Last week we had our first big order; and by big order, I mean huge order. We planned, baked, packaged, and delivered one thousand cookies all in under a week. We also both have full-time jobs outside of ASC, and we had a full market as well. So to say the least, it was a busy but exciting week.
This order really pushed our limits. I think we both have realized a little bit more what we can and cannot do in one week, and it took a huge opportunity like this one to understand that.
If you are starting a business from home or from scratch we hope that these will be helpful for you. Let us know in the comments if you’ve had the same experience or if you’ve dealt with similar or very different orders in your business.
Without further hesitation, here are just a few things that we took away from that order:
1. Pricing and Payment
Test. Everything. First. Period.
We THOUGHT we knew everything there was to know about Intuit Quickbooks invoices and Square invoices. I mean how hard could an invoice be? Write up what you sold and send it to the customer. Nope.
We didn’t have anything set up in order to actually receive payment. We thought we did because we had our bank account already linked to the programs we were using and have processed smaller Square payments in the past. Not testing this out before we had a big order led to a huge headache for us and, unfortunately, for our customer. We ended up sending confusing emails about invoices that were supposedly paid, yet had not been paid, then emails about the invoices being voided, and then finally an invoice that the payment actually had gone through.
We didn’t have anything set up to acctually receive payment. We thought we did… and this led us to sending a lot of confusing emails and a huge delay in getting paid.
Not only did this make us look like newbies, but we fear that it had damaged the trust and confidence of the customer in us. It also led to a huge delay in getting paid for that huge order.
Test. Everything. Now. Go do it. Now. Send a practice invoice to your email address. Charge yourself a small transaction to make sure it all works. Practice a refund. Practice an Invoice reminder. Set up your Thank You email. Test your Thank You email. Do it all.
We’ve also decided that we have a certain time limit that we need to require for all special orders. Anything under that time limit we are going to consider a “Rush Order” and we will have to charge an additional percentage as an expedite fee. It is hard to think about charging this sometimes, but we need to be realistic not just about what we have going on in our business in a usual week, but we need to be realistic about what we can produce in a timely manner.
After doing a thousand cookies in 5 days, both with full-time jobs, a regularly scheduled market, and company in town we know exactly what we can and cannot handle. While we did it (yay!) it was not easy and we now understand why a lot of businesses require a certain amount of time to pre-order.
We are always excited about special orders, it makes our day when we can help a customer celebrate something in their life. However, we aren’t willing to compromise the quality of our product.
We aren’t willing to compromise the quality of our product for the speed of delivery, and we now understand why a lot of bakeries and cafes require a two-week notice for a special order.
A special order, especially a large special order, requires extra planning, extra materials, and extra time to provide the services that we advertise. It’s different from having a pre-scheduled market or event. Usually, we know exactly when to bake, what to bake, and we have all the ingredients on hand. But with an order that requires specific types of product at a certain time, it is very difficult to have the necessary ingredients or dough prepared for any situation that might come up.
Since our product is perishable, with dough that cannot be prepared too early without it spoiling, we are in a different situation than a company that provides services or products that don’t have an expiration date. If we were in a business, such as selling shoes or bags, the only thing we would have to worry about is the amount of time that product would go out of style, not how long that product could wait to be sold before we have to throw it out. Because of this, we require a lot of extra planning to make sure our product is fresh and at the high standard of quality that we advertise.
3. Communication and Coordination
Another big take away from this order was how to communicate and coordinate with each other. This seems like a pretty foundational concept when starting a partnership. However, when you are under a time limit and the stress of a huge order – communication becomes paramount and usually the first thing to break down.
Since Mom does all the baking and preparation for the product and Daughter helps with the packaging, customer service, and social media, there are a lot of things to coordinate in order to get an order done. All the correspondence between the customer needs to be discussed and all the extra ingredients, packaging, or materials need to be coordinated.
Not only do you need to be able to coordinate with each other, but you also need to be able to motivate each other, especially when it starts to seem like you made a mistake to take such a huge order. Keeping each other calm and excited for the opportunity will make the whole experience a lot more memorable and a lot better. It’s difficult to remember this when it gets stressful. This is a great time for your business! This is an exciting adventure to push you to your limits and learn for the next even bigger order! Have fun with it! If it is tough now, just think about afterward, when you have learned all that you can from the experience how much easier it will be in the future.
Keeping each other calm and excited for the opportunity will make the whole experience a lot more memorable… It is a stressful time, but it is also a time to be really excited for your business.
If you are working from home and don’t have a brick and mortar store it can be really easy to forget that you have actual business hours. On the one hand, it is convenient for both you and the customer to be able to communicate at all hours of the day and this is probably your life anyway, so why not show that you are working all the time? On the other hand, this makes it a lot easier to miss a message from your customer. Try and stick to a core set of business hours for communicating. This will make you look more professional and ensure that no message gets lost while you are running around doing your daily activities for your life outside of work.
4. Accommodating the customer’s needs
There is a fine line between going that extra mile for the customer and going way over the top for an order. Accommodation is needed for every order, we are a service industry after all. The customer or client is always right! But to make sure that the customer continues to always be right, and for you to not go insane from over-accommodating, it is a good idea to list out in the beginning exactly what you do and do not offer with your services.
This will take many orders to realize what does and doesn’t come with your product, it’s really a process of learning by error. For example, we label all of our products with our logo and our ingredients. However, our customer was asking for an additional label on our cookies to celebrate their special occasion. At first, this didn’t seem to be a big deal. We know how to print labels, what could be so hard?
A lot of building your business comes down to learning by trial and error. It will take many orders of all types to understand what you can and cannot offer with your services.
What seemed like a very small addition led to a lot of extra work that we had not planned nor calculated into the cost of the order. We did not have on hand the size of labels the customer wanted, we did not have the software to accommodate the specific font types that the customer needs in their logo, and we ended up sending back and forth a lot of sample labels for approval from our client. While more communication is always better, we ended up sending a lot of emails at 2 or 3 AM for approval because that was the only time we would have to work on them, and since we didn’t have set business hours, we never really knew when we would get a response, or we would be in work away from our emails/phones when a reply did come in.
Overall this scenario goes back to timing. If we had said a designated amount of time needed for the order then we wouldn’t have had so much stress on making this particular accommodation. But we also weren’t forward enough in the beginning to say what we could and couldn’t reasonably offer.
There was a lot to learn from one week of intense planning and producing. We learned about the need for a required time for special orders, we understood what is feasible with our current situation, and we now know how to actually charge for services offered.
Have you had an experience like ours? Leave us a comment and let us know what you learned, or if this post helped you in preparing for your first big gig.