I’ve just survived another Christmas. And I’m not talking about dealing with distant relatives reminding me that my biological clock is ticking, over a turkey and some grey Brussels sprouts. I’m talking about the Christmas rush, when people from all over the world are looking to buy the most perfectly thoughtful Christmas gifts for their loved ones, and you’re one of the many thousands of small businesses that make those gifts.
For anyone with a business like mine, you’ll know the feeling that you get to around the end of September. The pit in your stomach that means only one thing. The Christmas rush is imminent and it’s time to batten down the hatches and prepare yourself for the onslaught. I’m fairly certain the phrase ‘The Silly Season’ came from how ridiculous this time of year is for small creative businesses.
Come late November most people are planning their outfit for the 80s themed office Christmas party, or choosing which 6-foot fir would look best in their front room. Creative small businesses are devising a plan for the best way to survive the upcoming months with all of their hair and most of their dignity intact.
Reflecting on the 2018 Christmas craziness has got me thinking a lot about where my business is going. After what can only be described as utter craziness in the run-up to Christmas, I tried to imagine what life would be like at Bettie HQ in a few years’ time. Would every Christmas be like the last few Christmases? Where do I want to be in five years? Still dealing with lost parcels, angry customers and stock control? Hmmm not sure about that.
Now seems like as good a time as any to really start developing a long-term plan. I would say strategy, but my years working in the corporate world have made me well and truly allergic to that word. So, plan it is.
The last few weeks I’ve been working on a plan to rid my life of tedious making by 2021. And by that, I mean making sure that I don’t wake up when I’m 40 and still be just a teeny tiny business making cards and pencils out of my loft room. And while I’ve significantly grown my business over the last couple of years, there’s so much room for so much more.
So when do you know it’s time to start thinking bigger? Here are a couple of clues.
Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to look forwards
The first and most important part of recognising that it’s time to start really growing your business, is to take a step back and look at everything you’ve achieved in the last few years. And I mean really look at it. What worked? What didn’t? How do you feel a few years in? What part of your business do you love working on, and what are the parts that make your stomach turn?
Assessing where you’re at to decide where you’re going doesn’t have to be a terribly arduous exercise. In a way, it should really be cathartic. There aren’t many moments in your business life where you’ll take the time to pat yourself on the back with one hand and push yourself into the next phase of business with the other.
Something to do now: Seeing as though most of us have just completed our tax returns, it’s a pretty good time to look at your figures. Take some time to work out the percentage that you’ve grown over the last few years and set yourself a realistic, but stretching target for this coming year.
The only way is up… or is it?
Over the last year, my brand has grown significantly in retail outlets. They’re now available in about 150 shops in the UK and it’s taken a lot of work to get to that point. But I’ve realised in the last few months that the amount of retail outlets in the UK is limited and with the bleak forecast for the high street that doesn’t feel like it’ll change any time soon.
I get the feeling that while I’ve increased my presence in retail shops steadily in the last year, that increase is likely to plateau. With hundreds, if not thousands of greeting card publishers in the UK alone, there’s only enough space on the shelves for a handful of brands. So, constant innovation is a must. A very expensive must.
When you feel like your business is approaching that plateau, it’s time for you to get your plan written down so you don’t become the next business closing its doors.
Something to do now: Break down your numbers over months and start using your finest Excel skills to plot it all into a bar chart. If you’re a visual person like me, you’ll soon be able to see if the plateau is nearing or if you’re in it already.