This is Part 3 in our multi-part Indie Business 101 series. Part 1 was about Getting Started, Part 2 was Tools of theTrade.
Now that you’ve gotten your business in order and mastered a few tools, you want to scale your business. One part of scaling is altering your production so that you can make more.
You have been selling to local stores but want to take your business to the next level by focusing your energies on the wholesale channel. Attending tradeshows and finding independent reps to represent your line sounds fun and doable. But the thought of spending even longer hours in your studio fulfilling large orders for retailers can seem daunting. Especially if your products need long hours of hands-on time. Since you also have to spend a significant amount of time running your business, sourcing materials and supplies, designing new products, processing orders, shipments & invoices, collecting payments – It may seem like you have to be super(wo)man to do it all.
It's not unusual for designer makers to get burnt out in the process. Having a product that sells itself might seem like a great marketing strategy, but don’t forget that the product doesn’t make itself. All your marketing dollars spent on tradeshows will go to waste if you can’t fulfill orders in a timely fashion. Get organized before you venture into wholesaling and have a system in place to scale production and you'll build trust and confidence with your retailers. They'll believe that you’re a sustainable business, that is going to be around for a long time and that they can invest their resources in promoting your work in their shop.
Another key question to answer before your jump into wholesaling is - are you self employed or are you an entrepreneur?. You can close your Etsy shop for 3 months, travel the world and have your customers wait until you're back. But unlike your customers, your retailers won't be waiting. That’s the difference between being self employed and running a business. If you decide on building a real business by wholesaling, be prepared for great success by having a plan and systems in place to support it, for the saying goes “success is when preparation meets opportunity”. Here’s how to get that preparation.
Visualize your workflow
As a creative business person use a visual tool to comprehend the universe of tasks and activities you do on a daily basis, their inter-relations, issues, duplication of effort and the value associated with each task. This can be a huge help to reflect and prioritize. It will give you the insights where to focus, where you need help as well as highlight the inefficiencies in the process.
So what can you use to create this visual map? My favorite tools are mindmaps. There are many different mind mapping tools available in the market - both free and paid versions. For this exercise, a free tool like Mindjet or FreeMind will suffice. Need inspiration?
I had Tara mindmap her handdyed yarn business as an example:
Image Credits :: Blondechickenboutique
She reports that having it all layed out like this helps her see both the workflow and the connections between tasks.
Go ahead, map your business. It can be fun and fulfilling and you might start seeing you business in a new light.
Streamline your production studio
Organizing your studio like an efficient assembly line, with specific areas marked out for each task, can increase your productivity. When you need help with one or more aspects of making the product, your part time help can get started easily if all the tools and detailed instructions are available in the respective work area.
Here are some studio shots from Luminology, a candle making studio. The studio looks gorgeous, organized, clutter free and inviting, a place where you can feel relaxed and are at your creative best.
Image Credits :: Luminology
Note the time it takes for you to accomplish each step. This will give you some benchmarks to compare when you get outside help to take over that task.
Consider batching all the post-production/admin work you do and do it on certain days of the week for all customers. Running to the bank to deposit checks or dropping off the packages at Fedex, or returning voice mails – have a specific time allocated.
Map your Plan B
If your business is humming along, your cash flow is positive, you're signing up new wholesale accounts and generally feeling good about life, you might not think about needing a Plan B. But you never know when life is going to throw you a curveball and if you are unprepared it could undo everything you have worked so hard to build.
Have a Plan B for situations like the following:
- when your computer crashes and you can’t get to your customer information
- you fall sick for an extended period and can’t make the products
- you lose the internet connection for a day and can’t get to your online applications.
Explaining to your retailers that you can’t ship the orders on time because you fell sick will make you look unreliable. Having systems in place to address such scenarios will prepare you for dealing with stressful situations should they arise.
Here’s great advice from our very own Tara:
“I write all my recipes down, so even my husband could do production if necessary. I write everything down: my shipping system (how I buy shipping labels online, where the packaging is, what's included in each order, what I write on the thank you notes), my passwords to email/blogging/newsletter software, how to email my clients (so he could contact them if something happened to me and an order was gonna be late), etc. I keep it all in a Google Doc that I've shared with him. Any system you have - write it down and track it! You'll be ready if you choose to bring on a production partner or an employee. “
Do you have your production and post-production recipe down on paper that anyone can follow? If not, its time you did!
Part time help
Assuming that you have mapped out all business activities, streamlined your production studio and documented your Plan B, you should be in a position to decide where and when you need help. It could be seasonal when you are deluged with orders (around the holidays), or part time on a weekly basis for both production and post-production work (like labeling, packing, shipping, invoicing, checking delivery status or sending emails to customers).
No matter how often you need help, having a reliable part time help that is trained to take over some of the tasks (when needed) can be invaluable for your business. This is the kind of “insurance” you should invest in to appear more professional to your customers. This approach works when the making-of-your-product does not need a specific skill that can only be acquired after years of training. If you’re a candle making studio, you can train your part time help to follow your recipe to make candles. But if it is woodworking or pottery or weaving, chances are you cannot outsource the entire process to unskilled help without significant training.
Some of our previous posts on finding the right production partner or responsible production covers this topic in detail. So I’ll skip on the “how” and focus on the “why”.
If your production technique needs skilled labor and/or is labor-intensive, then it makes sense for you find a production partner that specializes in making that product to truly scale your business. I have said this before and I repeat - retailers are less interested in I-make-all-aspects-of-my-product story, as you can be the single point of failure in meeting your commitments. Instead, build a system where you are overseeing all aspects of the product. Having a reliable production partner can be a huge help for your small business as you can scale up or scale down your production needs to meet demand. This is something you cannot do on your own with employees, unless you believe in hiring and firing as a way to grow your business.
While all these steps might seem overwhelming, take them one at a time. Not everything will be all at once; scaling is an iterative process. As you grow, continue to reassess how you might scale. The goal is not to work IN the business, but to work ON the business. It's the foundation for building your creative empire.
How do you plan to scale your production? Share in the comments!