As the holiday shopping season progresses, even the smaller retailers — that would be craftpreneurs such as yourself — need to think about their strategy, especially when it comes to "store hours" and vacations. Will you be taking time away from your business this holiday season? How will you handle email communication while you're away? How will you let your customers know when and they can contact you?
OY, THE QUESTIONS.
But not to worry; you have plenty of options for getting away and staying in business.
I talked to some online shop owners to get their take on closing for the holidays. For Genevieve Gail Swinford, a fabric designer for Windham who also creates and sells her jewelry on Etsy, the only time she closes her shop is when she does craft shows. "A lot of my pieces are one-of-a kind, so I can't have them listed online and available at a show at the same time," she said. "I also try to let people know through my blog a couple days in advance when my shop will be closed, so if they have had their eye on something, they might need to get it because it could be snatched up at the show."
Jemellia Hilfiger, who runs a shop called JemJam, also says she likes to give advanced notice — at least a week ahead — when closing her shop. She does this by posting a sign and, in the future, plans to announce it on Facebook and Twitter as well: a smart strategy for reaching all facets of your buying audience.
Jona Giammalva, owner of the online fabric shop Fabritopia, says when she is planning to be away from her shop for longer than a couple days, "I will post a message on my store's front page and send out a notice to everyone on my mailing list."
Advance notice by way of your blog or social media network is a good idea. Stationery shop owner Charity (Chair) Briere suggests giving your shoppers a head's-up by writing about the shop closing on your blog, and maybe even dropping a reminder in the item description as well. "I'd insert a blurb into the item text saying, “By the way...” she said. That works especially well if you're only going to be away from your shop for a short while.
If you do decide to take some time "away from keyboard," consider features like Etsy's "Vacation Mode." With a quick click, this mode allows you to put the whole shop on hold. It even auto-replies to convos. If that's a little too much for your needs, you might prefer Batch Deactivate, which takes particular listings out of commission for as long as you need, while leaving the rest of your shop open for browsing. (Remember, though, that time doesn't stand still in Vacation Mode, so listings that are set to expire will still expire if you're on vacation.)
How closed is closed? If your shop is closed for business, you must still be prepared for handling customer service.
"Generally," says Jemellia, "being closed means that I will answer emails, which I will announce [in the vacation notice]. I do not want to get behind on responding to current or potential customers. If we are on vacation where there is no internet access, I will post that in my shop with the closing announcement."
Jona, of Fabritopia, frequently checks in even on vacation. "I tend to check my emails and answer anything that needs attention if I'm in a position to take care of it. If I'm away from the shop I will reply just so the customer knows I'm aware of the situation and will take care of it as soon as I'm back in the store."
Meagan Gracie sells her quilts and textile goods on Etsy. She has a husband with a web business, too, "so the only reason we wouldn't have at least daily web access would be if we were traveling overseas," she said. Otherwise, "the only day I might be offline altogether is Dec 25, and then again Dec 31-Jan 1. For Christmas, I plan on posting a notification that there may be a delay in shipping, but I should be able to send confirmation emails within a day."
But sometimes you need a break — a real break. "I’d probably be checking in online but it’d take a serious situation (item not arriving on time, etc.) or a special favour to someone awesome to make me do extra work" during that time, says Chair. "It might be a small business and an at-home business, but I think one still needs to feel entitled to step back and take a definite break once in a while. While it may seem sort of unfair or biased to say, I’d check in but choose to not do anything about inquiries unless it’s a best bud or a serious issue. But that’s a vacation, right? You decide what you want to do, not the work."
Selling your craft online and staying on top of your self-promotion can be a 24/7 endeavor. Are you ready for some time off? Is your paperwork lagging? Consider staggering your tasks. Genevieve, the fabric and jewelry designer, says "I do take breaks from designing jewelry. I tend to get burnt out on projects so I might work on earrings for a couple of days, then necklaces for a couple of days, then design fabric for a few days... And yes, there is always the behind the scenes work like ordering supplies, photographing the pieces, writing descriptions, etc. that takes up a lot of time. Mentally I wish my brain could go on vacation, but I am always thinking of more stuff I need to be doing!"
Don't forget to schedule in time for that administrative maintenance. "I work a full time day job, so graciemay is something I do during my vacation time!" says Meagan. "Vacation days are useful for getting caught up with making additional inventory for the shop" or ordering inventory and other supplies.
And if you can push through the crazy retail days of December, you can look forward to January, when the hysteria breaks and a welcome lull descends. January would also be a good time to take inventory, organize your office or studio, and catch up on the dreaded paperwork (just in time for tax season! Oh, yay). Jemellia plans to take advantage of the slow period after Christmas to take inventory and organize. If you wait until then, you might not even need to officially close the shop.
And if you're interested in doing a little shopping of your own during the holidays? "I would encourage people to think about taking the Handmade Pledge," says Genevieve. "It's nice to find unique gifts and to support independent artists at the same time!"
Enjoy your holidays!
Main photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com.