If you’ve ever gotten a sale and your next thoughts were, “Uh oh,” I’m going to fix that. If you’ve never had that problem you will, and I am going to prepare you for that.

What would happen if your sales volume doubled or tripled overnight?

Are you prepared for that?

A question I often see is how handmade sellers keep track of orders as they’re going through the production process. This is especially difficult during the hectic fourth quarter.
 
The large influx of orders causes many shops owners to become overwhelmed. It’s very to lose track of customer’s orders.

When you lose track, orders go out late. That equates to unhappy customers and hurts your metrics with the selling platform.

When I couldn’t keep track of orders by looking at each platform on its own (Handmade on Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, own website, etc), I switched to Trello. Don’t write every order down or print off every order’s packing slip and keep a giant stack of papers organized. It’s a waste of your time and a waste of paper.

I’ve been using Trello as my order management system since 2017. It makes sure tasks finish in time for shipping deadlines. It’s much faster than writing it down by hand and allows you to visually see all the progress made on your orders.

What is Trello? How do you use it as an order management system? 

Let’s say you have 200 orders per month from 4 products that all have their own manufacturing process. You’re shipping out 50 orders a week and are starting to lose track of them.

Trello is what kept me from putting my shops on vacation to catch up on orders.

Trello works in real-time, real fast. When a card is moved, it moves on your board instantly, no matter what device you use. I have the app installed on my MacBook Pro, iPad, and my Google Pixel 2. It’s always open on my computer and I use it every single day.

I can’t keep track of orders without Trello.

Simply put, Trello is a whiteboard, with columns and moveable sticky notes. Trello is a FREE productivity platform. It allows you to manually keep track of orders with a bird’s eye view of your project(s). In Trello, there are boards, lists, and cards.

Setting Up Boards, Lists, and Cards In Trello

  • Boards – a visual representation of a process that has multiple steps

Have boards for each specific product type you sell that has its own unique manufacturing process. For example, if you have a laser engraver that allows you to both engrave and cut wood, then you might sell personalized engraved cutting boards as well as cutout letters 3D letters onto a wood board. Another product type with a laser engraver would be etching glass, needing a third board.

Make a board for every product that differs in production. Give each board a name related to the product (ex: Engraved Items, 3D Signs, Etched Items).

Click create new board after you create a FREE account to get started. 

  • Lists – give each stage of the process a name

Each board will have its own unique lists (production phases) spread horizontally across the page as shown below. This keeps track of where every order is in its current production phase. I recommend each board’s first list to be your “Queue.” Orders received that haven’t gone into production should be placed here.

Either add orders to your queue as soon as you receive them or you add all the orders at the end of the day.

For the example above, the 3D signs would require a wood cutting stage, laser cutting stage, attaching the cut out letters to the board stage, etc. This continues until you have the finished product in the “Ready to Ship” list.

 

  • Cards – every order is represented by a card

Cards are where the magic happens in Trello. They are kept vertically in order underneath lists. I can easily get a sense of how busy we are just by seeing how long every list is. Think of them as digital sticky notes. These sticky notes can be dragged and dropped onto other lists or reordered within lists. As each physical product moves through production the card assigned to it is also moved. 

Cards are searchable. Type into the search bar for a customer’s order and find the card without having to look through every single card. If a customer has a question I can easily pull up their order and make changes to the Trello Card. I only put in their first initial and last name to protect the client’s data.

Each card has checklists, deadline dates, colored labels, and discussion notes. These are all CRUCIAL for keeping track of small, but important, details.

Start each card with it’s selling platform (Etsy, Amazon, etc.) and the customer name (Ex: Etsy – J. Barnes). Then copy and paste any other information needed to complete the order.

Card Features

  • CHECKLISTS – Use checklists to mark if an action has been completed. For a laser engraver shop with the 3D signs, they would use a checklist to track if the customer’s order has been designed yet, or if the mock-up was approved. This may or may not apply to your shop. I have some boards where every card has a checklist and others where I don’t use any checklists.
  • DEADLINE DATES – Use this as the shipping deadline! This will make each card show its due date at the bottom lefthand corner. Each list can be sorted by due date to make sure orders with shorter deadlines get into production faster.
  • COLORED LABELS – These are great for highlighting any order(s) that require special attention. Label each color so it color represents a certain characteristic. Rush orders are a great example of when to use a colored label. Name the color (ex: purple) you want as “RUSH.” Now when you see a purple label you know that is a rushed order.

What about when a customer needs to change the shipping address?

Have you ever forgotten and shipped the item to the WRONG place?!

Trello makes sure this NEVER happens again.

On Etsy, you can ship to a different address than given, but you can only change the address when printing out the shipping label. This can be hard to remember when the customer told you 2 weeks ago and you’re shipping 50 orders that day.

Create a “CHANGE SHIPPING ADDRESS” label with a specific color. When that order is ready to ship the label sticks out and you know to change the address before purchasing postage.

  • DESCRIPTION NOTES – Use these to make any special notes or instruction for an order. A great way to utilize this feature it to use it along with the change shipping address colored label. Copy and paste the new address into the discussion notes so that it is easily retrieved when purchasing postage.

Archive orders when shippedThis marks the card (an order) as finished and removes it from your view. If for some reason you need to find that order again, it’s archived (not deleted). You can find archived cards using the search bar if needed.

Other Trello Uses

Create a to-do list board for employee(s) so they quit asking, “What do you want me to do next?” Have a “To Do” list and a “Finished” list. Any task that your employee can do on their own, add as a card. Create cards in the order you want them completed and have them move each card from “To Do” to “Finished” as they’re working.

Add employee(s) to production boards so they can see/move orders through the process. Let them know how busy things are so they have a better idea of what’s going on. Once you trust your employees enough to edit the board, allow them to move orders through the production process themselves.

Time Blocking

This is something I’ve only begun to experiment with, so I am no expert on this subject. Time blocking is a time management tool where you schedule your time into blocks. It helps you get things done faster by limiting distractions to become hyper-focused and get away from lengthy to-do lists.

Use lists for time blocks during the day. For example, Before Work (6 to 8), Morning (8-12), Lunch (12-1), etc. Move tasks around as needed throughout the day and use labels to mark tasks as a specific type of activity (work, household, family time, etc.).

 

 


Ultimately, design the system that works best for you and your business.

Trello is Extremely Customizable.

I use Trello for everything from family meal planning, designing production processes, and planning blog posts. Some people might disagree with Trello as the best free project management tool, but the system only works if you work the system.