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.


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


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.


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!

Success Stories ~ Lucky Jackson


Lucky Jackson

When I began my own 365 Portrait Challenge on January 1st, it was inspired by the extraordinary, Canadian artist, Lucky Jackson.  In 2011-2012 she sewed a new piece of embroidery art every day.  They were so intricate and whimsical, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her work and her dedication.  I knew I wanted to share her story with Create and Thrive readers and today I’m so happy to do just that!

Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?

I began my art career after the birth of my first child. I decided that I wanted to pursue something I was passionate about and began painting and entering local art shows. This lead to opening my first Etsy Shop, “Almost Famous”.

I enjoyed success selling prints of my paintings but painting wasn’t fulfilling my creativity. I  started to experiment with new materials,  enjoying the freedom of exploration of my artistic practice. This is when I started to work with textiles and finding my love for hand embroidery. In 2011-2012 I embarked on a project, dedicating to sew a new piece of artwork every day for a year. 365 Lucky Days was a trying time but I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to work on my craft for a year. After the project ended, I took a bit of a break but am currently working on a new series of work. I am experimenting with new materials again and am loving experimenting and coming up with new ideas. I am hoping to release the series this fall.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?

The “business” side of things. I find it extremely difficult  trying to balance making art, taking care of my home, my husband and kids,  spending time with friends, and then there is marketing, answering emails, making deadlines, blogging, mailing orders, running my website, doing art shows. I can honestly say I am not successful at this at all but I find my family, friends, customers and the art community very patient and understanding. I think you just need to be honest with people with how much you can do in a day. I still find time to watch Mad Men every week and Project Runway reruns so I can’t really complain can I?


Steve Zissou (Day 128) print

What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?

Definitely the press I received during the 365 Project.  I received a lot of support and recognition from bloggers that I really admired, and they were so gracious and nice. I met so many great people during the project that I still keep in contact with. I cannot describe the amazing feeling of making something and finding a community that loves what you make. For someone like me that has always had a lot of self doubt, this was huge.

Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?

I think as an artist, you always have those doubts. I was afraid after the 365 that people would only want to see embroidery work and I wanted to try something new. I liken it to when you go to see your favorite band and they are trying to play something new they are working on and the audience is shouting “play the hits!” I love embroidery and Wes Anderson movies but I want to do something new.

Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?

After the 365 I was really tired. It coincided with my girls starting school full time and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I kept a journal of ideas. I played with my kids a lot. I watched a lot of movies. I caught up with friends. If you just live your life and have fun and keep your eyes open you eventually  will receive inspiration. I have learned not to force it.


It’s All About You print

How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?

After getting the girls off to school,  I usually check my emails and then get into the studio. I always have several projects on the go. I work from 9:00 until the girls get off the bus at 4:00. No exceptions. The days that I am working I don’t go out for coffee, I’m not doing housework. I need that big chunk of time to get the focus I need to be creative. The rest of the day is free playtime! BBQs, playing at the park, taking the kids to the YMCA, and then cuddling time with my hubby watching Soprano reruns!

What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?

Having a blog and connecting to other creatives via social networking.


I’ve Got the Music in Me (Day 172) print

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?

Do your own thing. Inspiration is everywhere but find your own unique style. Make it your own. And put it out there. I know so many people that are so wonderfully creative and they hold themselves back my comparing their work to others. You don’t want to be like anyone else. Part of being creative is bring something new and genuine to the world.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

My hubby is building a huge porch on the front of our house. I picture myself writing and doodling in my journal on the porch swing coming up with  some crazy and new ideas to pursue next. Pretty simple but that sounds heavenly to me.

You can find more of Lucky Jackson’s work online:

In her Etsy shop: Lucky Jackson

On her blog: 365 Lucky Days

C&T Q&A – Can I Have a Successful Online Handmade Business if I Make Mostly OOAK Items?


Today’s question is from Annaliese, who asked on the C&T Facebook page:

I’m struggling with how to manage multiple ways of selling (eg. own site, etsy, madeit, markets, consignments etc) when about 95% of my work is OOAK and can’t be listed in multiple places at once. How do you make sustainable business when the product is OOAK?!

I hate to say it, but my initial reaction to this question is: you can’t.

Let me explain why.

When you sell your handmade goods to stores or at markets, it doesn’t matter if all your goods are OOAK (one-of-a-kind). You send them to the shop, or you lay them out on the table, and people love them and buy them, or not.

Selling online, however, is a totally different ballgame.

Making the item is only a small part of the work that goes into listing a handmade item online. Whenever you decide to list an item in your online shop, you need to:

  • Photograph it
  • Edit the photos
  • Write a title
  • Write a description
  • Come up with tags
  • Upload the whole lot to your shop
  • + more!

This takes time. LOTS of time.

To run a successful online handmade business, you really need to be selling multiple items every single day. Depending on the price-point of your items, anywhere from 5-20 items a day.

Imagine if you had to go through the above process for every single item you add to your shop?

Major time suck.

Therefore, once you get busy, doing this is really not sustainable in the long-term.

However, I’m not saying not to make OOAK items – far from it!

What I AM saying, is that if you want to have a successful online handmade business, you really need to produce a range of reproducible designs that you can list once, and then sell over and over again without having to do any additional work.

This should be the core of your range – your ‘bread and butter’ items.

They should form a substantial proportion of your product line. You still have the freedom to make and list OOAK items, but you’re not spending a huge amount of time listing new things all the time.

This also eliminates the problem Annaliese is suffering from – not being able to list her items across different venues. You can list your reproducible designs in as many venues as you like, as they are pre-made or made-to-order, and it doesn’t matter how many times you sell them. Then, just list your OOAK designs in your main online venue – whether that be your own site or your Etsy shop.

{If you’d like to learn more about this, or just how to craft a successful handmade shop, make sure you check out Set Up Shop – our 30-day online course to take your shop from go to WHOA}

I’d love to hear from you – how do you balance reproducible designs and OOAK items in your online shop?

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


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)

C&T Q&A – Blogging Etiquette – When do I need to ask permission/give credit?

sticker for laptop

{image from Schtickers}

Today’s question is from Anna. It’s a long one, but bear with us, and we’ll get into some juicy discussion about blogging etiquette below…

Hi there Jess!

Hope you are having a fabulous time in the big USA 🙂

I have a question for you that you may be able to answer on Create and Thrive. {Just as a side note, THANK YOU for all your excellent advice on C&T, I can’t get enough of it}

I am thinking about starting my own blog to help bring more traffic to my Etsy store and my question relates to blogging references and blogging ideas.

For example, if my idea was to do a blog on a recipe that I originally found in a Jamie Oliver book, (and I added a couple of new ingredients to make it my own recipe), what is the blogging world etiquette on referencing original ideas? Naturally, I would think to include some sort of reference at the start of my blog to say, “hey, this is a version of Jamie Oliver’s fantastic chicken…. etc” and link Jamie’s name to www.jamieoliver.com. I guess my question is, do I need any sort of permission from JO? {Example 1}

Or, another example is, say I just want to do a very quick blog or FB post on a great DIY project (and lets say, I didn’t have time to actually do the project myself) “hey everyone, check out this great new DIY from this great blogger www.homeprojects??.com” – should I contact www.homeprojects??.com and let them know that I will be directing traffic their way (I’m sure they would be very happy with this), but I’m not sure what the protocol is. {Example 2}

I guess lastly (and importantly), what if I got a DIY idea from another blogger and I wanted to blog about it myself? Do you think I need to get permission off the original blogger OR just reference them OR avoid any ideas that have come from other bloggers (its very difficult to come up with an idea that hasn’t been done before).{Example 3}

Thanks Jess – I’m a big fan of yours so I would appreciate any advice you have!

Anna 🙂

Hey Anna! Great question – and I love your examples, you’ve laid out some really common situations that most crafty bloggers will come up against during their blogging career. {Side note: I am a huge advocate of how important a blog is to growing your business and sharing your story with your customers, so I think it’s definitely something you should do.}

Let’s take a closer look at these examples, shall we?

Example 1

I would do exactly as you have said – state where you got the original recipe from, and link to the source if possible. Then, get on with the post and tell us how you put your own twist on it, and why! Preferably with your own lovely photos.

I don’t think there is any need whatsoever in this case to ask for permission, as you’re using a published, easily available recipe from a ‘big name’ and you’re referencing them. That’s enough.

Example 2

We all do this sort of thing – sharing cool stuff we find! It’s so prevalent these days thanks to Pinterest, twitter, FB etc – your blog is just another place that you’re sharing that content. So as long as you reference and link to the source, no permission is usually needed. However, two things to remember here.

First, some people ask that their photos are not used/shared without their permission. This request is usually on the sidebar of their blog, so have a quick look there, as well as on the About page for any such disclaimer. If there isn’t one, you’re good to go. If there is, and they say that they’re happy to give permission if you contact them first, do that.

Second, bloggers LOVE to know when someone has shared their stuff! So, if you have time to send them a real quick ‘hey there, just wanted to let you know I’ve shared your project/post/recipe/product here – (link)’ – do so. Chances are they’ll thank you… and send some more traffic your way, too!

Example 3

I  think it’s just fine to make and share your own version of a DIY you’ve seen online. Just so long as you ALWAYS credit the original source of the idea!

As I said above, just check their blog quickly to make sure they don’t have any issues with people sharing their photos etc, but in this case, since you’re making your own project (and should therefore have your own photos) I don’t see that any blogger could possibly get upset with you running with a DIY idea they’ve shared, so long as you’re not claiming it as your own invention, but giving them the credit they deserve.

In Short…

All blog sharing etiquette really comes back to one thing – credit.

So long as you always give credit and link back to the source of a photo, idea, or project, not only will the original source not mind you sharing 99.5% of the time, they’ll be very happy you loved what they do and have sent some traffic their way!

Once in a while you may get someone who is very protective of what they do (photographers/artists especially as they get sick of their work getting shared without credit – understandably!) and they may contact you and ask you to take down your post/remove their image etc. And if they ask, do it. I usually have a little disclaimer on my site that says something along the lines of ‘all work shared here is credited to the source… but if you see your work and would like it removed, please just contact me (email)’.

I should state for the record here that I am very much of the mindset that ‘if you put it on the internet, people will share it’ and there’s nothing wrong with that.

As someone with an online business, I am ECSTATIC when someone likes my jewellery enough to blog about it or otherwise share it.

Thank you, random fan! You’ve just give me free publicity and marketing, and excellent social proof – it doesn’t get much better than that. I am of the same mind when someone shares a blog post I write, or anything else I do.

They are showing their appreciation for my work, and sharing it with their networks, therefore increasing my reach. How is this in any way a bad thing?

That’s my perspective… but I’d love to hear from you. What’s your take on this issue?

Are you cool with people sharing your work on their blogs? Why/why not?


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