One of the most under-appreciated strengths a business can have, in my opinion, is the power of repeat customers. I have three businesses, and each one can attribute 50-75% of business transactions to customers we have worked with before. Whether it's the editing business (where fully half our business is funneled through one customer from colleagues all over the world and another 40% is also repeat business), to the tree farm (where we have families who have been coming for 50 years, four generations, and where I work with the same dozen wholesale outlets each year), repeat business gives a stability to these businesses, and allows them to slowly grow with time until they take up the amount of time I want or am able to allot them.
Both of these examples are repeat purchases (new manuscripts needing to be edited, a Christmas tree each year), while wooden spoons are a durable good, one that if I do my job right won't wear out or break in the owner's lifetime. So how applicable is the concept of repeat customers in this framework?
Completely, I would argue. But it is true that for customers to continue to find value in what I create, I need to make sure I'm addressing their needs. So I have allowed myself to be guided, within the bounds of what I'm interested in, by my customers' needs. You bought a spoon but now need a spoon rack? Done. Want a special scoop? Check. Need some salad servers? I'll try that too.
But far more important than offering a range of goods, I would argue, is to under sell and over deliver. I never want to be in the position (as I have experienced from the other side) of being given a lot of hype about a piece and then getting it and being disappointed. I purposely keep my photographs to a minimum because I want there to be surprise and delight when the package is opened. I go out of my way to make sure the work is as good as I can produce. I KEEP MY PRICES AFFORDABLE. And I try to be responsive to peoples; communications.
And I can say that it is working. It used to be that I would sell a spoon and then never hear from that person again. I think this is because I was charging too much so there wasn't the match up of value and perception that I try to have now. Now, fully half my orders are from repeat customers. They are buying more things for themselves. They are buying things for gifts, they are buying because I am offering them something good at a fair price, and they know it and I know it.
This sort of business takes time to build up. Years. But they are relationships that are not just about money. They are ships sent out from my world to theirs, and the prevalence of these relationships lets me know that I am doing something right. So if you are in this as a career, play the long game. Make the choices that value these relationships over the additional dollar. Don't sell yourself short, but don't sell the customer short, either.
They will be there for you, again and again.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.