New Year Planning for your Creative Business
Thank you so much for all your kind words from last weeks blog, I received some beautiful messages from you and am so grateful! This week I thought I would share some of the tricks and tips I've learn for planning and organising a small business. Since we started back this month we've spent many an hour planning basically the entire year. I use quite a lot of apps and systems to help with this so it occurred to me that some of them might just be useful for other small businesses, so fingers crossed there's something helpful in here for you.
It can be one of those jobs that just seems like a waste of time because after all, you have all the info in your head and on emails and written down on post-it notes so surely it's better to just get on with it? (certainly my thoughts in the past) however I now firmly believe that although it can be time consuming to sit down (sometimes for DAYS) and figure it all out, once you know what you're doing and when you can be far more efficient.
Plan it all
I find in order to plan anything else, I need an overall plan. I need a calendar and a system to make heaps of lists on and figure out what I'm doing, when I'm doing it, how I'll manage it and who can help me. This overall plan can come in any form you like. You might be partial to a white board, a technological to-do list or a calendar with different coloured post-it notes.
One app that I've recently discovered and think has really helped us here at LAD-HQ is Trello. It's a brilliant way of organising yourself and others as you can connect to other peoples calendars and share to do lists etc. Helen (my right hand woman and organisation goddess from The Creative Business Network) got me onto it and I love it. We throw absolutely everything onto it - We have anything we can think of from new product Ideas, general to do lists (broken down into priorities) personal calendars, and any projects that we're working on. Then you can add checklists and due dates to each point for instance, if I'm working on a new product I can then give myself a deadline for when it needs to be available, and each stage I need to complete before that can happen. We can then tick off any bits we've done and make a note of what we're working on at the time so we aren't doing the same thing and Trello keep all the information in one place and pulls it all together for us. It's probably easier for you to just have a look yourself as we'll all use it differently but as a to-do list lover, I think it's great.
It's really important to dedicate time to product development well in advance of occasions so that you're able to submit new products to websites, send out press releases in good time and simply just be ready and calm(ish) when the occasions/collections launches come around. I do my Christmas product development in February so that I can make samples, amendments, do the photography, submit them for instance to Notonthehighstreet (for consideration to their Christmas Catalogue - which I think is in April) prep the listings, write press releases and build stock ready to launch in October. Once you know what your making and when you need it by, it helps with building stock (next paragraph) and with your blog, email and social media planning (next 3 paragraphs!)
I block out whole days to do this, days where I spend a lot of time scouring magazines, checking out trend guides, delving deep into pinterest and if I'm lucky, going out into the world to look around. I find the key with product development is to come up with a brand spanking new Idea. This may sound obvious but it so easy for me to type 'chunky knit' into pinterest and see lots of lovely things I wish I'd thought of first. Rather than making a version of those, I'd rather type 'cosy space' or '2018 colour pallet' and just search through things that aren't specific to my products and be inspired by a style or a colour scheme.
Get on top of Stock
Now clearly my track record is tarnished when it comes to stock levels. I've made this mistake every. single. year. and I always pay heavily for it (in sleep and happy vibes.) Attempting to forecast your order levels is a hideous job but it does get easier every year as you hopefully see a vague pattern emerging. My mistake each year until now has been that I underestimate the power of the chunky knitted Santa Hat. When I launched them in 2016, I'm not even joking - I had 10....10! They sold out that night, and then some. We were playing catch up ever since and still were this year "surely they won't do as well this year, I'll just make 50" Tw*t.
If I'm allowed to offer any advice (I promise I've learnt my lesson!) it would be to not undersell yourself or your product. Don't be coy, don't be modest, just put your business head on and think 'will this do well?' Once you've got a few years of sales under your belt with that product it should get easier to guess. This year we are going for 'what we sold last year + 20%' < that 20% was calculated based on potentially less exposure this year (they did well in the NOTHS catalogue last year but unlikely to be featured again) but we're working hard to build our own social media profile and also on the fact that there was a 1 month wait for hat's this year which undoubtedly (and understandably!) put people off, if we can have enough stock to keep lead times down to a matter of days we should increase sales that way *fingers crossed* hence the 20%. Try to bear everything you can in mind, there might be some unexpected press on them but then again there might not - what is worst case scenario and what is best case and try to head somewhere in the middle that you can work with either way.
Once you've figured out how many you want to make by October/November (whenever Christmas 'starts' for your business) then it's important to figure out how you will get there. We've worked out how many of each product we need to make each month then split that between how many knitters we have and asked them how they feel making that many XY&Z every month. - If it's too many for some knitters then we know we need to find an extra knitter or two. You see, planning. turns out it's super helpful!
Another thing we plan is blogs, I like to have a rough idea of what I'm going to post and when. Believe me, it can be a loooong Wednesday if I don't have an idea. Last week Helen and I sat down and set out a vague plan for the next 3 months blogs. We literally just write down a working title or sentence to help i.e. "Things I've learnt running a small business" or "how to wear your scarf" so that when that Wednesday comes you have a staring point and ideally, I check it the Monday before and let some ideas form before I sit down to write it.
My best tips for planning blogs in advance is to really pay attention to your calendar so that you can keep it relevant - What's going on that week? Is there an event you'd like to cover? When are you launching new products? Will you be going away? Once you've slotted all those things into place then you can fill the rest with fun things that you want to chat about and that can be changed so if you sit down next week to write about 'how to wear your scarf' but actually fancy doing a 'Studio Tour' then why the devil not?! but at least you have a rough schedule to follow and timing to stick to.
The most popular app for newsletters and the one I use for both my blog sign ups and Monthly(/when I remember) Newsletters is Mailchimp. Mailchimp is really easy to use, connects with your Facebook page and most websites, you can also input subscribers yourself if for instance, you encourage people to write their email address down at a shows for this purpose. You can schedule mailchimp emails to go out in advance which is great for our planning however I wouldn't advise doing then too far in advance because it loses its authenticity. You always want to be relevant and 'of the moment'. What you don't want for instance it to write them all in January and say "wow isn't it hot" for your July post when actually it might be the coldest summer on record.
For my newsletter, which theoretically will go out 12 times a year (at the beginning of every month) we make a note of when new collections will be out so that we can announce it in the nearest newsletter. My business Birthday is in Feb so I've noted to mention that then, I've got a show coming up in March so that can go in and then I look at what blogs I have planned and if it would be relevant to pop those in the newsletter. The final thing we do is to check what occasions are coming up - do I have any Valentines related products I could put in? Anything for weddings in Summer? Generally each 'month' fills up quite quickly and easily and then during the week it's due to go out I log into mailchimp, put all that info in and write about what else might be going on at the time then schedule it for the Saturday.
Social Media Planning
Social media is one of my biggies, it probably takes the most time throughout the year and generally requires more constant attention and planning. My social media planning is much more of a weekly and daily task than monthly or annually - Social media and the way we communicate online is constantly evolving and so it would be pointless to sit down in January and attempt to plan what you'll post in November however there are ways to make it easier. As ever, it helps to bear your calendar in mind. Mine is always to hand so I can quickly see if there's any special announcements or relevant messages to mention on certain days, for instance, my blogs go out on a wednesday so am I going to post about them? My 'Business Birthday' is in Feb so will I do anything for that? ..then I can see if I have a fitting picture for those days or if I need to take one and if so ...what to take.
There are also plenty of apps that can help keep you organised and on track so you could spend more time maybe at the weekend putting it together then post, edit, caption and change as you see fit during the week. There are lots but these are the few I use/hear a lot about -
For Instagram I use the Preview App. It connects to your feed so shows you the last 20 or so posts then you can add your images in to see how they would sit on your grid. It also gives you hashtag suggestions and some analytics.
As far as scheduling on other channels, we mostly use Hootsuite which enables you to manage multiple accounts and post to Facebook, twitter and Instagram for instance all in one go at the click of a button - meaning you can schedule posts ahead of time. You can add links, images and videos that fit in with your marketing plan. Like I said above, always bear your calendar in mind when you are scheduling, and don't worry if you change your mind or something else happens that may be more relevant, because you can go in and edit or delete any scheduled posts. Just be aware that you can only schedule up to 30 posts for free in any one go, so if you are doing 3 different platforms, those posts soon run out! Also, it's important to stick to the 'language' of each platform when you are scheduling - don't just write the same thing for all three. Twitter for example only allows 280 characters, Facebook doesn't need all the hashtags you use on Instagram, and Instagram you are going to want to be part of hashtag conversations/communities etc. Remember each audience is slightly different - so make sure you're staying authentic to the platform you are posting on, and the audience you are speaking to.
I'm still learning the ropes but already I can see that using Tailwind to help schedule posts to Pinterest is really useful. Luckily for me Helen is a whiz with this kind of thing (and even teaches courses!) so she's helped me start slowly but there's been an instant increase in my Pinterest engagement. It's supposed to be particularly useful for scheduling pins when we are in bed and the American audience start surfing pinterest so that's what we are working on.
Most important is to be realistic. Don't give yourself endless tasks that you'll never be able to achieve because it'll only get you down when you inevitably don't manage to complete them all. And do remember to book in some time off. Plan what you know you can achieve and maybe get some of the rotten jobs out the way first?
Anyway, according to my plan I'm drinking Gin this evening and it's very important that I stick to my plans so I'll love you and leave you, I really hope something in here was helpful! Take care friends,