12 months ago we were still in the throes of a fairly new business. A business with a new personality that we were exploring, and learning to navigate. 12 months later and this feels like an eternity ago. The last year has seen us grow beyond any of our initial expectations. I feel, as a small business owner myself, I have an obligation to share our journey, and what we have learnt, for who are we if not here to help support likeminded individuals and businesses? We have huge plans to effect change in the small business community we love so much. So here I am, to share just a few rambles about what I have learnt so far.
2019 was an intense year, you have probably heard me say that more than once. There is always a constant flow of work coming in. Of course this is a blessing, but as a small team is not without its challenges. Our aim is to break every paradigm, to offer what seems like a pretty generic service, something hundreds, if not thousands of companies offer, but in a totally novel way. This however can be problematic. The status quo exists for a reason, traditional print and design businesses are justified in how they run their businesses. As an example, your average designer charges anywhere from $200-$2000 for a label design. We charge $50. We know most of our customers can’t invest hundreds on a product that they are often just trialling. But with this comes challenges. Just because we charge less does not mean we spend less time designing. An average label design takes us sometimes an hour, sometimes up to 5 hours (and that is often the two of us working on it) to get it right. And then there are the revisions. $50 doesn’t cover our time. Similarly, most print companies have minimums of 100 – into the thousands for a standard label. Us? Our minimum is 10 labels. Among other motivating factors, higher minimums are usually to counteract the time it takes to set up a file to make print ready (this can take up to an hour if there are issues with the file) Investing this time, to print 10 labels, can be a pain in the bum!
But, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Over the past 6 months, we have designated time to making our processes more effective, and more streamlined. We launched a new website, we are currently working on a toolkit (which is a bit of a dummy’s guide to LSS), we have built forms and questionnaires, and have a really great Welcome Kit for anyone ordering with us for the first time. All of this will make working with us easier, and more enjoyable. We have learnt to outsource the admin, and stick to what we do best. All of these changes mean instead of spending time writing job sheets and asking you silly questions along the way, we are able to invest time where it counts – designing. The result of this has seen wait times go from 1-2 weeks to 3-4 days in most cases. And our work is only getting better! We stand by our affordable design prices, and our low minimum order quantities, and we will only get better at achieving this.
So, what have we learnt this year?
- You will make mistakes
There is no way to sugar coat this one. Every successful business is built upon mistakes. This is a given, but it is your carefully curated response that will define your business. As you grow, the mistakes you make may be different, and possibly even larger in scale. The people you trust, the people you choose to work with. The suppliers you hire and the supplies you invest in. Starting a business doesn’t mean knowing everything, in fact it is quite the opposite. Every mistake we have made (we recently bought an $8000 machine that is currently sitting in my garage because we have neither the manpower nor the time to learn how to use it) we have managed to sit back, analyse the situation, and work collaboratively to figure out an action plan in response. I can confidently say that our mistakes in 2019 have been one of the biggest motivating factors that have led to our success this year.
- It too shall pass..
I’ve heard lots of people say lots of different things about what the hardest thing in life is. I’m sure there are a lot of answers to this question. In my life, the answer would always irrevocably be, owning a business. The higher the highs, the lower the lows. This however has to be kept in perspective. For every challenge, there are ten opportunities. Ten new amazing reviews on various platforms, and ten emails telling me how we have helped to transform their business from a hobby into a fully functioning viable operation. I cannot tell you how many emails I receive each day containing a show of thanks for what we have helped you to achieve. While the credit all lies with you, this amazing feedback fuels us to continue our mission.
Sometimes I see challenges as a way to ground myself. They have a way of totally changing your perspective. Challenges we have faced this year have made us re-evaluate every element of our business, and we are so much better for it. They have made us hit the fast forward button on elements of Long Story Short we were willing to leave be. Challenges give you a platform to do better, and be better. No matter at what stage your business is, there will be situations that test you, and these trials may spill over into your personal life, but don’t let them define you. Take deep breaths and talk, there are so many willing to listen. And that situation you were stressing over five minutes ago, in another five minutes you will realise it wasn’t that bad.
- From little things, big things grow
If you had asked me two years ago what my life would look like now, I probably would have said working for the same big pharma company, in the same job role (I didn’t really see myself stepping up into another position). Probably still running a candle and print co-op on the side. It was kind of a fluke that Long Story Short exists at all. I’ve always joked, and said it was luck. But it wasn’t luck, it was really, really hard work. It is 18 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week (and dreaming about the business in the other 6 hours). But it definitely didn’t feel like it at the time. The first 18 months of the precursor business to LSS was spent with 0 profit. This wasn’t because we weren’t getting orders, we were getting heaps! It was because I wasn’t doing it to make a profit, I saw it as a project, building a movement, and being able to steer the ship felt so liberating. I believe it was this mindset that set us up for future success much later. 18 months of entrenching myself in an industry, with no expectations, before finally launching LSS meant we had already partly built the beginning of our strong foundations. From little things, big things really do grow. My advice to people just starting out in business is always the same – do something you love, and don’t have any expectations. No market is too saturated for someone who exudes passion, and has an appetite for originality and imagination.
- Check your emails, and check them often
One of the reasons I believe LSS is different, and what has contributed to our success is how accessible we have made ourselves to our customers. Sure, this can sometimes put strains on my mental health (I mean, what in business doesn’t right?!). But it is also the best part of the job for me. Being able to be a part of your business, to discuss your ideas, to KNOW your purpose and to KNOW you, is the difference between having a business people use, and having a business people trust and love. Be available to your customers, when they ask your opinion tell them what you think. There is this dated idea that being in business means separating yourself from those you serve, but I believe small business is the gateway that can change this. People buy from people, and people want to buy from someone they know. Being accessible to your customers is so important. Check your emails, and check them often. Your customers don’t want to have to wait days for quotes or answers to their questions. In my case, they are running a business themselves, so the quicker you can respond, the more efficiently they can run their own business. You never know who might be the next person to email you with a crazy opportunity.
- Surround yourself with like-minded individuals
We have learnt the hard way on this one. Don’t compromise on quality when it comes to the amount of support there is out there for your business. And I don’t just mean from suppliers and professionals, I also mean from those businesses in the same field as you. Firstly a big thank you to to our team, from Courtney at Her Lawyer, to Gabby at Wild Heart Digital. Alysha and Karen over at Advantax Group have been amazing to work with. Surround yourself with individuals who hold similar values to your business. For us, we are female entrepreneurs in the space where large scale businesses dominate. Our team consists of other women in business, they are small businesses themselves who understand our place in the market, and what makes us different.
And then there are our ‘competitors’ - Robyn at Paper Love Cards, and Luke from Golden Silver Label Printing. We have worked alongside each other, helping each other out when needed, or just lending an ear. Last but not least are our customers. They may sell different products to us, but we are all small businesses linked by the aim to create a business that helps others, whether it is helping with their skincare routine, or alleviating stress by creating beautiful products.
My takeaway message?
I’ll paraphrase one of my favourites - when the going gets tough, look it in the eye, take a deep breath and refocus. Nothing good comes easy, and that amazing Insta account you follow hasn’t had it as easy as it looks. Be you, be genuine and honest and the support will soon follow. Build your network, and don’t expect everything to happen at once. Trust me it doesn’t work like that, and if it does, then it isn’t sustainable as it isn’t built on good foundations.
To those that have supported us over the past two years, know that you are part of us. Without you, we don’t have a business, and while over time it is natural for our business to progress and grow, offering new and exciting services, we know who we are, and where we came from, and it is part of every decision that we make.
Lastly – a very quick thankyou to my team – Cynthia, Ugin, Phil, Kara, Sophie, Hannah and Ayako. Thankyou to my family, who are constantly telling me to get off my phone. And thank you to my friends for supporting me, liking all of my Instagram and Facebook posts, and offering advice when I have needed it.
It is now the end of 2019, and I am ready for a new year! We have learnt so much this year, and our aim is to perfect what is already an amazing business. 2019 was the year of investment, but 2020 is the year of perfecting what we already have. We want to make working with us an experience. We want you to look at your labels, and not only marvel at how beautiful they are, but we want them to spark joy thinking about the process of how they came to be. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and we can’t wait to work with you next year.
Keep on keepin’ on,
Ps. Cynthia asked me to mention our cover photo. Cynthia is Singaporean, and introduced me to Hot Pot (which is the most delicious meal in the whole entire world). Ever since our first meeting, Hot Pot has been a huge part of Long Story Short. It is never a LSS celebration without Hot Pot involved!