Biz Tip Tuesday | Business Systems & Growth

This is something I have been wanting to write about for a while now. If you read my first Biz Tip Tuesday post you are well aware that I did not graduate college with a business degree, but a BFA with an emphasis in graphic design and minor in marketing. Everything I have learned with Thimblepress® has been self-taught or learned through workshops, books, podcasts, etc. I am a huge proponent of systems, but the problem currently is that most of our business systems live between the ears of 7 full time employees and two to three handfuls of part time employees. I know it is important to write out and analyze your business systems and put it into an operations manual, but when I started Thimblepress® it was just a hobby for me. It snowballed so quickly into a full time job with employees that up until now I have spent most of my days putting out fires, developing new products, running the day to day of the business and printing on the letterpress. Honestly, as a crafter turned business woman, I think the idea of being so busy that you cannot slow down to create a business systems report (operations manual) is not too foreign from most of the business women I know and am friends with. We are just trying to do our best in the hours we have in our day and know our business systems in our head. Up until now, the idea of taking the time to write it all out and analyze it always seemed daunting. The problem with never writing down how you do your processes, operations, assembly, etc. is that it is all with you and the benefit to getting your systems to paper (document format) is so that your business can eventually run and function without you. Basically, so you are not chained to your business with no escape (I know you are all thinking of yourself right now, literally chained to a desk or a letterpress. Definitely with a ball and chain) Let me tell you, because we do not have our systems and processes properly documented and analyzed, half the time I do feel chained to Thimblepress® and that does not make for a sustainable and growing business. This week at Thimblepress has been a big week for us. Notice I am posting our Biz Tip Tuesday on Thursday. Basically everything has been so nuts and crazy, I need it to reverse and be Tuesday. I am just going to say it now…it's because our systems aren't written down. I am going to just start blaming everything on that until it is done. :) Awesome news though, we are about to flip things upside down. Ok, so we really are not turning things upside down but we are working hard to shift some systems. The way Thimblepress operates right now works for us, but I am sure to the outsider may seem insane. Our downstairs operation is one long hallway with rooms shooting off the right and all the way down. I like to say it’s “shotgun style” because if you stood at the back door you could shoot a gun from the back door to the front door without hitting anything in-between. No, we are not shooting guns up here, but I wanted to give you a visual of what our space is like. The downstairs operation is about 2200 square feet. The front consist of a retail store front that is managed by our retail operations manager, Kate, who also handles all the customer orders that come to us via our website or Etsy. The back part of the front room consist of our wholesale team, Celine and Marielle. Celine and Marielle process all of the wholesale orders that come in, both big and small. They also work with all of our reps, accounts, and our production heads, Lauren and Mary Kathryn, to make sure all of the products are in stock and packaged/assembled for order processing. See the thing about Thimblepress is that ALL of our products are packaged and assembled IN HOUSE! AND all of the letterpress items are printed by me on our Chandler + Price letterpress. We go from design to production to assembly to packaging to shipping to you, all in our studios. Bekah and I have our offices upstairs where we also have a Thimblepress meeting area for staff meetings, meetings with suppliers, lawyers, reps, clients. etc. Bekah handles all of our public relations, press, social media, blog management, custom order placement, photographing products for the website (non-lifestyle photos), and working with me on the occasional custom project. My office is my little nook of the world where I can paint, work on a computer, generate inspiration boards, spread out my thoughts and put pen to paper. Joy is one of our other full time team members that almost floats throughout the office. She is the one that is working with me to develop a system report and special projects in the future. We have a fluctuating assembly team of anywhere from 7-22 given the time of year and the number of orders at the same time. Needless to say, it can get a bit crazy. After reading that I assume you can guess why I need and want to get our systems all written out. We need to streamline, simplify, and partially automate our business to give us time and room for growth and change. We are organized. And our studio, for the space we have, is really really organized. I want to get our systems super organized. I am one of those people that in order for me to be my most efficient, I must have an organized and clean space. I met with Joy, who I mentioned above, to get a game plan together for how we should best tackle the idea of wanting to develop a systems report/document. Joy and I will be working together to develop and analyze everything at Thimblepress® from the ground up. The past few months I have really been thinking about expanding the Thimblepress® brand. In the next two years I am planning to add two sub-brands to Thimblepress® and I couldn’t be more excited about the ideas I have for them. It may end up taking longer than two years to do it, but that is why it is so important for us to have every system at Thimblepress® working like a well oiled machine. When talking with Joy about this systems report I realized that this project of mine could get overwhelming very fast. I decided the best first step would be for us to sit down with a roll of paper and pen and get to writing. We have one of those large rolls of paper that you can basically trace your body outline on. You know like in that Episode of Full House where Michelle traces Comet the dog? Anyone with me on that? Anyways, my plan is to lay out paper and visually begin drawing out the different legs and arms of Thimblepress®; starting with the big ones like custom, wholesale, retail, marketing, social media, and production just to name a few. Of course there are so many more systems and detailed elements that make up each of those pieces, but the idea is for us to visually lay them out so we can have a brand road map for us to use when trying to generate this report. Once we get it drawn out on paper, I am going to lay it out in illustrator for us to have on hand and decide which element we want to sit down and work with first. The idea I have is that Joy and I will go through each detailed element, process and software we are using at Thimblepress®. We will review it, document it, track the expenses on it and try to make it more efficient for us as a whole. We also know that no business that is growing will ever stay the same and keep the same systems in place, so we will make the document editable and most likely share it on a company google drive. We have constantly been changing systems since I started Thimblepress® in 2012, but we are at such a crucial period of growth right now and wanting to make so many shifts within our business and brand that I really feel like this is the time for us to really dig deep and analyze our day to day. This systems report will also give us a really good change to redefine and fine tune our core values here at Thimblepress®. I feel like it is crucial for team members to all know the core values of the company they work for. The more our core values are defined, the more everyone can truly understand. From full time team to assembly team, those core values will be the foundation and the rules for how our brand functions and remains unique to the marketplace. The best thing that this system report will provide for us is consistency in every facet of Thimblepress®. For us to have consistency time and time again with customers, we have to clearly define what elements of the Thimblepress® shopping experience provide that consistency that creates a repeat customer. This all may sound a little nutty for you, but if you are just starting out in your business I highly recommend you start to document your processes and not just keep them in your head. It will make growth so much easier for you since you have the infrastructure of systems in place. We have a google doc where each team member has a sheet and records questions we get on the daily, paired with the answers. Those questions will come in so handy and help us fine tune our systems even more! Another awesome thing about systems is it makes your company more desirable to be purchased one day. Would I ever sell Thimblepress®? Where I am at in my life and my love of this business I would say absolutely no. My soul is so invested in every product we create and customer we interact with. I want Thimblepress® not just to be a good brand, I want it to be one of those great, memorable brands. Now talk to me when I am 85 years old and all I want to do is go on an Alaskan cruise and my answer may be different. :) One of the main reasons to creating a systems report (operations manual) is so that you can show how the company can work and run itself. No person is going to want to invest or purchase a company when all the operations and know-how of the business are resting in the head of the owner. Having a systems report (operations manual) makes your company more desirable because it gives that potential buyer a map to how the business is run day to day, and the confidence in knowing it will continue to run after the founder/owner is off on her Alaskan cruise ;). One of my last reasons why I am so excited about this is because we will finally take the time to figure out how we can automate some of our systems. Since so much of our business is built on hand crafted and assembled products, it is crucial for us to put technology and automated systems that we would specifically design for us to good use! We have a list of software programs that we currently utilize and a list of ones that we are going to look into possibly using. The software programs that we do have, we want to learn the ins and outs of to see if we are truly utilizing them to their full potential or if we can combine forces on one platform and get rid of two. Again, this time last year I did not even have a second to sit down and really think about the overall growth potential and systems of Thimblepress®. I so badly wish I would have started working on them when I first started, but then I wouldn’t be writing this lovely post. SO I hope this article provides you with a little bit of insight into what systems (operations) reports (manuals) are and how you can put them to use in your business to achieve and forecast growth. Once we finish the report, Joy and I plan on designing an e-book to share on our website of all the steps we take to complete our report, because let me tell you, I plan on taking up to six months to finish this baby. I am going to take a fine tooth comb to Thimblepress® so that we can move forward with our big plans for growth, change, new products, and new sub-brands with confidence. I am attaching this chart I developed called the “snowflake of success” back when I did marketing, advertising, branding and design as a full time job (with a few tweaks to the social media area with the addition of Periscope & Snapchat. I am a visual person and I wanted to sit and lay out all the different elements of that person’s business, which in essence I was laying down the prep work for a systems report and analysis. I know, it looks INSANE, but for a visual person like me, a bird's eye view of our operations is exactly what I need! The other day we actually printed my snowflake out to use as a jumping off point for this whole project. We have to add a lot and delete a lot, but we will get there eventually! I hope you use it and it helps you! DOWNLOAD PDF Snowflake_By_KristenLey Keep telling us what you want to know more about! This Biz Tip Tuesday post wasn’t developed by me to just spill my grammatically incorrect self all over our blog. I wanted to start it so that not only you can hear about how we do things and learn from mistakes we have made or successes we have had, but we can also learn from you guys. We want the comments section to be filled with questions, suggestions, comments, and advice! We don’t and I don’t know everything. I wish I did, because if so I would probably be sitting on an island with my talking dogs (because I would have invented a device that turns Willow and Henry’s barks into English). Lots of love and thank you for reading, Kristen

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