My Top 10 Business Takeaways from 2018 (with Tips & Tools)
Hey guys, so today’s post is all about my top 10 business takeaways of 2018 - I can delve into these further in subsequent episodes, but here’s an overview of some big lessons and tools:
1. Social Media Management
If you’re still posting frantically and erratically, then you really need to bite the bullet and sign up for a service like Zoho. It’s super easy to set up and upload photos, captions and hashtags on several different platforms - I use it for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I work in conjunction with someone who helps me create content, and it’s nice to be able to login to Zoho and see what she’s scheduled (and, if necessary, make any changes before posts go live). More than anything, this tool has given me peace of mind. Social media drives a huge percentage of my online sales, so putting it on auto-pilot makes me feel organised and in control.
2. Branding & Style Guides
It’s a visual world, and there’s so much shiny stuff out there that can distract us from our main focus. If you’re anything like me, you get brand envy and font envy every time you scroll through Instragram or Pinterest! And unless you have a style guide for your brand with specific colours and fonts, it can be tempting to pick and choose on a whim, which can make everything look a little hodgepodge and off-brand. A style guide doesn’t have to be overly rigid - you can have several different fonts, image styles and colours that you alternate; but ask any branding professional, and they’ll tell you that the key to a strong brand aesthetic is being ruthless about editing and curating.
3. Build your email list and send regular emails
It’s shocking to me how many small businesses completely ignore this lucrative source of sales! Having a robust and engaged list of email subscribers that you can regularly “remind” to shop is really important. We also share important news with our subscribers in addition to announcing new product launches and offering exclusive discount codes. Whatever you do, don’t grow your email list by buying followers or getting subscribers exclusively through competitions. They’ll just increase your Mailchimp bill every month without offering you any custom in return. Instead, create a pop-up opt-in on your website offering a 10% discount code. These subscribers want to buy your products! Before our Dragons’ Den episode aired, we created a very specific, targeted pop-up to capture email addresses, and it worked! We doubled our subscriber list overnight, and we can now keep those engaged customers in the loop whenever we launch new products or have special offers.
4. Show your face!
I’m pretty camera shy, so I totally understand the temptation to hide behind your logo and products, but people want to see you! There are already too many faceless, soulless companies out there...it’s much easier to successfully grow your brand if you share your story...and face. A professionally shot photo, a few Facebook live videos, blog posts and personal notes and emails go a loooong way towards creating a community of engaged and happy customers who will be your biggest cheerleaders as you grow. Don’t worry about looking or being perfect - it doesn’t matter. Do it now, as you are, with the tools you have.
5. Professional product photography
What you should invest in is the best product photography that you can afford. When we first launched out of our kitchen, we really couldn’t afford professional cut-out photos, so we opted for some lifestyle shots of our products. They looked really pretty, so we couldn’t figure out why magazines and certain online retailers didn’t want anything to do with us. A chance conversation with a magazine editor at an event helped us understand that pretty lifestyle images don’t make up for well-lit, perfectly shot product photos on a white background. And forget trying to do these yourself or getting them done on the cheap - trust me, we tried both, and the results were horrible! But I do have a money-saving tip for you: If you have a lot of scent or flavour variations of the same product like we do, don’t get each one professionally shot - it will cost a small fortune. Our products are available in between 6-9 different scents. Getting all 50 professionally photographed would have cost us £3,500! Instead, we got just one scent of each product professionally photographed (10 photos in total), and then hired a professional on 99 Designs to photoshop the rest for a mere £180! They look amazing, and you wouldn’t be able to tell which is the original photo and which is the photoshopped version. This clever strategy saved us about £2,600. And we’re now listed on some exclusive platforms that only accept brands with great product photography.
We all make mistakes, but try to keep typos on your website and social media to a minimum. Ask a few close friends whose grammar and spelling you trust to be your “checkers” and to alert you immediately if they notice a typo anywhere, that way you can fix the error before too many people see it. When outsourcing your copywriting and social media, whoever you’re paying is now taking on the responsibility of publicly representing your company - make sure they take it as seriously as you do! If they don’t, give them one chance to fix it, then find someone else. Don’t destroy your brand’s credibility and goodwill for the sake of being nice. This is why I would never hire a friend or family member to do this job. I am fiercely protective of my brand’s image.
7. Hire an accountant
If you’re VAT-registered or close to it, you need an accountant or at least a bookkeeper, period. Stop trying to do everything yourself! It’s not worth it in the long-run. Employing a professional to at least get you set up on Quickbooks and make sure you’re categorising and filing everything correctly is crucial - that way, when opportunity knocks, you’ll be ready to answer, rather than scrambling around trying to figure out your margins. Our accountant was invaluable in helping us prepare for Dragons’ Den. Without their team, we could not have trawled through the mountain of paperwork and documentation we needed. And it paid off. While we didn’t end up being offered investment, we impressed the dragons with our figures.
8. Do everything by the book
It’s the law to list ingredients properly, including allergens, but there are so many smaller brands out there flouting regulations by leaving off key information and even stating misleading and erroneous information. They get away with it because no one challenges them, but I can guarantee if they tried to expand their market and get listed on more prominent platforms, they would be challenged. This is why we opted for third-party certifications from the get-go. Getting certified by PETA, the Ethical Company Organisation and the Orangutan Alliance meant that we had to be squeaky clean with all of our ingredients and labelling - and it has paid off. We have a very high conversion rate on our website because our customers trust our brand and our ethics. It also means we can grow more easily. We recently got picked up by RHS and Monsoon, and one of the things they asked us? Does your packaging already have barcodes? Our answer? You bet! Even when I was making scrubs 10 at a time in my kitchen, they had barcodes!
9. Automate wherever possible
We’ve more than doubled our stockists in the last year, and manually creating invoices for all of them was a huge waste of time. I was spending hours doing data-entry when I could have been growing my business. Finally one day I said, no more! I found a great wholesale app that integrates with Shopify and now all of my stockists order through my website. It took a few days to set up properly, but now that’s it’s done, it saves me about 12 hours a month! Another automation that has made our lives easier is a Royal Mail business account. We used take our orders to the post office, stand in line and then wait for each one to be processed, which was an absolute nightmare, especially leading up to Christmas. When our orders started exceeding 100 a day, we had to make the switch. Now, all of our orders from our various platforms are automatically imported into Royal Mail’s system, we print postage labels on a thermal printer, bag the post at the end of the day, and it gets collected at 4:30 pm. Easy peasy. Another automation is creating a comprehensive FAQ page on your website so that you’re not answering the same questions over and over again. I’m working on this one right now!
10. Learn to say maybe…
My business philosophy used to be, “Say yes, then figure out how to do it later.” And guess what? I was always stretched way too thin. When you’re first starting out, any emails you get are going to sound really exciting at first (a pop-up in Shoreditch? Sign me up!), but in reality, they’re not always what they’re cracked up to be and can be a huge waste of time and money. An example in our case has been new retail platforms that are trying to copy the Not on the High Street model of offering a curated collection of wares from lots of small businesses. You end up spending hours and hours uploading all the copy and photos only to get a few orders a month. And you have manually invoice and input those, which is so time-consuming that if you were paying someone else to do it, you’d be losing money. Now, if I get an email inviting me to join a new platform, I say maybe, and send them a list of my criteria; if they can’t integrate and automate, I say, no thanks, for now.
Oh, and one more thing: you don’t need to respond to each and every email you get. Most of them are sent out en masse anyway, and if it doesn’t apply to you, it’s okay to just delete.
Do you have any tips or tools you can’t live without? Tell me in the comments!