BYOB Be Your Own Boss: 10 Tools That Got Me Through My First Year And A Half of Business
by Ari Takata-Vasquez
a photo from one of our earliest photo shoots, featuring shop dogs Charlie & Lola
The shop is officially a year and a half old! I can’t believe how quickly time passes. It feels like building out the shop happened just last month. Since the shop opened in December 2014 a lot has happened: I’ve expanded my inventory to include accessories, beauty products, and vintage pieces. I now have a part-time employee (shout out to Cara!) so I have real weekends and something that resembles a healthy life-work balance. I have awesome interns who keep me sane and make work fun. I’ve partnered with Oakland Animal services to host three pit bull adoption events, had a fundraiser for Girls Inc., and have donated our 3D printed jewelry to numerous of our amazing East Bay non-profits including the Flight Deck, the Rose Foundation, and Good Newz Pittie Pup Rescue.
It’s crazy to think just two short years ago, Viscera was just a glimmer of an idea and now it’s a real place, a real brick and mortar shop—I sort of feel like Pinocchio. Often people ask me how I did it, and the I think the answer is a combination of hustle, using google, learning to ask for help, and working-smarter not harder. Right now is the best time ever to start a small business. We have the internet! You can find the answer anytime, anywhere, and if you can’t you can at least get connected and find the right people to ask! It’s amazing!
We’re also in a tech golden age. You can start a business from your computer. Think about how amazing that is! In celebration of our year and a half anniversary and our amazingly information rich environment, I’ve compiled a list of the digital tools I use on the daily. These tools have helped me grow the seed of an idea into a real business and all without the expense of more traditional services meant for larger corporations.
*I included some referral codes for some of these tools because I use them regularly.
10 Business Tools
Not only does google have all the answers (because let’s face it, if it doesn’t exist in the first five pages of a google search, it doesn’t exist), but it has fantastic tools to running a business that would previously only be available to enterprise level users. The whole back-end of my business is run using google apps for work. I use both gmail and google drive the most. Both let me work with my team seamlessly so even if we’re not in the same city we can collaborate and share ideas. I’m not sure what we did before google because it’s literally life changing.
As a design focused business, we have a TON of files. Between our photography, digital models, indesign files and a million other assets we use a lot of space. Now I’m a strong believer in Murphy’s Law, if it can happen it will happen; so I use dropbox to back-up all my files in the cloud. It also allows me to access all my files from just about anywhere because it syncs with my computer.
I don’t know what I would do without Shopify. I run both my online shop and in-store point of sales system using shopify. It tracks all my inventory, sales for the day, traffic and even hosts this very blog. I can check on my business from my phone and it has a bunch of different apps so I can customize Shopify to work for my business needs. I know pretty much nothing about coding (although after seeing how much programers make I wish I did) which is just fine because Shopify doesn’t require any of that magic language I don’t speak.
All of the tools I’ve mentioned so far are amazing because they’re efficiency dreamboats and help me save time! Toggl helps me track my (and my team’s) time so I know where my days actually go. It’s easy to use and if I’m working on a design project I can bill my hours toward that account effortlessly. the name of the game here is easy. I know some people aren’t into time-tracking but I think it’s very important and not just meant for big companies. Because my business is small, every minute I spend working really needs to do the most to grow my business. And the only way to know if I’m using my time the most efficiently is with tracking and metrics.
If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you landed here because you’re a part of our newsletter list (if you aren’t you’re missing out, so you should sign-up). Mail chimp is great because it helps me to do the most important stuff— staying in touch with my customers. I personally write each and every email newsletter that goes out. While it’s a labor of love, it’s made much simpler by mailchimp. It saves my template and is easy to design using a drag and drop format (again, no coding necessary!). It also has great reporting tools so I can track how well my newsletter performs. I only want to send stuff that you guys like reading and mail chimp helps me do just that by telling me what links get clicked on the most and when the best time to contact you is.
6. Social Media
Much like mail chimp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat help me to stay connected with my customers. It’s a very personal way to interact with my customers and I can keep you updated with happenings at the shop without sending you too many emails. It also is a great way for my customers to tell their friends about my shop. After all, they say you’re the aggregate of your five closest friends so why not spread the word. We put a lot of time into our social media because we want to not only create beautiful content, but because we want to develop a true connection with you. We want to get to know our customers.
People are the most important part of any business, and I’m not just talking about our customers. Because Viscera is still a very small operation, it’s important that our team is built with people who really share our values and can be a part of our bringing our vision to life. To find those people I use Localwise, a local hiring job platform. The founders, Ben and Maya, both embody small-business values having both grown up in entrepreneurial households. This is clear from the way they do outreach to their dedication to providing small businesses and job seekers the tools they need to find the perfect employee or perfect job.
referral code: use code 'NI35' and get $45
As a small business, travel can be a hard to build into my budget. I have to go to the fashion trade shows at least twice a year and hotels are not cheap, especially in New York during fashion week. I use AirBnB to find affordable accommodations during my trips. I also prefer staying in AirBnB’s because it feels much less tourist-y, plus hosts usually provide awesome recommendations for restaurants and activities that are off the beaten path.
Who doesn’t love swag, aka. Shit We All Get? If you’ve got one of our Viscera pins or stickers, we created them using StickerMule (if you don’t have one you should drop by and pick one up because they’re awesome). StickerMules an affordable way to create promotional materials and they have a quick turn around time. If you’re a person who loves small businesses, which you probably are because you’re reading this, you like to represent and StickerMule makes that easy.
Any business owner knows that Wu Tang is right, cash rules everything around me, get the money, dollah dollah bill y’all (if you don’t get the reference click here). The inevitability of having a business is that you won’t have cash and particularly when you need it. I use Kabbage for my business line of credit. It much more accessible than a traditional bank line of credit and gets deposited directly into my checking account within 1-3 business days. Kabbage isn’t right for every business and like any loan product, has fees so if you have the time I’d recommend a Kiva 0% loan that’s community funded. However, if you’re in a position when you need cash (and fast) Kabbage is a quick and easy option.
Hopefully, these tools make taking the leap into entrepreneurship easier. As I mentioned earlier, starting a business is easier than ever and I have to say making the decision to start Viscera is the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m all about small businesses and creatives helping each other so if you have any questions, need recommendations or just want to get a coffee just drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org