If you feel like you've got enough on your plate, just scroll right on by this post. Some of it isn't pretty reading, it's possibly a bit moany, and if you're already feeling like crap then it's probably not the thing to read.
However, I think it's a good idea to keep you all in the loop about changes that are happening. Changes, for many of us, are unsettling, and left to my own devices these are not changes I would be making. But they need to happen, and in order to allay the cries of "but I like the old system", or "it worked fine for me", "or why isn't x product back in stock yet" here's an explanation of what's happening.
One things I'm seeing a lot of from people in this (waves hands vaguely in the air) industry, is how much fire fighting they feel like they're doing at the moment. Even those of us who are normally really efficient, and highly organised are getting stuff dropped in our laps that just make planning impossible.
Tina at Blue Moon Fiber Arts expresses it pretty well, and I've seen similar from other people on social media. For example, the last postage day before Christmas and the New Year, when I was sending out the last of the EU orders where I collected VAT, later that same afternoon most European countries closed their borders, and no post was due to leave the UK. In the opposite direction a large box of fibre from Italy was unable to get in to the UK, and actually ended crossing the border post-Brexit. Thankfully it looks like it was just waved through customs, because it had no import paperwork, because at the time it left Italy, it wasn't going to need it. It would seem, exactly as predicted, and warned by al the major logistics firms, that getting goods from the EU, and getting goods in to the EU is currently a disaster zone. Working out what paperwork was needed in advance was impossible, even if you get your paperwork in order, if your goods are on a lorry with items whose paperwork is incorrect means the whole lorry gets turned back. All non-UK traders selling goods to UK customers are now meant to be registering for UK VAT, and collecting VAT at the point of sale, and then passing that tax on to HMRC. Many are deciding it's just not worth it, as the minor profits from their sales to UK customers will be eaten up in extra admin and filing costs.
International postage is a mess, particularly in the USA where there are backlogs of unimaginable scales. Things posted with in the USA at the end of November are only just being delivered. People are being very patient, but it's a constant dilemma of how long to leave a missing parcel before trying to replace it, or issue a refund. I always try to put myself in the customers shoes, and I know I would be uncomfortable about not having goods that I'd ordered in November, but at the same time I know exactly where they are. They're sat in a mountain of parcels in various USPS depots over the country.
Suppliers have been working with reduced capacity, or shutting down aspects of production at very short notice, leaving me rushing to put in orders for stock that I think I'll need in 3 months time. Running the Time Travellers Club has been particularly nightmarish. Previously I operated the club in a lean manner, taking payments a month ahead of the fibre being shipped so I could order exactly the right amount of fibre (with a small amount spare to replace anything that got lost in the post). That all changed in April with lead times at the manufacturing companies stretching from weeks to months. I've been getting round it by ordering far more fibre than I think I need, and then in December disaster struck, and instead of having a huge surplus, I actually ended up being short of fibre, and with no way to order more because of planned shut-downs over the holidays. However, that all got handled, hopefully to the satisfaction of those affected, who were very kind and gracious about the whole thing.
Yesterday I discovered that the service I use to handle subscription payments for both fibre clubs is completely unprepared for the changes that have happened with VAT due to Brexit. I am only registered for VAT in the UK, prior to Brexit this meant I had to charge EU customers VAT on their purchases. Post-Brexit, EU customers become the same as customers in any other part of the world, and I should not be charging them VAT, because I am not VAT registered in all the different EU countries. That changes in July with the introduction of a scheme similar to the one for digital payments. I'd checked this with the company who run the service beforehand, who assured me they had everything in hand, but when an EU subscription payment went through the system, they were still charged VAT. The company are still insisting they're doing things correctly (they're not), so I spent my week researching alternatives and working out if they will meet my needs. At the moment I am heading towards all the automated payments will being done through the online shop, rather than being a separate system. This removes some features, but actually helps with many others. For starters, no more confusion about having 2 accounts on 2 systems, and I'll be able to charge accurate amounts for postage (the current system only lets me use a flat rate for every country outside the UK). It also gives me better integration with my accounting software, and connects directly to Royal Mail for postage labels. More importantly, because the payments will go through Shopify it means that I will only have to make alternations for future tax changes once, and Shopify are such a large e-commerce provider that they tend to be very on the ball with legislation for selling online.
Now because this has all been dropped in my lap suddenly this means that nothing is in place for the January Time Travellers Club payments. The current system doesn't work, the new system isn't ready... So I'm taking the pressure off, and for the first time in 5 years there will be a months break for the Time Travellers Club. The January fibre is here, people paid for that in December, and that will be shipped as normal. But I won't take any payments in January, so won't ship any fibre in February. This gives me the time I need to remove the old systems and get the new one ready to take payments in February, for fibre that will be shipped in March.
In many ways I am incredibly lucky. I have a job that I can carry on doing in a completely safe environment. I see nobody outside my household, and have no offspring that I'm trying to home educate while carrying on working. However, running a small business this year has been tough, a constant feeling that you're never quite on top of everything.