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A handy organizational tool for workflow


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So maybe some of you already know about the app Trello if you’ve had to work on projects in a more corporate setting in the last couple of years. I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to it, because every time I heard it mentioned, it seemed like more software than I needed. But a booth neighbour friend and I were talking about workflow stuff this summer, and she showed me how she used it to track the various stages of work in progress. 

The plan was to try it out and report back after show season was done, but it’s been so effective in the last couple of weeks that I thought I’d write about it now!

If you’re not familiar, Trello is sort of like an online Kanban board, or one of those setups where you have the stages of progress for a project written at the top of a white board, and you take a bunch of sticky notes with individual tasks that need to be done and move them along the line as they get completed. In Trello, multiple people can log into the board from wherever they’re working from, and you don’t have problems with sticky notes falling off the board and getting lost. It’s more visually oriented than a spreadsheet, because you can drag and drop items (cards) from one list to the next.

You do need to sign up for an account, but Trello is free for the version that would be needed by most potters or other small makers, and includes a LOT of handy features. Paid versions are designed with large organizations with more employees and outside contractors in mind. 

You want to start off by creating a workspace once you’re signed up and have your account confirmed. Within the workspace, you can create up to 10 boards on the free version.  You could organize these boards as production lists for individual shows, but I’ve got mine set up for quarterly production, and to track items that have been ordered by people. You could also make boards for things like planning your assorted marketing efforts, but I haven’t got that set up yet.

Inside my board for my quarterly production, I made lists that include Needed, Clay Prepped, Thrown, Decorated and Drying, Bisqued, Glazed, and Finished. I then created cards within those lists of the items I want to have made for the start of show season. Cards can hold a significant amount of information, including links, photos and notes, but for my production list I keep it very simple. Each card is just a quantity of an item that I would make in a day, or that I need in grand total. As each item card gets dragged and dropped through the production stages, I have a clear idea of what’s done, what’s in what stage of progress and what still needs to be started. 

For instance, I know I want to have 12 berry bowls made for the season. So the card starts out saying 12 berry bowls while it’s under the “needed” section. I would typically prep the clay and make all those bowls at once, but if they don’t all fit in the bisque, I can make separate cards indicating that I have 8 that have been fired and glazed, and 4 still waiting in the dried state. Depending on the quantity of an item you need to make, you could either make notes within the card of how many of what glaze job you want, or you could make separate cards for the different styles. After they’re all moved onto the “Finished” list, you can admire how much you accomplished!

It’s also very handy for tracking special orders. If a customer has ordered a piece, I can keep their name, order particulars and contact info on one card, and track its progress as above. Once the piece is made, I can attach photos to the card, and move it to the “Notified” list after I’ve emailed the customer. In the event the piece is shipped, I can add the tracking number to the card. That way if I need to process a claim, I’m not sifting through all my Canada Post receipts. 

I’m finding it a lot faster to update than a spreadsheet or a written list. I do recommend it!

 

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On 10/4/2021 at 4:22 PM, Callie Beller Diesel said:

Inside my board for my quarterly production, I made lists that include Needed, Clay Prepped...

Even with low production I may need to check it out. I used my white board  like that, divided into rectangles w/lists & check-offs & notes. Now I use it to keep my muscles toned. See pics LOL.

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former white board studio tracker.jpg

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It’s quite handy! Here’s a couple of images, because that’s probably better than a verbose description. The  first image is of an open card, which are the list items you can see in the background. The second image is of the production board. You can play around with formatting more than I did if you like things really pretty. I only changed the background to an image from my picture files on my tablet. 

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Bands, aah.

A tip from Mr D Oliver, shock cord (what bungee cords are typically made with) makes for great bands, several reasons: it comes in a variety of thicknesses; the woven covering protects the rubbery bits inside, and prevents shocking total failure scenario, where the broken end whips about; the resistance goes up smoothly and progressively as it is stretched further; it can be purchased in bulk.

I went with twenty-five foot lengths for my swimmers, hence, when fastened by the middle (typically, to the fence around the pool), ~12 foot lengths for each hand, with loops at the ends to grasp. We had excellent results with resistance training via shock cord bands (much safer than surgical tubing, and more precise resistance adjustment), which allow for natural movement and resistance at limb speed equal to or greater than the target activity, both of which are key, d'y'hear me there, key.

The material is available through many vendors these days; forty plus years ago, I went with West Marine NEW ENGLAND ROPES White and Red Shock Cord, Sold by the Foot | West Marine
We used several thicknesses; I still have a few.

"Resistance Band Workout" poster - see image above.
The typical bands are made with surgical tubing or something similar that does not offer progressive resistance and is not particularly safe either.

Edited by Hulk
Callie's question
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hulk, thank you for this post.  i do not know if you meant it to be on the clay website but i have been looking for something to re-string my dog's bed.  the stuff you are talking about is exactly what i want to buy.   thanks again!

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@Callie Beller Diesel Thank you for sharing this! Do you think you could show a photo or explain more how you might use this for custom orders? I just had a mortifying experience where I verbally agreed to save a vase at a show for someone and forgot, then accidentally sold all of those before she arrived. I've also gotten  more custom orders at the same time that I want to find a good way to keep track of. 

Also, would you use Trello while at a show? I think you said you use it with a tablet. I can barely see my phone screen so I wouldn't want to use it with my phone while at a craft show.

Edited by kswan
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@kswan Actually, using Trello just for a production list is perhaps under utilizing the software. Using it to keep track of special orders is probably a better use of it. 

The way I described it for a production list shows card files being used as list items only, so you can manipulate them on the screen. Card files are meant to hold more info than that though. When you open the cards, there’s a ton of room to put all kinds of images and information, and to attach useful files. 

Previously, if I was taking special orders at a show, I made myself a paper planner that I keep a bunch of stuff like that in so it’s all in one place. I record: Name, contact info, price of the piece we’ve agreed to, % of deposit taken, due date, and there’s space for notes and details about the order. There is room for a small thumbnail sketch, and I use a cheap sketchbook to go into more detail about the form if needed. With Trello, you’d be eliminating everything but your sketchbook, and you could still photograph the drawings and attach them to the card. I don’t usually take my tablet into my studio with me, so having the paper drawings in front of the while I’m at the wheel is still a good thing.

The way I’ve got my special orders board set up is pretty similar to how I’ve got my production list set up. In addition to the Pending/Clay Prepped/Thrown/Drying/Bisqued/Glazing/Fired headings, I add “Photographed and Contacted,” and “Picked Up or Shipped.” Each special order is set up as a card with all the information that I collect above, and as I work on the piece, it gets moved through the different headings. Once it’s finished, it gets an image taken, and that’s sent to the customer to let them know their order is ready, and to make sure they’re happy with it. The pictures get attached to the card too. If the customer is happy, we make arrangements to get it to them (either pickup at a sale, or shipping)and for payment. If I need to ship an order, I add the tracking number to the card, just in case something goes wrong. The card can be deleted after a few weeks or the order has been received. 

The only thing that keeps me from ditching the paper copy entirely at the moment is that I do get repeat customers, and I haven’t worked out a better way of recording their contact info in a way I won’t loose it. 

 

Edited to add: I did download the phone version of Trello, just to see how big the font is, etc on the cards. It is quite legible, and I think it’d be pretty easy to use on the go if you’re a comfortable thumb typist.

 

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Thank you for all that detail! It really helps to see it too. I'm going to play around with it a bit. I also really want to have something written down when I talk with someone and where I can make little doodles too. I need to start bringing a sketchbook or binder to shows where I can jot things down and organize. I find myself writing on small slips of paper and then sticking them in my tool box. Not very organized! 

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35 minutes ago, kswan said:

I need to start bringing a sketchbook or binder to shows where I can jot things down and organize.

Yes. Yes you do, if you’re going to offer this as a service. Taking a bit of time now to organize a system will save you a TON of time and headache later.

When I made my paper version, I got super fancy with my formatting, because it was part of a larger planner that I use to track a bunch of other things as well.  I set myself up to enjoy using it, because my ADHD is a toddler and needs shameless bribery sometimes. It’s got a snazzy reusable cover, it’s printed on nice paper, and I like the feeling of writing in it with my favourite kind of pen. I spent a really ridiculous amount of time designing it initially, but it’s something I still enjoy using, so it was time well spent.

That said, you don’t have to get elaborate if it gets in the way of you creating a system.  Even just having a pretty composition book from the dollar store that is dedicated to your special orders is better than loosing scraps of paper. Or maybe you need to get yourself a fun clipboard to keep the scraps in one place instead! The best system is the one that you actually use.

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It's funny because I love organizing, making color coded binders and files and such! And I understand about the feel of a nice pen on paper. I just got overwhelmed by people asking for things at my booth, and wasn't expecting or prepared for it. I think what I'll do is stick with asking them to email me with a request and try not to get too bogged down in details while at my booth. That's overwhelming enough as it is. :) I did that at one show where four people asked me about making things, which is more than I've encountered yet at a time. I'm still pretty new to doing larger craft shows, and having a year hiatus didn't help with keeping things running smoothly...

I'm going to make myself a binder with sections, because I really like being able to move parts around, and take that to shows. I'll keep my sketchbook for home, that's where I draw for myself and sketch items someone asks for.  OOOH! I'm getting excited thinking about the sections I can make, like a place for the info sheets you receive from the show organizers, a place for taking notes and to do lists for each show. That way I can flip to the page where I took notes on the day and will remember it (hopefully). That would have helped remedy my embarrassing situation.

I'm messing around with Trello right now. Did you use a specific template or did you start from scratch? I have to read through the guide because there's a lot to it.

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Shows can definitely be overwhelming at the best of times, and now is not the best of times! If offering to take orders is a service you *want* to offer (extra emphasis on the want to), people like feeling looked after. It’s a good idea to couch it in terms of yes, I’d like to be able to help you, let’s make an appointment for later so you can have my undivided attention. Make sure you get their contact info and follow up with them, rather than leaving it up to them to contact you. If you leave it up to them, you’ll never see them again. 

For Trello, think I pulled the Kanban template to start with, but I relabelled all of it, added stuff and changed the background. It would have been just as simple to start from scratch. 

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7 hours ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

Make sure you get their contact info and follow up with them, rather than leaving it up to them to contact you. If you leave it up to them, you’ll never see them again. 

I actually recommend asking the customer to initiate the order by email. This weeds out the people who were just being impulsive when they asked for a reservation (and there are plenty of people who do this). I do not wish to spend my energy chasing down someone who turns out not to be serious. There is quite a bit of back and forth emailing required to complete an order, so the customer also needs to prove that they are reliable communicators by email (there are plenty of people who aren’t). This move also signals “I’m not going to cater to you. I’m busy and you need to make this easy for me.” Again, it weeds out the problem customers. 

Another option I use sometimes is “yes [those items] can be reserved for [that show]. When it’s about a week before the show, send me an email and ask me again. If I have it in stock, I’m happy to hold them for you.” This does not obligate me to change my production plans for a customer I don’t know.  The customer is usually standing in front of my email list sign-up pad during this conversation. If they then sign-up for my email list, that’s a good indication of seriousness. I’ll say “oh cool, when you get my email about [that show], just hit reply and let me know what you want.”

This does not apply to existing customers who have followed through successfully on reservations before. If one of them asks for a reservation at a show, I’ll write it down in my notebook on the spot. Knowing the person makes all the difference. 

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I also am like Gep in asking for an order via email. I get some looky lous wanting stuff but not folllowing thru and its a waste of my time. I now have a $100 minimum order posted on web site. That has slowed down the the non seriors customers somewhat

I also have mentioned on my website that its for return customers only-not looking for new customers-this also cut out the space cadets who do not respond

Weather they call me direct or start with email I get them onto the email venue. Covid has excelerated poor customers for me (not folllowing thru) and I need to weed them out

I had never had customers order and never follow thru until covid hit

Right now shows are my best of times as well as my outlets and customer email orders are my worst

I got this email yesterday for example 

(I was at the Boulder City show and took your card. I couldn’t buy there, because I was with my wife and wanted to buy soup mugs for her for Christmas, which is also her birthday. I don’t see a way to order on the site. How can I order a set of four for her.)

Now I am going thru this  so called waiting for a email response after I asked what colors  they want (I'm well stocked now as well)-It may or may now happen on thier end

It does meet m,y 100$ minimum as well but this customer may vanish just as well so for me its not yet an real order.

I will post a photo of my workflow tool later as well-its in studio now.

I did just ship out two orders yesterday so my sytem is still working-all return customers from shows in my past

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3 hours ago, GEP said:

This weeds out the people who were just being impulsive

There’s definitely an argument for that! If I’m doing follow up, they get one, brief, polite message asking if they’d like to continue the chat from the weekend. If they don’t respond, that’s the end of it. I get verbose here, but in person I am NOT a high pressure sales person.

My personal preference is usually to deal with a special order on the spot, but I also keep my parameters of what I consider to be a special order very narrow so I can do that easily. I spell out my terms and conditions (deposits, time frames, taxes and shipping) before starting the discussion. I lead with the things that are most likely to turn people off, because I don’t want to go back and forth or deal with tire kickers. If someone’s feeling money conscious, that’s usually when I’ll get the “I’ll think about it.”

 What I consider a special order is something similar to what I already make, but in a different glaze, or with another minor design alteration. I don’t copy other people’s work, I don’t make things I don’t already make something similar to, and I won’t offer any glazes that aren’t currently in the booth. For instance, I already make bowls, so if someone wants me to add a spout so it’s a batter bowl, that’s doable. Making an egg separator they saw on Pinterest isn’t. It saves days worth of emails if someone can point to a physical thing and indicate size and colour preference. If necessary, I do a little thumbnail to make sure we’re describing the same thing.  I can then easily quote a price that’s marked up from the base item.

If someone wants a thing that I make that I happen to be out of, I just take a name and contact info, and let them know when the next batch is ready. Again, only one notification, and it’s up to them to follow up.

I can do this easily, but I’ve got my pricing structures worked out, and I make it easy to incorporate variations on what again I made myself a script to work off of so I’m not getting flustered. Kswan mentioned they were overwhelmed, so adding an extra script to their day wasn’t in the books.

 

 

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I am nowhere near the volume of work that you all are doing, so I am enjoying the fact that people are excited about my work and I have time to make things for them. :) I'm no longer in a gallery so doing craft shows and then orders from that will be it for me. My "custom orders" are essentially the same as yours, @Callie Beller Diesel putting a design I already do on a different piece or making something that I am capable of doing in a slightly different way.  I also take a photo of a little sketch and email it for approval.

So maybe in my soon to be created binder I will have a section for emails to contact people who either want a piece I'm out of or who may want a special one made. I'm going to modify the commission referral log I made for the gallery I used to be in. 

On another note, my Square app updated itself right in the middle of me using it this weekend! That was bewildering, all of a sudden it shut down, I reopened it and it looked entirely different. I don't like the way it's laid out now. 

 

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I have developed in m,y 40 plus years of doing shows a top notch system for my workflow

Two weekends agao I was at a show 1000 miles away from home . On last day I made two lists one what sold best at that show (thios list gets refered to next year before show to take extra of those items (in this case I am retiring from that show and willnot go back ) I made the list from habit anyway.

The next list is what I need to make after the show to keep my inventory up (these two lists are often not alike )

This list is what I am now making for stock-smalls like sponge holders and spoonrests never get on the list as they are a constant making for me in the stuffer space of all fires.Today I made chopstick bowls after selling a bunch and dropping off 84  in a 20 box drop off wholesale order last week on way home from show in NV in San Lois Obispo near a gallery that carries my work

This list is my go to in next few weeks as its whats needed to get back to normal inventory for me.

Its algorithm has been tested thru time and is bullet proof

 

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@Mark C. I'm glad you have Godzilla to help you in your studio! I look at my Square tallies after each show and am surprised by the categories where things sell best and price averages at each show. That's helping me a lot. I do make a list for myself from that as to what I need to make more or less of. 

I wanted to share what I've tinkered with so far on Trello. I am only going to use this for special orders and not for regular inventory that I'll make. This is very simple and I barely did anything beyond the stock page, but at least it's all in the same place. I love making to do lists, and it's nice that you can make a template for an order including the to do list and then adjust as you need to. 

Also, @Callie Beller Diesel it looks like you get payment after the piece is made. The people so far who want special pieces from me are ready to pay as soon as the idea is drawn up. Is it standard to have a policy about upfront payment, down payments, etc? Or can that be up to the artist/buyer? 

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