We were running an online business without internet for six months and we probably under estimated the effect it had, because in that time we are also growing our team… We work in a cloud based system, so all online orders come through online. All our systems work online… When you don't have internet in your own warehouse, it makes things very tricky.
07. Our biggest Learnings in 2019
Rebecca: Hello and welcome to the Know Better, Be Better podcast. We are a podcast that is committed to learning and educating others about the lifestyle and commitment of running a small business. We started our own business, Miann and Co in 2011 after our second child was born and we saw a gap in the market for natural fiber products. We are lifelong learners on an incredible journey, making a conscious effort to appreciate and enjoy every single moment of it. Join us in an unscripted conversation about our business journey, mindful thinking, ethics, business tips and tricks, travel, self-care and creativity, gaining insight from our own experience and endeavors as well as reaching out to other amazing experts in the field. We would love to offer a deeper understanding into our business journey and the business and lifestyle realm.
Terrence: Hello and welcome to another episode of our podcast, Know Better, Be Better. Happy new year to everyone out there and a new decade for us all. We've got some super exciting things in the pipeline and also an exciting podcast for you today.
Rebecca: As we know it hasn't been a great new year here in Australia, but we wanted to give a shout out to all their incredible volunteers that have been working around the clock during this bushfire season. It's hard to put into words the devastation and the feeling of the devastation that you feel watching it all unfold on the news and also feeling a bit helpless. We are working on some very amazing initiatives which we hope to implement later on in the year. We work quite far in advance being a small business. If you can make a donation directly to the different funds and organizations involved then the money is one of the ways that you can impact now and we've made that donation. So yeah, if you can help these amazing organizations and all the volunteers, that would be absolutely amazing. But without further ado, we would like to jump into...
Terrence: Yeah, 2020 will mark our nine years in business this year. We wanted to take a moment and reflect on 2019 and dig deep into some of our biggest learnings. We've had quite a few learnings. Obviously, we are not going to list them all for you in this podcast, but we will pull out a few of our biggest ones and hopefully we can help people out there by hearing some of our experiences and some mistakes we've made along the way as well.
Rebecca: Yeah, I would have to say 2019 was probably one of our biggest years in learnings and we cannot wait to... Some of these are quite raw, so we will jump into the learnings. Starting off our first biggest learning, we moved warehouses at the beginning of the year. We had been in our previous warehouse for four years and we decided, well, we actually didn't decide to change warehouses straight away. We looked into third party logistics and this time last year we were actually visiting all the different third party logistics that were potential people for us.
Terrence: I think for us, we were coming to the end of our lease as well and some decisions that had to be made. We were almost busting at the seams. The warehouse we were in was... It wasn't small, but we outgrew it over a four year period just by adding new ranges and new lines to our business in terms of women's wear and kids and clothing, et cetera. That sort of fold us up, but it was a good chance for us to sit back and review how we doing things, could we be doing it smarter? And that's how we came across a third party logistics and started investigating that.
Rebecca: We had previously looked into third party logistics when we looked at taking our business into America. So we had actually seen quite a few different warehouses and we explored this option thoroughly, but we decided being a small business that the best option was probably going to be to have the control of the warehouse to be able to pivot still. And if we could find a warehouse that could house a bigger space for us, office with air conditioning and insulation as opposed to a tin shed and also a potential showroom. Because after shutting our store in town, we had a lot of requests for people to be able to touch, feel and still shop our product physically.
Terrence: I think especially since we moved into clothing as such, it was more a case where people wanted a place where they could come and see and touch and feel like Rebecca mentioned. But it was also like I mentioned previously, a good opportunity for us to sit and reflect and see how we can be doing things better. We started looking at third party logistics, which we approached quite a number of companies. We got a lot of costings through from them and it was really hard to compare apples with apples, because all the proposals were different. They were charging for different things. So there was a lot of work that went into that to make sure that the will be the right fit for us cost-wise as well as business-wise.
Rebecca: We made the decision, we found a warehouse. It wasn't our first warehouse and it was a brand new build, which really appealed to us. Our previous warehouse had also been a new build. So we knew some of the obstacles that we were up against, particularly when it came to connecting with Telstra, et cetera, et cetera. We did a lot of due diligence on this and a lot of research. Despite doing our research, we still had a blind spot.
Terrence: Yeah. We walked into the new warehouse and it was the place that we had been looking for. It had all the right spaces, et cetera. We asked about the telephone connectivity and internet and all of this. I think prior to us even signing the lease I even rang up our internet company to find out whether they can move our service over. We were on cable at that time. They assured me that it can be done. The landlord even showed us the connection points for internet and telephone, so all the cabling and everything was there. But it was only when we tried to connect it that we found out we were a future NBN site and NBN wasn't actually in the area. And unbeknownst to us, no other services were available. We couldn't get ADSL. We couldn't get cable. So the only option we added that stage was NBN. So the process started. I think it was about a six month wait before we could even start the process. It was all done through the landlord and then the right paperwork was in fold, et cetera. We ended up having to go with something totally different in the end.
Rebecca: We were running an online business without internet for six months and we probably under estimated the effect it had because in that time we are also growing our team in the creative area and we had more people. We work in a cloud based system, so all that online orders come through online. All our systems work online. We get it that way so potentially if we needed to work remotely, being a small team that you can access things from anywhere. But when you don't have internet in your own warehouse, it makes it very tricky.
Terrence: Yes. Like Beck mentioned, everything is online. So from our accounting software right through to even our files being hosted in the cloud, et cetera. We were working off a Wi-Fi dongle for probably a good six months. At that time it worked out to be quite a costly solution. We were, I think going through… At a minimum, we were going through about 10 gig a day and that was minimal stuff, trying to work from home, et cetera, as much as we could as well. But all the costs added up with that too. Even the warehouse downstairs, the systems are online. If there was a lag with the internet or the signal was weak, packing the orders took forever, printing the labels took forever. It was just an absolute nightmare.
Rebecca: On top of moving our warehouse and setting up a warehouse, we were also dealing with the problems of not having internet, which when you are running an online business is pretty crucial. So the first six months of working and moving into a new warehouse was quite logistically hard and quite taxing. So that brings us to our next learning, which was hire help. We tried to move an entire... By this stage, we had taken over two warehouses in the complex that we were in and we tried to move to warehouses with two people, three people.
Terrence: Yeah. We were about three people and obviously the van. So we decided to do it ourselves. But it's not until you start moving your own stuff that you realize how much you've actually got. So there was myself and two other casuals. Rebecca was there helping with the boxes. Some of the logistical issues we had was obviously the pallet tracking. To avoid trying to buy a new pallet tracking we had to pretty much empty all the racking, take the boxes down so that they could move the pallet racking into the new warehouse. So the old warehouse was an absolute mess with boxes all over the place. We were still trying to pack orders. And then the process started of moving some of the boxes over. We decided to just do it all in the van and it was multiple trips. I think it took us about close to a month. We got about six trips a day in so loading one end and offloading the other end and then it all had to be put back onto the shelves as well.
Rebecca: Yeah. There was a good three months of setting and moving and with a small team and children to juggle and no family support around it was quite tricky. Starting the year off with moving the warehouse was quite a learning and honestly, if we could do our time again, I think we would hire help maybe someone with quite a large truck to get it done in a few less loads.
Terrence: Yeah. Or we just won't move again.
Rebecca: Oh yeah. We won't be moving again. It's etched in my mind, but very happy with our decision to keep the warehousing with us.
Terrence: Yes. I think you've got more control over not only your systems and procedures, but how you want to handle your orders. If you want to make any changes, you can do that pretty much instantly, whether that be the way you package your orders or if you want to implement something else, you don't have to rely on someone else or try and make the changes. With a third party also, the costs in our experience once you get to a certain size is probably a bit lower in terms of handling fees, et cetera, et cetera. You can rely on your own postage rates and all of that. So I think we definitely made the right choice by doing that.
Rebecca: Yeah. And that brings us to our next learning. We said goodbye to our first ever full time employee this year, which was super sad. She had been with us since the very beginning and she has since gone to work in London doing the working holiday thing like we did. Super happy for her and honestly knew this day would come, but it still was very sad.
Terrence: We just didn't think it would come so soon. I think we were both shocked when we heard and very saddened by it as well. She was very much part of the family as such that we were trying to create in the business and always on board with everything and once you know, it's like someone leaving home. It's just very sad.
Rebecca: We said goodbye to our first ever employee, but I guess one of the biggest learnings we had this year was burnout is a very real thing. You can't hustle. I actually cringe at the word hustle. The burnout took its toll on myself and Terry quite physically. I was in and out of emergency for about a month or two.
Terrence: Yeah, around about close to two months.
Rebecca: Yeah. I was suffering migraines. I woke up one night unable to move. I had vertigo for about three months where I could hardly lift my head. So there was a lot of… My body just said no more, basically. And I guess not having a rest after having babies and going straight back to work. As everyone knows, there is not a lot of maternity leave with running your own business. And I guess with holidays, even for both of us, it's not switch off. There are still a couple of hours of emails a day. We are quite a small team still, so there is never an off button.
Terrence: No. I think when you run your own business it's always in the back of your mind as well when you are not there as to what needs to be done, what do you still have to do, what's happening at the office? Hopefully it's all right. But like Beck mentioned, I also think being tired you can often underestimate the impact that has on you emotionally and physically, especially if that's over a lengthy period of time. It just absolutely drains you. Mentally, you are probably not in the right space as well because you are tired. So yeah, it took its toll on both of us. This year and I think moving forward we will definitely try and make some more time just to relax and take our minds off things.
Rebecca: Yeah. I think the work-life balance, the mindfulness is something that is a huge goal for myself this year. And I think for Terry, we really want to work harder on that and bring that back in because we just realized their importance of balance and it was a scary few months, so to come out the other end, super grateful. And if you don't have your health, what do you have? So there have been some big learnings around work-life balance this year. Even after nine years, it does catch up with you, so be careful
Terrence: Yeah. I think just looking after yourself in general as well. Making yourself a priority too is probably a big learning for me as well. It's not just everyone else out there. You've got to look after yourself too.
Rebecca: We expanded our team this year. One of our biggest learnings has come from this, to be honest, and it's still a little bit raw. But when you are hiring, it's really important to go through the interview process properly and make sure that when you are hiring someone they can do what you are asking them to and they are happy to do that job. Also most importantly, they are the right fit culturally for your business. I guess for us also checking references is super important, not just one, but several.
Terrence: I think that's something we've learned and we've learned it the hard way is do your homework afterwards as well. It's not just about the interview. Don't just hire for personality, make sure the skills are there as well. I think the two go very much hand in hand. I've heard a lot of people say hire for personality and the right cultural fit, but I think both of those aspects need to be present. If they don't have the skills, there will be a lot of frustration there as well as personality wise. I think it only takes one person to spread a lot of negativity.
Rebecca: We ignored some pretty big alarm bells, like talking negatively about previous employers, resistance to change, resistance to receive performance feedback. And I guess when you are hiring someone that's a little bit more experienced, you hope that the person you hire is going to take this all on board and it doesn't always happen.
Terrence: No, I think especially when you are hiring for a managerial position you need to make sure that that person is the right fit, not just for the job but for the team as well, because at the end of the day, how their employees look up to managers as well. And to be honest, if you've tried to build your business and you don't have the right person in place and you don't do something about it quick enough, as much as you are building up the front, they will be breaking it down at the back.
Rebecca: Yeah. Let's just say we experienced firsthand the old saying, "A rotten apple can upset the whole apple cart". And our biggest learning was to trust your gut and also take action early, which obviously with a lot of things that we had going on this year, including health being one of the big things, if you are turning a blind eye to those things, it can be super destructive in your business and it can be super destructive to your team. So this is one of the biggest learnings that we've taken away from this year, to be honest, and it is a learning that we've probably had to learn the hard knocks of. So we will take those learnings and yeah, we will build on that. But we also learnt that having a bigger staff or a bigger team doesn't always equal more productivity. In fact, we grew our team quite substantially this year and our productivity in sale, in warehouse logistics and also like the creative was at an all-time low.
Terrence: Yeah, I think that's a very important point as well. I think it's not necessarily hiring more staff to get the job done. I think if you look at your efficiencies, et cetera, trying to improve your efficiencies, your systems, your procedures, streamlining, all of that you can quite often make do with what you have. I think we've just experienced as well now in our sale period where we had even less people packing this year, we got pretty much the same amount of orders out if not a few more on a day than what we did last year the same time with probably double the staff. I think there's a lot more distraction as well from, from an owner's point of view where there's a lot more people to assist, especially if you are getting in staff that don't know the processes and the procedures. So yeah, that was definitely a big learning for us. You don't need a lot of staff and make sure your processes, your systems and your procedures are all streamlined and integrated and all of that. I think integration is definitely the way forward.
Rebecca: Absolutely. And I think for us, we can already see from the beginning three weeks into 2020 their efficiencies. We've got so much more efficiency going on. We are outsourcing to experts and that includes things like editing this podcast, things like graphics, things like, yeah. So we are hiring people that are quite skilled in those areas and we are noticing a huge difference in efficiency. We are super pumped to be working with some super amazing creatives and experts in 2020 because we feel like that's going to take our business to the next level. So we are super excited.
Terrence: Yeah, very excited about all of that. And we've got some exciting new things to bring your way as well.
Rebecca: Yeah, we've been working on some big projects so we are very excited to bring them out. One of our other biggest learnings, which I know has come from a lot of other business is how reliant we were on Instagram. We were early adopters of Instagram and I guess we sat in so many business conferences where it was pushed and one day said, because Facebook had already done it, that eventually Instagram would go to paid. So we always invested in our mailing list and things like that. But I guess we didn't realize how much of an impact being early adopters of that really did help grow our business in those early stages. Particularly with product selection and things like that as well. We could style a room and we could instantly get feedback from our community on what people liked or didn't like. And that was an amazing thing to have in our business to test products with, to move and grow with.
I know there has been a lot of negativity and Instagram has changed a lot from when we first did it. I guess the visual side of it is something that I've had to let go of a little bit. And I know the move is going into entertainment and things like that, so getting to know the people behind the brand. I still love a beautiful visual image. I'm well aware that that's not always real life. It's like magazines. I used to love magazines growing up, so that visual grid for me is still something that I'm struggling to let go of with the more real.
Terrence: I think we were quite fortunate as well that we've always been working on our mailing list from day one I think. We started collecting subscribers. Even our first day we had a little market that we did, our boutique market, we were collecting email addresses, et cetera, et cetera. We've continued to do that all along the way; never just relied on Instagram. However, when Instagram was in full swing for us in those early days, it was really good. But we are now in a position where the exposure is not always there for your brand the way it used to be, but we have that mailing list that we will continue to build. At the end of the day, those are the contacts that you have and you are not relying on someone else who collects contact for you that you don't actually access to, to be able to contact them any other way apart from through Facebook or Instagram. One word of advice that we have is definitely continue building your mailing list and put a lot of effort into that and make sure you collect the right customers as well.
Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely. Investing in your mailing list is super important and as Terry said, we did this from day one. It was a direct talking point to our customers. And again, we are looking at building on this this year. We are super excited to be building on our mailing list. We have some exciting things planned for that and we will be keeping our eye on the market for any new, maybe Tik Tok. We are giving that a whirl.
Terrence: We are still trying to figure out whether that's where our audience is.
Rebecca: Yes. We will give anything a try. I guess being a small business we are always wanting to try something new and being early adopters of a platform. So the Instagram days as they call it, we are definitely over this year, but we are super excited to be working on still Instagram, but also taking things like our mailing list and things to the next level.
Terrence: Yes. And improving that and making it better. We are also obviously working on the content that we will be sending out to customers to make it really relevant and speak to the audience.
Rebecca: Yeah. So as you can see, 2019 has been a huge year of learnings for us and it has probably been one of our biggest years. It took us right back to the beginning of our business journey where we made so many learnings in those first few years and even nine years later, we still have years like last year where we had some pretty incredible learnings that we have learnt. I guess one thing that came out of 2019 is to really back ourselves. We know our business better than anyone. We've built it from the ground up. We have packed orders. We still pack orders and we know every inch of our business. So we need to trust our decisions. And that's everything from the creative all the way through to warehousing. Both Terry and I have done aspects of all the business, and so really trusting our decisions and our experience. I mean, after nine years there has been some experience.
Terrence: Yeah, I think that's a very important point. I think both Beck and I can do absolutely anything in this business should anything happen. That has always been the case. I realized that at some point there might be a point in time where that will not always be possible to know absolutely everything, but we've never been in a position where we've had to hire for a skill that we can't or we have as such. I think being able to do absolutely everything in the business also gives you that feeling and knowing that these are your expectations and the expectations are not too high. You know how long it takes, you know what's involved and all of that.
Rebecca: Also surrounding yourself with people that you can trust is also super important, who also believe in your vision unconditionally, but they are also not afraid to speak up to you and give you feedback when it's needed as well. And so that trust element for us is super important to our business culture. And there is a stage in your business where you do need to hire fully trained experts to take over the ropes and not just graduates, which we have relied on previously. I guess we were at a stage in our business where we probably underestimated how many skills had been learned and really needed to hirer up, basically. So we hired quite a few graduates this year and I guess we needed to balance that out with some more experienced people.
Terrence: Yeah. I think our first ever full-time employee came to us as a graduate. That worked out really well, but I think it also depends on the person that you hire as well. If they don't have the right brand feel or if they don't have the right personality as such, it won't necessarily work out. But having the right team in place is definitely, definitely the best solution. Having the people around you to not only support you, but also be there when the chips are down and have your back. I think it works both ways in that regards.
Rebecca: 2019 was a huge year for us and somewhere so looking forward to taking all those incredible earnings into 2020 and making it an amazing year. We've got some amazing new projects planned. We've got some, we've been researching some, we are trying to get off the ground and we cannot wait to share them with you.
Terrence: Yes, no, definitely exciting times ahead and we will continue to learn obviously as we have been doing and making the business better as well, as well as the product and how we service our customers. That has always been a big focus for us, making sure that the customer is always top of mind and that we are servicing all of their requirements and needs.
Rebecca: Next week's episode, we are going to be sharing with you some of the exciting things that we will be taking into 2020 and we hope you’ve got some knowledge from our learnings and our mistakes this year and we hope you can take them into 2020 for an amazing year as well.
Terrence: Yes guys, thanks for tuning in. I hope you've learned something and I hope we've helped you out along the way as well with what we've learned in 2019. Here is to a great 2020 to everyone.
Rebecca: Don't forget to subscribe or leave us a feedback and we will see you next week.
Terrence: See you next week.
Rebecca: Thanks guys. Thanks to everyone for tuning into our podcast, Know Better, Be Better. If you liked our show, don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. It would mean the world to us. If you would like to find out more about our small business, join us at www.miannandco.com.au. For now, keep learning and striving to do better. And remember to enjoy the journey and not just the end results.