handmade business

Revolutionize Your Handmade Business With The 4 P’s

In the fall of 2017, it took 1000 hours for me to produce one handmade item. I revolutionized my handmade business and production went from 1000 hours per order to 11 minutes.

Ok, so it wasn’t really 1000 hours, but seriously, it felt like it.

While your process may not be the same as mine, the outcome potentially could be. Having 100 open orders and a bloated manufacturing process caused me to revolutionize my business and become more efficient.

I hit my breaking point and I decided something had to change.

My journey to improving my business lead me to the 4 P’s – Process, People, Profit, and Product.

Process

When I was in the beginning stages of starting my Etsy shop, I was pretty desperate for sales.

Any. Sales.

I’m sure many of you reading this can relate (and for those of you who can’t, congratulations on getting consistent sales so quickly. The rest of us hate you, wink wink). But seriously, it’s a normal part of a business lifecycle.

Because of that desperation, I wasn’t concerned with how long it took to make each item, let alone the inefficiency of custom orders.

When I wasn’t very busy, it seemed okay for items to take a decent amount of time to make. Back then, it didn’t seem like the process to make my products were taking that long anyway. But, I wasn’t actually timing anything.

Because I thought, some sales are better than no sales, right? I gotta start somewhere, don’t I?

Yes….and no.

This philosophy worked for the first year of my business, as it was only a part-time job during college. I was only getting a few orders a month and it was easy to keep up with demand. But, during the fall when my sales rate increased 9-fold in one month, my time-consuming items became a nightmare and I was quickly falling behind on orders.

I was falling behind because I didn’t have a process! Here’s how I use Trello to keep track of orders through their production process.

But did I care? Heck no!! I was breaking my personal records left and right. #goalachiever

My dreams of having my own business were finally coming true and I was ecstatic that all of my hard work was starting to pay off!

My excitement only lasted about a month working 80-100 hours a week. I rapidly burned out and I grew to resent my popular items that were selling like hotcakes and sucking up ALL of my time.

I stopped all of my important business development tactics. I quit updating listings. I quit taking photos. Worst of all, I quit making new products. I only worked on making orders. And I absolutely HATED doing production-only tasks for an entire day. But I’m stubborn and I simply told myself that this is just the way it is. I thought this what I always wanted. I made my life this way so I better get used to it.

My non-fixer mindset let this bitterness for my business continue during the entire Christmas season to the end of 2017.

Thankfully my mindset has changed and boy, how wrong I was. It’s crazy to look back and think about how different things are today.

Solution:

  • Storage:
    • Previously, my products were in a random order where ever I sat them down last. At one point they were spread across the entire house. I was constantly searching for an item or tool and was often frustrated, as I was wasting time I  didn’t have during the day. To fix this, I created storage solutions for each stage of the process. These one-time costs helped me to stay organized and know exactly where all of my orders were in production, greatly increasing efficiency. I also created storage bins for inventory and supplies.
  • Sign Production:
    • Wooden sign production went from a 22-step process (yes, I’m serious) for a 2-layered text sign to 6 freaking steps!!! This also lead to a drastic difference in the amount of time per sign: from 27 hours drying time (wood stain and paint) + 63.5 minutes production = 28 hours 3 minutes 30 seconds to 11 minutes per sign. That’s a 99% decrease in time per sign!!!
    • Why count drying time? After all, I wasn’t really “working.” Drying time matters because it determines the window I have for completing rush orders. Customers are more likely to buy when they don’t have to wait. Because of back-stock production and my insane increase in efficiency per sign, I am now able to rush orders and potentially get them shipped the same day they are ordered. Before my minimum rush production timeline was 3 days and I often couldn’t meet customers deadlines. Drying time also limits the amount of orders I can store in my location. The faster orders go out, the less space I need to store orders in production.
  • Packaging
    • I altered my packaging process for signs from brown paper to polybags. Polybags were slightly more expensive than brown paper, but the polybags were packaged 10x faster and gave me a more professional appearance. Remember, your time is important! Don’t save a couple pennies for an hour’s worth of work.

   

Questions to ask yourself for process improvement:

    1. Do you have materials scattered across a room that you can organize in a better way?
    2. Is every part of your production process necessary?
    3. Is there anything you could change without compromising the quality of the product?
    4. Can you find a better, easier way to achieve the same outcome in one area of production?

People

My husband ended up getting laid off from his job around the time my orders started going crazy, which ended up working out to our benefit. I know for a fact I would not have been able to finish all of my orders on time without my husband. He worked 8 hours a day and I worked 10-12 hours a day for 5 weeks straight to get all of my orders done. I was so bogged down in getting orders out on time with such a narrow focus that I couldn’t see how to improve what we were doing.

Solution:

We discovered just how much two brains are better than one. He was able to point out things I was doing that didn’t make sense. He asked me questions because he wanted to understand my process. When I tried to explain my logic, I realized things didn’t make sense. For example, I had sign templates stacked in piles all around the cutting machine. He was frustrated by the amount of time it took to find them so he started hanging them around the room. Why didn’t I think of that? I was too busy making things to stop and think about improvements.

Eventually, my husband found another job and I knew I didn’t want to keep working alone. I liked running the business, but I didn’t like making every item. This is the moment I transitioned from being self-employed to being a business owner. When you are self-employed you are the do-er, manager, and dreamer. I hired someone to help with the production so I could focus on the management, development, and growth of my business.

I only realized how inefficiently I was spending my time when I saw someone else doing that same task. Remember to take a step back in your business every few months and look for improvements for your employees and for yourself.

Questions to ask yourself for people improvement:

    1. Do you have a process someone else could repeat?
    2. Can you explain each step of your process to someone else?
    3. Do you know someone you could try to teach and ask for feedback?

Profit

The biggest issue in my profitability was the fact that I wasn’t timing my hours. The first year I didn’t realize how underpriced some of my items were for the amount of time they take. I was only thinking of material costs, not including labor. I fell into the trap of thinking that if my time doesn’t get written off then it doesn’t matter how long I take.

This was another mindset shift from seeing myself as self-employed to a business owner. My time did matter and eventually, I knew I was going to pay someone else to do these time-consuming tasks. I only changed my behavior once I realized how much it would cost me to pay someone else to produce my orders.

Solution:

Even if you don’t plan to hire someone, remember how valuable your time is. The less time it takes to produce orders, not only will you be more profitable, but you’ll also have more time to grow the business. This also frees up time to find better deals for your supplies.

Questions to ask yourself for profit improvement:

    1. Do you know exactly how long each item takes to make?
    2. Can you take a step back, assess the situation, and find a faster way to achieve the same outcome?
    3. Can you find better rates for your supplies for your business?

Product

When my husband and I finally finished our tasks for the day at around 11 pm, he would just sit and let me vent, cry, or whatever I needed to do to in order to keep working the next day. He finally asked me a series of questions that revolutionized the way in which my business was running. My husband asked me, “Why are your signs painted? Do your customers actually care that they’re hand painted? Would anyone notice if they weren’t?”

When I was getting started with signs, it seemed like all of the sellers on Etsy were hand painting them so I thought that I had to as well. I assumed this is what customers wanted without actually verifying it. I was using the mentality “If everyone is doing it, it must be right” and that mentality was really hurting the passion I had for my business. I didn’t have a good answer when my husband asked me those questions and all of a sudden I knew that was a really big problem.

This would be a huge turning point for my business; I just didn’t know it yet.

I finally realized that something had to change. As much as I hated change, I needed a change to happen.

Solution:

I made 2 identical copies of my signs (one painted and one vinyl) and took these to my friends and people I knew in my community. I wanted their opinion on which sign they preferred without telling them which sign was painted and which had vinyl. They ALL preferred the look the vinyl had. It was crisp, clean, and looked more professional than the painted sign that had imperfections. I asked them if they cared one was vinyl over hand painted; a few said they liked the idea of hand painted, but preferred the how vinyl sign looked in person.

YESSSSS!!!! This was exactly what I wanted to hear and I knew this would change how my business functioned for the future.

Because of the change in production in my signs from paint to vinyl, I was able to completely eliminate the use of painter’s tape and spray paint, increasing profitability. This doesn’t even include the insane amount of labor being saved as well.

I then began to question how I could decrease other expenses without compromising the integrity of my product. I changed to a more raw cut of wood. The cheaper wood actually looked better because of the uniqueness of the wood grains. I got rid of half of my wood stain options that were either too similar or the least popular choice of my customers. If it wasn’t selling I got rid of it. It’s also too much work to keep 10 wood stains in back stock; 5 was much easier to keep up with and store in my garage.

Questions to ask yourself for product improvement:

    1. Do you have your why for every component of your product? If not, question why that component might be important. If it isn’t important, consider a production change.
    2. Can you cut down on variations of any products that don’t sell often?

Conclusion

I began to implement all of these changes after over a year in business and with more than 800 orders under my belt. It’s never too late and there’s no better time than.

Right. Now.

Question every single aspect of your business including design, production, shipping, workspace, etc.

Be able to specifically answer, “Why?”, “Does this make sense?”, and “Does this matter for my customer?” for any part of your business. Don’t assume things you like are also aspects the customer will pay extra for.

My business was growing fast enough that I was just kind of throwing things together without thinking, especially my workspace and how my items were created.

With a growing business, you want everything to as efficient as possible. I was tired of running all over my house moving things back and forth and in and out.

In short, I needed a system. A system that made sense to me and so that an employee could step in and get to work right away with little training.

I guarantee there is some aspect of your business that could be more efficient or an area that could decrease some of your costs. These are 2 things that can greatly increase your profit margin, helping you to earn more money by working fewer hours. Isn’t that the dream?! Start questioning every aspect of your business and find ways to improve. And, remember, this is a continual process. Get started now to revolutionize your handmade business.

Related: How To Use Trello As An Order Management System For Handmade Business

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July 2018 Income Report

Here’s my online income report for my handmade business, Obsidian Home Creations (TheOHC on Etsy), for July of 2018. As of right now, this is a new record for me as the highest income month for me this year and I only expect it to keep growing as we enter the fourth quarter.

Why share income reports?

Some people wouldn’t dream of sharing how much money they make. For others, they simply don’t understand its relevance. Before I started selling on Etsy, I wanted to know that it was possible to make thousands of dollars a month online. After all, 3 years ago I didn’t even know Etsy existed AT ALL. And now it, along with Handmade on Amazon (HOA), allow me to work from home and be my own boss. This is something you can start with zero experience. It also has a vary low monetary entry barrier compared to other avenues.

 

Here are my 3 main reasons I share my online income reports:

1. My first goal is to inspire others.

I was absolutely terrified to start my own business and seeing others’ income reports helped push me to get over my fears. I want others to know that it IS possible to make full-time income working from home. It’s not easy, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it can become a reality.
 

2. This is an excellent way for me to track my progress.

It helps me to see what’s working/what didn’t work. I’m always learning and trying new ideas. This will be a way to reflect on those decisions and make better business decisions in the future.
 

3. I want others to know that this is something you can start AT ANY TIME in your life.

I started this as a side hustle in college and I had a career with a part-time employee before I even graduated.
 

What an Online Business Has Allowed Me To Do

My online business has allowed me to work from home, be my own boss, and be in charge of my future. I decide when I want to wake up, work, go to bed, when to take breaks, and a bunch of other benefits. I can decide on a Tuesday afternoon that I want to take my dog to the lake and relax for 2 hours. Do I have to work when I get home? Usually, but again, I get to decide how to structure my day.

MY 2018 JULY INCOME

Etsy Income: $4840.00

Amazon Handmade Income: $595.97


Total Income – $5435.97

 

Etsy had 119 orders and Amazon Handmade had 14. I’ve been selling on Etsy for a little over 2 years. Compared to the same time last year on Etsy, I’m up over 500% in revenue!! It’s super exciting to see all your hard work starting to pay off!
 
This was my second full month on HOA and I’m still beginning to learn the ropes.
 

Did I accomplish my goals I set last month? My goals for July 2018 in my June income report were:

Etsy – $5000.
 
Didn’t quite get there, but so close!
 
Amazon – $1000. Send in FBA shipment
 
I fell quite a bit short on this goal, but my revenue still increased compared to June, so I’m happy with that. I also didn’t send in any FBA shipments, as I am not sure many of my products are a good fit for FBA.
 

WHAT I PLAN TO DO FOR NEXT MONTH:

I’m still focusing on growing on HOA. I’ve built my shop up on Etsy to the point that sales are fairly consistent. Amazon is so much bigger of a marketplace that I’m super excited to try and capitalize on a new platform. Everything about Amazon is different from Etsy. This means I’m spending a large chunk of my time researching how to sell on Amazon and get found in search. I plan to start running advertising campaigns on Amazon and spend most of my time learning that.
 

My goals for July 2018

 
Etsy – August is a slower month for me before the big upswing into fall and the fourth quarter. I want to use this time to make as much backstock as possible for my items so that I’m prepared for a big September.
 
Amazon – Launch automatic campaigns for my 2 main product categories. This will be “getting my toes wet.” The campaign will automatically generate target keywords for me. I’ll work on manually targeting with ads later.
 

WILL I SHARE MORE INCOME REPORTS?

Absolutely.

I want to continue inspiring others in their journey, whether they haven’t started yet, just beginning, or have already begun but are considering giving up hope on their business because it’s not going the way they planned.
 
As I said earlier, I want to use these reports to track my progress, make goals, and see if I accomplished those goals. It helps with accountability and to motivate me. I want to always strive towards setting new and bigger goals.
 

The 3 Biggest Key to my Success Thus Far:

 

Starting.

 
You’ll never make any money online with your own business without starting and trying. I’ve felt like a failure so many times over the past 2 years. I’ve lost count. It’s a reoccurring theme for me. Learn to embrace failure. As John C. Maxwell (author, speaker, and pastor) wrote in his book, Failing Forward, “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”
 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

I can’t even stress how important this is for your shop. SEO is my bread & butter. I haven’t put very much time and effort into social media. Almost all my sales come through search on Etsy/Amazon. I have many items that rank on page 1 and sell every single day.
 

Excellent photos

I’ll be VERY honest here. I’m still not satisfied with the photos I have for my products. They’re certainly much better than when I began, but could still improved. When you’re online, your customers can’t see or touch your product. You have to sell them with your photos. There are so many beautiful products on Etsy and Amazon and competition is HIGH. If your photos are lacking, it’s hard to get views, let alone sales, even if your SEO is spot on.
 

What I learned in July:

 

Selling on 2 platforms is such a good idea for my business. I’ve experienced having all my eggs in one Etsy basket and it doesn’t work for me. It’s also too stressful to solely depend on one source. Spreading your income across multiple platforms allows you to increase your revenue and stabilize your income.
 
What did you learn this month? What are your goals for next month?
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How To Use Trello As An Order Management System For Handmade Business

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.

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5 Things To Stop Doing On Etsy That Are Killing Your Sales

Just like anything in life, becoming skilled at something takes time, practice, and especially patience. Etsy is no different. When I first opened my shop, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I just knew I had to start somewhere. Tony Gaskins Jr. once said, “If you don’t build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs.” I decided to bet on me and it was the best decision I made.

5 Things To Stop Doing On Etsy That Are Killing Your Sales

Over the course of 2 years, I’ve learned a lot about Etsy through research, but mostly by trial and error. During college, I’ve been able to turn my side hustle into a full-time business before I had even graduated. My next goal is to help people like you learn from my mistakes so that you can turn your dream of owning your own business into a reality.

Here Are 5 Things You Need To Stop Doing On Etsy

1. Stop Creating More Products Without A Strategy For Selling It To Your Target Market

I had read on Etsy forums where people were suggesting that having this magic number of items in your shop would lead to an instant increase in sales. I became obsessed with the idea that if I had 100 items, my orders would pile up faster than I could keep up.

Guess what? You guessed it. I hit 100 listings in my shop and nothing changed.

I needed to improve on the listings I had. Not create more of what wasn’t working for me. Aim for 50-100 items at the start, but if those don’t sell, creating more like it won’t help. You need to know the item you’re making is solving the problem your customer is trying to solve.

2. Stop Copying & Pasting Similar Items With The Exact Same Title And Tags

When using the same search terms across multiple listings, those listings are now competing against each other. Diversify your reach on Etsy. Brainstorm different search terms for your similar items. Aim to have 5 similar items rank on the first page on 5 different searches instead of all 5 competing for the same spot under one search. 

3. Stop Taking Bad Photos

Enough said…just kidding! Photos are your first impression for potential customers and most times, you won’t get a do-over if that first impression is only a meh. It must be a W-O-W WOW! This is probably what I’ve struggled with the most and I’m still not 100% satisfied with my listing photographs, but I have gotten a lot better over time.

4. Stop Making Items You Like And Make What Your Customers Want Instead

Now I don’t mean to create something you don’t like. I would never advise that. I mean to follow your sales trends. Do you have particular item/s that sell more than anything else in your shop? Pay attention to your top sellers and make more items in that genre. Click here for more info about creating items that sell.

5. Stop Treating This As A Hobby If You Want It To Be A Business

Putting in a few hours on the weekends isn’t going to cut it. If it did, everyone would be successful and have tens of thousands of sales. If all you want is a little extra spending cash every month then this doesn’t apply to you, but if you want to quit the job you hate (or even like) and work from home on your own terms, you need to take this seriously and get to work!

 


 

There you have it. 5 things I quit doing on Etsy that were hurting my sales. What’s currently frustrating you about your Etsy sales? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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