Running a lean business
20th August 2018

Sometimes, it’s the things you don’t do that make the real difference.

I’ve been working in website design and development for nearly twenty years. I’m not a designer, but I’ve learned a lot from working with great designers over many years. Of the things I’ve learned, probably the most important is that it’s the things you leave out that make the difference! It’s the space between things, the discipline to do less - not more, the confidence to give a design space to breathe that makes it come alive. Little did I realise how relevant this lesson would be to our brand new company. We’ve spent the last year bootstrapping a business - from nothing at all, we’re now a stable and successful design and website development agency. Like most businesses, we started out with very little - we each invested a paltry amount of money - enough to register the company, buy some domain names and licence a few pieces of software. We began to run the business from our home offices or kitchen tables and cracked on, thinking that the usual rules of corporate growth would apply. However, over this last year it’s become clear to all of us that the simple necessity of starting with little and keeping costs down has become a massive virtue. Obviously, it won’t be a surprise to anybody that cost control is good business practice, but it’s come as a welcome surprise to us all just how liberating it can be to start, run and grow a lean business. When we started we thought that working from home would be a temporary thing - something that’d let us get up and running and keep us solvent until we could afford an office. As we weren’t all in one place, we had to find creative ways of working together efficiently.
  • We invested a small amount in commercial google services - giving us company email, scheduling, document creation and management.
  • We also implemented the absolutely incredible google team drive. Like Dropbox, but better and cheaper, team drive gives us seamless and limitless file sharing (ok, I exaggerate - our team drive is limited to 1 exabyte, but that should keep us going for a little while…)
  • We’ve found that WhatsApp and our Amazon Echos are amazingly useful productivity tools, giving us messaging and IP voice calls for free.
  • We’ve found and built an incredibly efficient set of development tools, allowing us to deliver projects quickly and easily without having to re-do things we’ve done a million times before. This means that our clients only end up paying for the stuff that matters to them - they’re not paying for us to reinvent wheels.
  • We set up a virtual landline, directing inbound calls to our mobiles in a virtual hunt group.
  • We use for video conferencing and sometimes also for client meetings - it’s slick, quick, reliable and free.
  • We have a virtual office, supplied by our great friends at OXIN. This gives us a physical address and improves our performance in natural search.
We thought that all of these would be temporary - quick fixes to get us up and running and help us generate enough revenue to become a “real” company. But over the year, our thoughts have changed. It’s become clear to us that this isn’t just an expedient way to run a company - it’s a brilliant way to run one:
  • By building a company that contains only the essentials - people who do work that generates revenue - we’ve dramatically reduced the cost and risk of running our business. We can do more work for less money which means our customers get more for their money.
  • By building a company that’s distributed we don’t have all the costs and overheads that flow from running an office. From the obvious ones like rent and rates to the less obvious ones like buying computers and furniture (we’ve already got our own, so equipping an office would be wasteful duplication).
Working this way has now become a pleasure. The lack of an office isn’t something we regret - it’s something we value. Being able to work efficiently, comfortably and cost-effectively has become one of the central pillars of our business, and one that we find liberating. Because our costs are low we can give ourselves the time to be creative - we can give all our work the consideration it deserves, rather than be constantly driven by the need to raise the money to fund a huge cost base. We’ve found that leaving things out can be a hugely positive decision. So, little did we think that by setting up our business we’d use a lesson we learned in design - having the courage to leave something out can be the difference between average and awesome!

About the author

Eamonn has over 30 years experience of delivering and supporting online information systems for governments, intelligence agencies, educational establishments and companies of all sizes. He‰Ûªs been building websites since Netscape 0.8beta, and loves nothing more than producing easy-to-manage sites that are polished, beautiful and engaging.

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