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Project for relatives

Morals of the story: If a client requests something stupid,
sometimes we are forced to decide for the client. If a client
requests something stupid, sometimes we have to educate them. If a
client requests something that we don't agree with, we do have the
right to point out the other side. There are, of course, perfectly
nice ways of pointing out these things. 

Another timely topic for me. I’m creating a birthstone necklace
(free of charge, except for supplies) for two of my husband’s
relatives to give as a gift to a third. I could use all the advice I
can get regarding handling the situation in a tactful and
satisfactory way.

The overarching problem is that apparently neither of the two has
ever observed very much about how a piece of jewelry “coalesces”:
differences in chain styles, how chain should enhance any stone used,
whether stones are set vs. strung, how prong- or bezel-set stones
will “flip” on a very long necklace, and so on. I encouraged them to
look at retail sites such as Ross-Simons to get familiar with many
styles, but they weren’t willing to do so.

After a joint visit to a local supply store, receiving an incorrect
stone count, a sketch that was just a scribble, a denial that one had
said she was opposed to knots between pearls (!), saying "bangle"
when they meant “dangle”, “pebbly” when they meant “faceted”, and
other gaffes, I told them their design ideas should be finalized and
in writing, and that they should probably contact a local pro

I told them that if they still wanted me to make the piece, there
were styles I was not capable of executing because of my
inexperience, and that if their design included anything too advanced
for me, I’d let them know promptly so that they could use a local

Their reply was that they felt too inexperienced to do any of the
design work, that I should just proceed with making the necklace, and
that whatever I created would be fine with them. This message was
followed the very next day by photos of chain styles. (Good thing I
hadn’t gone ahead and ordered the doggone chain…)

And these are not stupid people, not by a long stretch.

As you can see, I was a darn fool for saying I’d do this, and now I
can use some advice. I know that working for relatives usually comes
with built-in complications, but here’s the minimum I hope to avoid:

  1. Spending any more time on multiple designs. (Have already spent
    about 10 hours)

  2. Redoing the finished piece because they don’t like it after all.

  3. Having our relationship sour because of bad feelings.

Insert swear words here,

Lorraine - this is a disaster waiting to happen. These folks don’t
know what they want, can’t communicate the bits they do want, and
are probably not going to like whatever you do - and will feel free
to tell you so. Plus, as they are relatives, it is not like you can
walk away and never see them again.

I would respectfully decline the commission on the grounds that it
really needs to be done by…insert what ever reason you feel
comfortable with. Then be firm.

IF you decide to go on and do it, write up a firm contract, have
them BOTH sign it BEFORE you do any work, estimate cost, have it paid
in full non-refundable (clearly stated in contract also!) and do NOT
begin work until you have both signed contracts AND the money up
front. Write in that if your estimate turns out to be high you will
refund the difference, if it turns out low they are expected to pay
the difference - then estimate high because you probably won’t get
any more money out of these folks.

Hopefully all of that will convince them they need to go elsewhere
to have it made !

Other option is to make it so that you feel you can sell it
otherwise, and then if they don’t like it let their comments slide
off, and say sorry - I did my best - I’ll sell it to someone else. No

Good luck!!!

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

Hello Lorraine, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but working
with relatives usually starts out bad and then gets worse. It does
not matter your level of experience, they still know more than you;
at least in their own minds. Whiskey for either you or for them is
really my own advice.

Good luck.
Tom Arnold

I'm creating a birthstone necklace (free of charge, except for
supplies) for two of my husband's relatives to give as a gift to a

What you’re really saying is you are the third contributor, possibly
at a much high value.

Design by committee is foolhardy. I’d suggest you bow out as
gracefully as you can, you’ve already lost money. If there’s going to
be hard feelings it might suit you better if it was because you
declined the job rather than because you get caught up in an endless
series of ‘consultations’.

Business and family don’t mix well.

Lorraine- My husband Tim and I have a saying that has served us well
for many, many years. “If you can’t charge your family and friends,
well who CAN you charge?”

If my relatives asked me to make something and they were only paying
cost of materials I would tell them I would be happy to DESIGN AND
FABRICATE something. I would tell them that I felt more comfortable
designing it myself since I know my abilities. I would try to get a
VERY general idea of what kind of thing they were talking about other
than that do it yourself show up at the party with it all wrapped and
everyone can see it at the same time!

Nope, always lost money in the past… now I charge double for the
trouble !

Business and family don’t mix well.

Hi Lorraine,

I can sympathize with your plight. Who among us, hasn’t been caught
between this rock and a hard place before? I cannot give advise for
your current dilemna, but for the future you may want to head this
advise. Through many trying times of making relatives happy I have
learned a few valuable lessons.

Remember they think they are “helping you” with your business- there
is a difference between keeping you busy and helping your business.
Examine what your boundaries are and make them very clear from the
start. I for one- have decided that I will not custom design anything
for a relative, unless I am directly giving it to them as a gift from
my heart to theirs. Otherwise they know that they may choose from an
already produced selection ( of which I am well aware what kind of
"family discount" I can afford to pass along to them, if I choose
too. ) It is easy to fall into a bit of a trap when relatives believe
they are entitled to special arrangements ( timing, pricing, design
services, wrapping services, specially ordered materials, etc.),
especially when a business is relatively budding in existence. And
because you love them- you want to make them happy! What I have come
to aspire to on an everyday basis is to provide as much special and
quality service I can to each and every customer whom I deal with.
That includes my relatives. I charge fair prices and because they are
my relatives I expect them to have enough respect for my business to
pay a fair market price for my services. Is their financial support
as well as their good intentions, not to much to ask for, when you
would be getting compensated for your time if they weren’t your
relative? I genuinely believe, that if they understand just how much
attention is given to the process ( of not only making jewelery but
running the business end as well) that, in turn, respect and your
profit margin will not be sacrificed. I suggest for the future that
you emphasize your professional pursuit of this business activity and
emphasize the craft and attention to detail. I was forced to start to
say “no” even when I was tempted to do these “favors”, because
ultimately time is money and even when some ( resourceful and budget
minded) relatives think they are giving you business, they are often
wastefully eating up your time. I know it’s a tough line to draw and
I did not particularly find it comfortable explaining this to
everyone, but I am very glad I did- and more often than not people
responded generously and with respect.

Think on this- I helped explain my business reasoning with this
example. A friend opens a new restaurant. If you have ever been in
that business, you’ll understand that profit margins are very tight
and most restaurants do not successfully survive more than a two year
period unless they have a very good combination of ( controllable and
uncontrollable) factors working for them. If any restaurantor friend
of mine offered me a free or discounted meal within that first two
year period of development I would refuse, because I am a supportive
friend who understands the fragility of any new business enterprise.
And if you walked into a restaurant and made a special request to the
chef to make something special that was off the menu ( essentially
taking that person away from the rest of the business for that amount
of time allotted) wouldn’t it make sense that this would cost more
to, in effect, have a private chef at your beck and call? (This
example hopefully explains that you can and will give discounts,
and/or do more custom work, when your business can afford you to do

Well, this is just how Ive dealt with it- It might not be for
everyone. Hope this helps.


I have had similar experiences with friends and learned the hard way
that most people are very inept at describing what they have in mind.
They know what they like when they see it, but couldn’t describe
something in enough detail because they really aren’t able to design
something. They also can figure out exactly how they would like it
changed once you are all done. My advice is don’t do it or at the
very least have a very detailed design that has been approved before
you start.

Good luck.
April Ottey

Otherwise they know that they may choose from an already produced
selection ( of which I am well aware what kind of "family discount"
I can afford to pass along to them, if I choose too. ) 

Newbies and hobbyists get hit hardest by this situation, but it never
ends, too. What I do is simple - I lie. It’s a little white lie, but
a lie, nonetheless. If prompted I just do a false discount - I would
normally want $200, I decide I’m OK with $150, so I tell them it’s
$150, which is my cost. Or cheap. Except my cost is really $75, which
they will never know, and have no right to know. Not such a bad
thing, everybody’s happy, no arguments. I make some money, they “got
a deal”.

My thanks to all who have replied! I see very good ideas here.

It’s reassuring to learn that I’m not off the scale in feeling a bit
used, and that expectations such as having the design finalized in
writing are not unreasonable.