I had no idea how much work was involved with selling items to students at an elementary school.
Which is a good thing. Because if I did, I probably wouldn't have volunteered to help out : )
But I was glad to have experienced it because the work involved reminded me of how it feels to be given a task without any procedures.
I felt stressed. I felt frustrated. I felt like quitting. And I felt exhausted. Which is exactly how your employees are feeling when they have a lot of work to do without any clear directions on how to do it.
Selling goods to students
Our school's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) wants students to have a great school experience. So along with selling the required items for school (such as a daily planner), the PTO also sells items such as T-shirts, popcorn Fridays, magnets, yearbooks, etc.
Which is awesome! I'm so glad for the extras. They make my daughters proud of their school and provide treats to look forward to throughout the year.
But selling all of these items at the beginning of the year creates a bit of a logistical headache.
If we were to only sell planners, then we could swipe a credit card or collect cash and deliver the planner right then and there.
But because we sell additional goods such as T-shirts, popcorn Fridays, yearbooks, and magnets all at the beginning of the year, the PTO needs to keep really good records of the transactions so that we can deliver the goods later on.
Popcorn is delivered once a month. T-shirts are delivered a few weeks after school starts. Yearbooks are delivered at the end of the year.
If we don't do a good job recording sales, we're bound to mess up with delivering the goods.
Are you sure you ordered a yearbook?
Last year, dozens of parents did not receive yearbooks at the end of the year even though they purchased them at the beginning of the year.
So this year, I wanted to make sure that we kept really good records of all transactions so that we didn't run into the same situation.
Orders, orders everywhere
Our school's website is run on Wix, and we use the e-commerce option so that parents can purchase goods online.
Three weeks before school started, we opened our online store.
But because not all parents have credit cards, we needed to provide an option for cash and check sales. So, the week before school started, we had an open house where parents could buy what they needed without a credit card. We kept track of orders in 3 separate tabs within a Google spreadsheet.
And because not all parents buy what they need before school starts, we had to keep the online store open during the first week of school as well as collect cash at the school. We kept track of in-school sales on yet another spreadsheet.
We had orders in Wix. Orders in Google spreadsheets. And orders in Excel.
We also had parents who paid with cash/check wondering where their receipts were, and parents who paid online at 7:36am wondering why we didn't have their materials ready at 7:50am that same day.
Sales weren't chaotic, but they felt very loose. And that's an uncomfortable feeling when good records need to be kept.
What's going on?
Last year's process for selling items was non-existent. Parents didn't receive what they paid for.
So this year, we started from scratch. And I have to admit, when the PTO initially came up with a new process for collecting sales this year, I thought we had covered all of our bases.
But what do I know? I've been on the PTO board for a month.
We had procedures for online sales. That was pretty much it. We figured that the majority of parents would want to order everything online. And for the few who didn't, we assumed that keeping a record on a spreadsheet would be sufficient.
But it wasn't.
Hundreds of students paid with cash during open house and during the first week of school. Not a big deal - until parents started asking for receipts of their cash and check transactions. So I had to enter all of the cash sales into Wix so it would generate a receipt.
That took quite a few hours.
Plus, we hadn't accounted for how to process all of the sales that happened during the first week of school and make sure they were part of the master list. A nuance with Wix prevented us from running cash sales online, so we had to keep track in spreadsheets and on pieces of paper.
It was kind of like that show, "Whose Line is it Anyway?" in that we were making the whole thing up as we went along.
We did our best, but we didn't have a set of procedures that addressed ALL of the parents needs, students needs, or PTOs needs. Even though the previous PTO members basically did the exact same thing as us, we had to come up with new procedures because none existed. Instead of making slight tweaks to an existing process, we had to come up with something completely new and discover a whole new set of holes.
I was told that we needed a list of all the students who ordered daily planners because we were going to deliver them to students on the first day of school.
So I pulled a report from Wix and began prepping the spreadsheet.
Much to my surprise, the spreadsheet looked like a mess when it came to viewing which items were ordered. You see, the PTO sold something called "Bundles" which included several items (shirt, popcorn, planner, yearbook). The way we had it set up in Wix resulted in a very ugly spreadsheet that didn't allow me to easily see which items were purchased.
That would have been smart to verify the spreadsheet would work how we wanted it to before processing 300 orders.
After hours of trying VLookups and text to columns, I finally had to manually go through the spreadsheet and organize cells. Then, I had to start checking off names from the master school roster (which was outdated by the time I was finished).
I was up until midnight on Friday. Up again at 6am on Saturday.
During the first week of school we had emails being sent around asking whether this student had purchased or whether we had a record of this student's purchase (note to self: our PTO needs Slack).
At night I was searching through Wix to see whether students purchased their daily planner.
We did it...but the process was exhausting
In the end, our team pulled together. We will be able to pull a report together and easily see which student ordered what so that all yearbooks are delivered in May.
But it cost us.
Right now, I have a bad taste in my mouth for the job I volunteered for. It's no wonder why the previous treasurers were burnt out.
Not only did I lose sleep from stressing about whether we'll be able to organize all of the data, but I mentally felt exhausted just thinking about what to do.
Not knowing what to do, how to do it, where to do it, and when to do it is mentally exhausting.
This is how your employees and volunteers feel, too
I am not the first treasurer to help out this PTO.
But it felt like I was.
Even though this job has been done for the past 6 years, I feel like we are starting from scratch.
Zero procedures were written up over the past six years. Zero processes were established. We only had a few weeks to come up with some ad hoc procedures before school started, and they had a lot of holes.
It's no wonder finding a treasurer to help out this year was difficult! Everything takes 3x longer than it otherwise should because we're figuring it out on the spot. And that is stressful, frustrating, and exhausting.
What's important to know is that this is how your employees feel when instructions are not very clear.
This is the reason why some employees quit after 6 months. This is the reason why some employees seem lazy. This is the reason why your Salesforce data stinks to high heaven.
Yes, some work doesn't require procedures because you're problem solving or doing creative work. But for the procedural work of data entry, managing transactions, and working with data--that should have a set of procedures that are easy to understand and follow.
If your employees don't have anything to guide them through a process, they are going to burn out quick. They are going to make mistakes. And somebody is always going to have to go in afterwards to fix the bad data.
And that can be very exhausting.