Here's what to ask yourself before committing to customization.

Staff Writer

By Matt Doyle, vice president and co-founder of Excel Builders.

Clients always want it their way. As a business owner, when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, you can either convince them that your offer is the best match or allow them to customize the product or service features so that they know they’re only paying for their needs.

This is a big concern in a lot of industries, from advertising to construction. I have been offering a fully customizable product for many years. It was not easy to make it work, which can make it difficult for me to give advice to younger entrepreneurs who want my opinion.

Offering customization can be a powerful strategy, but it can also push your budget and patience to the limits. Before you commit, give a lot of thought to these three questions.

Is It Necessary?

I love offering complete customization, but there’s no denying that selling a custom product is a riskier business than selling a product that can be easily scaled, for reasons that I will get in more detail below.

Before you offer a custom version of a product or create one, make sure you have a strong reason for doing so that you can defend. Will it excite clients? Does it offer something new? Will it disrupt competitors that won’t be able to adapt as fast as you can? Those are all good reasons to move forward.

Can You Handle Less Stable Margins?

I don’t usually recommend offering a custom product unless there’s no real cost difference between customized and uncustomized. For example, a custom product can be a no-brainer for a T-shirt company that just needs to budget ink.

But what if you’re selling a web development package? The difference in the amount of expertise, skills and development time of two different clients with custom needs could end up being massive. Understand that when you offer a custom product, your margins are simply not going to be as stable.

It may be a few years before you really get the hang of how different services and features are going to add up in the end. You may need to take a loss on some clients while you’re figuring it out, and that’s not something that every business can safely afford.

Can You Deliver the Expertise for Special Requests?

When you allow clients to make custom requests, you have to expect that some of them are going to surprise you. My business is in custom home construction, so we frequently have requests for features that clients have pulled from shows, magazines and social media. We’ve even been asked to build in styles that haven’t caught on in North America yet, and sometimes to build something that came entirely out of the client’s imagination.

It can be hard to match all requests with the expertise of our team or to find contractors with the background to keep that work at a premium quality. The same is true for many industries: The web development team I mentioned earlier would likely have to contract out to specialized designers, developers or other professionals to be able to handle clients’ special requests.

I don’t recommend that every business owner commit themselves to offering a custom product. That said, customers love customization, and the fresh ideas you get from the unrestrained minds of clients can lead to interesting and fun projects.

Don’t be scared, but do consider all of your options.

Matt Doyle is the VP and co-founder of Excel Builders, a revolutionary home builder that builds next-generation custom homes.