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Time-saving tips for a small kit business
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Time-saving tips for a small kit business

by bigmessowires on Sat Dec 06, 2014 2:42 pm

What are some of your best time-saving tricks for QA, sales, shipping, and customer support for your kit business? I'm finding that my per-sale non-engineering work is just too time-consuming, at maybe 30 minutes of "overhead" time for every item I sell. My sales volume is enough for that to be an annoying time-sink, but not enough so I can invest in major automation or hire employees or anything like that. Help!

Here's where my time goes now:

QA

I sell vintage computer accessories, and I spend about 10 minutes thoroughly testing each item. The place that assembles the boards also does some basic automated testing, and so far my extra testing only finds a problem about 1% of the time. I'm considering eliminating my extra testing entirely, and handling those 1% of problems through customer returns instead, but that feels like a mean thing to do to my customers.

Sales

I get an email from PayPal for each sale I make. It would be nice to get a daily digest instead. Once a day, I log into PayPal and download a CSV file of sales, then import that into a custom program I wrote that matches sales against available inventory, and generates packing slips. But PayPal's CSV address data often seems to be in a weird or inconsistent format, especially for non-US buyers, and I frequently have to spend extra time fixing up addresses manually. The CSV data sometimes shows the parts of the address in a different order or with different line breaks than when viewing the sale in the PayPal web UI. Googling street names in Belgium and emailing people asking to clarify their address takes more time.

Shipping and Postage

For sales to the US, I can generate USPS priority mail postage with just a few clicks in the PayPal UI. But I have to generate and print them one at a time, instead of batching them and then printing all at once. For sales outside the US, I use USPS First Class mail, which isn't available through PayPal. I use the USPS web site, and have to copy-paste the components of the address one at a time, and fill out all the customs data, even though it's the same every time. And the USPS web site is absolutely horrible at mangling non-US addresses. It seems to randomly permute the address fields, or just delete some of the fields, according to some bizarre logic. It also won't accept any letters with accents, or addresses containing Chinese or Japanese characters. It takes about 5 minutes for each item just to generate the postage for a non-US sale.

I've timed myself, and it takes about 5 minutes just to wrap the item in bubble wrap, assemble a box, put the item in a box, add the packing slip, add some foam peanuts, seal the box, and put the address label on it. I don't know how it can take so long, but it does.

When it's all done, I have to drive to the post office to drop off the outgoing packages. I try to combine this with other trips in my day, but I often spend 15-20 minutes on a round-trip drive to the post office, just to drop off a single package.

Customer Support

I get lots of questions by email, both before and after sales. Sometimes I get panicked email from folks, telling me their shipping address is wrong, or they want my help with a customs issue with the Italian Post Office. Occasionally somebody's hardware arrives damaged, or has some other issue, and needs to be replaced. I probably spend 30 minutes a day corresponding with customers by email or in forums.


Overall, none of this stuff is so bad by itself, but it all adds up. It takes away chunks of time I'd rather spend on other activities, or family, or developing new hardware.
bigmessowires
 
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Re: Time-saving tips for a small kit business

by george_graves on Sun Dec 14, 2014 9:30 am

Good read bigmessowires!

I've been in the same situation, and have the same issues from time to time. Here's my 2 cents, or rather what I do. It works for me - not perfert - but feel free to steal any ideas!

bigmessowires wrote:What are some of your best time-saving tricks for QA, sales, shipping, and customer support


If you're selling an item that can get questions, gather up all the questions you've received, and dig into your email all the answers you given. Re-write them to make them a great answer. Put them into a word-type document. Then when someone asked the same question for the 10,000th time - you have an answer ready to go - that will actually help them. Win-win!

But - to make like better for yourself and your clients/customers, include it in a FAQ. Online, or printed with each order.

A printed version of instruction or FAQ's does waist paper - and I'm all for saving trees! That's the down side - upside is that I know some people feel better about it. In my case, a few things I sell are installed in to cars - so not an option really - but ipads and cell phone are changing that.


bigmessowires wrote:so far my extra testing only finds a problem about 1% of the time. I'm considering eliminating my extra testing entirely, and handling those 1% of problems through customer returns instead, but that feels like a mean thing to do to my customers.


I test everything I sell. Nothing gets in the mail without some kind of testing. Some are calibrated, and what-not. My most popular item, I only test at one range, plug it in to a jig, it passes, and done. But I have that down to a science.

The method to my madness is .... that on each bag I put the product in, I have two check boxes. One labeled "INSPECTED", and another labeled "TESTED". I hand mark each one to let the end user know I've tested it, and it's up to snuff. It's much more personal then a "inspected by number 16" sticker we've all seen.

And if a customer says "hey this thing isn't working right" I can honestly say that I tested it, please try this-or-that". And that little mark with a red sharpie/pen that said "I tested it" seems to be all the difference in them throwing up their hands in the air verse them working with you to make it right.

As far as actual shipping goes. If you're selling on ebay, print postage from inside of Ebay. They will give you a boost to your sales knowing that you are actually shipping. And yes, they keep close track of that stuff. My sales will slow down if I don't ship every single day. My items will be not promoted as much if I have a doctors appointment and not get to ship that day. I've literally taken product and my label printer on vacation just to not get a ebay "ding" in sales that can last for weeks.

Don't even ask me about the time I was in a coma for a month! ;)

Lastly - my best advice, is don't undersell your product. I've been guilty of that. (And sometimes still do!) It afford you so much more in the long run.

One of the things I've gleamed from Adafruit (and I'm not saying this is their policy, or moto - but I think PT would agree) is that you can choose what kinda of customers want to have.

If you want to scrape ever cent out of your customers, yea, you'll make more money. But, if you want to give back, be honest, and go the extra mile, you'll have customers that love you. It will cost you more in the end. But Soooooo worth it.

george_graves
 
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