BIZ BUDDY: STRATEGY (AKA HOW I DOUBLED MY SALES LAST YEAR)
In the last couple of posts I talked about the mindset that I tried to adopt in order to reach my business goal last year.
What I thought I’d get into today is the strategy that accompanied that mindset.
Because, while it’s great to be enthusiastic and ready to take on the world, if we don’t plan how we’re going to get to where we want to go, all of the motivation in the world won't help us.
Sometimes, as creative folks, we have a tendency to think that making financial goals will somehow compromise our artistic integrity.
That it isn’t noble to make money a consideration.
That some artists or makers just luck out and some don’t.
And while it’s true that success may come more easily to some of us, most creative entrepreneurs with financially viable businesses have made those finances a goal. They work on them. They have a plan.
Look, I don’t think that this life - entrepreneurship, being a maker or an artist who lives off of the sales of their work - is for everyone.
And I don’t believe that you can turn someone into a successful entrepreneur if they don’t already have the basic traits needed to be one.
No amount of webinars, marketing podcasts or BIz Buddy blog posts can get someone off the couch if they don’t want to get off the couch.
Earning a decent living as an entrepreneur requires a variety of skills, resourcefulness, the ability to muster a substantial amount of motivation and blind faith, and persistence.
Not to mention the added bonuses of things like connections, likability, money, and time.
Some of us have more of those things than others.
Some of us have advantages that others don’t have.
And, whether it’s fair or not, our advantages (or lack of) do influence how easy (or not) our paths will be.
That said, if this is the road we’ve chosen, if we think that we have what it takes to do this (or to at least try), let’s be as smart as we can be about it.
And I think that’s in large part what last year came down to for me.
I finally came to the realization that, if I wanted to keep running my business, it needed to be financially viable. I needed to start seeing a decent profit.
I was no longer interested in being a starving artist.
I wanted to get to the bottom of whether this business could really support me or not. And, if it couldn’t, then I wanted to know that, and make changes sooner than later.
I think that’s also an important part of this process: being honest with ourselves.
We’re artists and makers but we’re also running businesses.
And while there’s a time for dreaming and visualizing, there’s also a time for looking at the cold, hard facts.
And if the numbers aren’t adding up, and we can’t figure out how to make this work for us, this may not be the best path after all.
So let’s stack the odds in our favour.
Let’s do more than just make beautiful things and hope that the rest magically works itself out.
Let’s plan it out.
Here we go.
At this point, I should probably tell you that the goal that I set (and achieved) last year was to double my sales.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t know if I could do it. I just knew that I was willing to try as hard as I could.
So I started by looking at my numbers from the previous year, 2017.
I have 2 shops:
The Girl From Away - which I started 5 years ago
Sainte-Cécile - which I started a little over a year ago
And those shops provide 3 sources of revenue:
online sales (mostly from my website, but also a few from Etsy) - which represents 26% of my sales
wholesale accounts - 65% of my sales
and crafts shows/markets - 9% of my sales
Let’s keep in mind that while wholesale accounts represent the largest percentage of my sales, my profits from those sales are about half of my profits from online and craft shows sales. So, at the end of the day, or at the end of the year, the money that I get to take home (once we take away the amount I paid to have the products made) is about the same for online and craft show sales combined as it is for wholesale.
Anyway, back to the plan.
I got my 2017 numbers out and then I made a new chart where I doubled whatever numbers I had for each source of revenue, and made them my goal for 2018.
If I made X amount of dollars from online sales in 2017, the 2018 goal became X times 2.
Then, I essentially worked backwards to try to figure out how I could make each of those numbers a reality.
For example, to double my online sales, I knew that there were a few things that I could try:
1- make my site look as good as I can
2- increase the amount of products I sell (and have products at different price points)
3- sell more of my existing products
4- make more people aware of my products/market them better
And then, well, I just did those things.
And I did it for every category.
And every part was broken down into steps.
For example, “make my site look as good as I can” had steps that included things like organize a photo shoot and re-design the site.
And then there were sublists.
And they informed each other.
To increase sales from wholesale accounts, I figured there were 2 things I could do.
1- increase the number of sales from current stockists/make more products for them to sell
2- get more stockists
Then, again, I created sublists, and did things like research shops that might be a good fit with my products. And I contacted those shops.
I also always aimed higher than whatever the goal was.
So, let’s say that I wanted 2 new stockists. Instead of aiming for just 2, I’d aim for 4.
Then, if I was aiming for 4, I knew I had to contact way more than 4 since not all of them would get back to me.
To be clear, I wasn’t just picking stockists out of a hat. Not every shop is a good fit for my products. I just had to determine and find the ones that were.
I essentially just kept doing that kind of thing.
And I’d keep track of my sales and check in each month to see how I was doing compared to the previous year.
If I wasn’t hitting my target numbers, I’d go back to the drawing board and try to think of more things to try.
I stayed the course with the parts that were working, and pivoted and tried something else when they weren’t.
I also completely changed the way I work, which might be worth mentioning.
I used to do this thing, which seems ridiculous to me now but which I’ll share with you just to prove a point that I made in a previous post about the fact that clarity comes from doing things not just from thinking about doing them.
This is how I used to work:
I would get up every morning, prepare whatever orders I needed to prepare, get them sent out, maybe post something on social media, and then I'd sit at my computer and try to work on ideas and designs.
I did that almost every day.
For a couple of years.
And it was hard.
Because I don’t have amazing ideas every day.
And sitting in front of my computer, trying to force them out didn’t work.
I can’t believe that it took me so long to realize that I needed a better plan.
Anyway, I work differently now.
I start by making a plan for the year and I work backwards from that plan.
So I’ve determined that, right now, there are essentially just 2 or 3 times in the year when I want to release new products: the spring, the fall, and maybe a few in November before Christmas.
I know when I want to release new products, then I figure out how many I need, when I have to photograph them and put them online, when I want them in shops.
And that determines when I need them to be printed, which in turn determines when I need to have the designs finished to send to the printers.
There are generally just 2 days of the week when I prepare online orders and get them sent out.
Wholesale orders are generally prepared as they come in, regardless of what day it is.
I like getting those out ASAP if everything is in stock.
As for new product ideas, whenever I have a good one, I jot it down.
There are time of the year when I’m more focused on designing than others.
I put a lot of thought and consideration into the products I make.
Because my brain has a tendency to always want things to be as great as they can be, I now do this thing where I'll design something 3 different ways and then pick which of those designs I like best.
Even if I know beforehand which design I’ll likely end up picking, I still design it 2 other ways just to be sure.
I also sometimes send designs to friends and ask their opinion.
I used to just sit there, staring at a design forever, thinking: “I’m not sure it’s good enough, maybe I can make it better.”
Then I’d put it aside for a while, work on something else, come back to it, and say the same things over again.
Now, it’s: make 3 versions, pick the best, then have those designs made into products in the spring, fall or Christmas.
Occasionally, I put something out at a random time but those products are exceptions not the rule.
Bookkeeping is done at the beginning of every month (for the previous month’s expenses and sales).
GST/HST is filed every 3 months.
An accountant does my income taxes.
On Monday of every week, I take a look at what needs to be done that week, and make any adjustments throughout the week if anything new comes up.
I also try to met with my best friend (who’s also self-employed) or with other maker or small business buds regularly.
Because I work alone, I’ve found that, if I’m not regularly connecting with people, things start to feel harder than they should
As for social media, I’m still figuring out the best strategy for me.
I try to post regularly, though I’m probably not as consistent as most “experts” would suggest.
I’ve been lucky in that a lot of customers share pictures of themselves in my shirts and post them to social media, which means that I have a pool of images to choose from and regram, and that takes off a bit of the pressure for me to take lots of photos.
I don’t regram all of the images that I get tagged in but, for the most part, if the resolution, lighting and composition are good, the image is generally shared.
I photograph products myself.
I have a good DSLR camera, and I’ve invested in a background stand and, just this year, a lighting kit.
Once or twice a year, I also have what I suppose are called “lifestyle” photo shoots, and those are shot by professional photographers.
I’ve been lucky in the past few years in that I’ve been able to work with some very talented folks.
I love collaborating with smart, thoughtful people, and having them bring their energy, ideas and talent to my projects has been a huge blessing.
I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of professional-looking photographs when you have an online business.
What great pictures say to me is that the maker (or small business owner) means business. That it isn’t just some rinky dink operation but, in fact, something that someone has put a lot of thought into.
And while I know that not everyone can afford an expensive camera, I do think that it should be part of the plan, early on, to buy, rent or borrow one, and get those images looking as great as they can.
Lastly, I noticed something interesting happening as last year moved ahead, and as I tried to reach my goal, and that was this:
In times when I wasn’t clear how things would work out, when I didn’t know how I’d meet one of my numbers, something surprising would often happen that I hadn’t predicted.
One of my stockists would decide to open a second location and was suddenly ordering twice as many products.
A new stockist would appear out of the blue.
A random customer would place a big order.
It reminded me of the Picasso quotation: “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.”
And I guess I was surprised at how true that was for me last year.
Just as I’d start to worry about not meeting a monthly goal, or as I was running out of things to do to meet that goal, something unexpected would suddenly happen and everything would work out.
It may sound silly or new age-y but it felt a little like the Universe was rewarding me for my hard work. Or maybe it was just good luck. Or the nature of putting in a lot of elbow grease.
I don’t know what it was but it was pretty neat.
OK, pals, that concludes today’s novella.
As you can see, my strategy wasn’t exactly brain science.
Essentially, it was just math, breaking things down into actionable steps, then staying the course, and keeping an eye on what was and wasn’t working.
I hope some of it was helpful.
I’m not gonna lie, I feel a little like I’ve just shown you my underwear drawer.
Do you have a strategy for your business? Do you make financial goals?
Is there something you’ve done that’s drastically changed the way you work?
Tell me all in the comments below. Or don’t. But it’d be way more fun if you did!