How to get ahead

Sara Davies MBE, founder of Crafter’s Companion, reveals how to stay one step ahead of the game

I'm sure you know that running a business requires a lot of hard work, and taking the time to keep up with the latest changes and industry advancements can be a time-consuming task to add to your never-ending to-do list. With so much going on, though, it's vital to keep abreast of technical developments and new trends, so here are my top tips to help. Firstly, make sure you visit shows, pick up trade magazines and cast an eye over industry newsletters on a regular basis. Not only will this help you keep up-to-date with all the latest news, it will give you guidance when it comes to ensuring that you stock the right products at the right time. From technological advancements to emerging trends that will change the crafting landscape, pencilling in 30 minutes every day to read or taking the time to attend an event each month will make all the difference.

Reading matter

Make sure you keep up with consumer magazines and trends as well. Whilst you will be reading these with a very different perspective to your customers, they are a fantastic tool that give a unique insight into developing trends and evolving techniques. If you do not have easy access to print copies, online publications and discussion forums, blogger reviews and even vlogs will help you gain insight into what is 'hot' and what is 'not' among crafters. Another simple but very effective tip is to make a habit of asking your customers on the shop floor what the local buzz on crafting products is too. If you are an online retailer, things are a bit different. It pays to keep a close eye on your competitors' websites. From making sure that your own site looks modern and up-to-date, to seeing which web host offers the best value, taking the time to investigate your competition is a priority. Exploring your options as to the services you can offer, for example a web chat facility, delivery tracking or even the ability to accept PayPal, can help you stand out among the crafting crowd. It's also important to understand and know how to effectively use new and emerging online marketing tools. For example, investing in Google and social media advertising might give you a competitive advantage over other businesses. Consider search engine optimisation (SEO) if you have not done so already. This will improve your website positioning in search results and, put simply, helps crafters find you fast (and first), ahead of the competition. It may seem like a daunting task, but investing in new software will support your organisational systems and allow them to run as smoothly as possible. Saving both time and money in the long run, updated systems can make a world of difference in the day-to-day running of your business. For example, you may benefit from accounting software such as Sage or QuickBooks, a new database for managing stock levels. An online project management software tool may also help relieve some stress in business planning.

Know your stuff

With new systems comes one final and vital step: training. Make sure your staff are fully aware of how to use everything. You might know this new technology like the back of your hand, but it's important to make sure your employees can use it like second nature too. Staff understanding the systems they use can also help improve customer service and avoid any dreaded hold-ups at the till. Finally, backing up all your business data is very important. Make sure you are using high-quality security software that can handle any cyber-attack thrown at it. This may be an online world, but it is your responsibility to guarantee that your customers' details are secure and safeguarded. These are simple habits that can easily become part of your everyday routine. Good luck and get going! Sara Davies MBE is a Durham-born craft entrepreneur and founder of Crafter's Companion.

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