My Business Journey · Planning

How I Run My Business – Overview

I am forever saying that I run my business without the use of social media so I thought it best to give a broad outline of exactly what I do when I approach a new product collection and how I view things overall. I have also outlined what I think is important to take into consideration when launching a product and generally operating a business.

Firstly, let me tell you that I don’t have anything against social media, I just don’t like it for myself. I am sure there are many business that are making a great success out of their business with Facebook and Instagram, I am just not one of them. I know I am not alone either in this hatred of the way social media works and in order to avoid being a slave to their ever changing algorithm, I come up with my own strategy to sell online. Hopefully this overview will be helpful to others, including you.

Why don’t I use social media?
I hate to start on a negative but these are the reasons I don’t use social media. I have tried in the past and joined the # brigade, I have done daily posts on facebook and I even joined snapchat in the hope that I could use that for business too. And while I never say never (because that is just silly), for the forseeable future, I cannot see me ever having the time needed, to dedicate to any of these platforms.

Reason Number One
The content we provide on social media is not evergreen. Posts are fleeting and even if you hit gold and get tons of likes and comments on a post, it disappears within a day or maximum 2. That time spent on another of my strategies would be certain to bring in sales.

Reason Number Two
We are not guaranteed to be seen by all the followers that have told Facebook they actually like us. We are a slave to their ever changing algorithm and what might work one week may not work the next. I was on Facebook in the days when everyone seen business posts, back in 2005 with my first business, and even then, it got a few sales but i reckon if the conversion was worked out in terms of time spent talking to people, the results would not be fab, monetary wise. Disclaimer: I am not saying advertising doesn’t work here, just that it is something I will not put my time or money into.

Reason Number Three
Respect the platform and its purpose. Yes, your demographic may be on there in their droves but ask yourself why? People are there to chat to their friends, see their status and generally pass time, they are not there to buy so are not considered a ‘warm lead’ at all and to get them off the platform with a call to action to visit your website, Etsy or Amazon (which is what you should be trying to do), is literally impossible. The other option is to take private messages for sales and that fills me with dread. Endless talking to customers back and to via a messenger app is such an inefficient use of time which could be spent on more evergreen tactics.

So, enough of the negatives, what do I do?

Ok, firstly I put all of my efforts into strategies that are going to reap rewards long term, or as I call them ‘evergreen’ strategies. You will probably have heard this term around the net and it is one that fits the bill perfectly for me.

I have outlined the strategy I follow with the rules I have set myself below. They help me to stay focused and while I am not saying that other strategies would not work for me, I am saying these do.

⭐️Products
With regards to the products you sell I feel it is really important to look cohesive and not like an online jumble sale. Think about when you are shopping. If you wanted a pair of earrings, would you be more tempted to buy from a jeweller who had a great collection of jewellery including maybe bracelets and chains or would you buy from someone who did cushion covers and wine glasses with the odd pair of earrings thrown in. Personally I would choose the former and I know a lot of others would too. Try not to beat yourself up or take this personally if you do have a random collection of makes, we all start out like that and it is easy to try new designs out in excitement. But reign youself in and make a plan and stay committed to one of two things.

  1. Be a specialist in one product and make lots of varieties of that product for lots of occasions.
  2. Or, serve the same audience. (For instance, all baby things are great, all wedding things, all things vegan). In other words, a cohesive collection.

Now, I am not saying you cannot move onto another product eventually, because I certainly have, but I made sure that I had a really wide range of glasses before I moved to other products. And, each new product will always have at least 5 collections within the product offering.

Product Collections
Firstly I produce a product collection. I sell wine glasses and an example of a collection would be an anniversary collection.

I make glasses people want.

I do not make glasses and then find people to want them.. that is TOO hard!

Take the love out of it, this is business. Sorry to sound harsh, but this is true. If you want money in the bank with a nice tidy profit, you have to give people what they want.

So, research what is selling. Look at trends, look at top sellers on Etsy, top sellers in the handmade section in Amazon, look for what people are searching for and make a collection of products that they want. For instance, if you were around a couple of years ago you will know that Unicorns were massive. Now it barely mattered what you sold, you stick a unicorn on it and you had a sale. This would have been true for nursery prints, jewellery, wine glasses, art work, soft furnishings.. need I go on? Now they are dying down a little but you only have to walk into your local high street to see that sloths and pineapples are taking over. Sell what people want, not what you want to make.

Look at the latest colour schemes and fashion trends. Foliage was massive last year along with succulents and rose gold has been the latest colour scheme for some years now. You catch my drift don’t you? And, this does not mean copy what others are doing, it means use the trends to design your own products and make them unique. You will find that keywords are great to find when you are following trends.

Now, I am not saying this is all you should have. Every business needs their bread and butter products. As a florist this was always a white lily bouquet, they literally never go out of fashion. But, alongside that I would offer hot pink and green (this was the in thing back then) and this bouquet sold like hotcakes.

If you don’t want to find a trend, find a market to serve. There are plenty of markets that you can niche down in. Baby, vegan, LGBTQ, wedding market etc. And, although these are huge markets, you could niche down further to maybe offer twin products within the baby market, or gay weddings within the wedding market.

In a nut shell, you are looking for people who want to buy your product before you make it.

So, now you have found the product and remember this is only a brief outline of what I do, you then need to sell it.

⭐️SEO – SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION

I use SEO. Now if you don’t know what SEO is, I will tell you briefly but I intend to do a proper guide within the next two months. This is going to take some putting together though so bear with me.

SEO is search engine optimisation. This basically means that your listings or pages on your website, Etsy or Amazon are ready to be found within the search engine that the platform uses.

For instance, if you sell pink wine glasses, you want to make sure that your pink wine glasses come as close to the top as possible when people type in ‘pink wine glasses’ in the search bar. ‘Pink wine glasses’ would be considered a ‘keyword phrase’. You need to find keyword phrases that people are using to find products you sell. They need to be an accurate description because imagine if you searched for pink wine glasses and gold ones come up, would you click on them?

The first thing to remember with SEO is this..

‘SEO is designed to please the customer and show them products they want to look at’. It is not designed for the seller.

Each listing should contain keywords pertaining to the product you sell. Applying SEO to each platform is completely different but the same principals apply. Don’t over use the same ones over and over again, use long term keyword phrases (three of more words together) and be specific and generic at the same time.

Generic – personalised gifts for mum

Specific – Silver bracelet for mum

I cannot go too much into the SEO because this whole blog would be pages long and not in any kind of order and I really want the SEO guide to be cohesive and easy to follow. Suffice it to say that if you get your SEO right on your products, this is an evergreen strategy that should not be messed with once it starts working.

As soon as a product starts selling, other factors come into play from all platforms such as relevancy, conversion rate and authority. Basically, if the platforms see that people have clicked onto your pictures and bought as a consequence, they start to trust you and will show you to more people.

Please note that I apply SEO to Etsy, Amazon, my Website, Pinterest. I do not drive traffic to these places, I let them provide the footfall they say they can provide by making sure my SEO is as good as I can get it.

⭐️Other things to consider
Good clear photographs.
Good clear descriptions that answers all potential questions about your product.
Good materials list
Good price point (not too cheap and not too expensive, unless of course you have positioned yourself as high end). See my branding blog for information on where to place your brand strategically.

✨Please do not make excuses about any of the above. I really hate to be the one to break it to you but customers do not care if you don’t have good light, or haven’t had the time to write a good description or the kids were playing up so you couldn’t finish the materials list. You have to find a way to make it work, that is your job as a business owner.

⭐️The buying habits of a customer online
Below is my list of what I think customers do. This may help you realise what is important with regards to a listing and why.


✸SEARCH – firstly using a broad search term such as ‘gifts for mum’, then they see a variety of different gifts. They may like a bracelet they seen but then this makes them do another search so they do a
✸SECOND SEARCH – which is more specific and may be, ‘silver bracelet for mum’. They then
✸CLICK – on a product based on a picture that shows the bracelet in a clear light uncluttered that appeals to them. They then
✸READ – the description to see if it ticks their boxes, will it arrive in time for the birthday, will it fit her, can you personalise it. If they like what they see they will
✸BUY. Done and dusted, sale is yours.

It really is that simple. You have to make sure all of these things are ok. The good news is that you don’t have to strive for brilliance, ok is great at the beginning as you can then make improvements along the way. Bad is not ok though so don’t fool yourself with that old chestnut. Be self critical because if you are not, the customers will be.

My Launch Strategy
Ok, so I have outlined the list I follow when I create any product collection

💖Design collection
💖Research SEO
💖List on Website, Amazon and Etsy
💖Pin to Pinterest
💖Email / Blog
💖Put a gallery up on FB, simply to have a presence.

⭐️Email List
I have done a three part blog series showing exactly how to build and use an email list. You can find that here. Read them in order of numbers as this will make more sense. 1,2,3.

⭐️Pinterest
I have also done a series on how to set up pinterest for business and how to make sure it is SEO friendly. You can read that here.

⭐️⭐️What I DONT do.⭐️⭐️

I have listed what I do but I am going to list what I don’t do too. This has also helped me to keep focused on the job in hand.

✹I don’t panic when sales are slow. In my experience sales slow down during all school holidays, when the weather is really good and in November and January. In my third year in this business I have managed to stay steady during these times but in my bricks and mortar and the first two years of this, these trends followed and across lots of areas too. I know lots of business owners, online and off.
✹I don’t moan about changes. Etsy and Amazon have created their own rules. Stick by them and get on with it or move on. Moaning is not productive and will not make you feel good and it will also definitely not make sales, that is for sure.

I have always kept in mind what a customer doesn’t do either.

⭐️They don’t care about any amount of ‘love’ that was put into the design.
⭐️ Don’t wonder how many hours of work was put into it.
⭐️ Don’t think about the sellers family.

This may sound harsh and I of course care about other people’s families and how hard people work but buyers don’t and that is fact. You may find the odd gem who does but in the main, nope they don’t care.

I am really sorry that I have rambled on for so long. I am also sorry but not sorry for being blunt in places but I am blunt with myself too if that helps. I do hope it has helped some of you even create your own strategy and maybe get rid of some things that are just not working to help you stay focused.

Remember you are not superman or superwoman so cut down, keep it simple and doable. Do the boring stuff that others wont do, it can sometimes be what sets us apart.

And, most of all, put in the graft, you have to remember to graft. But it has to be focused graft, not all over the place. How do I know this? Because I have run a business without a plan, without a strategy and by the seat of my pants. Yes it did well but I know for a fact if I went back with my attitude now, I could double that turnover for sure!

Oh, and I know that you are probably thinking that you need step by step hand holding for SEO and I totally understand I really do. Please remember this is a passion project and I will be getting onto the guides as soon as I possibly can.

But, TTFN

Paula 🙂




Planning

Christmas Planning

It’s the middle of October and many people in the online retail space may think this is fairly late to start Christmas planning and to be fair they are probably right. However, with the sales we experienced in August and September I could hardly catch my breath. So, it is what it is and I have a strategy to approach my third Christmas as an online business with a view to beating both 2017 and 2018 in terms of efficiency.

2017 was my first Christmas as an online seller and I worked on my own at home. Chuck a huge upturn in orders in with a severe chest infection that literally bed ridden me and I was left with a curve ball I did not need and did not cope well with at all. Luckily, my customers were amazing and my daughter, husband and son all really pulled together and got me through it. I vowed after that, that The Sarky Cow would be the most well oiled machine during any future Christmas rush and the only way to achieve that was with great planning. And, to be fair Christmas 2018 was pretty good as far as efficiency was concerned but I want to beat even that.

Christmas 2018 was a pretty big deal and by that time I had a packaging assistant and had done some pretty good planning ahead. We got out 800 plus orders and wasn’t late with any. I adjusted my workflow to meet demand and did the 14 hour days necessary to get through the heavy workload. I am not for one minute saying it wasn’t tough because it really was but with a plan ( and a distinct lack of chest infection), it went well. However, we had to turn off orders on the 11th December and while I am happy to do this again this year if necessary, I don’t like leaving money on the table and would love to extend that time for 3 days at least. I do maintain though that customers come first and if there is a slight chance that orders are not going to be met, then processing times are extended.

So, with all this in mind, if my strategy goes according to plan, Christmas 2019 will be bigger and better.

Product Planning
The main product going out is always glassware. And, as the wine and champagne glasses are all glittered, they do take some prep work over three glittering and drying sessions. Now, my weekly workflow allows for up to 100 glasses to be made over the week. This covers 17 colours and give or take one or two, we manage to keep stock for all orders.

My plan for Christmas and for ongoing stock prep is to spend a full weekend doing bulk glittering. This will take place at the end of October just in time for the rush which usually starts mid November. This way, the time spent weekly keeping up with stock will be able to be spent on getting orders made which in turn will allow for more orders to be taken. I aim to glitter at least 300 glasses which should give me enough stock to cover the two main weeks. I am taking into consideration that other non glittered glasses form a good 50% of our orders.

Now, I am assuming that you do not sell personalised glitter glasses, because quite frankly, thank God, not everyone does. But there will be a way of prepping your upcoming orders. It may be to cut out your patterns for sewing in advance, printing those prints or cards that are usually popular, having all wooden signs cut and prepped… you get the picture. I can guarantee that if you are someone saying, ‘it’s not like that for me’, I bet I could find a way to make it more efficient. Efficiency is the key to profit and sanity, without a shadow of doubt.

Stock Planning
As you will know, planning goes beyond the obvious and typical stock levels are just the obvious things to stock up on before the busy period begins. I have outlined a list of things to consider stocking up on to ensure a smooth Christmas. I am starting to what I call, ‘squirrel’ this stock in prep for Christmas so that I do not have an extra big bill before hand and also so that I am prepared should it hit early.

Now a lot of this stuff wont apply to you, but it is always worth checking, just in case. It may trigger a supply that you use and should think about.

As a side note, I use trello for keeping a track of what I need to remember for Christmas as it is my list bible, you might want to check that out as a planning tool because it takes those lists right out of your head and into your phone and desktop. So, whenever something pops in my head (not just for Christmas obviously, it is not the proverbial puppy) it goes right into the appropriate list in Trello. The link is right below (and yes it is my link, it just gives me an upgrade that means I can use special features of the software, I don’t get any money off I promise).

https://trello.com/paulaforbes5/recommend

Post and Packaging
Franking machine labels
Franking machine ink
Card envelopes
Brown boxes
Brown tape
Sellotape
Packing peanuts
Bubble wrap
CN22 stickers
Airmile stickers
Cable ties
Post sacks
Dymo address labels
Postal pouches

Gift Wrapping
Tissue
Ribbons
Glue sticks
Gift boxes large and small

Marketing
Insert leaflets x 2
Gift cards
Cello sleeves C6

Glass Stock
Wine glasses
Whiskey glasses
Champagne glasses
Pint glasses
Tumbler

Stationery / Notebooks
Printer paper
All specialist paper for notebooks
Cards and envelopes
A5 white card
Printer inks
Metal coils
Laminater sheets

Consumables
Vinyl
Transfer tape
Glitter
Glue
Paint brushes
Vinyl tape
Uhu glue
Blade and cutting mat (spare)

Other important things to consider
So, in a nutshell, these are the products we need to keep the office running smoothly and the orders . Remember that if we are busy, then our suppliers are too and if we let ourselves run low, there may be a delay in getting things to us. This would be so frustrating. Even nipping to the local shops to buy printer paper can cause delays so it is my aim to avoid it at all costs. If you are wondering how much of everything to buy, double what you think and at least you can use it next year if you don’t need it all before hand.

But what about the coffee? Yep, get that in too, along with dried lunches such as noodles and rice etc. Don’t forget sugar or sweetners too. I do not want to be thinking about eating when I am in the middle of getting 100 plus orders in the post, and I don’t suppose you will either. Cold drinks can be stocked up too along with snacks for that extra sugar boost we may need. I don’t know about you but my working days during Christmas can go up to 9-10pm so all of these things can really help.

Hopefully you will find this useful and even if you don’t use any of the things I do, it will hopefully spur you on to compile your own list and get started because once Christmas hits, it hits and that spare five minutes you thought you would do stuff in, suddenly disappears and you use it for sleeping instead.

As a last little note, I just want to say that I hope you all have a prosperous Christmas and for those of you who are just starting out, don’t be discouraged by people who get really busy at this time, be inspired to graft your way to where they are.

So, TTFN.. and keep grafting!

Paula