Get organized now! Don't wait until things get busy before you decide to get organized. You will save a lot of time, and your sanity, if you take a little time to get things in order now.
- System for organizing products. Nothing will kill the excitement of making a sale more than not being able to find the product you just sold. Nor will you enjoy the next 20 minutes you waste tearing apart your home before you finally find it tucked away in some corner. Set aside a special area for your products - some shelves, a draw or two, maybe a whole closet. Once something is made and photographed put it in your special area right away. Label your drawers and boxes to best suit your product - according to color, by category, or divided by size.
- Packaging supplies in one spot. You might not think twice about having to run to your office for scissors and grabbing tissue paper from your craft room, but that is a lot of wasted time going back and forth if you are packing orders a couple times a week. Think about everything you use to pack orders and keep it all in one place.
- Routine for packing orders. What works for you might not work for someone else, but what is important is that you come up with a process for packing orders that fits into your schedule. You might want to split it up - print or address shipping labels in the morning, write Thank You labels during your lunch break, and wrap products after dinner. You may prefer doing it all at once after your kids get to bed. Either way, coming up with a routine will help keep you from becoming overwhelmed during the holidays, and may even allow you to have a friend or family member to take over for a few days if you get sick but don't want to have to close your shop.
Plan your packaging. Many sellers, myself included, often underestimate the time it takes to wrap and and package orders. Some pre-planning can cut down a little of this extra time.
- Signature wrapping. I have mentioned before that consistent wrapping can help brand your shop. Take some time to experiment with a few different styles to see what suits your products best. Knowing beforehand how you will wrap your products allows you to make sure you have all of the necessary supplies on hand, and saves time if you can package assembly line style.
- Research beforehand. Don't list an item until you have a box to ship it in and estimate the shipping costs! You might be really excited to list the vintage globe you just found at the thrift store, but hold off until you find a box to fit it in, track down bubble wrap/peanuts/foam to keep it secure, and weigh it all for a realistic shipping quote. If not, you may find yourself searching high and low for that perfect box before you can mail an order, or losing $20 when you charged $10 to ship but the post office charged you $30.
- Consider gift wrap. If you like to keep your packaging simple, consider offering a little extra during the holidays. Add a note to your Shop Announcement and Product Descriptions that you offer wrapping with a gift tag if the customer is buying it for a present. Not everyone will take you up on it, but some may. It's up to you whether to keep it complimentary or charge a small fee.
Stock up. Time is always in short supply around the holidays and never a good time to run out of something. If you are able to put together extra inventory now, definitely do it.
- Extra products. It won't be long until Gift Guides start popping up on blogs, magazine articles, and Etsy. If you lucky enough to be included in one you may have a surge in sales! It would be oh so disappointing if you weren't able to take advantage of this momentum because you don't have enough products to stock your shop. Always have some extra on hand, but no need to go overboard.
- Extra photos. It doesn't matter how many products you have available if you don't have good pictures to list them in your shop. Getting good photos during the winter months can be difficult due to time constraints (parties, decorating, wrapping, oh my!) or bad weather / lack of light. Take advantage of free days with good weather to stock up on your product photography. (I need to take my own advice here!)
- Extra shipping supplies. You don't want to have to delay shipping or pay $0.89 per bubble mailer at Staples because you ran out of shipping supplies and are waiting for your next order to come in the mail. Seriously consider purchasing your shipping supplies in bulk to save money and ensure you always have some on hand. Storage can be an issue so offer splitting an order with a friend or colleague who also sells online. A few good resources:
Communicate with your customers. Communication is always important when you have an online business and don't have face-to-face contact with customers, but even more so during the holidays. During the holidays keeping a customer informed on how long an order will take to arrive and how it will come packaged will likely mean the difference between a very happy and a very disappointed customer.
- Custom Order Deadlines. Set a clear deadline on the last day you will accept custom orders with guaranteed delivery for the holidays. Be honest with yourself and your customers. You don't want to spend the next two months staying up until 2am cranking out custom orders. Don't be afraid to set an early deadline if need be. I have seen shops with deadlines in early November and it encouraged me to place my order already.
- Shipping Deadlines. Make sure customers know how long before an order is shipped and the approximate transit time for your method of shipping. A customer may think 10 days before Christmas is plenty of time, but that gift may not have a shot of arriving on time if it takes 7 days for an order to be shipped and another 7-10 days of transit time due to Media Mail shipping. Keep in mind mail has a tendency to slow down during the holidays.
- Packaging. A product that is wrapped and ready for gift giving may be a selling point for last minute buyers or those who simply don't like wrapping presents. If your packaging is strong, be sure to mention it in your Shop Announcement and consider including a packaging shot as one of your five item photos.