Friday, March 4, 2011

EB Friday Hotlist: Five Tips for Avoiding or Reducing the Stress of Running an Indie Small Business

When I sat down to write this post yesterday my first thought was: Wow, what a long and stressful week!  I don't know about you, but TGIF has taken on a whole new meaning for me this week!  Ironically, that thought gave me the inspiration for today's Hotlist post:

Stress Reduction Kit
Stress Reduction Kit by
Programwitch, Used Under
Creative Commons License
Whether you are making 50 sales a year or 50 sales a week, you know the meaning of the word "stress."  You probably also know that reducing this stress as much as possible helps you not only have a better quality of life, but also helps you run a better business and create a better buying experience for your customers.  This time of year can be difficult for people, albeit in a different way than in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  There is a lot of anticipation and frenzied preparation in December, only to be followed by a (typically) slower January and potential disappointment over the way things went during the holiday buying season.  Whether you've got the pre-spring blues or you're struggling to keep up with orders, I think it's time for a brief refresher course in stress reduction.  Here are five basic tips to help you deal:

* Engage with others.  Maybe you're on a site like Zibbet, which makes it easy for you to connect with other people through groups and forums.  These people are trying to do the same thing as you - run a profitable online business.  Not only can enjoying the fun conversations about any and everything be a relaxing experience in itself, but engaging with other business owners will allow you to use them as a resource in the future.  When you don't know how to do something (i.e. ship packages to customers in Taiwan, create a coupon code, resize photos), it's great to be able to consult other indie business owners and get constructive feedback instead of stumbling along in the dark all by yourself.  Oh and if you're not on a marketplace website, there is still no excuse for not engaging.  Join a site like Creating the Hive and get involved in the conversation!

* Know your season.  People often feel that January and February are the worst months for their handmade businesses.  The Christmas/holiday rush is over and people are out of cash to spend on non-necessities.  This can make a seller feel like their shop isn't up to par, when really there are other factors in play.  Don't beat yourself up because your shop views dipped one day out of 30 or freak out on the Etsy forums over a short-term dip in your Google Analytics charts.  Also remember, different seasons are different for different sellers.  A business selling thick wool scarves and knitted beanies is not likely to have a rush on orders in July, and a custom swimsuit shop may not have a Christmas rush at all.  Keep things in perspective and know that ups and downs in sales are natural for a business.

* Stay organized.  I've always been an advocate of keeping a schedule but that's not the only way you should try to be organized.  Keeping your accounting up to date, your crafting room in some semblance of order, and your shipping supplies in one place and ready to be used when orders come in can help keep you from feeling so overwhelmed.  Check out the second article in the suggested reading list for more information about this strategy.

YOGA in nature's way
Photo: Yoga In Nature's Way
by Tony George, Used Under
Creative Commons License
* Take a breather.  Seriously, it's okay!  There is no reason to let the stress of running a handmade business overrun your life.  Are orders (or the lack thereof) just driving you nuts?  Go take a walk, eat a snack, do some yoga - then come back recharged and ready to get back on the grind.  It's important to make sure you're taking time for yourself and your friends/family on a regular basis.  You wouldn't work 12 hours a day, 365 days a year at a regular day job, right?  So why do you think you have to just because you're running a handmade business?  You do have to put in a lot of time, but one of the best thing about having a your business online is that you can put it on hiatus whenever you want.  Schedule yourself some time and take a vacation (or "staycation" if you're broke).  Whether you take a break for a day or a year, the market for goods and services will still be there when you are ready to tackle your next project.

* Evaluate yourself.  Whether you're just starting out or you've been in the game for a while, the handmade business world is not for the faint of heart.  Just see the first blog on the suggested reading list for a little perspective.  At many day jobs, if not most, supervisors conduct yearly or quarterly evaluations of their subordinates.  These evaluations can determine whether or not that employee keeps their job.  Since you don't have another boss to do it for you, you should make self-evaluation a regular part of your planning.  Taking stock at regular intervals of what's working for you and what isn't will make decisions like changing product lines or closing up shop all together much easier to determine.

As you can see, these tips for stress reduction aren't new - I've been supporting these ideas for ages and they certainly weren't my own original ideas!  Sometimes though, it can be beneficial to be reminded of the basics! Be sure to check out the links below for great insights on this subject.

Suggested Reading List:

Blunt Business Advice for the Handmade Market: If you're thinking about taking the full-time handmade business plunge (known on Etsy as "Quitting Your Day Job"), this is a must-read article.  MinervaLi doesn't hold back in this blog post and can help you understand exactly what you're getting into.

Improve Your Productivity and Lower Your Stress: In addition to being a fabulous example of how to do a guest post, this article by Celeste gives you tried and true tips for getting more done in less time with minimal fuss.

15 Ways to Reduce Your Stress Level at Work: This article was written to help B&M business owners and employees have a less-stressful work environment.  Let's face it though - many of these suggestions can be clearly and easily applied to your online business as well.

Until next time,