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I decided to take this course after attending a WCAA lunch and learn where Vita shared a bit about her processes. I was so excited to learn she was teaching a full class on scaling a window treatment business and signed up the very day registration went live. Not only does Vita have an enviable process from which we can all learn and improve our businesses, she takes the time to share how and why she developed them, including challenges and setbacks encountered along the way. I’m inspired after each class, not only to implement new things for my business, but also that I’m not alone in this journey.
Vita truly pulls back the curtain on how to run a successful window treatment business, and I’m thankful for all that I’ve learned in this course.
Owner, Savannah Window Fashions
I’m with Olga, pulled in too many directions, and there is so much to reflect on after each class I am planning to rewatch each one also.
Vita, I am continually impressed with your vulnerability, so I am going to try and do the same 🙂
Finding good finance help was critical for me, and one of the first things I invested in after purchasing my business. I pay my firm $300 per month for bookkeeping, managing sales tax, and financial reporting. They provide a very thorough 8-10 page monthly performance report with an exec summary, M/M, Y/Y and YTD financials, KPI’s, cash flow reports, etc. I was doubting that the time spent entering so much data into QBO was paying off, but I am now seeing the value because they pull from QBO.
This side of the business is not my strong point… I still am learning how to read and understand these reports, much less use them to make informed decisions. To this end, I have just entered into a new relationship with one of the partners at my accounting firm to provide monthly COO / CFO guidance so I can begin setting goals and budgets, forecasting, and using the data to make decisions. This was a scary investment, at $1500 per month, but I recognise that I need help in this area.
From a process standpoint, my office manager enters all vendor invoices into QBO, and connects them to projects. This allows us to analyse profitability on a project by project basis. Sometimes a project is a single room, sometimes a whole house. We have been doing this for one year come January, and I look forward to having a solid year of data to compare. We also use QBO to analyse client and designer spend. I’m thinking to send holiday floral arrangements to my top designers and clients as a nice end of year thank you.
This part of being a business owner has been another big challenge for me. I struggled so much with the people aspect. When I bought my business last year, I kept on the existing team. I felt so blessed to have their experience as I learned a completely new industry. Unfortunately, the admin did not work out as he was not willing to grow into the expanded role I needed from an office manager, and expressed his frustration and anger at me until I had to let him go. Two weeks later, my window treatment specialist put in her notice. She had been with the business for nine years, and managed the entire hard treatment and installation side of things. The previous owner taught me the soft treatment side of the business, so now I had to learn crash course in hard treatments. While also taking on all admin responsibilities.
Two weeks ago I had to cut ties with my installer as he was becoming more and more unreliable, making lots of mistakes, and had a bad attitude with clients. I am now in the process of “testing the waters” with several new installers, who I am paying to fix mistakes at my cost. I was late to class yesterday because I had to do an install myself to keep an excellent client happy. This is a very hard lesson on having the right people in place that do good work and hold to the values we set as business owners. I let his bad behaviour slide for too long because I felt I had no other options, and now have lots of client relationships to make right. The good news is, new installers are so far very conscientious and reliable. Hopefully the fixing will be over soon and I can begin accounting for their (much!) higher install cost on new estimates.
Hearing your troubles hiring a general manager made me tear up. I am continually blown away by your willingness to be so vulnerable about your hard lessons and share with us ways to avoid those same mistakes ourselves. Which brings me to the brightest point in my people journey… my office manager is a freaking rock star. She is very close family friend (more of an aunt to me) who moved from NC to help me. I called her this morning to thank her (again!) for the great work she is doing, despite her being hard on herself. I shared with her what you said about the steep learning curve in this industry, which reinforced what I’ve been telling her all along. I was really telling myself too, because I too get overwhelmed with how much there is to learn, and feel like I make mistakes all too often.
My new goal is to create an SOP doc for my business, inspired by yours.
Ok, enough rambling!
Sorry to have missed this session, drove all the way to Asheville NC before I realized … no iPad charger and a dead device (face palm). Look forward to reviewing this weekend to catch up.
Have a great holiday everyone!
I’m good with covering finances tomorrow 🙂
Vita, I am so impressed by your estimate templates! I really also like that you include images (fabric swatch, hardware finish / finial) right there for clarity. I can see how revisions are so much easier with formulas, and being able to keep versions is nice. I have started compiling a price list that includes product type, average hours of labor and subsequent cost which I plan on using to build out formulas / templates.
Jess, I also use QuickBooks for my estimates, as well as the project feature for profitability and tags for tracking product profitability, so I’m looking forward to seeing how Vita integrates for financials.
Overall, I’m feeling really good about the processes that I’ve put into place, and have already seen an improvement in my daily life because my office manager can now take on more tasks that I previously owned. I’m actually taking two (2!) days off this week to take a long weekend vacation with my husband, which is twice as much time as I’ve taken off since buying the business last year.
I’ve also got some concrete actions items for further improvement, and am excited to keep the momentum going!
I have been making steady progress on developing a PM system that encompasses QuickBooks Online, Excel/Google Drive, iCloud and DropBox. My next challenge is to streamline the estimate process and decide if I want to keep improving my current system through documenting processes vs. investing in a new system like AirTable.
The biggest benefits I see in AT vs. my current system is the ability to group / filter by status, designer, etc for easier reporting. I think both options require similar effort to manage data entry on daily basis to move projects through various statuses.
Currently PM process:
Detailed estimates are created in QBO, and include all information needed to kick off the project in the event a deposit is received. While I love the idea of a summary estimate with rough pricing to limit effort prior to receiving deposit, I’m still learning so much quoting every project and view the exercise of gathering those details as a learning experience as I continue to learn this industry. I’m really excited to see your estimate templates to help streamline this part of the process!
Excel file housed on Google Drive – tracking of active projects
Tab 1) Active Jobs:
– One line per deliverable so my team can track materials, including order date, target ship date, notes on client comms, in-house vs. outsourced fabrication, target install, etc.
– Tracks project status: Order Materials, Pending Materials, Pending Fabrication, In Fabrication, Pending Installation, Service Call Needed & Complete
– Individual cells are color coded based on status; RED: action needed; YELLOW: waiting for confirmation; GREEN: product received
Tab 2) Fabrication Calendar:
– Monthly calendar view for in-house fabrication, with a line item for each seamstress to track and plan by deliverable
– Side panel with all active jobs, assigned either to in-house or outsourced. Color coded based on status: Pending Materials, Pending Fabrication, Complete
– Deliverables move from side panel to calendar as assigned
Tab 3) Installation Calendar:
– Tabs for each install day with columns that capture client name, address, high level description, estimated arrival time / duration
PROS: all info is captured, visually easy to scan for action items
CONS: requires manual review and updating each day, some data is duplicated across more than one tab
iCloud – Client photos (before photos with measurements and post-install) are organized in folders
DropBox – transfer images with notes to my marketing agency for social media posts.
I’m also really looking forward to learning more about how you manage the relationship between estimates in Excel, PM in AT and finances in QBO.
See you guys Thursday!
I recently tackled this same problem when faced with 15 years of accumulated fabric when I purchased my workroom. SO. MUCH. FABRIC. I reached out to SCAD, our local university for creative careers and turns out both the fibers and fashion departments were interested. They sent a panel truck for pickup and we just about filled it top to bottom!
Our local senior center also expressed interest on our next purge as they use fabrics in craft / sewing projects, as did our local arts academy high school for their annual “found fashion” show.
I’m so happy to hear others are charging design / consult fees! Do you guys credit the fees back? I have started to charge a $250 design fee with retail clients, which I then credit back to the project if they move forward.
I have had a LOT of pushback from designer clients, so I could use some help with the verbiage you guys use to explain. I think it may be an aversion to using the term “design fee”? Perhaps a “measure fee” would be more palatable?
I also love the 90 minute then charge by the hour idea Freddie!
I am curious also. I have two part time in house fabricators who total about 50 hour per week, one contracted fabricator with a home workroom that turns one project per week, and I send 3-5 projects per month to another workroom… my soft goods fabrication, fabric & hardware sales make up 50% of my sales, vs. 40% hard window treatments. Sometimes I struggle to keep everyone busy, and I think having fewer full time fabricators in my workroom would streamline things, but I worry about keeping a strong pipeline of projects coming in!
For any Mac users, I use an app called Diagrams for flow charts that is super easy to use also!
My goal for taking this course is to implement a start to finish project management system, which will allow me to:
– Streamline the proposal process
– Better provide timely, accurate updates to my clients
– Be pro-active vs. reactive when issues inevitably arise
– Position myself as an expert in my niche
– Attract more of my ideal high value luxury client
– Command higher prices for my product and services
All of that will work to move me towards my more personal goals of:
– Becoming less involved in the daily project management of the business
– Purchasing a larger historic downtown property
– Creating jobs for more creatives / makers
Work life balance for me means:
– Having more time for connecting with friends and family
– Reading books for pleasure
– Floral design and gardening
– Becoming more involved in my community.