Booksellers at the American Booksellers Association’s 15th annual Winter Institute in Baltimore joined ABA Senior Strategy Officer Dan Cullen at an education session to discuss “Time Management for the Small Store.” As Cullen said, “One minute of planning can save you 10 minutes in execution.”
While there is no single system that works best for everyone, the objective of the conversation was to encourage booksellers to discover their own way while focusing on organizational systems, prioritization, and the use of resources. The three panelists included Angela Maria Spring, owner of Duende District Bookstore in Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque, New Mexico; Kathy Burnette, owner of Brain Lair Books in South Bend, Indiana; and Bel McNeill of Bel & Bunna’s Books in Lafayette, California. Logged-in booksellers can view the video from the session on BookWeb now.
McNeill, whose store serves children and young adults (with a few grownup books, too), described her busy schedule as the only employee of her tiny shop: “I work every day of the week. I don’t stop.”
While her background is in IT, McNeill, in fact, writes everything down. “I write it all in my planner,” she said. “Each morning, I get up, and I write down what I have to do. And that works for me.” For longer-term planning, she uses Google Calendar. “But the way I get through my days is through colored pens,” she said.
Burnette is also the sole person in her shop, but she doesn’t work all the time. She holds a second job, a part-time position at a small business development center that takes up two days. Her store is closed on Wednesdays. Burnette relies on technology as well as notebooks — one she keeps at the shop and one she carries with her. She stays organized with Google Calendar along with Calendly; all appointments must be in writing. She tries to automate as much as possible, such as automated messages via Mailchimp. For pre-orders, she uses spreadsheets. Another handy tool she recommended is Streak, a workflow and productivity software in Gmail.
Spring, an ABA board member, asserted that “small stores are what make up ABA.” Her stores are by and for people of color and feature adult and children’s titles. Because she doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar storefront, everything is carried with her. Instead, she creates permanent partnerships. “I build little, tiny POC bookstores in my partner businesses. I do a lot of my business via e-mail. If I have a conversation with somebody, I start an e-mail draft. It reminds me that I need to actually send those e-mails,” she said.
She also suggested saying aloud the things that need to be accomplished each day — waking up and speaking her to-do list. In terms of technology, she uses Square as her point-of-sale system. She also recommended Edelweiss for those with accounts with publishers, as well as Ingram for building baskets that can be reordered easily.
The goal, Cullen said, is to be “poised and prepared” for moments when you have an idle 15 minutes to, for example, make a phone call. At the same time, he noted, it’s important to set boundaries; don’t let e-mail be your boss. It can be very helpful to designate e-mail times to avoid derailing your intentions, he suggested. And finally, to remain organized, at the end of every day, look to the following day and determine the three or four things that have to happen. Cullen recommended time-management books by David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Julie Morgenstern (Time Management From the Inside Out) to gain more tips.
Events are another area that require exceptional time management. Burnette recalled two events in the beginning of her store’s life. The first event was with former mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, where she sold more than 700 copies of his book. The other was with author Kwame Alexander, where she relied on her connections as a librarian. “You have to have confidence,” said Burnette.
Her first step in event planning is to create assets on social media. Her event platform of choice is Eventbrite. In the case of Alexander, she also had to write to schools and convince school boards that he could handle the students. Other systems she uses include Slack, a cloud-based instant messaging tool, and, once again, Streak, which reminds her when she hasn’t answered an e-mail. Her days are highly scheduled — reading time, phone calls, and even when her phone is turned off at night (8:55 p.m.). She reminded attendees that if booksellers don’t have time to read, they can’t make recommendations.
When asked by the audience about multi-tasking in the presence of customers, McNeill said, “The priority for us all is to sell books. So when the customer comes in, the pen goes down. I put my pen down where I am, and that’s where I go back to. When UPS shipments come in, they just get put on the list, and I get to that later. When the phone rings, you pick it up or you let it go to answering machine. I mean, you just have to keep going. There’s no guilt involved in not getting your list complete. Eight out of 10 things could be done later on or tomorrow. The priority, as I said, is you have to sell those books.”
In order to prioritize, Spring encouraged booksellers to visualize a target because distractions are inevitable: Wake up each day with three things that need to get done. Burnette doesn’t do orders at work, she said. Spring also suggested quantifying every hour of one’s time; determining an hourly rate can be very helpful. As Cullen said, “It’s a question of what our choices are. It’s very easy to lose that perspective.”