Betsy Benn is the owner and designer at Besty Benn, a successful design studio specialising in personalised prints. When her personalised bus blinds launched on notonthehighstreet.com in 2010, her Christmas season (and business) reached new heady heights. Here, she shares what she’s learned about surviving (and thriving) at Christmas.
Christmas is coming!
Well technically, like tomorrow, it’s always coming when you are in retail. Even on Christmas Day, you’ll be thinking about next year’s range (unless you’re John Lewis, in which case you’ve been talking about each Christmas 18 months in advance!).
So why am I writing about it in September?
Because now is key planning time for our logistics so you might want to start thinking about yours too.
This will be Betsy Benn’s sixth Christmas, and in that time we’ve picked up a few key facts:
- Christmas happens on the same day every year, so you can plan for that (even if sometimes customers seem to forget that it’s coming)
- Life is a lot less stressful if you are not phoning around suppliers, desperately trying to source the most commonly used white envelopes that everyone else also suddenly needs.
- Your family will understand “petrol station gifts” once, possibly twice, but not forever. They are more important than your business, as are you, as you’ll both be around if the business isn’t one day. Look after yourselves the most in the high stress times.
So practically what does that mean?
Stock up and keep track
Well for us, it meant doing a big ol’, pretty list of the things we can’t run without. As a print business, of course that meant paper and ink primarily, but also everything we use for dispatch (tubes, bubble wrap, postage labels, etc). We stuck that pretty list on the wall, stock piled as much as we could, and checked levels every day in November and December. It almost became a religion! We print our own postage labels, and simple things like pre-printing 3000 of them meant we didn’t have to do it again in peak trading.
Then there’s the tech that we couldn’t operate without. Printers were serviced, laptops and computers had the once over from the tech clever hubby. If you don’t have a tech clever hubby, may I suggest you go and get one a bit sharpish. Hang out at Game Zone for a bit, I’m sure it’ll be easy.
Get a good team
But, most importantly, what about the people that you can’t operate without? In a small team, it can take just one person to be taken out of action (it is flu season after all) for you to be, well, screwed. And what if that person happens to be you?
Two years ago, our key admin person, who knew every process and did all the customer contact, was unexpectedly out for a week and then had a few days of random hours after that. This was late November and we were rushed off our feet. I admit I went into panic mode, I felt totally lost, and I had to go and have a bit of a stress cry in the loo for a few minutes! I soon realised, as much fun as it was sitting on a toilet seat in the dark, gently rocking, there were no tea and biccies within reach so I was going to have to leave eventually.
Everyone was waiting for me to decide what to do. I called a temp agency and they very quickly found an admin person that was free to start the next day. She was brilliant and still does a few odd hours for us to this day. Sure there was a lot she couldn’t do, but she picked up the easier tasks quickly meaning I didn’t have to do post when there were trickier things that needed my attention. It was expensive, but it was worth it for the relief, and it was only for a couple of weeks.
After that experience, we made it a priority in the business to not have all the knowledge on any particular thing in one person’s head. We can all do post and book it out, even if only one person does it day to day. We can all print, accept orders, book couriers, use every bit of kit. Things happen, people are fragile, and you need to have a contingency in place for how you cope.
If you rely on external suppliers, or outsource any part of your business, then talk to those people now too. We are currently contracting freelancers for all of November and December and understanding who else has what hours. We rely on external framers, so we have chats about their capacity and how they will cope with the increased demands and what their last working and shipping dates are.
Plan your own Christmas
Finally, plan some of the best bits of Christmas, the family bits! We have three family birthdays in December too, so that’s an added bit of pressure right there! I know already that Lego will feature quite prominently, so that’s easy to buy now and save. Stocking fillers can also be bought well in advance, and I’m guessing some of our lovely colleagues in other small creative businesses would also love to have our early orders! Just don’t forget where you hide them.
Schedule some restorative down time now, when it feels remote. A night out at a comedy gig, a family Christmas event, pay for it too if you can. You’ll be less likely to cancel it even if you are off your rocks crazy busy. You need it, you do. What are you doing all this for anyway if it’s not to have a better life for you and yours? Christmas is about love, actually, and you deserve not to miss out in the process of making it special for strangers!
Book in some food shopping deliveries now. Yes now. Waitrose are currently taking delivery bookings up to 29 November, so in the next month all the December ones will be ready. Make some delicious meals and freeze them for when life just becomes too hectic, or find some lovely “just cook” type meals that will nourish you in super quick time. Personally I overload on entertaining friends in September and October and they, lovely beings that they are, understand and reciprocate in November. And why not book a goodies delivery to the office, all the essentials, whatever yours are. It will be an amazing gift to yourselves.
However you plan for this festive season, start now. Once you start, you’ll feel more confident that you’ve got this, and that can only be a good feeling!
A note from Jenny: If you’re in need of support over Christmas, check out my Group Mentoring package, or get in touch to discuss one-off and one-to-one options. Let’s make this your best Christmas yet!