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How Working Backwards Helps to Move Your Business Forward

7 Steps to Creating Deadlines That Work Every Time


I now work much better starting backwards than forwards.


It’s something I learned long ago when I realized that there were certain times of the year when buyers placed their orders.  When I started my business, I was not fully cognizant of the ebb and flow of the ordering, shipping and sales processes and how they all overlap.


I had always been a consumer. I did know if I wanted to buy a bathing suit I would have to buy it way in advance of when I was actually going to wear it if I wanted a good selection. But until I was in a product based business I did not fully comprehend the idea of working backwards.


Working backwards, or creating a time line with the end in mind is a critical concept to creating a line or product of any type whether you are going to sell retail or wholesale. There is a drop dead date for completion whether it is prototypes, sample goods for shows or final goods for delivery to stores or for selling at craft fairs. 


At some point there is what I affectionately call a Final Final deadline – and if you’re not ready you lose. You lose not just sales but credibility. This is how important it is to set an accurate timeline and learn how to work backwards.


This is not goal setting – a goal has an implied message of “maybe I will maybe I won’t”, creating a Working Backwards time line is a “DO OR DIE” for your business – otherwise you have a hobby.


Here’s How to Work Backwards:


  1. What is the drop dead date?  My definition of Drop Dead Date (DDD) is the date of the show, presentation or whatever it is you’re planning. It is THE ACTUAL DATE of the event. This is your first decision for your planning. No padding allowed here, we’ll talk about that later.


  1. What is the date today? Simple enough to figure out.


  1. What are ALL the steps that need happen in between? This means EVERYTHING that needs to be completed in order to meet the goal – every single step along the way no matter how big or small - nothing should be overlooked. I find the best way to come up with the steps is to do a “brain dump”. Take out a piece of paper and let your mind wander while you dump everything onto the page. After you have amassed your list you can categorize the steps.


  1. Create the milestones: This can at first be a little challenging if this is your first time creating a collection or a product because you may not be as familiar with the amount of time each step takes. The first time with anything – whether developing a line or working with a new vendor is always the toughest and the most challenging. Nevertheless, assign the amount of time each action will take based on your current knowledge. For example if you need to have buttons dyed to match for your samples, make a note of what the manufacturer tells you and then add a few days. You’ll soon come to realize which milestones are the most critical for meeting the deadline you need to make.


  1. Who’s in charge here? Once you’ve got the milestones decide who is in charge of each. And if the buck stops with you on everything who is going to assist you? It can be challenging to be in charge of everything when you’re trying to get ready for a show or create a new line. A wise mentor once told me, “Do what only you can do and delegate the rest.” Words I did not take to heart at first but wish I had sooner rather than later. You are going to need help and I strongly encourage you to find resources. If you already have a team, make sure each member understands their role and their deadlines. Set regular times for communication with the team members.


  1. Keep Track of everything: This is the part most small businesses skip over – and later on find they are in a constant state of overwhelm. Please do not skip this step! Creating the milestones and assigning ownership of each is not enough. The part that will automate your business in the long run is actually documenting your tasks. So, back to ordering those dyed buttons – what do you have to do to place the order? What steps do you actually follow to do this? Write them out and enter them into your “Operations Manual” so next time you have to order dyed to match buttons you know exactly the steps you need to go through to place the order. This way you will remember AND you can delegate the task. A quick tip on setting up your Operations Manual is to use the MS program 1Note – it comes all tabbed and indexed and you can easily create documents as needed an drop them in place on your computer. Alternatively get a ringed binder with tabs and start filling in the processes as you go.


  1. Allow extra time for delays & have a back-up plan ready to implement:  I learned that no matter how well you have your plan put together on paper it is critical to allow for delays – even though you have no idea what they may be. We once had an important delivery for a catalog order for Nordstrom and our button company had a delay in getting a huge quantity of porcelain bunny buttons delivered. Because the sweater had already been photographed and in the catalog that was ready to drop, these buttons were essential. Arriving the day before the shipping deadline, I enlisted our entire staff to hand sew the buttons and pack the orders.  It was an all nighter for everyone. This was something we


As your businesses grows, Working Backwards will become second nature – but if you start from the beginning I guarantee your business will grow much faster than you ever thought possible!


For More information about this subject and much more about creating your Design 2 Market Success business we invite you to join our INNER CIRCLE which you can test drive for $1 or $7. To take a look at all the help for your creative business click here: Design2Market Success Inner Circle




© 2009 Jane Button International Design2Market Success


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