Christmas In June
Hope you're well! Thank you so much for the awesome feedback about last week's post, I'm so pleased you like the cardigan and STILL can't get over the magical colours you're choosing. (This weeks winner is Mustard I think, it'll be delicious!)
It's gone from wonderful Summer-Cardigan-Joy to Manic-Christmas-Prep all in one week and I thought I'd do a quick post on it as it's such a bizarre, but necessary, place to be. I know it's a sore spot for many people to chat festivities anytime before late October (if not November!) but it really is important for small businesses to think about it early in the year. Rather than winding you up I'm hoping this post will help you understand why I'm covered in red and white yarn and might also help some small businesses with their own prep.
(here's the cardigan.... just in case you forgot :p)
Small Business Christmases
Each Christmas I've done has been absolutely BONKERS yet luckily I've learnt something every year so it only gets easier - and frankly if it didn't I don't think I'd be able to survive it haha. Christmas for small businesses, (especially seasonal ones like knitting businesses) can make or break us. So although it's mildly depressing to be knitting Santa Hats on the hottest day of the year, it really does have to be done. I'm hoping that with this post you can learn from my mistakes and with any luck have an organised and productive Christmas - maybe one where you manage to sleep a bit too!?
The Importance of Planning
One of the main things I've learnt over these 3 years is that planning is absolutely key. This gets easier each year as you learn which products are popular and you can take a bash at forecasting for the following year. Of course it's never a fine art and so many things can impact the actual sales but it's great to have a guesstimate as to whether you'll need 10 or 10,000 pieces. As you may remember from my January blog about planning I'm a huge believer in being as organised as possible. Of course I'm a total mess most of the time and you can't plan for everything but the more you're able to anticipate and organise, the better.
Things you can plan
Here are a few bits you can plan that we try to keep on top of year round -
- Forecasting Sales: as mentioned above, if you can get a rough estimate for sales figures you can make stock evenly and in advance rather than manically rushing out 100's of products in 3 months.
- Stocking up on Supplies: lovely Steve from Grace and Favour Home gave me this advice for my first business Christmas and I'm so grateful he did - making sure you have plenty of cardboard boxes, printer paper and sharpies at the ready is vital - the last thing you need on a busy November day is to realise you've run out of parcel tape and not be able to send any of the orders you've made! You may not need to worry about it in January but I always have a list ready for my big September order.
- New Ranges: Everything from new Christmas products, autumn/winter launches, how you'll make and package items can be considered and organised in advance.
- Stock Building: the majority of my annual income comes in during October -December so it's really important for me to spread that out throughout the year. This means that I do as much forecasting and planning in January as possible, I then break it down to monthly amounts i.e. 40 Santa Hats a month, 10 Small Natural White stockings a month etc. so that I can spread it out nicely for both the amount of work and money leaving the bank.
- Product Prep: Not only do we try to organise finished products and build stock throughout the year but we also do as much product prep in general as we go, we make plenty of pom-poms in advance and order in the leather straps for stockings, the yarn ranges need to be prepped in different ways and we need to ensure we have the supplies for knit kits. All of these little things that help you save time come October can begin to be developed in the Summer.
Things you can't plan
Of course you can't plan for everything and things like sales forecasting can easily be affected, it's great to prep for what you can but be aware of factors that could impact your season anyway....expect the unexpected!
- Exposure: in 2016 I was drowning in Santa Hat orders and then Country Living Magazine published an article online about how much they liked my hats. I had absolutely no idea it was coming out and although it was totally wonderful and very kind it did push me over the edge with orders as heaps of them flooded in. You can never anticipate something like that happen but last year I was a little more prepared and it was on my radar that they might share it again (which they did.)
- Competition: There's a big difference between competition and copycats - competition can be a really great thing when it's fair, it can encourage you to up your game, sometimes you'll come up with better ideas and other times they will - that's life and it's a healthy lesson to learn (even if we don't really want to learn it :p) If you and a competitor bring out a similar product at the same time it can affect your sales, of course. Sometimes it really does happen that you have a similar idea without having seen the other persons and the coincidence is that you launch at the same time and that's a bummer but can't be helped. Copycats on the other hand are a different and more upsetting matter altogether...
- Copycats: As we all know, especially anyone who read my 'Why I won't help you copy my business' blog last year - the best thing to do is keep your head down and get on with your own work in your own way but sadly many people decide that copying is an easier route. Last year after my Christmas Range launched there were about 20 other knitters making the exact same things 2-4 weeks afterwards. It's incredibly annoying when you've worked hard to come up with an original idea for someone to just take it and make it themselves and of course it can impact your sales if people buy from them instead of you for whatever reason - maybe they undercut you, maybe they target your customers in online adverts? I find it best to be aware that this can happen but not to dwell on it in advance - you won't see it coming and when it does it's a real bitch so although you can't really prepare for it, it's good to have a game plan for if it does happen. Last year nearly broke me with so many people copying and outright using my images, we hadn't expected it and it was a real ball ache to suddenly have to deal with so much of it along side the normal stresses of Christmas. This year, sadly we will be prepared with Cease and Desist letters and Solicitors on standby.
- Reactions: Customer and press reactions can't always be predicted either so it's really hard to figure out how well a new product might go down, sure you can ask your pals but it's unlikely you'll really gauge how well your customers will react to it. This has been my main issue with the Santa Hats each year until now - I always underestimate them and assume people will be bored of them. Then I sell out and panic,(NOT THIS YEAR HATS!) New products are so hard to gauge, do the best you can based on your common sense and instinct and don't underestimate your products/yourself.
My Christmas Timeline
Having said all of that, somehow this year I've let it slip and I'm a bit last minute planning the new Christmas range. But if we could just pretend I was on top of it that would be great. The Christmas timetable that I *try* to follow is this: (bear in mind my business is very seasonal so it basically all builds up to Christmas)
- Forecast sales for existing products for the next 12 months
Things to consider - will they sell as well? better? are you developing them in some way? more colour ways?
- Build a plan/schedule for making stock - spread it out over the year then break it down into monthly/weekly tasks
Things to consider - Can you afford it all year round? Do you need to put money aside at some point to save for the future months stock? Is that a reasonable amount to be making each month? where & how can you store it?
February - March
-Develop new Christmas lines (who knows how long they'll take to develop so do it early) I try to come up with as many as possible, think them all though, sample them and then narrow them down to which ones you want to do - I find it's better to have quality over quantity.
Things to consider - have you taken into account pricing, packaging, postage costs, competition (you want it to be as original as possible so if someones already doing it, how will yours be different?)
April - June
- Finalise Christmas Lines - Once you've narrowed it down and know what you want to make you can really begin to focus on them and build them as products.
Things to consider - What colour ways are you doing everything in? Is the pricing correct once you've added all your packaging? how much stock do you need to make? Will you need to hire someone else to help with the extra work? Is it a nice balanced selection? for instance I try to bring out a selection of both DIY and Ready Made product rather than just one or the other.
- Take Pictures - take your pictures
Things to consider- Make your pictures as good as possible, cover all angles so that come October you don't suddenly realise you need another picture of it from the side. I try to do them altogether especially if I need to get the Christmas tree out and decorated. (My neighbours already think I'm weird, I don't need that out for longer than necessary)
- Promotion - write your press releases ready to go, apply to any campaigns
Things to consider - Does your style of promotion fit well with your brand and portray who you are and what you do? Do you need to submit them for any campaigns or catalogues? For instance the deadline for submissions to Notonthehighstreet's Christmas Catalogue is June 10th but the earlier you get them in the better.
July - August
- Tell Your Stockist - If you sell to shops at trade and have stockists, make sure they know what you've got ready for Christmas
Things to consider - make sure they have all the information they need. I stop taking trade orders in October for instance so I email out an updated trade pack with images, prices and info so that they can see if there's anything they want to order and know when the cut off is.
- Get Organised - make stock, plan packaging, do everything else you possibly can to prepare.
Things to Consider - It's also nice to enjoy the summer!!! Make the most of it if you know you'll be chained to your studio in a few months, leave the house and enjoy yourself.
September - October
Final Prep - It's about to happen, make sure you've got everything in place that you need. Order cardboard boxes & other supplies, get listings ready and plan your launch day.
Things to consider - If you need to order anything later, can you find the stockist easily and quickly? (you don't want to be faffing around looking for who you buy courier bags from and what sizes.) Are your listings all up to scratch with all the images you need? Have you got an email/blog post etc prepped for the launch day to notify everyone when your wonderful new lines come out?
Now all I need to do is stick to it!!
What's to come
So this week I've been really finalising my Christmas range and I'm working on all the finished samples and colours etc then in the next few weeks I'm hoping to take my pictures. Sadly I seem to face a lot of copying so it really restricts what I can share with you ahead of time (I know, there's always one - or 20 - who ruin it for the rest) and in those cases my only advantage is to keep my head down and be ahead of the game so until I launch the range later in the year I can't give away too much.
But what I can tell you is that we've worked hard on some line extensions - taking our existing products and jazzing them up. As well as plenty of new kits for the crafty ones amongst you. If you can or want to learn how to knit we will have HEAPS of fun projects for you from basic to advanced - I'm really excited about the selection. The Ready Made range is always expanding and we have a few key pieces I'm delighted with. So sorry that's all I can tell you for now but I hope you'll like them when I share them in Autumn.
Thanks for sticking around
If you made it this far I really admire your persistence. This is a hard one to read when the sun is shining I know - I hope it might be helpful to any other businesses trying to figure out Christmas, I certainly don't have it down yet but this is everything I've learnt so far and I'm feeling so confident that this year will be our most productive yet because we're more prepared that ever. Sometimes it can just be helpful to see it all written down and to know how someone else does it so fingers crossed it works. Anyway, I best get back to it - the Christmas tree isn't going to decorate itself! :p