Grow Your Profits Week – Lesson 2 – Plan Your Packaging

Lesson 2 Plan Your Packaging

{This post is part of a FREE 5-part e-course on growing the profits in your online handmade business, running on Create & Thrive this week. Subscribe to our email updates to make sure you don’t miss a lesson. You can see Lesson 1 here.}

Welcome to Day 2 of our 5-day course!

Today we’re talking packaging. Specifically – how you can make sure you’re not spending too much money – or time – on your packaging.

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Packaging can put a big dent in your profits.

Of course, we all want to have beautiful packaging to wrap our gorgeous handmade goodies in. However, we need to be smart about how much that packaging is cutting into our profit margins.

Say, for example, that you sell clothing. Currently, you pack all your clothes in a box, wrapped with a ribbon, as well as a little handwritten note and a business card. This is then put into another envelope/box and addressed. When you add all that packaging up, it adds up to $5 (as an example – you need to work out your own costs).

That’s $5 you’ve got to earn – either by covering it in your shipping prices, your item price… or you’ll taking it out of your profits.

Now, what if you changed so that you didn’t buy a box, but simply wrapped your clothes in some brown paper or tissue paper, with a ribbon. And perhaps you can make your own business info cards, print them on paper, and write your note on the back of each one. This is what I do. Sure, I have professional, gorgeous business cards… but I don’t bother putting them in with online orders.

Why? Because as far as I’m concerned, those business cards are to give to new people who haven’t ever seen my business before. The point is to entice them to check out my website. Someone who’s bought from me has ALREADY checked out my website, and been impressed enough to buy from me. I don’t need to give them a business card. They know where to find me. 99.5% of them will just throw it in the bin. Honestly – how many business cards do you keep and USE that you get in online order parcels?

But back to the main event…

If you don’t do this already already, go add at least another dollar or so on top of your shipping charges. Go on, I’ll wait.

*pause accompanied by chillin’ to Matt Corby*

Why am I asking you to do this?

Simple. You should already be charging at least what it actually costs you at the post office to ship your goods. This additional dollar is the start of covering your packaging costs. It may be you need to add a bit more. I don’t know – and you certainly won’t know – until you do the maths.

Undercharging on shipping is a common mistake that will consistently eat away at your profits. (And if you offer ‘free shipping’? Make sure your shipping costs are calculated into the price you’re selling your goods for.)

Also, as a follow on from our earlier lesson – Get Organised – make sure you have all your packaging materials set up together, so it’s easy and quick to package your orders. Make sure you’re always stocked up on tape, wrapping materials/ribbon, envelopes etc, so that you don’t have to make a mad dash to buy more supplies! (I speak from experience…)

Also – you should be buying your shipping materials either at wholesale prices, or at least in bulk. This will save you both time and money.

The first time I bought a box of 1,000 bubble mailers, I almost hyperventilated. It seemed like a HUGE expense at the time, and I wondered if I’d ever use them all. Let me tell you – I used them all. And these days I don’t bat an eyelid when buying that box of 1,000 bubble mailers. Because I KNOW that buying them in bulk is saving a HUGE amount of money in the long-term.

A crucial thing to remember though – you can’t scrimp on safe packaging. It is paramount that your item arrives at your customer’s door in top-notch condition!

ACTION STEPS

1. Sit down and actually calculate how much your shipping materials are costing you per item shipped. Don’t forget to also add in the time it takes you do package everything!

Are you currently covering that cost in your shipping charges?

If not, could you increase your shipping charges to cover the cost? Or put the cost onto the item price?

If you don’t think you can, then you really need to look at altering your packaging. Take 10-20 minutes and brainstorm alternatives that will save you money. Perhaps search for similar shops and find out how they package their goods.

2. Go and organise your packaging, if you haven’t already.

Put your return address on envelopes in one sitting, pre-print and write any care sheets or discount coupons and have them in a pile ready to go. This will save you time down the track.

Grow Your Profits Week – Lesson 1 – Get Organised & Streamline Your Processes

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{This post is part of a FREE 5-part e-course on growing the profits in your online handmade business, running on Create & Thrive this week. Subscribe to our email updates to make sure you don’t miss a lesson.}

Welcome to Day 1 of our 5-day course!

This week I’ll be taking you through five simple steps that you can take to quickly and (relatively) painlessly increase the profits you’re bringing in in your online handmade business.

Let’s start with a fundamental – something you may never have considered is eating into your profits.

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Let’s get it out there straight away – I’m going to take a big bet that your workspace looks a tad messy right now.

Am I right?

Creative people tend to be a bit messy by nature – we have idea after idea, and we jump from one to the other – often forgetting to ‘clean up’ after ourselves as we go!

I am the queen of mess.

One of my best friends even calls me ‘Messy Bessie’. Yep.

My whole life I’ve always had a messy desk, messy room… but a while back I decided enough was enough.

When I realised that I was spending twice as long trying to find a component or tool than it actually took me to make a piece of jewellery, it hit me that this was a problem!

One way to increase profits is to decrease the time spent to earn the same amount of money.

The time we spend shuffling things around in our studios is time wasted. Time we could be spending more profitably – by making more product, blogging, marketing, designing… you name it.

But – I hear you say – I love having everything right in front of me! I gain inspiration from having beads/yarn/pencils/paints strewn all about!

You know what, I do too! But there’s no reason we can’t have them all strewn around in an organised fashion.

ACTION STEPS

Step back and take an objective look at your workspace.

1. Can you organise it right now?
2. Do you need to invest in buying/making storage solutions?
3. Do you need to re-arrange how you use the space?
4. …Or even find a new space altogether?

Work out what storage you need to make your space organised and easy to use. Consider your working style and position.

For example – do you work sitting down? How can you organise your tools/materials so you need to move around as little as possible – basically having as much at your fingertips as possible?

Do you have a bin? If not, get one, and put rubbish in there straight away. And then empty it! (So many times my poor husband Nick has gotten fed up with my overflowing bin and emptied it for me…)

For a little inspiration, here’s a picture of my current workspace. This was taken over a year ago (by Paul Harris for an article in Smarter Business Ideas), but it’s pretty similar still.

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You can find more workspace inspiration on my ‘Workspaces’ Pin board here.

Questions? Thoughts? Share with us on the Create & Thrive FB Page, or in the comments below.

Our New Favorite Tool – Stitch Labs

As makers we have lots of physical tools in our studios but for our online business needs, there are some great tools you should look into getting for your virtual toolbox.  I’m constantly looking for new apps and websites to help me work smarter, not harder, and today I wanted to share a new tool that I found.  It looks really cool and I can’t wait to try it out.

Let me introduce you to Stitch Labs!

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I heard about Stitch Labs almost a year ago and when it first came out I thought it was simply an online inventory system.  Being at a point where I was making everything to order, I didn’t think I needed an inventory let alone an online one.  Well, times change and so has Stitch Labs.  It’s now so much more than just an inventory system.

Okay, so what does it do?

  • Creates cloud-based inventory systems that can be exported to Google drive or Excel.  This sounds pretty cool, especially if you would like to know how many of each product you have in stores across the country.
  • It syncs with Amazon, Etsy, BigCommerce, Shopify, Storenvy, using Spark Pay, ECWID, or other online platforms to manage your inventory, sales, AND invoices.  Cool, right!?
  • Okay, it gets better because it also creates reports based on all of that data.  I admit that reports sound boring but these ones are super-colorful (which we makers love because we’re such visual people), and it helps you see where and when you’re making money.  No more guessing about which product is your best seller or which online platform sells the most.
  • You can use Stitch Labs to send invoices.  For those of you who wholesale, this is a great function because you can continue to keep everything in one place.
stitch labs

Sounds pretty good right?  Well, there’s one last thing that I know you’ll like: you get to start for free!  Obviously for more bells and whistles, you’ll pay but it’s definitely worth a peek at the free version to see if it helps you feel more decisive and confident in your business.

I’d love to know if you already use Stitch Labs and what you think of it.

It’s time to start on Christmas stock: The importance of creating items in advance

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Once your business grows, the way you release your products will organically change and you might feel the need to create items in advance like a nice creative squirrel.

Last year I realised that I desperately need to have a box with products that are not in the shop yet so I can whip them out when I am way too busy to stitch.

Having an actual collection, like Easter for example, that is ready in advance is a dream for me at the moment but I am taking specific steps to make it happen – and I’ll share them with you today.

In the beginning of last year I told myself that I must – yes MUST – start making Christmas items in June.

You know what? It never happened!

I didn’t expect to be as busy as I was. I didn’t know that I will have new ideas rolling in and I had to obey the creative urges!

So, this year I am trying to learn on my experience and figure out the art of making items in advance. Little steps at a time.

This year, I start working on Christmas items this month. It might seam a little overboard and it did take me some time to come to terms with as I felt a little tired of  making my Christmas creations. However, I think we can all hugely benefit from having more of ready to sell items so we can take more orders.

I don’t want to make hundreds but at least 2 of each item will be great to have in September to show my customers, and start selling while I work on more.

“How do I make items in advance when I am already busy as it is?”, I hear you ask.

I think you might turn away after I say – planning.

Planning is key!

The art of creating items in advance can only be mastered with planning and practice. Once you get comfortable with it, creating a collection “on the side” along with new stock for the store will feel natural and a part of the routine.

As it is the most important collection and the busiest time of the year, let’s take Christmas as an example.

The preparation will take some time but after it all set up, the idea is to make one or two items a week starting from today.

Get a box and stick a label on it – Christmas collection. Easy!

Now to the being organised part

  1. Do you have Christmas themed items already? Make a list and attach it on the lid so you can mark how many items are in there as you go.- Don’t have Christmas items yet? Start brainstorming ideas! Even if you will have one of each item ready to show so customers can place orders, you are will be ahead.

  2. Get the release schedule ready. There is nothing like a deadline to keep you motivated. Let’s say mid-September you need to have the collection photographed and ready to go. Pencil other dates in your planner like – first sneak preview, pre-release  and release date. Also, book special promotions in advance on other websites, organise features and schedule newsletters.

  3. Cut out everything required for a batch so when you have a day when you are not as busy, you can pick something up and make 1 or 2 things. Once the item is finished, pop it in the box and write on the lid what you’ve made.

  4. Take pictures as you got – start, progress, creative space full of green/red supplies…. Every picture will be handy for the pre-release blog post, teaser or Facebook post.

  5. Keep making stock, have prices ready and think about the special Early bird offers to motivate people to order early as there will be plenty of last minute request, trust me.

Christmas is not that far away and, judging from the experience, you will be very grateful for any preparations you will do now. After all, you’ll have more time for eating cake and being jolly once all the items are loaded and there are plenty of stock.

That’s what I am doing this year. Do you have any tips on how to get ready for the busy season? Do share!

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…)

createandthrive - bookkeeping basics - tractorgirl's cheatsheat

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).

createandthrive - bookkeeping basics - drawer files - hruskaa etsy

{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.

createandthrive - bookkeeping basics - wall file - havenvintage etsy

{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!

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