Keeping records of tack is something that not everyone does. Some tack makers are so low volume that it just isn't necessary, or they don't expect to become high volume and have nothing set up. I started out in the second category; I didn't keep records until 2009, and even then my attempts were sporadic and short lived. It wasn't until 2010 that I started my current digital version.
Keeping a close record of previously made pieces isn't always imperative, but I find it very helpful. I like knowing what I've made in the past, and if a customer needs a repair or replacement part, it's especially nice to know what kind of dye I used. Not only is it great to keep the details of each order straight, records are also extremely helpful when dealing with deposits and time payments.
My first attempts at record keeping were aimed at finding a way to gather the pertinent information about an order in one place. I cycled through an index card and binder system before settling on Microsoft Excel. Excel and similar programs like Google's Spreadsheets are useful for a variety of reasons. Information can be sorted via filters, easily changed, and tabs make it easy to keep track of different sections of your hobby endeavors. It also made it much easier for me to be consistent with the information I took down, as well as keeping track of non-commissioned pieces.
Excel is part of Microsoft's Office Suit and does not come standard on Windows machines. If you don't want to buy a program, there are alternatives like Google Spreadsheets and OpenOffice.org. I have used Google Spreadsheets for other projects and really like it, but am hesitant to use it for tracking orders. The great thing is that it can be accessed from any computer, and that's also my concern. Spreadsheets can be marked as private, but I still worry about hackers. The most sensitive information I keep in my spreadsheets are email addresses, but I don't want some unsavory person getting into any of the information I have on there.
The information I include in my spreadsheet has evolved over time and is still evolving. I have tabs to keep track of current orders, finished pieces (which includes finished commissions, donations, sales pieces, and personal projects), and accounting. Instead of just keeping the details of an order straight, I'm also tracking the numbers made, how many times a customer comes back, when certain things were finished, and even trends in dye and style. Don't forget the accounting possibilities with Excel and other spreadsheet programs!
Here are two screen shots to give you an idea of how I have this set up. Click on the photo to view larger. Some information has been removed or fabricated to protect the innocent.
The first screen shot is of my tack log. I track finished pieces here whether they're sales, orders, donations, or personal pieces. Items are added to this sheet after they are completed. In the past I only tracked orders and donations, but when I closed my books it became more important to track all of my work.
The sheet is pretty self-explanatory. Each item has the date of completion, what kind of transaction (donation, order, sales, or personal), the style or discipline (style was shorter), details about the order, price, buyer information, and notes which might be about the transaction as a whole, special information about the tack, etc.
Originally the "details" column included what mold(s) the set was fitted to and what dyes were used, but when I redid my Excel file at the beginning of the year I split those out so that I could track trends more easily.
This second screen shot is of my orders page.
As a rule, I track only time sensitive projects in the Current Projects tab, though I think I had planned to include personal projects and sales pieces at one point. Instead, I keep tabs only on donations and commissions. Most of this sheet is set up like the Tack Log sheet, so that when an order is finished I can copy and paste information from one sheet to another. In the past I included information like buyer's address and the date the package arrived, but that information was difficult to place into Excel in standard form (addresses) or moot once the project was moved to the Tack Log tab (arrival date).
I hope this post is somewhat helpful; I always feel a little out of my depth when I write informational pieces for this blog. Comments are welcome, as always, and so are topic suggestions!