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How to Create a Simple + Streamlined Order Processing System

 

 

 

 

{I realised that I wasn’t writing as much as I’d like to here on C&T, so I’ve decided to publish an article every Wednesday as of next week. My plan is for these to be longer, more in-depth posts. I hope you enjoy your weekly shot of Jess from here on in! }

So, this month on Create & Thrive we’re going to be talking – amongst other things – about paperwork and accounting.

Wait, wait, come back!!

I know, it’s probably the part of running a business that you loathe the most, but it’s also absolutely vital to get sorted out early so that paperwork woes don’t come back to bite you in the tush later on.

I’ll be honest – as much as I LOVE looking at my numbers to track the growth of my business, I always loathed the actual ‘keeping the books’ part of the equation. Man, was I happy the day I got to pass that off to Nick! But more on the accounting side of things in a later post.

Today, I want to discuss another vital paperworky aspect of running a handmade business – keeping your orders under control.

Everybody has a different system for keeping their orders sorted out.

The most important question to ask yourself is – is it working?

Is the system you’re currently using simple, easy, fast, streamlined… and ensure you get all your orders correct and out the door in a timely fashion?

Now, you may work on a pre-made product system, or, like me, you might work on a made-to-order system. Whichever way you manage your stock, the system I’m going to share with you will work. I’m going to illustrate how Nick and I manage our Epheriell orders – and I’m hoping you’ll get some inspiration to re-think how you manage yours.

 

How I Manage My Orders

 

There are a few parts to the order management process in Studio Epheriell.

 

Part One

The first and most important of part of this process is a cheap, unassuming, lined spiral-bound exercise book. I used to use a regular exercise book, until I realised that a spiral-bound one lets me easily fold the pages around so the book takes up as little space as necessary on my bench.

This is Order Grand Central. Otherwise known as The Book. Every order, no matter where from, goes in here. There are three columns: Date Ordered, Name + Order Details, Date Shipped.

When a new order comes through, it goes in the book. The full name of the customer, any details needed for their order (product, special custom details, express shipping, gift message). I use highlighters to make sure I don’t miss vital info – such as yellow to highlight when someone has purchased express shipping.

When the order is done, packed, and ready to ship, I write the tracking or customs number (if any) in the center column next to the rest of the order info (in a space I’ve already left for it) and I fill in the shipping date in the right column.

The Book tells me, at a glance, how many orders I have, when they were placed – and therefore, when they are due – as well as everything I need to know to complete the pieces needed.

It also uses minimal paper, space, and time to keep up to date. And its super-portable.

 

Part Two

The second part of the process is email management between Nick and I + customer correspondence. We each have responsibilities for a different part of the process, and email systems help us manage them.

When an order comes into my inbox, I write it down into The Book. I then convo or email the buyer personally to send them our carefully crafted ‘thank you and info’ email with all the general info they need plus any specifics for their order/questions I have for them.

I then file the order email in a ‘To Pack’ folder in my gmail. I also star every order with a red star, so I can go back and look at orders that way if I need to.

Nick goes into this folder from his computer (yep, he just logs into my email…) and writes out all the packing envelopes, ready to go. When he’s finished with the email, he archives it. It is now done and dusted.

When an order is shipped, I again email my customer directly with our ‘your order is on its way’ message + mark it as shipped in the shop software.

 

Part Three

The third part of the system is post-it notes for wedding ring orders. I came up with this system to keep all our wedding ring orders straight once I started handing over some parts of the making process to Nick. It helps us keep track of not only what needs making, but the raw material needed, the size of the ring, any messages and the name of the customer. This post-it stays with that ring from the moment the raw wire is cut to the moment it gets packed.

It goes from Nick when he cuts out and anneals the raw wire; back to me to finish the ends, stamp messages, solder the ring together, size and harden it; back to him to file and sand and polish; back to me to oxidise/do a final quality check; back to him to pack it!

 

Part Four

The packing. Nick writes out the envelopes for orders daily, and adds them to a box I keep on my bench. When we have a shipping day, I’ll go through these envelopes, pull out the ones that we’ve completed, lay the envelopes out with the order on top, along with my handwritten ‘thank you’ note.

Nick then sits down and Ninja-packs the orders into the correct envelopes, seals them up, and gives the pile back to me so I can do the aforementioned writing stuff down in The Book + fill in a Post Office form.

Finally, the orders are ready to post!

 

The Flow Chart

So, that was a bit all over the place – let’s lay things out chronologically.

This is our systems flow chart for an order (let’s say a wedding ring order, because I make most other pieces from start to finish myself).

Order hits my inbox –>
I write down the order in The Book –>
I star it Red –>
I email/convo the customer personally with our thank you message + any questions –>
I file the email in the ‘To Pack’ folder –>
Nick writes out the shipping envelope – including any customs forms, postage paid stamp, or any other stickers–>
He places this in the ‘to ship’ box –>
I write out the post-it note with the ring design, size, any message, and customer name –>
I place this in Nick’s working area –>
Nick cuts out the ring from raw sterling wire in the correct size and shape –>
He anneals the raw metal (to soften it for working) –>
He brings the annealed ring back and places it on the post-it note on my bench –>
I file the ends, shape, and solder the ring together –>
I then hammer the ring to size and hardness –>
I give the ring back to Nick on its post-it note –>
Nick files, sands, and puts the finish on the ring –>
Nick puts the ring back on my bench –>
I oxidise the ring if necessary, then hand-polish it –>
I do a final quality check –>
I find the shipping envelope for the ring, and place it on the packing table with the ring on top –>
I write out our personal ‘thank you’ note and sign it, placing it with the envelope –>
Nick packs the ring and my note, and seals the envelope with tape –>
I take the packed envelope, add any tracking number or express post number, put that number and/or the customs number for overseas orders into The Book –>
I write the shipping date in The Book –>
I write out the Post Office lodgement form (I have a Business Account which means I can submit in bulk and don’t have to stand in line) –>
Nick or I go to the Post Office and submit the order –>
I mark the order as shipped online and email the customer their shipping notice.

AND WE’RE DONE!

If you don’t already have strict systems and habits in place to manage your orders from beginning to end, I highly recommend that you take the time to think about what works for you, and get it down to a fine art.

And I really, really recommend The Book method. It’s quick, easy, simple, and saves paper. It’s also a central place that anyone in your studio knows they can go to see the orders that are in process.

You will not only save yourself time and mental energy, you will KNOW at all times where you stand with all of your orders, and that will definitely help to keep you calm and focussed.

If you’re reading this now thinking ‘gee-golly-whiz, I’m NEVER going to be busy enough to worry about that’ – ye have been warned.

I remember back when I just started, I read one of those ‘Quit Your Day Job’ features on Etsy. The thing that stuck in my mind was actually a photo of the jeweller’s studio (I think it was a guy?) and behind him on the wall was a blackboard with his orders written out over the coming days.

I remember thinking, ‘wow, I’ll never need to be so organised with my orders’!

Oh, how very, very wrong I was. Sure, I was only a hobbyist back then, and little did I know what lay ahead, but I now look back at that and think ‘really, that’s all you were working on? Surely not!’ about what the dude had on his blackboard.

Systems are the saviour of small business sanity. (click to tweet)

Get them in place NOW, while you have the time to think about them and experiment with them. That way, when you hit it big, you’ll already be operating a well-oiled order-fulfilling machine.

Consider writing out your order fulfilment system in a flow chart like I have above. This has 2 benefits.

One – you can see, at a glance, the entire process broken down. This can help you manage a bunch of orders because you know exactly where each one sits at any one time.

Two – if/when you come to the point in your business where you need to bring in some help, you can look at this chart and decide which parts are ‘You’ tasks (things you and only you can do) and which ones you can delegate – either to someone in your studio, or someone remote (like a VA).

For me, my non-negotiable ‘You’ tasks are customer communication and the final quality check.

I could let go of all the other steps if necessary (after a LOT of training for the person taking over) but those are 2 things that I still want to do myself, so that I have a personal connection to my customers, AND I know each and every piece of jewellery going out the door is up to my very high standards.

Of course, we’re not at that stage yet, and probably never will be (control freak, cough), but I’ve made the decision, and it makes letting go of small parts of the process easier.

For example, I recently gave over the cutting and annealing of ring orders to Nick. And you know what? He does it BETTER than I did. He is more precise than I was with the initial cut, which makes the rest of the ring making process much easier. Win for everyone!

And there you have it. Our order processing/fulfilment system, from go to whoa.

I’d love to know how you currently manage your orders, and if this post gave you any ideas on how you might change your system?

Image Source: Lime Lane Photography

January 2014 : Starting the Year off Right

 

 

 

 

Happy 2014!

I have NO idea how many of you are actually here reading this today (did you have a big celebration last night?) but I’m going to practice what I’m about to preach – most of which is about getting more organised, and getting stuff done on time falls into that category. And so here we are with this month’s intro post.

First – just let me say that I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions any more. Why? Because I’m ALWAYS experimenting with my life, work, and lifestyle – I try new things all throughout the year. Why wait until some arbitrary date to try something new, right?

However, I do love the psychological freshness that comes with that brand-new date, and that’s why New Years is my favourite holiday.

So, this January here on C&T, our minds will be on ‘starting the year off right’ – how we can start as we mean to go on as we all get back to work after the Christmas/New Year break.

We all have something particular that’s been bugging the hell out of us for months/years that we KNOW we need to sort out. 

Something that we constantly notice and think ‘I must do that’… but never do, because busy-ness gets in the way.

Something that – if you just took maybe a few hours tomorrow – you’d get sorted… or at least well on the way to getting sorted, and that would make your whole work-year ahead that much smoother.

I know you’re thinking of that something RIGHT NOW!

I can’t tell you what yours is – but I’ll share mine with you as an example.

I love Cat’s post from Monday on making space for the new. I made some changes to my physical space over the last few days in order to make my workday flow more smoothly, and my studio a more pleasant place to be in. Nick made me a new set of shelves, we bought some organising baskets and little drawers. I also cleaned up a lot of general mess that had accumulated.

Here is what my studio looks like now:

As you can see, I’m a fan of year-round fairy lights.

And, to finish, gratuitous kitty photo:

(Gobbolino hates having his photo taken, he always manages to look super-awkward.)

I’ve sorted out some problems that have been bugging me for AGES – like organising my copious types of silver wire into labelled drawers rather than having them all in one massive pile that I need to search through every time I need a certain size.

I’ve hidden ugly stuff away – like the whole shelf of random bubble wrap pieces I had before (out of which bits were always falling).

Simple stuff, right? But we rarely take the time to step back and work on this sort of organisation, because we’re so busy with the ‘making stuff’ part of our businesses.

I am a naturally messy person (thank the stars I married someone much neater than me – though I drive poor Nick nuts sometimes with my mess) so learning to keep my workspace relatively organised is always something I struggle with.

By taking the time now to organise my space, I’m hoping that my workflow will be smoother, and things will go back to the space designated for them.

If I make it a month without a random pile of stuff ending up on the end of my studio bench, I’ll know I’ve succeeded!

What do YOU need to get done NOW to start the New Year off right?

P.S. You can see more photos of my studio here if you like.

Image source: Jess Van Den

10 Tips to Make it Easier to Run Multiple Online Shops Without Losing your Pins and Needles….

This question has being on my mind for a while.

Every time I get an email inviting me to a new online venue where I can sell my creations, I get more and more frustrated that I am one woman band and cannot be every where at the same time… I know you cannot have it all and being on every website in the world is not really my purpose.

However, I would like to be able to run 4-5 online shops, stay sane and actually have time to make stock.  

Earlier this year, I made it my goal to get comfortable with having multiple media accounts – Facebook, Instagram and blog (still struggling with Twitter) so my next challenge is to conquer my online shops… I run 4 stores (Craftumi, Madeit, Etsy and my website) and will be adding one more to the mix soon and to keep them tidy and well stocked takes rather good organisational skills.

There were two main issues for me when I thought about opening multiple stores:

  • What if something sold in one and I didn’t have time to remove it from the rest of the stores?

  • How do I find time to maintain them all? I don’t want to feel like I spend more time on the computer then in my creative space.

Here are 10 quick tips that I put together after I gave it a good go this year:

1. Always have one store with all your stock kept up to date with the correct amounts, your stock HQ. That’s my website (can be a Bigcartel store as it’s works like a website). I can always check what I have and how many – easy to do on my ipad/phone.

2. Follow Jessica’s advice and evaluate your stock on the question of reproducibility. Once I did that, I made my peace with the fact that some of my creations just have to be only on my website where I have control of the stock. The one of the kind items that cannot be re-made.

3. Make time for setting up your shops properly from the start – banner, about page, policies. So often I see about pages in the stores that have 2-3 sentences… Tell your story and engage the person who took time to read about your business!

4. After setting up your stock HQ, pick your best sellers and a couple of items that attract the best number of clicks/ comments to list in multiple stores. Even though those items might not be your best sellers, they are the ones that will get the traffic. For my Etsy store, I also try to choose items that are easier to post overseas as most of the customers there will be from different countries.

5. Don’t rush to list all items at once! From my experience, when setting up Etsy store, listing the stock slowly – 3-5 items a day, creates an instant flow of views. My store got noticed and orders came in after 2 weeks of slowly releasing my creations. Listing them all in one day would be hard time wise to start with, but will also leave me with no stock to list after. That’s when the stress of having to create will creep in!

6. Use all the functions you’ve got on offer. Madeit has a new schedule function that is the best gift ever. You can make sure you list a couple of new things through the day without being there. Also make sure you click automatically re-list button so once item is sold, it get listed again but do make sure you have materials to make it again.

7. Have a daily checklist of what to list/update in which store. I update only one of the shops per day to make sure I give it a quality time and won’t make mistakes by jumping from one store to another. The list will always tell me which ones need updating.

8. I try to make one or two new item a day before I start on my orders. That gives me enough stock for all the stores.

9. Promote only one store through your media as it’s easier for customers and when ordering your promotional materials.

10. Having your store on various sites does raise you in the search results and it’s a great advertising tool but do try to modify the descriptions slightly to appear in google search under different keywords.

Most certainly if you items are 100% made-to order you don’t really have to worry, just make sure you have enough supplies to fill them – but if you run multiple items store like mine with mixture of one of the kind, ready to post and made-to order items, then you probably had the same puzzle to put together as I did.

I hope these tips helped you to put your mind around a tricky task of running multiple stores!

I’d love to know how you handle multiple stores – will you tell us in the comments?

Styling Your Studio to Fuel Your Creativity

There’s a reason new-age office buildings look like college student unions.  CLIF, the company behind delicious energy bars, has a climbing wall.  Google has air hockey tables and yoga ball chairs.  Pixar has several movie theaters inside its headquarters.  Ideally, they want to inspire their workers and keep them happy.  Looking at their innovative products and huge profits, I’d say it’s working.

As makers, we can apply this same thinking to our studio.  After all, it’s where we spend the majority of our time!

A drool-worthy studio from Decoist.

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to what you studio should look like but there are definitely a few things that most people like to have in theirs.

  • Great lighting!  As an artist, I thrive on natural lighting to save my eyes (and brain) from the glare and hum of electric lights.
  • Posters and artwork.  These are great sources of inspiration and can make your space feel a bit like your childhood/teenage room (though you probably don’t have boy band posters in your studio).
  • A shelf of nicknacks.  Lots of people love having a space place to display items that get their imagination going.  Shells from the beach, cereal box toys, old cameras, etc.
  • Pennants or banners.  These are great for cheering up a space.
  • A big desk.  Big enough to spread out and work but not too big that you don’t remember to clean it at the end of every day.
  • A nice rug.  I know this sounds silly but nothing cheers up a place like a nice rug.  Also, if you have a studio ‘assistant’ who happens to be furry, they may also appreciate a rug.

Your studio will naturally match your brand and aesthetic.

For me, that means lots of clean white and black furniture with pops of color.  Also, I have a ton of silly pieces of artwork that make me smile every time I see them.  My studio is me in a tiny nutshell.

When your space matches your brand, you’ll feel more comfortable in that space.  You’ll feel safe to create outside the box.  You’ll have more ideas!

Since I’ll be moving in the next few months, I’ve actually started a Pinterest board for ‘studio inspiration’.  I’m invisioning white chalkboard walls, bright orange lamps, and a big antique map (the one with monsters and badly drawn continents on it).

Does your studio fit you?  And, if so, what’s your favorite part of it?  (I’d love to know so I can add ideas to my Pinterest board!)

Three Tips for Photographing Small Things

Megan here!  I have some very exciting news to share today.  After three long years, my boyfriend finally received his MFA in Photography.  He’d always dreamed of becoming a professor at a prestigious art school but due to the recession, the colleges weren’t hiring.  So instead, he’s decided to become a professor for makers who want to take gorgeous photographs of their products.

Today he’s sharing his best tips on how to photograph small things like jewelry.  This is something a lot of makers struggle with because their product is either out of focus or it appears as teeny tiny in the final image.  I think you’ll learn a lot so let’s get started!

When I photograph a small item, there are a few requirements I keep in mind to ensure I get a stunning photograph that grabs people’s attention.  First, I want to have nice, soft lighting because harsh shadows and highlights are distracting on small items. The last thing you want is for the shadow from your piece to overpower the piece itself. Second, I want to get close enough to the item so that the details appear large in the final image. If your customer can’t see the details, they won’t feel confident about hitting the ‘buy’ button because they don’t quite know what they’re getting. And lastly, it is very important to me to show the scale of small items because if you start to show things larger than life-size, it can be hard to discern the actual size and that also decreases your customer’s confidence that they know what they’re buying.

Create Nice, Even Lighting

To get nice, even lighting when photographing something small, I use one or two lights and diffuse them with tracing paper. For shiny or metal objects, I place one light on the left and one light on the right, both pointing at the subject. For other items, I simply use one light from above. Then, to diffuse the light, I place tracing paper between the light and subject.  The easiest way to do this is to stretch some tracing paper over a thin metal picture frame.  Once you tape it over the frame, you can keep it like that and always have it handy for your photo shoots.  It’s a trick professional photographers use when in a pinch or when they don’t want to shell out the money for a ‘professional’ diffuser.

Wine charm by Lingering Daydreams using a diffuser to create even lighting.

Show the Scale

Showing the scale is important with any product and even more so if it is small. To show the scale, one strategy is to put the object in an environment where it makes sense and where its size can be compared to the things around it. Another way to show scale is to put the object in someone’s hand. While hands vary in size, we understand what the average hand size is and can easily imagine it is our hand in the photo with the product. Psychologists have actually proven that photographing someone wearing a ring or holding a book sans any identifying features such as a face, help sell the product better.  Think of those beach calendars where all you see are someone’s feet and the ocean.  Another great example of this strategy is Apple’s advertisement for the iPad 2. They show how much slimmer the newer model is by placing it in a model’s hand and you immediately imagine what it would be like to hold yourself.

Close up of Studio MME’s brooches using a macro lens.

Get in Close with the Macro Setting

Virtually all point and shoot cameras, and many other cameras, have a built in macro setting. The macro setting enables the lens to focus on close up subjects. This mode is accessed by the button with the flower symbol. Normally your camera may not focus on something less than a meter away but with this mode on your camera will have the ability to focus with the lens just few centimeters away from the subject.

In the dSLR world, you will find zoom lenses with macro settings and prime or non-zoom lenses that are designed as macro lenses. This is indicated on the focus ring of the lens by the word Macro. Most often it is as easy to use as turning the focus ring toward the word macro. All lenses have a minimum focusing distance that varies depending on the type of lens you own and that distance can be found in the owner’s manual under tech specs.

A way to make a non-macro lens into a macro lens is with a close up filter. This is a special filter that screws onto the front lens that allows the camera to focus on much closer subjects.

Want even more information on how to make your photography eye-catching to customers? Check out The Create & Thrive Guide to Product Photography, which covers basic photography processes that eliminate these common mistakes and help make your products pop thanks to composition, backgrounds, and lighting.

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