Why Clients Think They Want Custom Work

Hey, wait a minute…

I’m a client and I DO want custom.

Did you just think that? Because that’s how I think too. It’s also what I assumed my clients wanted. When I jumped into my own business offering websites, I planned to build each one custom. I didn’t even really want to use WordPress unless someone wanted to blog. (I also crazy under-priced, but that’s another story.)

So, if you’re a client of mine, or a client anywhere else, you may think you do really want custom. If you’re working with clients, you might never question the idea that your client want custom, built only for them solutions.

Confusion over the word custom

Goodness knows it’s taken me a bit of time, but I finally realized that they’re a difference between the word “custom,” and what service businesses interpret custom to mean for their clients. Merriam-Webster defines custom as, “made or performed according to personal order.” As service providers, some of us think that means built piece by piece from the ground up.

Some clients do mean built entirely from scratch, according to their personal vision, and they can have that if they’re willing to pay a pretty steep price. But in my experience, clients just want something that works well for them and makes them stand out.

What Clients mean by custom

Here’s where it gets interesting. Have I worked with every client in the world? Nope. But the folks I do work with have some common needs and wants. I try to understand those because the better I do, the better work I can do and the happier my clients are.

Deep down, my clients want results. Not everyone wants the same results, but they want results. A beautiful website sitting out in Internet-land is only as good as the results it brings. It’s important that both client and service provider figure out what results are really wanted, though!

Thought process

Here’s how I think it goes. Let’s say Kelly is a bookkeeper who wants client leads coming in regularly so that she has to spend less time making sales calls. She knows that her clients do business online, so she decides she should be online too. And she assumes that if her website is super-awesome, leads will flow in, and she won’t have to search for business anymore.

So, Kelly searches online and finds a web designer who has a very cool-looking website. She tells this person that she wants a website and she wants it to be awesome and not like any other one ever, so that she’ll stand out. The web designer delivers and the site is spectacular. It’s also built properly, secure, and speedy. It’s expensive, but it’s just what Kelly wanted, so she’s happy to pay.

In six months though, Kelly finds that while her existing clients think her new website is great, she’s not getting the new businesses leads she thought she would be getting.

She didn’t tell the designer that the result she wanted was more leads. She told him that she wanted an awesome custom website.

And, that’s what she got. But custom doesn’t always mean that it gets the results the client wants. The lesson is that if you’re a client, share your goals and the results you really want with your service professionals. And if you run a service business, don’t assume that you’re being told everything. Dig a bit to figure out what results you client really wants.

More reasons a client asks for custom when he means something else

He wants to justify spending

Sometimes it’s hard to swallow spending on something intangible like a website or a marketing platform. One thing most people know though is that custom-made items are priced higher than their mass-produced counterparts. It’s easier to spend more if they’re asking for custom work.

She wants something that works well

Clients ask for custom sometimes when they just want something to work well. They want to solve a problem in a unique way, because they themselves haven’t ever seen the problem. Professionals, though, have seen variations on most problems out there. And interestingly, when a solution works well, it’s often copied and templated. Many templated solutions have been proven to work well to reach various results. Something custom hasn’t been tested, and is a bit of an unknown.

He wants some input into what he’s paying for

Doesn’t everyone? When a client asks for something custom, they often want the ability to put their own personal touch on something. While understandable, what they want to do doesn’t always make sense in relation to the result they want. As a service provider, one way to work around this is to provide choices for clients to make. I see two big areas where a service biz can give opportunities clients to give their input:

1. Where their own industry knowledge can be leveraged to create the results they’re looking for. A good example here is having a client choose which articles to feature on a home page.

2. An area where the choice makes little difference to the success of the project, but could make an differentiation impact. One example here is, if you’re a designer, provide a directed choice of color and/or typography. This wouldn’t be an open-ended sort of question or request, but more of letting the client choose between two effective colors from a color palette.


A lot of differentiation comes from things like branding and the words a client uses. But sometimes, they really just want to be different from their competition. I get requests to “one-up” the competition with new technologies all the time. I’m fine with those, but I also know that too much messes with user experience, which messes with results. But, understanding the reasons for the requests, I can counter those requests with more reasonable suggestions that will still set my client apart.

What this means for service businesses

Using this information to better help your clients will also help you. When you realize that not everything has to be from scratch, you can build out more detailed processes, templates that just work, and all-in-one products. Then, you can meet the needs your clients have for customization within your process by giving them ways to provide input and differentiation.

Photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash