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When my business partner, Emma Hughes and I started our company we knew that it had to operate globally and be one we could manage from anywhere. Our business partnership is what I imagine many other partnerships to be like: we chat to each other every day (often we talk more to each other more than we speak to our husbands), we prop each other up when one of us is feeling overwhelmed, we bounce ideas off each other, and we of course, celebrate the wins together.
But for Emma and I, we’re running a global business from opposite sides of the world.
I’m based in Brisbane while Emma lives in Bermuda. Our online brand, Lilly & Lime provides specialty swimwear in sizes D cup and up. Emma and I have lived all over the world, I was born in Thailand, grew up in Malawi, went to boarding school in South Africa, moved to London in my 20’s and then to Australia where I have settled with my family. Emma was born in Johannesburg but grew up in Natal before she too moved to London, then Australia and now Bermuda.
No doubt because of our upbringings we are big travellers, we chase the sun and are happiest by the water and we always knew that if we started a company together it would have to be one we managed remotely.
So how exactly do we do this? Here are four ways we make it work.
1. We rely on technology
It may sound obvious but it is technology that makes remote work possible. Despite our geographical and time differences, we leverage technology to manage many of our day to day tasks as well as use internet based systems to stay in touch, and make our ecommerce business “24/7”.
Our systems are in the cloud so we can access these wherever and whenever we choose, so long as we have an internet connection – much of it can be done on our phone! Our main sales platform is Shopify which links into TradeGecko for inventory management and Xero for accounting – also all cloud-based.
Technology can’t solve the time difference but it works in our favour as we can provide customer service around the clock. You read about the “officeless office”, we’re actually doing it.
But it’s not always smooth sailing when you rely so heavily on technology to run a global business… We’ve had lots of small issues with communication between our IT systems but these generally haven’t been too disruptive. Similarly, we’ve had hiccups in the supply chain which haven’t helped.
2. We moved our warehouse to a central location
Operationally we learnt that packing orders from Australia wasn’t practical for us and so we outsourced fulfilment to Hong Kong. The central location has meant both Emma and I have been able to travel there at different times to manage. It has also allowed us to get on with moving the business forward with product design, customer service and marketing.
3. We focus a great deal of our time and energy into marketing and PR
When it comes to marketing and promotion, these too expand greater than just one location. We have a PR agency in Australia and more recently, a second agency in New York. Traditional PR has been integral to increasing our brand awareness globally. As well as PR, our marketing platform consists of Facebook, Instagram and Google.
We did our current collection’s photo shoot in South Africa as it suited with our schedules (Emma was going to be on holiday there at the time) and we were able to use contacts we had as suppliers.
Because we are online without a physical office or store, we’ve adopted a completely outsourced business model. This allows us to be pretty canny in our marketing strategy and tactics – trying to get the most bang for our buck on a limited budget, while targeting key domestic and international markets.
We both have different strengths so we are naturally inclined to do those jobs as they come up. We have a constant dialogue going and lots of Google docs and Trello to help us keep up to date on what is next on the to do list.
Having Emma close to the US and able to fly in to visit our PR agency in New York has made it easier and I’m able to meet with our Australian agency.
4. We take advantage of being ‘open’ 24/7 & customer communication a priority
As a 100% online business, we see the world as our market. We’ve had orders from all over the globe from Chile to New Zealand! The beauty of being a 24/7 company means we can communicate with our customers in a timely fashion. The time difference between countries means that one of us is always available to get back to urgent enquiries.
Serving our customers is at the heart of everything we do. We are so pleased to receive repeat orders from loyal customers and it is our aim to keep these customers happy.
We created ‘Lilly & Lime Babes’ to celebrate our community and the way they feel when they wear our swimwear. Our babes are also dotted all around the world from London to Melbourne. This is a way to operate our global company at a grassroots level which works effectively through word of mouth, we also do this through our work with social media influencers.
As we think ahead for future growth and opportunities, we will continue working towards being the global go-to brand for D cup and up. There are so many potential avenues for growth in our business but at this stage, we think our original core business proposition is what will allow us to succeed and allow us to look at new opportunities down the line.
In the short term, we want to get into a better operational rhythm. Our first year while more successful than we could have imagined has had its fair share of hiccups so ironing these out is a priority which will allow us to focus on growing the business. Raising capital is something we are considering as it will help us achieve that. Additional funding will also better position us to more quickly take advantage of opportunities, greater promotion, and of course, enable us to remain office-less and able to service the world from our different corners of the world.