't gotten back to me yet.
I am not really sure what are the right questions to ask to get at what they want. I tried to just keep it general for starters so as not to bog her down with functional details, but maybe I should be doing it the opposite way?
-Leuf
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Good luck! You just described why I rarely do retail work. You can't please everyone and some don't know what they want. Unless she gets real specific make sure that what you make is something that you can sell to someone else. Set a fair price based on what same piece would retail for in a store and subtract 50% which is what you get if you sold it to the store.
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Art Ransom
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I would not discount 50%. Price at what market will bear and if it will bear retail then charge that. But I do agree that unless they prepay for the work then they do not get to design some something you cannot easily sell to cover your time. I bet you spend as much time trying to come up with a design or answer form the person then you do making the thng.

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"Leuf" wrote in message

Along with a deposit that covers the cost of materials, ask for some pictures of what styles she likes ... as they say, a picture is worth a thousand "you know"'s.
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Leuf,
I believe you have answered your own question - you just weren't listening when you said it....
I doubt she will be able to give you any definite direction on design except to maybe suggest that it be a box (like a letter box), a small chest (silverware, keepsake) or perhaps something like a small writing desk that you use when resting in bed etc. I think Norm did a replica of the writing desk a couple of years back and it should be available on the New Yankee web site. I believe JT also posted a url for one that this year which can be found using a Google search.
The big clue is "She loves work made by New England artisans." That being said, be sure you sign the piece and perhaps include a small card that describes the type of wood used and where it was made - that is what she's looking for too. How many times have you been in a crafts shop or at a fair and everyone picks up the item, flips it over and reads the makers mark and where it was made.
For New England inspiration - well, there's about zillion craft shops in that area but you could also checkout www.LLBean.com for the New England look. They have a gift section that may have an item or two or a design idea you could implement. If you do inlay work, pick a scene that depicts a recognized icon - such as a fishing boat, lobster, etc... A search on "New England crafts" should fill a screen or two...
I've seen coffee and end tables fashioned after lobster traps, wooden net floats made into lamps, pictures - made out of wood slats from old lobster traps, flotsam of all sorts made into art objects with a bit of imagination. And if all else fails - build a small version of a lobster trap, place a glass float in it nested in some wadded up well-used netting...
I think anything you make that hints that it's from the northeast will make a big hit. Besides, what do those folks on the left coast know anyway....;-)
Bob S.

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Well I'm actually from New England, so by definition anything I make she has to like ;)
-Leuf
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...
Bob's advice is right on - she liked a jewelry box you've already made.
Just tell her that you would be happy to make her a similar box and the result will be a function of available materials and inspiration. If she truly liked what you did then she should trust you to make something that she would like. If she can accept these terms then your job will be much more satisfying - if she can't do you really want to do it?
TWS http://tomstudwell.com/allprojects.htm
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Right on, Tom! Took the words right out of my.. umm... keyboard...
It's been my experience that things are more valuable to people if they're hand made and individual.. their personal 1-of-a-kind item to keep or give..
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Then send her a jug of maple syrup and be done with it.
New England tends to be the so called "early American" or "colonial" styles. Simple lines like Shaker stuff, but I don't know that Shakers had lots of jewelry. I'd check out the magazines and send a photo to get some sort of approval before cutting wood. Or at least make something you'd like for yourself.
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

I'd stick to having the client bring pictures to me. What if you send her a photo and she simply asks for more photos? Or send her titles and authors of 3-5 books with photos of jewelry boxes or Shaker furniture. (See what's on hand at the library or local book store first.) You might miss out on this paying client but you won't have wasted all this pre-Christmas time. In a way suggesting those books implies that you can make most of what's shown and you might end up making more than a jewelry box.
Josie
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wrote:
|I've recently been offered my first chance to do a commisioned piece, |up until now I've only done woodworking as gifts for family and |friends. She is a friend of my sister's that saw the jewelry box I |did for her last year and she wants one to give as a gift. I gave a |tentative yes and said we could talk about the design over the next |couple of weeks while I finish up my current projects. | |The thing is she doesn't seem to have any idea what she wants. With |family/friends it's easy enough to come up with ideas for what they |would like. I know them. I've been in their homes. I've seen their |stuff. And I don't have to go through a process of communicating with |them, I just make it and they either like it or not. Here I am twice |removed from the person who is actually going to get the piece, which |I find a little disconcerting. I'm lacking enough input to get the |creative juices flowing. All I've gotten is "she loves work made by |New England artisans." Right, could you vague that up for me a |little?
She's seen the one you made for your sister and liked it. She's giving it as a gift, so you'll never know what the recipient likes. Clone the first one with just enough differences to make it "unique" and be done with it.
As someone else said, sign the piece and include a card that says "Handcrafted especially for XX."
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Leuf wrote: serious snippage:

This is a no-win situation. If she doesn't know what she wants and can't be bothered to look around and show you, she can't be pleased. What you should "do the opposite way" is run. This is exactly why I don't do turning for people. I let them choose if they happen to be looking at a bunch of my stuff or I just give them one. You CAN'T please a person who doesn't know what they want.
Dave in Fairfax
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wrote:

But this would be a great opportunity for HIM to learn how to deal with these kinds of people.
I don't think he should pass up the opportunity.
Have a nice one...
Trent
Budweiser: Helping ugly people have sex since 1876!
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Good point. Deal with one or two nut cases and you learn how to handle them in the future.
Keep in mind, the smaller the job, the more the customer will bug you, change things, or generally be a PITA.
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Mon, Nov 1, 2004, 7:10am (EST+5) snipped-for-privacy@dontemailme.com (Leuf) <snip> She is a friend of my sister's that saw the jewelry box I did for her last year and she wants one to give as a gift. I gave a tentative yes and said we could talk about the design <snip>
So? How do you come up with a problem? She apparently saw the one you did for your sister. Right? She said she wants one. Right. No prob, should a said you'd make her one like you did for your sister. After all, that's what she asked for. Right? Apparently you're the one that brought up the question of design, you shoulda stopped talking while you were ahead.
So, just ask her if she just wants one like you did for your sister. Simple. If that's what she wants, no prob. If she wants it different, then it's up to you fo find out what. That means asking her. You shoulda stopped while you were ahead.
JOAT When you choose an action, you choose the consequences. - Unknown
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Your customer is the gift giver who is paying you, not the recipient. While its always nice for the ultimate recipient to appreciate your work, there is always the chance they will hate whatever you do and throw it into a closet and never use it. For example, how many gifts have you given where the person has come back and said this is a POS and not to my taste? Not many, they either like it or put it in the closet or give it as a gift to someone else. So please the giver, make her a box similar (or better) to the one she has seen and she'll be very happy I am sure. Send her a drawing of what you want to make, get her okey-dokey and then do it.
Mutt

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On 1 Nov 2004 11:11:50 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (Mutt) wrote:
what's worse is making something, giving it as a gift, then getting it back as a gift later because they forgot that you gave it to them... painful!!

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I'd say, send two or three pictures of different types of things that you could do and let her tell you what she likes or doesn't like about the various pieces.

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If its like software development, she'll know what she wants *after* you have produced a product for her. And it won't be what you produced. :-)
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"Nobody" wrote in message

It will if you keep her updated though a website/e-mail.
Besides a deposit, which protects me, at least for the materials, I also post pictures to a private URL as each stage progresses, which protects both of us in that there is no shock-of-the-unexpected when seeing the finished piece for the first time.
I don't do that much custom work, but what little I do, the folks seem to absolutely love the ability to watch the metamorphosis from a pile of lumber, to the end result. A big bang for a little buck, guaranteed.
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