How to Create and Simple + Streamlined Order Management 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

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