5 Tips to Make Bookkeeping for your Small Biz a Breeze

Today’s post is by Julie Gibbons (aka tractorgirl).

She has been a great many things in her life, but one way or another, she’s been involved in bookkeeping and office management for over two decades – mostly in small to medium-sized biz. That means she’s seen lots of bits of paper, and many systems for dealing with them that range from – in her words – “the good, the bad, and quite frankly, the downright pitiful”.

Today, she’s got a few hard-won tips for small biz to share with you – because I KNOW how much we creatives LOATHE paperwork: but if we’re running a business, it’s a vital part of the puzzle.

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Record keeping.

“AARRGGGHHHH!” I can hear you visibly shiver (oh yup some things make ALL the senses recoil…).

But here, let me tell you: with good systems in place, it really ain’t so bad.

Systems are great, ESPECIALLY when you’re a tiny biz and you have to do just about everything yourself, AND you have to remember how to do it all.

Using systems means that things are dealt with the same way every time, which in turn means your resulting information is consistent. And THAT means you can use it to make well-informed decisions about your biz.

Systems are also good simply because they mean that you don’t have to think quite so hard every time you are confronted with a piece of paper. Quicker and easier – save those brain cells for more important work!

A system is only good as long as it EASY TO UNDERSTAND and it is USED.

So, my number one tip is to write your own ‘cheatsheet’ – a list of the trickier tasks in the running of your biz and how to do them, so you can refer to it if ever you can’t quite remember.

This saves you stressing about it and/or doing it differently to last time. (Writing stuff down about the techniques you used in creating your last masterpiece is also an excellent idea! Just put it in a different notebook…)

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Cheatsheets are particularly good for tasks you do less frequently, (eg. monthly/quarterly/annual jobs).

It’s not only helpful for you, it’s also helpful for others (like your accountant). And for when someone else needs to know how to do it (like when your biz grows, you’ll need an offsider!) Or for when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, you can much more quickly identify WHERE the problem occurred, and be able to think of solutions so that it doesn’t happen again.

Now, I’m not the entirely perfect office organiser, but I’ve got pretty good at it over the years, and our accountant always smiles at me and gives me lots of ticks on the reports when we pay him our annual visit.

So here are my tips.

1. Write yourself a cheatsheet

(Mine’s 1 x double-sided A4 page long. It needs to have enough info to make your processes clear, but not too much that you confuse yourself).

We have a very old and basic version of MYOB that we do our accounts on, so I include tips and tricks on my cheatsheet for dealing with its quirks too.

2. Write down all of your income and expenses

Now, because you’re running a biz, I’m assuming you’ve got the basic concept of writing down all your income, and all your expenses. There are many different ways of setting this out, depending on what suits your purposes. Jess has done one example over here.

3. Write down the details

So, what to do with all those bits of paper that you collect – receipts, bills, you know, STUFF? When you buy materials and services for your biz and you get your receipt (doesn’t matter whether you pay by cash or card), always write on the receipt EXACTLY what it’s for (especially if it’s for a particular job) – so when you finally get around to sorting out all your dockets, you’ll know how to handle them.

NEVER trust anything to memory. Always write down everything, either in a special notebook, or actually on the relevant piece of paper (for instance, the details of conversations re: commission work, including the date).

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{hruskaa}

Put aside time on a regular basis to go through your special notebook for any follow-ups that have to be done, and to do your accounts. Once a week works well for me. Don’t skip it.

4. File, file, file

You need a good filing system. Before you start a filing system, write down what you want out of it, and think about how it might be arranged so that it’s easiest for you.

Alphabetical? Chronological? Types of things, such as invoices, bank statements, quarterly reports?

Maybe you need a couple of different groups of files, depending on your own criteria.

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{haven vintage}

I have a couple of filing spots. I have an in-tray for bills that need to be paid and forms that need to be filled out; a set of drawers for pre-sorting bank statements and receipts etc that need to be reconciled; and of course a filing cabinet drawer for the completed paperwork.

I find the small drawers (you can use a wall-mounted file if you’re short on space) for pre-sorting receipts especially useful, as we have several different accounts for various things (savings accounts, credit cards, cheque accounts, as well as tax deductible cash receipts), so that I can put those messy bits of paper in there when I first get them, and there is not such an enormous pile of mixed up ATM and EFTPOS receipts to have to go through at the end of the month/quarter/year.

5. Put it away properly!

Lastly, after I finish our tax returns, I empty out the files, and put all of that year’s documents together in a bag, label it and file it in another cupboard. That way, it’s out of the way, but still easy to access it if I need to find out stuff that happened last year.

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There’s lots of general information here, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

If you’ve got any particular questions, I would love to hear them in the comments – especially any gnarly bookkeeping problems you’re struggling with!

10 Tips to Get More People into Your Booth at Summer Shows

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The summer show season is nearly here for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means lots of income and a lot of preparation.  If you put in a little bit of work in before (and during) a show, you can ensure you’re maximizing your profits. 

I’m going to share a few tricks I employ to get more people to buy from my booth.

1. Two-foot (or One Metre) rule. 

People are walking, talking, eating, chewing gum, AND looking at the booths around them.  No one stops dead center if front of every booth to see what’s inside so to get their attention, you need to use the two-foot rule.  That means within the first two feet/one metre of the left and right sides of your booth, you have something truly eye-catching to draw people in.  A large picture, something colorful, or a tall stand.

2. Set up your display ahead of time at home and walk by it quickly.

Again, people don’t look at your booth from straight on (as we so often do when we set up our booths and assess them) so be sure it looks good when you’re walking past it.

3. Put levels into your display.

Use shelving on your tables or tables of different heights to add space for your products and resting places for your customer’s eyes.

4. Make sure your branding is cohesive.

Your brand should be evident in your booth both in your product and in your displays.  If you use mostly blacks and whites, your tabletops shouldn’t be wooden.  Or if your branding is rustic, you don’t want metal and neons in your booth.

5. Have a wide price range.

It’s an odd behavior among humans but when we are presented with a range of prices, we are most likely to purchase something in the middle.  We don’t want to be seen as cheap and buy the lowest priced item but we don’t necessarily want to buy the most expensive item either.  So if you make sure you have a few high-priced items in your booth, then you raise your average sales.

6. Employ scarcity. 

Like the last little ‘trick’, scarcity is also a great way to increase the chances people will buy from you.  When I set up my displays, I only set out one of each print or note card set.  That way when people pick them up, they realize that there are no more behind it.

Thus they feel that if they want it, they need to buy it or someone else might take it since there’s only one.  Now, if anyone asks me, I’m certainly honest and tell them I have more but most people don’t ask.  The first time I tried this ‘trick’, I nearly doubled my sales at a show.

7. Tell your story. 

No one can sell your work as well as you so be sure you’re telling your story!

8. Say, ‘Hi!’ to everyone who comes in to your booth.

People don’t always expect to be greeted and they instantly light up when you acknowledge them.

9. Stand; don’t sit. 

I know it can be hard, especially for a two-day show, but your customers feel like they can engage with you if you’re standing.  If you’re sitting, they’ll feel like they’re bothering you.  So try your best to stand and set aside your crossword puzzles, books, etc.  Remember, you came to the event to sell!

10. Know who your product is for and what they use it for.

Including these little points in your signage is really important at holiday shows but it applies to summer ones as well since there are always gift buyers shopping.

For my last holiday show I set little signs like, ‘For the writer,’ next to my note cards and, ‘Art for your couch,’ next to my illustrated pillows.  I really increased my sales at that event and I had less people asking what things were and if they would be acceptable for such-and-such a person.

What little tips or tricks do you use at summer shows?

(Image via Renegade Craft)

5 Tips On Setting Up A Referral Program for Your Business

This is a guest post by Ashley Griffith.

When we started The Gnarly Whale, we didn’t have a solid marketing plan set up. Sales would fluctuate from nothing to more than we could handle on a regular basis. A random review, or a mention on a bigger site, or even a smaller celebrity getting their hands on our products was usually the cause. And while we loved the high sales volume when it happened, it wasn’t the perfect way to run a business. It wasn’t intentional which made it impossible to anticipate our sales or the supplies needed. And we’d go from feeling ho-hum about our business to pulling our hair out because we couldn’t keep up.

We knew something had to change. We knew we needed a strategic marketing plan that kept steady sales and prevented us from the rollercoaster of a ride we’d been on. Unfortunately for us, anything expensive wasn’t an option yet as we were still a relatively new small business. Our only option was to figure out an inexpensive yet beneficial marketing plan, if one of those even existed.

About this same time, I saw a pattern with our customer notes. Customers would say “so and so referred me” or “my sister sent me this product and I love it so much I wanted to get more.” It didn’t take much for us to realize that our customers were by far our best, and most under-utilized, marketing team. They were already doing the job we needed to do without any incentive other than a love for our products. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would do if they had an incentive.

So began the idea for a referral program.

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Today I wanted to share with you five tips on creating a referral program for your business today because it is by far one of the most valuable tools that we have for our business.

Not only is it inexpensive, easy to set-up and manage, and a great way to track your sales – it’s the perfect way to reward your customers that are promoting you.

After having it for even a few short months, I don’t think I could ever justify not having one (in some shape or form) for our business. And if you need an idea for how mine is setup, you can view it here.

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1.  Promote the heck out of it. There is no point in creating a referral program, linking to it on the sidebar of your blog, and waiting for the people to come rolling in.

If you want people to be promoting your brand or your products, you have to let them know why they should AND what’s in it for them. Shout it from your social media rooftops, write a blog post about it, tell your friends and family about it, mention it to customers you speak with, and include a note about it in all of your outgoing packages.

Make sure that there is absolutely no reason that anyone looking at your shop, using your products, or even knows you’re a business owner wouldn’t know about the program. Just remember: the more you put into this, the more you will receive from it. Because the more people that know about it, the more people you can reach.

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2. Keep your information organized. There’s a lot of tracking that goes on with this program. The initial information, the setup of referral codes, the sales that come in with the referral codes, and the reward thresholds.

If you don’t have a way to keep track of this information, it can be incredibly daunting. We setup the program using a contact form plugin through WordPress on our blog.

The customer fills out the information and it’s submitted to us via email. Then, we plug all of the information into an Excel spreadsheet and send the customer their referral code. In the spreadsheet, there’s cells for tracking all of their information and the purchases that they bring in. This way, we have everything we need in one document whenever anything needs to be updated.

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3. Make sure it’s worthwhile for everyone. This means you, your customer, AND the potential customers that they are hopefully referring.

You need to ensure that you aren’t going to lose a ton of money through the program, that the customer has a solid incentive to promote your brand, and that the person they are referring has incentive to use their code. We set specific thresholds for certain products and specific order amounts that would qualify as a referral order to ensure that we wouldn’t lose too much money.

We set our free product tiers that went from least expensive to the most expensive so that the customer would be encouraged to refer more people. Lastly, we decided to offer a free item to anyone that used a referral code to encourage the people that are referred to us to actually tell us that someone sent them over. It’s a win-win-win situation for everyone by covering all three groups.

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4. Set standards and don’t budge on them. This one can be a hard one for people that aren’t accustomed to saying no and/or want to do everything that they can to please their customers.

Despite how hard it may be . . . it will save you many future headaches if you set the rules in the beginning and stick to them. Set order minimums, set rules on orders (such as a referral code has to be included in the notes), require your customers to keep you up-to-date on personal information changes, etc.

Put some of the responsibility on them to follow the rules. Your job is to provide them with the opportunity to promote your products with this – not micro-manage them. Even if they ask you to bend the rules – just this one time – you need to stick with whatever you set up in the beginning.

It may sound harsh, but it’s the only way that you’ll keep a successful program running. Because one time can turn into two times, then five times, and then their best friend wants the same exceptions. Trust your gut with whatever you decide in the beginning and make it clear that there aren’t any exceptions.

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5. Plan to follow through or don’t do it at all. This one may sound like common sense, but it’s truly important when you’re working so closely with your customers.

Someone that signs up for a referral program most likely has people they want to share things with. Good deals, promotions, awesome products – you name it, they have friends and family they are waiting to share with. That’s the good part of it.

The tough part of it is that these people are equally as likely to share their bad experiences with those friends and family. And if they have a bad experience with your referral program, you can bet that they will share that with them, which completely defeats the purpose of it and has negative impact on your brand. So if you set-up the program, know you have the means to provide the customers with rewards for their help and know that you’ll do it in a timely manner. Know that you can keep their information organized and know that you’ll be able to easily provide information to people about the program whenever they ask it.

* Bonus! Although not required, give ideas to your customers on ways to promote your brand/products! Offer them images, promotional codes that they and/or their friends and family they refer can use, product selling suggestions, etc. Most of us are not born salespeople so the more ideas you give them, the more likely they are to help spread the word!

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Have you set up a referral program for your business?

What are your tips for managing a successful one?

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Ashley Griffith is blogger turned business owner.

She co-owns The Gnarly Whale – an all vegan, minimal-ingredient eco-friendly bath and body shop – and spend her days experimenting with new ingredients, new scent combinations, and new product ideas. When she’s not working, you can find her blogging over at After Nine To Five, dreaming of the ocean, and enjoying the great outdoors.

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C&T Q&A – How can I get my family and friends to take my craft business seriously?

 

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{source: dear moonbeams}

Today’s question is from K, and she writes:

I’m wondering if you have any words of advice for those of us who have left other, some would say, more “responsible” jobs to go into the creative world. A large part of me doesn’t care in the slightest, but there’s a niggling part of me that is annoyed with some old friends & family for their lack of support. I sometimes think how great it would be if they could share something I post on Facebook for all of their friends to see – or if some of them could bring themselves to simply click that “like” button!

I have a wonderful customer base & I realise these are the people I need to focus on, but at times, I really feel that lack of support. They most likely aren’t taking my work seriously, as they’re not malicious people at all. Any idea of how I could help them understand how important it is to me that I grow my business and how valuable their support could be?

Ahh, yes! I, too, left a ‘traditional’ and ‘responsible’ full-time job with a good salary to do my own thing. My last (and hopefully last EVER) ‘job’ was as the manager of a maths and English tuition centre. It was a great job, with great hours (1pm to 8pm, 5 days a week), and a decent salary.

I learnt a a lot about business during my 2 years at that job, and I think it was invaluable in my development and confidence, as I’d never had any sort of ‘business-y’ job before that.

So – leaving that job was a big risk… but honestly, it wasn’t one I was worried about. I’m one of those people who has faith that everything will work out, so I knew I could find another job if necessary.

However – giving up traditional employment to go out on your own with a home-based business – especially a craft business – definitely has the propensity to raise eyebrows.

I am obscenely lucky in that I have a husband, parents, friends, and extended family who have never been anything but unfailingly supportive.

Well, I don’t think my Dad really took what I did seriously until I started turning around a few thousand a month, but he was still supportive, and had faith in my ability to succeed.

The same goes for my extended family. They were always supportive, asking me at Christmas ‘how’s the business’ going… but I think people struggle to have respect and take a creative business seriously until you can back it up with the numbers. (I think I slightly shocked a few family members last Christmas when I mentioned my December turnover.)

People just don’t have the mindset that this sort of business can actually succeed and make you any sort of decent income.

K, in your case, it sounds like your family and friends care, but perhaps still think that this is just a ‘fancy’ or a ‘hobby’ for you – and that you’ll get back to the ‘real world’ soon.

Or, equally possible, they do care and are supportive – because I have to say, being concerned that they don’t share your stuff on FB or like it isn’t an indication of whether they are supportive or not! That’s what a FB Page is for 🙂 If they choose to be a fan of what you do, great! If not, don’t take it personally. Are you actively supportive of all of their jobs/professions/hobbies/passions?

We’re all busy people, and rarely do we take the time to help and promote people consciously. Even – and perhaps more so – the people we love and care about the most… because we assume they already know we love, care about and support them!

Heck, they might even think you’re doing so well you don’t need that sort of help! I can’t tell for sure from your email, but all of these things are possibilities.

I think the best way to gain the support and respect of people in this situation is just to succeed.

Give them the cold, hard proof that what you’re doing is viable as a business – and that means the $$$.

Of course, if your partner or other very close family and friends aren’t as supportive as you would like, you really need to talk to them about it – tell them how you feel and ask them what they think about what you do. You can’t make anyone be supportive, but opening up an honest conversation is the first step in building those supportive relationships.

Don’t assume what they think about your business – we all know what they say about assumption!!

To conclude: it’s amazing how powerful a little bit of faith and support from those who love us is.

If you have that support, be thankful for it every day.

If you don’t: have faith in yourself, work hard to make your business a success, and you’ll eventually convince the skeptics who require a bit more proof!

5 Lessons Learnt from a Defunct Jewellery Business

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This is a guest post by the lovely Brooke McAlary.

One cold afternoon in August 2010, I drove to my parents’ house in tears.

I had everything to be happy about – a wonderful husband, a beautiful daughter and a baby on the way, a lovely home we were renovating and a flourishing independent jewellery label. Yet there I was. Struggling. Teetering. Going under.

By the time I got to my parents’ house, I was done. I closed the doors on Trove the next day.

My jewellery label, Trove, had grown over the previous three years from a hobby to a full-time job. I had exhibited at Australian Fashion Week, was being mentored by an international fashion designer, had made a five-figure debut at my first trade show and had my work being sold by over 60 stockists. It was good. Really good.

But I was miserable. Strung out, worn out, burnt out. I had painted myself into a corner with my business and I could not see a way to make it work for me any longer.

Today, I am still an enormous supporter of independent businesses and want to see everyone who has the talent, drive and ambition succeed.

For that reason, I want to share with you the 5 lessons I learnt during that difficult time – in order to save you and your business from the same fate.

 

1. Back Yourself From the Start

Regrets are not my thing. But if I had one regret, it’s that I didn’t back myself earlier and quit my full-time job sooner.

It would have given me more time to establish the label, employ one or two staff and have systems in place that allowed me to manage the business while spending the majority of my time with my family.

(One caveat: Before even considering this, you need to KNOW your stuff is great. And that people love it.)

 

2. Keep Creating. Always.

Your well of creativity is endless. Really.

When it feels as though it’s running dry, get out of your box, explore another medium – sculpt, paint, draw or write poetry. Just create on a daily basis and keep topping up that well.

You will never run out of your best ideas. They regenerate time and time again.

 

3. Pay Attention to the Boring Details

In business, as in life, the high points, the creative breakthroughs, the moments of overwhelming productivity are countered by the mundane – paying bills, ordering supplies, chasing payments, writing invoices, replying to emails.

Don’t, under any circumstances, ignore this stuff. It is the business.

Sure, you may be selling jewellery, or crocheted hats or macramé owls wearing moustaches, but you will only find stockists, receive payment and find the best price for supplies by paying great attention to the boring details.

 

4. Know When to Compromise

You started out as a one-person show. It made you proud. You were and still are against unethical outsourcing, against mass-production, against faceless big box stores.

I was exactly the same. But in the end, I decided I needed to outsource production. And the only way to do that profitably was to work with studios in Thailand and Bali. These were studios I was in close contact with and would visit before signing contracts. I needed to know I was supporting businesses that supported its workers.

Unfortunately, I started down that path too late. (See point 1).

To you I say, if you want to make a sustainable living from your business, you need to know when and how to compromise. Because that will allow you to scale your business when the time comes. Know your core values and do not be swayed from them.

But be prepared to look outside your comfort zone and consider ideas and solutions you may have previously cast aside.

 

5. You Can’t Do It Alone

This was the biggest mistake I made in my business, and it played a huge part in its eventual closure.

Like most solo-creative entrepreneurs, I designed, made, finished, quality-controlled, packaged and shipped my products. I also represented the label at tradeshows and markets, was the buyers’ contact, the warehouse, despatch, tracking and sometimes courier.

Not to mention BDM, marketing officer, bookkeeper and receptionist. In part, this was to save money. But to a large extent, it was also about fear of letting go. Relinquishing control.

My advice, design your business intentionally. Understand that if you grow in the way you want to grow, there will come a day where it is impossible for you to do it all.

Research potential production studios, look at wholesale agents, develop a support network of like-minded creatives – you will need all this information at hand when the time comes to expand. And if you don’t have it, you may spend 6 months gathering the information, only to find that the time has passed and you missed the opportunity.

(But don’t be disheartened, there will be other opportunities. And the next time, you’ll be ready for it, right?)

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I will be the first to put my hand up and say, feel free to ignore the advice from the woman whose business folded.

But, as the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and now I can clearly see the mistakes I made with my business.

You and your business will hopefully benefit from my hard-earned hindsight.

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Brooke McAlary is an aspiring minimalist, blissful gardener, frequent swearer, passionate writer and inappropriate laugher. She is also a happy wife, busy mum and slightly weird Australian. She blogs at Slow Your Home and is on a mission to help you slow down, brighten up and love your life.

You can find her hanging out on Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day.

{images both by Andrew Bannecker}

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