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January 14, 2017

What to Work on in Slow Times of a Handmade Business

WHAT TO WORK ON IN SLOW TIMES OF BUSINESS

It’s not uncommon, and so easy, to feel a little down and stuck after December. You’re tired from the holidays, have the back-from-vacation blues and are returning to your handmade business after one of your busiest months, filled with sales and craft fairs, and into a slow time full of crickets and empty inboxes.

 

When you’re running your own handmade business and you’ve gotten used to all the sales, emails and Facebook likes, it can be a frustrating seeing those numbers drop. Every task you think about starting gets questioned and inevitably pushed aside because it’s not a direct path to an immediate sale.

 

When I worked for a large retailer, it didn’t make going back to work in January any easier but at least I had a boss telling me what to work on and giving me a sense of security. Once I started my own handmade business, these times had me wishing for a leader who could just tell me what to do.

I wished for someone to give me a checklist to complete for the day. Someone to assure me I was working on the right things and someone to motivate me and keep me in check. These are all things you give up when you work for yourself but I’m sure you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unfortunately you’re the only one who knows what’s best for your handmade business and can make decisions. But you can seek guidance. That’s what I’m here to help you with.

 

Below are the tasks I work on in January/February and what I worked on when I ran my handmade business.

 

First things first. Let’s get yo mind right!

You won’t be doing much good if you’re in a funk. So the first step is to get you in the right mindset and feeling positive about your days. Here are my top tips:

 

POSITIVITY TIP #1: Trust yourself and your path

You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be at this very moment. Doesn’t that help you relax? It’s a comforting feeling to be able to trust where you are and let go of the unnecessary stress that comes from feeling like you should be doing something different. Every business, big or small, goes through its slow times and your competitors are likely in the same spot. So relax and know you’re not doing anything wrong and it’s just a part of retail in January.

 

POSITIVITY TIP #2: Get rid of guilt

Guilt is such a waste of time. This is your life, your business and you get to live it and run it as you please. You’ve just worked your butt off and produced stock like crazy, sold at busy craft fairs and rushed to get orders to the post office so your customers had their gifts on time. All while trying to complete your personal holiday to-do list. It’s okay if you didn’t even think about business during your time off and it’s okay if it takes you a little while to get back into the swing of things.

 

You’re doing the best you can so give yourself credit for that. I think the belief that comes with running your own business is that it has to be hard. You have to work late and rise early, lack time for friends and family and be totally stressed out if you’re truly a dedicated entrepreneur. It’s not true. It does take hard work and no one is saying it’s easy but it doesn’t have to be a constant struggle. It’s okay to enjoy your time, work at your own pace and go with the flow.

 

POSITIVITY TIP #3: Be grateful

One of the best and quickest ways to change your mindset is to look around and notice all the things you’re grateful for in your life. And I mean ALL. There are SO many things we take for granted, that’s why this is my favorite practice.

 

I’m not talking about making a vague list……I’m grateful for my family, my home, etc. Those are great but if you can get more detailed, the better. I will look around and find something to be grateful for for literally every single person, place or thing in front of me.

 

For example, as I sit at my desk and write on my laptop, I’m grateful for:

  • My beautiful, fast, functioning laptop
  • My hands and fingers that are capable of typing this article
  • My creative mind that comes up with the ideas and words for this article
  • My cute cat cuddling on my lap
  • The clean drinking water available for me any time of the day
  • The cup of coffee in my mug
  • The beautiful mug someone handmade…..

I find the smaller and more detailed I get, the more I realize these are luxuries. Although I don’t want to go to the negative side and worry about losing them, it makes me appreciate them more to realize they aren’t guarantees in life.

 

POSITIVITY TIP #4: Reach for the closest good feeling

Don’t expect to go from zero to 60. That’s not the way you get out of a funk and putting that expectation on yourself will just lead to you feel worse. No matter where you currently are on the “in a funk” scale (0 – not in a funk at all or a 10 – in a huge funk, not even sure how you’ll ever get out), work on consistent baby steps. If you’re feeling you’re at a 10, be easy on yourself and don’t feel pressured to solve all your problems in this moment. Think about what would give you even the smallest bit of happiness right now.

 

A cup of coffee or tea instantly puts me in a better mood. It’s practically impossible for me not to have a smile on my face when I cuddle or play with my cat (yes, I’m an obsessed cat person…and proud of it;) Other times a walk, meditation, yoga practice or picking up a motivational book will shift my mood.

 

Sure, it can feel like I’m taking a step back by removing myself from work but I know it’s what I need. It’s like trying to keep driving to reach your destination on time when you’ve got a flat tire. That flat is going to slow you down and eventually damage your car. If you just take the time to pull over and change it, you’ll be back on track quickly, losing a fraction of the time you would have had you kept pushing through.

 

Okay. Now that we’ve got you feeling better, let’s get down to (handmade) business. Below is a list of tasks that I work on in my current business and ones I worked on in January when I ran my handmade business.
 


 

 

1) Set a goal for your Handmade Business

I know, I know. You’ve heard it before, maybe you hate New Year resolutions or you’re tired of setting goals. You’ve been there done that and aren’t where you’d like to be. It’s not just about writing down a goal for the sake of it. It’s about setting your destination. You wouldn’t set out on a road trip without a destination in mind (or if you did, it’d be with the intention of getting lost, seeing where the wind takes you and being okay with wherever you end up). I doubt you want to end up in the exact same spot next year or slightly behind where you are now. You want to be somewhere new and exciting don’t ya? So let’s set a goal so you know where you’re going and can plan how to get there.

 

A new year is such a great time to hit the reset button and think about what you want to achieve in the next 12 months. I absolutely do not wait for a new year to set goals but I do use January as a time to get reorganized and refocused. I make goal setting a part of every year, month, week and even day (although in a day I focus on setting intentions rather than “goals” but it’s in the same family). Let me explain intentions quickly.

 

What is an intention?

An intention is something that keeps you in the moment and is almost like a very tiny goal you hope to achieve for the task at hand.

A goal is something you hope to achieve in the future. It can take you out of the moment and get you focusing on what you don’t have (sounds like a negative but goals do have lots of positives too).

For example, today I had the task of brainstorming and drafting an article. Instead of just making this an item to cross off my to-do list, I set my intention for writing the article. I thought about what I really want to get out of this task and how I want it to impact others.

When I’m simply writing an article to get new content up, improve SEO and to post to social media, it lacks passion and direction. Instead I think about the problems I want to solve, who I want to help and what I want to get out of the article. Thinking about the response I want (i.e. people commenting or clicking through to read the article because the title speaks to exactly what they’re feeling) and the outcome (to help people feel better, feel motivated to get back into their handmade business and to feel like they have a clear path), I know what has to go into the article.

I can’t just throw out a simple three-step system people have heard before (how satisfied would you be with this article if the content was: “set a goal, create a plan, follow that plan” with very little explanation?). I know I have to dig deep, think about what I struggle with and what my readers are likely struggling with in their handmade businesses, how I get through those struggles and what I would really, really love to read. What dream solution do I wish I had right now? That’s what I need to create.

So that becomes my intention: to write an article that really speaks to my readers, makes them feel better and helps them make a plan.

When I go into my next task, I’ll set another intention. You can set as many intentions as you like in a day. If you’re deciding on what to have for lunch, think about what you want to get out of it. How do you want to feel after lunch is over? I guarantee it’s not bloated, dehydrated and guilty. Which will help you make the decision to choose a healthy lunch option low in sugar, fat and salt and that fits into your healthy eating goals.

Setting an intention for your lunch or your drive home might sound like going overboard but I believe they’re truly helpful for keeping you in the moment and making the best decisions possible.

When it comes to goal setting, keep it simple. I like to start with one big goal for the year that I’m always working towards. From there I list several smaller goals that will move me towards that big goal. This gives me projects I can achieve in 1 – 3 months so that I don’t get overwhelmed, have something new and exciting to work on every few months and a reason to celebrate once they’re completed.

 

Think about the purpose behind your goal; what will allow you to do/be/have and consider some rewards that will keep you motivated along the way. You may be working towards a goal that allows you to buy a new car at the end of the year, which is a great reward but you’ll still need little perks for all your hard work along the way. Otherwise it’s like setting a goal to eat healthy this year and if you stick to it you’ll reward yourself with your favorite meal in 12 months. That reward is going to seem so far away and not worth it when you’re staring at baked macaroni and cheese on the menu. You’ll be more likely to stick to a healthy diet during the week if you know a reward is coming up on Friday night when you get to have a slice of pizza and a pop. Make a list of smaller rewards you can use as the carrot at the end of the stick. At the end of the week it may be a pedicure and at the end of a quarter it may be a weekend getaway.

 

Keep your goals attainable too. Look at what you earned last year, think about the percentage you’d like to increase by and keep it realistic. Ponder why you did or didn’t hit your goals last year, what you can do differently this year and work your way backwards from that end goal to create a clear path to get there. Simple right? No, it’s not. Setting proper goals and mapping them out takes work. That’s why most people don’t stick to them. The bigger the goal (i.e. This year I want to as opposed to this week I want to) the more thought and planning it takes. But it’s the most important thing you can do for your handmade business right now and it deserves your time.

 

2) Plan your upcoming weeks

You’ve set your goal for the year and worked your way backwards to determine the projects, steps and tasks that will get you there. Now let’s figure out what you need to be working on right now.

 

I’m not going to go into all the things you could be doing in your handmade business (that will be coming up in a new project). Instead, I’m going to assume that unless you’re selling a handmade product or a service people search for in January/February, these two months are generally slow for you in the sales and marketing department.

 

You’re either in a peak or a valley when it comes to business; peak being busy with sales and valley being slow with sales. When your business is in the valley, it’s a great time to get prepared for the hill you’re about to climb, working your way back up to the peak of sales. So think of this time as your business’ prep time.

 

With sales and marketing being slow, that leaves you time to focus on your products. To start, think about what goes into getting your handmade product ready for purchase. If you offer several different products or you also offer services, start with just one and then repeat the exercise for the others.

 

If I’m running a handmade handbag business, product development may include:

  • Design
  • Production
  • Packaging
  • Presentation
  • Launch

Each section preps the product for the launch and can be worked on during this slow time.

 

Think about your product (or service) and make a list of what’s involved in your product development. If it helps, work backwards. For example:

Final Step: Product is ready to be sold
(what’s the last step before you post it online, send it to a store or sell it at a craft fair?)
Product is packaged and tagged
(What’s the last step before you can package and tag your product?)
Product is assembled
(And before that?)
Materials are bought
(And before that?)
Product is designed
…..etc, etc, etc……

 

Once you’ve outlined the main areas of product development, break each area down further to define what goes into it.

 

For example, let’s take a closer look at Product Design. In order to design a new product I may need to:

  • Analyze market
  • Define my market strategy
  • Define collections
  • Draft pattern
  • Source materials

 

To get a really clear plan of what to work on, keep going and define the steps needed to complete each project. For example:

 

ANALYZE MARKET

  • Research market trends – what colors and styles are popular this season?
  • Sales reports – what sells well and what doesn’t within my company?
  • Competition – what are my competitors working on?

 

You can keep going and break those steps down into tasks. For example:

 

  • RESEARCH MARKET TRENDS
    • Pick up fashion magazines
    • Google “Spring 2017” trends
    • Look at celebrity trends
    • Determine which movies are going to be big this spring and any trends they’ll introduce

 

3) Determine prep work for SALES and MARKETING

You don’t want to completely ignore your sales and marketing tasks so think of them as being in the “prepare” or “getting ready to ramp up” stage.

 

When you’re in the full swing of making sales (i.e. selling at a craft fair, packaging up website orders, etc.) or marketing (i.e. running ad campaigns, sending out newsletters, blogging) what needs to be in place before you can sell and market your handmade products?

 

For example, when it comes to SALES you may consider:

  • Following up with existing customers to thank them for their support and let them know new products will be launching soon
  • Order packaging supplies such as shopping bags and tissue paper
  • Applying for a Square reader to conduct sales at a craft fair
  • Ordering shipping supplies

 

When it comes to MARKETING, you may consider:

  • Planning out your upcoming newsletter schedule and what content you’ll send when
  • Planning blog article topics
  • Planning out what type of content you’ll post to social media and when
  • Getting your new business cards designed and printed

A good practice to get into is keeping a running list and writing down all the tasks you wish you had time for. When you’re in the thick of preparing for a craft fair and think “I really need to test out faster ways to attach this button” or “I really should take my sewing machine in for a tune up before it conks out when I really need it” or “I really need to go through my craft closet, organize and take stock of materials I have”, write those down. They’re the perfect tasks to complete when times are slow.

 

You should have a pretty good list of things to work on now. The last step is not to overthink it. We all want sales but you have to accept not every month can be a growth month. When you’re focused on increasing sales in a slow time, you can feel desperate, act reactively instead of proactively and second-guess every task you think about starting because it’s not a direct path to making money. This leads to unproductive days and frustration.

 

Stick to your plan and work with the intention to prepare and organize. It will get busy again, sales will ramp back up and you’ll be thankful you took this time to prepare for it instead of scrambling to offer new products and build stock.
 


 

 

Any questions? What are you going to work on this week?

 

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Comments

4 thoughts on “What to Work on in Slow Times of a Handmade Business”

  1. One I would add is clean out your work room and get it ready for your gear-up in product making. Re-organize, get rid of stuff not used in two years, and ask yourself, “What in my work space is not working for me?”

  2. Great suggestions Deborah! “What’s not working for me?” is such a great question to ask yourself in all areas of business and life. We constantly have to be analyzing and tweaking to find our best practices. Thanks for reading!

  3. While browsing on my phone a week or so ago I came across a holiday planner for crafters. I planned to go back and print it from my computer the next day but now I cannot find it! 🙁 I’ve been browsing all over your site because this is where I thought I saw it…do you have anything like that? Am I overlooking it? Please help!

    Love your site and all of the great advice!! 🙂

    Letishia

  4. Hi Letishia!

    I can’t think of a printable that’s specifically for the holidays so perhaps it wasn’t on our site that you saw it. We have a few free printables under the “Printables & Worksheets” category but nothing that’s quite a match.

    I do have a planner coming out soon but not quite available yet 😉

    Thanks so much for reading and sorry I couldn’t help with that.

    Erin

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