Last Christmas my family ran out of clean towels and started using beach towels out of desperation.
I'm failing at "work life balance."
Then again, I don't think work/life balance exists.
At the end of the day, my orders *very nearly* always go out fast and on time, my daughter is generally content and is well adjusted. I love working on the business with my husband who is in charge of inventory and logistics. I have only had one major instance of true, chaotic physical panic.
I hope so.
The names of the game are choice and grit.
It is about choosing to tell that small business monster to shut up and go away right now for this exact moment in time so I can focus on something else. It's about choosing to be prepared for the fallout.
Did I make the correct choices about my time today? Possibly, but I will never know for sure.
I am blessed with a supportive community but I will never have someone objectively evaluate me, put my results on a grid, slap me on the back and say “great job, Taylor, looks like we know for sure your business will not fail.”
It is about having the grit to bear down and get up and hustle each day while not knowing the outcome. The successes, the failures, the speed of the roller coaster are all based directly on each little decision I make. After many failures, I have gathered a few processes that make an unpredictable business a bit more manageable.
Several friends have asked me for my tips and each time I go to answer, I start to write a book. I thought I'd condense everything into one post for you all.
Ready to reign in the chaos? Here are my top five productivity tools.
1. Shopify ($29-$179/month depending on plan=WORTH IT)
I am 100% certain that without the internal organizational system that Shopify offers, the online store and my kiosk retail location would have crashed and burned early on in those infant/colic infused months after my daughter was born.
Shopify makes package orders so simple. It lists every order, address, customer info, and whether or not it is fulfilled. You can add notes so that your other team members, ahem my husband, will know what’s been done or not done on the order. The reports function is astounding. You can generate all kinds of practical reports to show sales trends based on any factor you can think of (time, retail location, date, item, type, sku).
The Shopify iPhone app is my #1 used app on my phone. It notifies me immediately when an order comes in, shows fulfilled/unfulfilled statuses, lists customer emails so I can search a customer, see what they ordered and shoot them an email in-app.
That little number above the green Shopify box is a visual reminder of what needs to be done today. And watching that unfulfilled number disappear is super satisfying. Plus it has a quick display that shows you gross revenue for today, yesterday, the last 30 days and the last 90 days with an overview of how people are getting to your shop (Google, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) which is an awesome visual.
Shopify offers an iPad based POS system that is amazing!! You or your employees can easily use the app as an iPad cash register. We couldn’t afford all of the extra stuff so we literally just used the iPad app and the free card reader that attaches to the iPad to process 11K + of monthly gross sales at the kiosk. We rarely had a problem. Refunds are easy. If a customer comes up asking about an order, employees can quickly look up the order and see all of the details and notes to better answer questions. Customers can choose to be emailed receipts so we didn’t even have to print receipts. This saves money, time and is more Eco-friendly. The POS app is an amazing way to organize brick and mortar orders.
The day before Thanksgiving, my shopping cart glitched on a new customer who was placing a huge order. I called Shopify and the rep instantly talked to me, got ahold of the tech team, and found an actual answer/solution that allowed me to give an intelligent answer to my customer and move forward with the order. I have them on speed dial. They are helpful when those really stressful, glitchy moments happen.
Shopify offers some of the most on trend themes that match function and beauty in an award winning way. My sales increased when I switched to the award winning theme I currently use. Shopify’s new streamlined mobile checkout process is cutting edge. Shopify makes it easy to open an online store by providing all the tools and help you need. Click here to try it for free!
2. Physical Planner ($50-60 plus shipping).
Shopify helps me know exactly which orders need to go out that day. My planner helps me contain all of the random string thoughts and tiny details that I need to deal with in order to make those orders go out. Study after study has shown that physically writing thoughts out helps with organization. I used to use Erin Condren but I just switched to Emily Ley because I want more room to write on each page. I don’t like the Emily Ley binding but we’ll see how it goes.
3. DYMO thermal shipping label printer ($70-$150).
Making a healthy profit with an online store is all about the complicated dance between time and accuracy. We have had so many arguments and frustrating low points in the process of trying to streamline our shipping. I finally broke down and spent the money on a label printer and it has saved us so much time, energy and frustration.
The DYMO uses thermal paper so you never have to buy ink. We use the ShipStaion app through Shopify, check which size box we are using, purchase postage, click print label and the DYNMO spits one out. Peel off the back and slap it on the box! ShipStation syncs with Shopify so your customer is automatically sent the tracking link and the order info will also automatically show the link for your reference later.
4. Mobile Bank App and Mobile Accountant (app is free, my accountant is $25-45/hr)
I check my business bank account app on my phone several times a day. This helps with cash flow and lets me know exactly what is coming in and out. We’ve had some touch and go moments in which we were hoping that Shopify paid out before a big withdraw hit so this app gives peace of mind as it shows pending transactions. I also try to use my business debit card or business Paypal account for every purchase, if possible.
I try to run every sale through Shopify even if it will be a cash transaction (either the online store as a listing or as a POS iPad sale). So if someone orders a custom sign, I make a private listing for them to purchase at DearOlympia.com through Shopify. That way I can track it in my reports and it gets included when figuring out my sales tax number each month. This makes it easy when my bookkeeper automatically logs into my accounts and sorts out my expenses. In Shopify reports, we can pull up the exact gross revenue number for purchases made in Hawaii. I email that over to my accountant and he files the GET tax. BAM! Time saver.
I use Google Sheets to track checks (yes, I still hand write checks occasionally - call me old school). My accountant + book keeper have the private links to the sheet so they can look it up and log the stuff automatically. I definitely recommend paying someone to do bookkeeping and accounting especially if you have employees. My father-in-law does all of his employee tax stuff himself but for me, this is a major stress trigger so I pay someone. It paid off in one instance because I was able to pay my accountant $45/hour to fight with the IRS over an error (their fault) and he saved me $700 worth of IRS fees. This brought me extreme happiness.
5. Google Email and Docs - (FREE with Google account)
I use my email as a to-do list. When an email has a task attached to it, I keep it in my inbox. When I have sufficiently dealt with the task, I either delete the email or file it into a sub-category box. Each day I go through my email and try to weed out tasks. This helps me meet my goal of responding to people within 24 hours even if it’s a “thank you, I am working on this” email.
Google sheets are my BFF. I LOATHE Microsoft office so I use the online Excel type sheets to track everything! I track sign class workshops, signs that need to be made and go out, static expenses for the online store, Portland and Kailua locations and I save form emails in Google Doc. I can access these docs instantly on iPhone, laptop and iPad making it easy to answer emails and messages. Plus you can easily share a doc or sheet with people. I am writing this post in a Google Docs right now. LOVE!
Bonus: the portable Bluetooth speaker you see on my desk was my one Black Friday splurge. Oh yes I can rock out to music at my desk or outside making signs.
note: affiliate links are used in this post.
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