Small Business Thoughts: What to do when it’s quiet

My work is very seasonal – from September when Christmas order start coming in, then Valentine’s Day, then Mother’s Day, and up to Father’s Day in June, I don’t get a second to think about anything other than those big occasions. It’s just endless making cards, going to the post office, and coming back to make more cards. Don’t get me wrong, I love it (it’s my favourite part of the year!) – but there’s so many aspects to a business and fulfilling orders is only a small part. Once each occasion has passed, I get a small breather before it’s onto the next, and there are some super organised customers out there who are already ordering for the next occasion before I have time to sit down after the last post has left from the event before.

When things are so hectic for part of the year, it’s hard to know what to do with yourself when it’s quiet. It’s so easy to panic: “what has happened to make people not buy my products?” “are they all on holiday?” “are they not finding my products on the shopping sites anymore?”. Of course, it’s never anything too drastic – people genuinely have busy summers with holidays, kids, trips, barbecues, sporting events like the olympics, going on in their lives. With lovely warm weather, time with family and long, lazy summer days, customers don’t necessarily think about the next big gifting occasion (it begins with C and ends in…hristmas!).

So, what do you do when the order book is quiet and you’re twiddling your thumbs waiting for the highstreet to turn on the carols and fill shelves with Quality Streets and 3 for 2 gift boxes? After nearly 7 years running my own business (and that’s 7 years on Etsy and notonthehighstreet) I’ve been through many peaks and troughs of the seasonal gifting calendar. I thought I’d share my top tips for what to do when it’s quiet. And I’m sure I’ll add my tips on how to cope when it’s busy too at some point…unless I’m, you know, too busy! 😉

1: Work on unfinished projects

I am the queen of having great ideas (in my opinion anyway!) that don’t get seen through to the end. Quieter business days are perfect for working on a half finished project, new range, or designs that have not made it to your virtual shelves. If you keep a list or notebook with you all year round for jotting down ideas, you’ll have a heap of new things to try out when you find the time. Right now, I have loads of notes on my phone, paper, diary etc., all waiting to be mocked up, photographed and listed. It’s a great opportunity to try experiment with new that you’ve always wanted to try out…a new technique, material or even a whole new product line.

2. Spruce up your product pages

Go through your product pages and read your descriptions. I find that I’m often in a rush to list new products and if you can ‘copy’ an existing listing, sometimes I have descriptions that are relevant only to the product I originally listed…like a Birthday card that quotes Father’s day information, or colour options that aren’t available on your latest product. Check your descriptions, attributes, headings, delivery settings etc., to make sure they’re all relevant and it’s easy for customers to browse. Read up on SEO to tweak your search terms so more customers can find your card. If you need help, get a fresh set of eyes to look at your page and tell you what they think – a great option is something like Becka Griffin’s Shopfront Review on Etsy. I purchased a review from Becka, and despite being on Etsy for almost a decade, she had a whole booklet of things I needed to change to make my listings more customer friendly.

3. Retake new product photos

Let’s face it, whatever you’re browsing online, nice photos sell it! Whether it’s a product, a blog, or even someone’s Instagram profile, if there are stunning photos, you linger longer, browse more, and even buy into what they’re showing you. I do most of my shopping online and there have been times where I’ve seen the same product for sale from different retailers with different pictures…some photos would have turned me off buying it, and other photos would convince me I need it in my life…showing the same product! Photos are everything! Every now and then, I refresh my photos. Not only do trends change when it comes to styling, photography skills improve too. I cringe when I see old product photos I took years ago, and each time I update my product photos, I am proud of the new fresh look I’ve given them. I love accessorising my shoots with stationery items, confetti, craft tape and twine. I also love the scandi look with whitewashed walls and minimal staging. Make sure your products are eye-catching, well lit, and customers can see exactly what they’re ordering. Flat lays are so much fun, and lifestyle shots are great to entice customers into thinking their life would be better with your product in it.

4. Read for inspiration, motivation, personal and business growth

Business books get me fired up to work harder all the time. Reading is inspiring, especially when it’s about a subject you love or written by someone you admire in business. I recently read a book by Tony Robbins, who said (and I’m paraphrasing) that to be successful in what you want to do, find someone who already is successful and do what they do. And it doesn’t have to be a book that inspires you, I am often inspired by blogs or business people on social media who share their story with the world. Nothing motivates me more than seeing people who are inspirational at what they do and that makes me want to achieve what they achieve. Reading to learn new skills, understand something a bit better, or just to refocus on the business is a great use of time!

5. Plan for the rest of the year

I’m one of those people who are always super jealous of super savvy, exceptionally organised businesses who are seasons ahead in their planning. Retail planning is always 6 months to a year ahead of where the calendar is right now – most products need researching, designing, prototyping, making, before being marketed and sold to the public. I’m lucky in the sense that my business is so tiny, I can think up an idea, mock it up and have it online for the world to purchase within an afternoon, so I know planning way in advance is not *as* vital to me compared to a big highstreet chain for example. However, even marketplace sites like Etsy and notonthehighstreet have curated categories, press and blogger events, social media campaigns etc., so they do need to know what we sellers are making ahead of the gifting occasions. Having products ready in advance for when they start thinking about their marketing means you’re more likely to get included in something special like a spot in a magazine or in a Facebook post to hundreds of thousands of potential customers. Make a plan of what occasions you need to create new products for (or improve existing products) and when you need to get it done by. This also ties into my first point, where you can use quieter times to plan new goodies!

6. Spend time doing non-business things

I find myself making excuses and being too busy for things for half the year. I wouldn’t dream of going away in the run up to any of the big events, and even an evening out for a meal is sometimes an hour or two I need to use for fulfilling orders (usually black friday or the week before Valentine’s day where every minute counts). In the summer months when I’m working more like part time hours than 20 hours a day, I can say yes to days out, trips away and evenings with friends. Sometimes it’s hard for other people to understand just how much pressure small businesses are under at the big gifting times of the year and it’s nice to be able to catch up when things are quieter, without feeling guilty for being away from your business for a bit.

7. Rest!

Similarly to point number 6, use the quiet times for a bit of relaxation, catch up on things you’ve been putting off while being busy. Sleep in, take long coffee breaks, visit friends and family, do things you’ve been wanting to do for months but never had the time. I’ve been spending the summer relaxing in the garden, doing yoga, riding my bike in the sunshine and trips with the family. It’s good to use quiet times to work on your business, but it’s also necessary to work on yourself – have a break, enjoy the time to yourself before things get crazy again, regain your energy and stamina as before you know it, it will be time for…dare I say it…Christmas 😉

8. And don’t panic! 

This is probably one of the most important things. Everyone wonders if things will ever pick up when going through a quiet time. I know so many people right now are concerned that it’s the quietest time of the year and they don’t know what they can do to improve the number of orders. But for all the busy times of the year, you have to have quieter times. August is notoriously slow in retail and everyone is noticing it right now. The important thing to remember is don’t panic and use your time wisely to improve your own offering.

 

 

 

 

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Marks and Spencer, Similarities and Small Business Anxiety

Today I was alerted to a very similar product to mine being sold in Marks and Spencer. Now, Marks and Spencer was a company that I really respected, one that I spend a lot of my money with, and that I believed was a more ethical big business with their Plan A campaign and ethical business practices. A few years ago, I was invited to discuss ethical business at their head office as part of the Prince’s Trust. So, it’s a shock to see a product that is so unbelievably similar to mine being sold on their personalised shop and with ‘personalisation stickers’ on their shelves in store.

My ‘Days I’ve Loved You‘ card first went online in 2011 and has been my most successful design every year since. It’s gone through numerous reincarnations but this first version is still the original and best selling throughout every occasion. I’ve noticed a few small designer/makers finding ‘inspiration’ in my designs and I’m no longer the only one selling ‘days cards’ but when I first put mine for sale, I didn’t know of anyone else who made them – I believe I was the original. It’s had so much attention over the years online, blogs, online marketing, print catalogues, etc, and it’s (very luckily and very much appreciated) always been in prominent places on notonthehighstreet – quite honestly, it’s held the top spot in the best selling cards for quite a number of gift-giving occasions and I’m very proud of that.

It’s frustrating when you create something that you believe is so unique to you and find someone else crop up with their own ‘version’. There’s part of me that is really laid back and brimming with positivity that says “this makes me stronger, it inspires me to make bigger and better products, it motivates me to be an innovator and be better than them” and reminds me of the saying about imitation being a form of flattery.

Then, the other part of me – this is one I battle with constantly and that has made some days unbearable – is the anxious, obsessive and frustrated part of me. If I’m being honest, the fear of finding a product similar to my own has lead me to avoiding parts of the internet. Where a business would be looking at their market, their competition, I am hiding from it in fear. My anxiety over what I might find is crippling, I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about these other versions. My stomach flips if I check the notonthehighstreet tag on Instagram and I hold my breath whenever I get a customer newsletter. I am a small designer maker living entirely on what money I bring in selling cards online – it’s scary how maybe one change in the marketplace could result in me not being able to afford to live each month. It’s a daunting prospect that I could very easily be put out of business by the actions of another seller or even one of the places I have an online shop.

So I actively avoid searching for greeting cards on Etsy, and I never look at the card section on notonthehighstreet. I know what I might find (I have found it before – I even found one this week!) and it fills me with anxiety so bad that I cannot function. I have to have faith in my products and my business. Which is hard to do when you’re lying awake at night with the sights of other products which are too similar to your own original products swirling around in your head. I thought my safe place was the highstreet, where they can’t personalise like I can. And judging by the tacky pack of stickers that come with the M&S Days card, they still can’t personalise like I can. But I did think I was safe from the big corporations and there was no way they could possibly crush this little small business. It seems I was wrong, and my anxiety over looking at the card sections will now spread to the shelves of the highstreet out of fear of ‘similar’ looking products.

My positive personality will have to be stronger than my anxious one – onwards and upwards to being the original innovator I am. Providing excellent quality products, the best customer service, going above and beyond on personalisation. The competitors may be able to create an almost identical product, but they’ll have to try to keep up with me on everything else!

The Marks and Spencer version is the navy and listed ‘new’ on their website. Mine is the pink and has been for sale since 2011.

Unique loved-up cards for Valentine’s Day 2016

Valentine’s Day is one of my favourite times of year, because of all the Valentine’s cards we make for customers. There’s nothing better than spreading the love and helping people celebrate their feelings all year around, but it’s like an explosion of romance during February.

This year, we’ve put a new typographic twist on our ‘Days I’ve Loved You‘ cards, featuring gorgeous swooshy writing in inky watercolour goodness. We’ve also added a ‘Ticket To My Heart‘ card which is inspired by those cute admission tickets, along with old favourites and best sellers such as our ‘First Valentine’s Day As Mr and Mrs‘ and our ‘Valentine’s Dictionary‘.

All are completely personalised and will be a super special keepsake for your loved one this year. Send something that will show just how much you care: www.rubywren.com

Business: Keeping your mojo

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With all things you put your time and energy into, some days you’ll feel more passionate about it than others. Sometimes I feel like I could put 1000% into my business, and other times I feel like I just want to get away from it. It’s weird because quite often, there’s nothing that triggers ‘losing your mojo’ – I think it’s possibly just when you spend all of your time working on your business and thinking about your business…the evenings, the weekends, even the holidays, your brain needs a break. The last few weeks I’ve felt like I’ve wanted to do other things…perhaps the lovely warm weather has been a major cause, but it can be a little worrying when you lose that spark.

Thankfully, I feel like I’m coming out of the other side of a mojo-less few weeks and regaining my passion for what I do. I definitely believe it’s just a case of getting worn out – I certainly am proud of my business and grateful that I get to do this as a job, but sometimes you do just need to step back to regain your passion. I know I’m not the only one who runs a small business and occasionally loses motivation, and I know some people worry when that happens. For me, sometimes the simplest things can re-ignite that spark…

My tips for regaining your mojo:

  • Work on a new project or idea. It can be hard to force creativity, but when you do think of a great idea, you soon want to run with it and not stop. Have a ‘Ideas List’ or notebook which you can add to whenever you think of something good…most of my new ideas come to me when I’m too busy to take them further, so making a note for future development is a great way to remember them! I use one of our own ‘Lightbulb Moments‘ notebooks for my new ideas. Even if it needs a lot of work, having something that you can look to when you’re feeling a little deflated could be enough to get the creative juices flowing.
  • Talk to like-minded people. A conversation with some of my small business friends is quite often just the thing I need. Sometimes the ‘real world’ doesn’t quite understand the life of a small business owner, but with more and more people becoming self employed, it’s definitely becoming more ‘normal’. Talking to people who know the ups and downs, and who are passionate about their business can inspire you in your own. I always feel so motivated after a conversation with some of my small-business friends, even if the conversation isn’t 100% about our work.
  • Pinterest. It may seem a little silly and superficial but Pinterest is one of my favourite places for motivation – quotes, projects and pretty photos are never a bad thing!
  • Social Media Browsing. Nothing lifts me out of a slump like browsing my favourite business on Facebook and Instagram – I get that “Oh, I so want to be like this” feeling. Big businesses certainly help cement that vision of success in my mind, but they have their expert social media teams – nothing’s more impressive than a small business who’s got their stuff together and has created a clear brand identity themselves. That’s super inspiring.
  • Read your reviews. I am lucky to have amazing customer reviews submitted via notonthehighstreet, accessible at the click of a button. Even if you don’t have access to a review system, happy customers can leave their positive comments on social media or by email. Reading glowing reviews makes me really proud of my product and my business. If I’m ever feeling lacking in motivation, I go back and scan through my reviews.
  • Remember why you started and what you’ve achieved. Writing it down is a great way to feel grateful.
  • Buy Something Inspiring or attend a class. That new piece of equipment, new materials, or a new business book – having something new can inspire a new project, new direction or motivate you. I have a wishlist on Amazon of business books I can purchase when I want to feel inspired.

Overall, running a business can be hard, life-consuming and can drain you when you’re working at it constantly, but for me, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. There are always sacrifices (long work days, loneliness, and it’s been almost 10 years since I had a proper holiday) so it’s not surprising sometimes we feel less passionate about it, but it’s important to remember why we do what we do and get back to feeling like it’s the best thing in the world as soon as possible. I’m a firm believer that positive thoughts create positive actions, so feeling good about my business is important. It’s good to have a break, but I’m excited about my business again and looking forward to putting my new found motivation into action.

Creating a healthy Work Life Balance

10603772_720596317976228_4749338203801196478_nAs soon as I saw this quote, it made me laugh – for me, it’s totally true! Running your own business means that so much of yourself is put into it. All your time, energy, enthusiasm. Recently, I’ve been trying to have a better work-life-balance. I’ve been obsessed with my business in the past – like constantly checking emails, orders, reviews etc., all day long. Of course, putting lots of time and effort into your business is great and if you have a passion for it, that will be reflected in the work you do or the products you make. But it can be a little exhausting to put 200% of your energy into the small things all the time (being online all day for example).

Since moving Ruby Wren into it’s own room, it’s allowed me to open the door to start work, and close the door when I’m finished. I think that division between home and work has really benefitted me. I’ve even had weekends recently where I didn’t even step into the office, which is a first for me! I think giving Ruby Wren a designated space has allowed me to shut off from business things more during the evening and weekends. My phone still has my emails, order admin, and all my reviews and stats loaded in my browser, so it’s not a total shut-off, but I’m trying to not check those as obsessively during my down-time.

I think it’s really good to spend some time away from things, a digital detox or taking real breaks away from work. It gives your mind time to rest and think clearly without the ‘noise’ of email checking, review refreshing and social media. It feels like the time I spend on work has more value and more meaning and that I’m working much more efficiently. I feel like I’m not burning myself out like I have been. Of course, it may also be that having the puppies, working on the house, etc, means I have more on my plate now than I did and my attention is split between other important things.

I saw a blog from the wonderful Jenny Hyde recently about the importance of taking lunch breaks and it really resonated with me. Taking time for yourself, away from work, internet distractions and to-do lists, is really a good for you. I’m prone to working until something’s finished. When I was working on the new website recently, I got up, did my usual ‘work things’ like orders, emails and dropping the mail off at the sorting office, and then worked until I went to bed on the new website. I’m pretty sure, even when I did go to bed, I was planning the website design in my head and working out tomorrow’s jobs. While sometime’s it’s great to have a new exciting project that you want to devote all your time to, when the running of your business is the biggest part of your daily life, there needs to be time for rest and rejuvenation, so you can better use your time and regain enthusiasm for the work you do.

A few of my tips for a better work-life-balance:

  • Take regular breaks (read Jenny’s post here)
  • Set yourself a time limit and stick to it – even a time table works great so you can assign parts of the day to certain tasks.
  • Turn off the computer when you’ve finished work
  • Spend time outside, go for a walk
  • Rediscover an old hobby or start a new one to make your time away from work as enjoyable as work time.
  • Eat proper meals and sit down at a table to eat them (no sandwiches at the computer!)
  • Make time for exercise (I find exercise is great for clearing your mind and making you feel good!).
  • A long hot bath is a great way to unwind and relax.
  • And, most importantly, don’t feel guilty about the time you spend not working!

New Witty Cards

I’m really excited about our new cards – our ‘Witty’ range of cards. They’re a little funny, a little sarcastic, and hopefully will make your recipient smile! We wanted to create something that is a little more humorous than our usual sentimental keepsake cards, so created a line of witty one-liners.

My favourite has to be ‘Happy Cake Day’ – I’m always wishing people a Happy Cake Day when it’s their Birthdays…because, you know, that’s the best thing about Birthdays 😉

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Behind the scenes, the Ruby Wren Office redecoration.

Ruby Wren has needed it’s own space for a while and we converted the spare room into a home office – partly RW HQ and partly Mr Ruby Wren’s office.

I knew I really wanted to get cube shelving units (thanks ikea!) so that I could stack paper and envelopes in their own little compartments. I chose a light pink colour for the wall, as I wanted something a little different but still bright and light. One of my favourite things in the room is my Emma Bridgewater Rose and Bee radio, which inspired the dusty pink walls.

It’s lovely to have a room where I can go to work and then close the door on when work is over – I’m trying to have a better work-life-balance and the office is really helping me to feel much more balanced. I also love being able to fill the office with my favourite little pieces, like my ‘Resist the Permanent Career Implant Chip’ sign (as a Futurama fan and someone who’s made there own perfect job, Mr Ruby Wren thought it was a perfect gift for me!) and my Simon’s Cat print.

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Reflecting on Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day on the 15th March, we didn’t really have much chance to relax between Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday. It went from manageable to crazy within a week of Valentine’s Day and I can’t believe we got as many cards out as we did! Not only were we used as a prop on the tv advert in a majorly prominent place, but we were included in an amazing little video and curated category for a Mother’s Day Tasteful Tea Party theme and the notonthehighstreet newsletter.

We’d just moved to our new, very high quality linen-effect paper, which is utterly gorgeous, and our bright new coloured envelopes, selected to complement the outside colour of each card. I’m so thrilled with how great the newly refreshed cards look and have already received some fantastic reviews.

Next on our ‘big occasion’ calendar is Father’s Day…bring it on 😉