Craft Venture: Debriefing the holiday season

Hi there! I’m Brenda from Phydelle and Phydeaux Designs, back with this week’s edition of Craft Venture! We talked last week about shaping up your shop after the holidays, kicking off our January series on cleaning up and making over our online shops. I planned to talk with you this week about Winter photography and styling; however, I wanted to take time this week to do a little debriefing from the holiday season while it’s still semi-fresh!

How was your holiday season? Did you do as well as you’d planned? Better? Not as well as you’d hoped? I’m a huge believer in spending time debriefing – discussing lessons learned and identifying opportunities for improvement for the next time around – after any big event.

I had big plans last Summer to have a full inventory by the end of September, and focus entirely on shipping during November and December. Due to a number of reasons, that didn’t happen, but I’ll aim for the same goal this year!

I am so glad I use Endicia for international shipping, and learned that it’s also handy for large priority flat rate boxes (which are not included in Paypal shipping). This made my holiday season so much easier!

I participated in my first craft fair the weekend before Christmas. I might not do that again (but I’m not making promises yet!). Not because it wasn’t successful, but because a big show and the holidays ended up being a lot. I would have preferred to focus on one, but not both.

But enough about me! Debriefing with a group is invaluable; however, debriefing at all is key! All you need to do is to walk yourself through your holiday season, asking objective questions about how you did. You could do a full SWOT analysis if you really want to go all out (Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats), but for our purposes, just ask yourself the following:

What worked? What didn’t?
What will you do differently next year?
Which items were popular and why?
Which weren’t and why?
What did you learn from this holiday season?
What did you learn from your debrief process?

I learn a great deal from my mistakes – be sure to analyze both your successes and mistakes. Also, think about your lost opportunities. For instance, I really wanted all new packaging for the holidays, but simply ran out of time, resulting in the lost opportunity for invaluable feedback from customers giving my items as gifts.

Don’t only dwell on what you didn’t do or didn’t do well! What were your successes? Did you exceed your sales goals? Did you ship every order within 24 hours? Perhaps this was your first holiday season shipping internationally?

Also, celebrate your successes! We’re so busy as small business owners that we often don’t have time for self reflection or celebration. This is an opportunity to do both! Spend some time reflecting on both your holiday season, as well as all of 2009! Then celebrate your success!

Debriefing is a very powerful way to analyze your performance; however, you do need to actually act on what you learn. For instance, use your analysis to develop an early plan for the 2010 holiday season!

Do you already use debriefing as a business tool? What one thing do you think was most successful for you this past holiday season? Any surprises for you as you debriefed 2009? If you’re willing to share, what is one thing you’d like to do differently in 2010 as a result of your debrief?

Images:  Hand-embroidered gift tags from Pink Mist Industry; Starburst kitchen towel from Humble; Cozy cardboard cottage decoration from 5 gardenias

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[…] and Phydeaux Designs, back with this week’s edition of Craft Venture!  We talked last week about debriefing from your holiday season – identifying lessons to learn and new opportunities, as part of our January series on […]

Craft Venture: Pricing for the New Year

[…] and Phydeaux Designs, back with this week’s edition of Craft Venture!  We talked last week about debriefing from your holiday season – identifying lessons to learn and new opportunities, as part of our January series on […]

paper n stitch – Craft Venture: Pricing for the New Year - A daily dose of handmade, design, and style inspiration

Thanks – and congrats to you too Brenda!

Cat (WildCat Designs)

Hi Cat! Thank you! And WOW, congratulations! I made that decision myself last month, so know how difficult a decision it can be. 2010 will undoubtedly be a wild, challenging, and completely rewarding for you.

And hi Anna Joyce! Thank you, also! I’m so glad to hear that you’re both enjoying and benefitting from this column. Honestly, I don’t know how you parents with young ones at home balance it all, but you somehow make it work! I’m totally with you on the back stock and price range. (And making things for your own family, of course!)


What a great series! Thank you…I had a great holiday season but was a little unprepared, for the amount of orders that I was getting!
I had a few items picked for the Etsy gift guide and had no back stock so I was pretty much holed up making tea towels and stockings for days on end, and with two small children at home it was a real challenge to make it all work.
Next year I will have much MORE backstock, I will start earlier and I will make more products in the $25-45 range.
But I had a great season and am really inspired!
Oh and next year I will actually make things for my own children…!!

Anna Joyce

Hi, I just wanted to say I’ve been following the Craft Venture series avidly. Even though I’ve been (at least partially) self-employed since 2005, there are still things which hadn’t occurred to me that come up and give me food for thought. I wish this series had been around when I started out!!

I have also recently had a real long, hard think about my work/life balance, and in my ‘debriefing’ (a very valid thing, and so easy to overlook) of 2009, I have finally taken the decision to quit my day job and devote myself and my time more wholeheartedly to WildCat Designs 🙂

Cat (WildCat Designs)

Hi Sara! Thank you for your great insight into what you’d like to change for the 2010 holiday season! You are so right – balance is always difficult for small business owners, and particularly so during the holidays.



Fantastic article & topic for consideration. I felt really positive about the holiday ’09 season–and far surpassed my sales goals. I had plenty of packaging, plenty of supplies… I learned that lesson from the year prior. I even had *almost* enough inventory and set my “deadline” ship date early enough…

… BUT, what I didn’t do (and I voe to DO NEXT YEAR) is enforce that “order deadline” more strictly. I had a LOT of VERY last minute orders–even though my various websites were clear about the holiday ordering deadlines–and I felt personally very pressured to fulfill these orders in time, even if the shoppers didn’t heed the time limitations. I sacrificed my own family time for strangers who didn’t understand that my items are indeed handmade. This was to the determinant of enjoying my own holiday, friends & family. Don’t get me wrong–I appreciated the sales and the support of my business, but I can’t get that special time with my friends and family back. That’s my biggest regret of the sales season, and one I hope to balance better next year.

Sara from Shy Siren
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