How to work on your startup more efficiently

If you're working at the same time as running a startup, working flexibly and efficiently is paramount. You could well find yourself working through your commute, on lunch breaks, whilst waiting for the bath to run - so it's time for your working style to get up to date too.

Here our very own colleague, Ernestina Hall, shares some of her essential tools and methodologies to do just that. Ernestina is employed as Head of Campaigns for Virgin and also runs Milk Tooth LDN with her partner, Creative Director Mark Potts. Milk Tooth is a fashion business exclusively dedicated to standout, statement earrings. Check 'em out on Twitter and Instagram too!

Milk tooth earrings

Get a smart phone with great connectivity and unlimited data

I may be stating the obvious, since most people would probably say a smart phone is essential, but seriously - I run my business on my phone. In fact, I even launched the website from my phone – during a work trip to the US – so literally on the move. I now edit the website, post social media, answer enquiries, track deliveries and manage orders all through my phone. The data point is particularly relevant for a fashion business. Mark and I share photography and assets several times a day and there isn’t always time to upload stuff to Dropbox, such as if it’s for a quick turnaround approval or you only have three minutes between meetings.

Have a well-planned mobile alerts strategy

It sounds dramatic I know, but when you have multiple social channels, inboxes and apps, thinking through what you want to know and when is really important - and can feel like a full-on strategy! Getting your alert settings right will really help you manage distractions, whilst ensuring you cover the important stuff. Think about what you can check in on when you have a minute (such as your business social channels), what can wait until you have spare time (hello Whatapp group about favourite kids’ names), and what you want to be interrupted during work to know (such as a website problem or customer complaint). Manage your phone’s settings and it will immediately help you feel calm and in control - rather than constantly pinged or worried about dropping the ball.

Choose an intuitive e-commerce platform that offers support

There are so many great and good value platforms out there. I originally wanted to go with Squarespace because some of the sites I researched looked really beautiful with it, but ultimately chose Shopify because I had a friend who knew the platform well and offered to help if I got stuck. I am so not a techie – so that offer, even though not needed in the end since the platform is so intuitive (and Mark has more tech skills than me!), was a decision-changer for me. There are lots of good options, but I’m really pleased with ours and would definitely recommend Shopify.

I paid extra for a premium template and we spent a fair while designing and moderating that too, but essentially, it’s a cheap platform. There are so many add-ons and templates for everything – even pre-drafted copy for things like T&Cs and shipping options. You really can cherry pick, but that said, the huge amount of choice can be challenging too. It’s also critical to review and adapt any templates you apply. The differences can be subtle, but they are really important and you need to pick the right options and amend them to match your business specifically.

Work out how to access knowledge – quick!

When you run a small business, you have to do everything and it’s unlikely you’ll be an expert in every area. Even in the areas you think you’ve cracked, stuff will always come up you didn’t expect, so troubleshooting and gaining quick skills to get you through is essential. I turn to YouTube tutorial videos way more often than I’m comfortable to admit… literally from how to switch between Twitter accounts, to how to wrap a box nicely, to what to do when a supplier asks for a contract you’ve never heard of. There is advice on everything in the form of a quick video - and the good stuff normally rises to the top pretty easily.

For face to face concise knowledge-building,  General Assembly offer 90 minute £25 courses on all sorts of digital and marketing things. For business skills, Virgin StartUp’s events provide introductions to business planning, financials and pitching – plus essential networking opportunities for you and like-minded entrepreneurs to hustle each other for support (not that I’m biased or anything…).

Ask for help and have back-ups

I fully respect people who work full-time and run a business solo – in fact, if that’s you, I'm in awe of you. For me, I don’t know how it would be possible. Not only because of the time factor, but also because of the practicalities of fulfilling orders, with my business having a physical product to manage and ship. There are ways to get third parties to manage product distribution - however, for us, with our products being so unique and orders still being relatively low volume, we do the packing and shipping ourselves. That’s only possible because Mark works for himself, so can manage it into his day. It’s a pain after work or early in the morning, but it's the best solution for us right now. When we’re both away, we have a local friend who can cover essentials, but I’m really not sure what we’d do without that!

Respect your customers - and your employer!

Unless you’re on a pretty solid exit plan from the day job, it’s important to stay committed to your job. Otherwise, your boss and colleagues will soon flip from intrigued and excited to annoyed and suspicious - and then the two just won’t work together. Personally, I love my job so won’t compromise that for the business. Realistically, that means I can’t offer customers the fastest responses, but I think if you communicate that clearly, people are usually okay. For example, we have an automated email response that lets people know the timeframe within which they can expect a response. We also build in some buffer time on delivery dates. On a standard week, that’s so we don’t have to ship every working day, but it also allows for situations where we’re unable to manage orders immediately - for example if Mark is art directing a shoot from dusk to dawn and I happen to also be away with work. For me, being open and realistic is essential for keeping both sides of my work life healthy.

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