In every sense of the phrase, Lisa Mandy Seskin is a true leader in heels. Quite quickly after founding her own shoe brand (worn by Bella Hadid!), she realised there was a highly committed market for vegan shoes. Not wanting to alienate customers, especially those who loved her brand, she developed her first entirely vegan collection. However, like many businesswomen, Lisa knew that having a great product simply wasn’t enough and thus she developed a strategy working with influencers, to raise awareness and sales. Read all about Lisa’s journey below.

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Running your own business is hard. You have to do everything. Pay is… laughable, for the hours you put in. Money for business spending is tight. As a co-owner of Next Level Escape, I’ve done everything from sawing wood for props, to managing staff, to designing marketing materials, to name a few.

Along the way, I’ve found some amazing free programs that I can’t live without, and I thought I’d share them with you. Perhaps you already know of them – this is how they’ve helped our business, specifically.

Canva

As the main person designing all marketing materials, I can’t live without Canva now. Yes, I also have a (very old!) version of Photoshop which I use for detailed designs for props and the like. But if I want to make a great-looking flyer, a gift certificate, or even an infographic, Canva is fast and easy.

It provides a lot of pre-made elements, example designs and templates, stylish fonts, and a simple drag-and-drop editor. Then there’s the little things, like a simple slider for spacing out letters in a text box, that make designing simple. I’m not a designer by trade – far from it! – but I’ve been able to make materials that look pretty good (if I do say so myself) thanks to Canva.

Best of all, it’s free if you don’t need advanced features such as exporting images with transparencies, uploading your own fonts, or canvas resizing. The latter has been a bit of pain point for me, but I’ve found as long as I ensure I have the right size from the start, it’s not an issue. That said, if you do want those additional features, the subscription cost is A$12.95 a month.

MailChimp

MailChimp is an email marketing platform, that allows you to upload customers’ email addresses and other details, then send a bulk mail to them. It’s also one of the easiest ways I’ve found to create slick, good-looking emails that are more than plain text or badly formatted disasters in a desktop mail client.

Most businesses use it for bulk emails to their customers, which is the platform’s main purpose. MailChimp makes it simple to create a sign-up form for a mailing list, and send a series of automated emails. If connected with a shopping cart software, you can also trigger emails after a customer purchases something from your store.

We, however, use it to send personalised emails to our players, providing their results from their game and asking for reviews. At the end of a period, usually a day or two, we upload all the player statistics to MailChimp – a simple copy-and-paste from a spreadsheet. We’ve then set up an email template that takes this information and uses a mail merge function and conditional statements to automatically create a customised email for each player with their statistics.

It’s fast, easy, and looks so much better than our initial plain-text emails. Not to mention, we can send the mails out in batches and the relevant fields are automatically filled in.

Slack (or HipChat)

Slack is a free chat program which allows you to create your own space, set up channels, and invite users. You can also send through files and images with a simple drag-and-drop, search through those files as well as previous conversations, and add reminders to certain lines of chat, to name a few of the features. I’m told that HipChat has similar features, though we haven’t used it ourselves.

Basically, this is our IM program for our 3-person business. We use this when we want to make quick comments to one another without clogging up emails. Perhaps someone’s seen an item that could be perfect for one of our rooms – they’ll take a picture and flick it through. Or I’ve just created a new piece of audio/video for a room and want some quick feedback, so I’ll flick it across. We’re too small to make proper use of the channels, but it’s a good way to keep chat about different aspects of the business separate. And, of course, there’s the direct message feature to a single user.

What makes Slack most useful for me is the ability to quickly search through previously uploaded files and chats. If I need to find something I previously mentioned about a staff member, a quick search will give me all previous mentions, and any related files. Do note that the free version of Slack only keeps the 10,000 most recent messages. If you want it to be a proper archive, you’ll need to pay subscription costs.

Google Drive (or Dropbox and OneDrive)

This is our central repository for data. Dropbox and OneDrive are other good alternative, but we use Google Drive because we also use Google Docs and Google Sheets, which automatically save to Google Drive. The principle for all three services is still the same – a shared folder that multiple people in the business can access. Since our business has three co-owners, this is very important to us.

It also helps that all our key files for everything, from financial documents and contracts to puzzle design, has a back-up in the cloud. If my laptop dies, or is stolen, it’s not the end of the world. We still have everything we need online. If your business doesn’t currently have a back-up plan for your key documents, I would highly suggest creating one now. All of these companies provide space for free, with the option to purchase more if you need it.

Google Sheets and Docs

I mentioned this above – Google Sheets is the online equivalent of Excel, and Google Docs is similar to Word. I should note that they don’t have all the features of the Microsoft Office suite. But what they do have is excellent collaborative features. You can have the document open across multiple computers, and everyone can see and make changes in real time.

We use Google Sheets to record all player statistics, as it can be open on multiple computers at one time without causing issues. If two different people are running games and recording information, it doesn’t cause any conflicts. We’ve also left comments for one another (eg. “Is this a real email address?!”) and made changes to the document structure, such as changing how we record times, while the other person has the document open.

Square payments

This isn’t software, and there’s a small charge, but I wanted to add this in because it’s such a big part of our business. Square is a payment system that allows you to process secure card payments with your mobile phone. We found out about it from a friend, and it was ideal for a business that wasn’t earning much in the very early days.

It takes a flat 1.9% cut of all payments processed (and takes AMEX), instead of the flat fee that many banks charge for their terminals. The most basic version of the terminal that reads card chips and has a magnetic swipe is only A$29. The tap-and-pay version is A$59.

Whether a bank terminal is better for your business is something you’ll calculate based on your projected earnings. Work out 1.9% of your earnings and compare it with the bank fee for their terminals. Going with Square is best if you’re only expecting to earn a small amount each month, say $2,000 to $3,000. Any more, and the flat fee from a bank may be a better option.

One advantage we have found with using Square is the ability to quickly generate an invoice that can be emailed and paid online via credit card. We’ve found this particularly useful when taking deposits, for example.

 

What programs do you use for your small business? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!


Confessions of an Entrepreneur is a series of events run by Leaders in Heels that showcases stories of entrepreneurs who have gone through hardships and difficulties of launching and growing their business. Some were wildly successful, while others failed. You’ll get to hear both sides of the story for a change!

Our first event is on Tuesday April 12 at 6:30pm, and we have four amazing entrepreneurs telling their stories on the night. Sound interesting? Purchase your tickets here!

To give you a taste, we’ve asked each of our speakers a series of questions about themselves, and a teaser of what they’ll be sharing on the night. We’ve previously interviewed Elyse Daniels of Exodus Wear, Yifat Shirben of ILoveThisBox.com.au who is now an entrepreneurial marketer, and Ben Wong of Academy Xi.

Our final speaker for the event is Sasha Peakall, a “Biz Overwhelm Buster Coach” and Facebook Ads Strategist for Type A Biz Chicks and recovering perfectionists.

In 2014 she left behind a comfortable life and comfortable Marketing Management job for an Australian tour company and moved to Laos with her partner to manage a school building project, consult for Fair Trade Laos and pursue adventures in business in an undeveloped country.

Briefly describe what you do during the week.

Call me a workaholic but I spend most of my time at my computer writing blog posts, refining my sales funnel, tweaking Facebook Ads and interacting in my Facebook Group for Type A Biz Chicks. I love my work, it feels like half science and half art, two things that absolutely fascinate me. So work never feels like a chore (though I must admit some things can be a bit tedious, like getting on top of the latest social media trend!).

When I’m not cooped up in my home office I love to roam free in the outdoors.  I try to go for a long walk or bicycle ride daily, it’s my daily therapy! It helps me work my through challenges and just give my mind some room to breath and be fully present in the moment!

Why do you love doing what you’re doing?

As a self confessed Type A Biz Chick and perfectionist in recovery I know how hard it can be to get ahead when your Type A tendencies and perfectionism keep holding you back from taking action (because you tell yourself it won’t be perfect or it will fail).

What I love about what I do is that I get to support other Type A Biz Chicks on a daily basis. I help them get past being so “Type A”, take the leap to take imperfect action and make smart decisions about their marketing priorities and use of time.

It lights me up when I hear the chicks I’ve worked with had a major breakthrough, or they just feel so supported and understood when dealing with business challenges.

There are so many different aspects that go into creating a successful business and I just love the process of discovery, experimenting and creativity that goes into every hour of my work.

What will your confession be about… without spilling the beans?

In 2014 I moved to Laos. I told myself I moved to Laos to be with my husband. I told myself I moved to Laos to run my non-profit to improve education and employment opportunities in rural villages.

But, the reality of why I moved to Laos will surprise many. I seemed to have it all, a god job, with great pay, amazing travel perks and a good lifestyle. Even so, that just wasn’t enough to stop me from moving to Laos, the least developed country in South East Asia.

Like-minded people were hard to come by. A good coffee was hard to come by. Fast wi-fi was non-existent. Running water came out of my taps… sometimes.

My year and a half in Laos taught me more about achieving business success then studying at TAFE, then trying and failing at starting up many businesses in the past. It taught me more than I learned in my years in marketing management and consulting and more then I learned in the countless business coaching courses I enrolled in.

I’ve lived in China and travelled 25+ countries. But it was from the Lao people, the most laid-back culture I’ve ever come across (some would say the most lazy culture), that I discovered surprising secrets of success that all biz chicks can learn from!

How did you grow as a result of it?

You can’t move to such an undeveloped country as Laos and return unchanged! Laos was a challenge to live in, to say the least. It tested my resilience, my tolerance and my stress levels! I discovered skills, talents and strengths I never knew I had and I uncovered the weaknesses and self-saboteurs that were holding me back.

Not only did it change my approach to life and business, it profoundly changed my understanding of people and mindset – which really comes in handy when you run a coaching business!

And most of all, living in Laos has made me so much more appreciative of everything I have, the opportunities I have available to me, my ability to as a women be a leader in business and my community.  These were all things I took for granted until I experienced what the alternative really felt like!

If Sasha’s teasers about her life-changing trip to Laos has intrigued you, pick up a ticket to Confessions of an Entrepreneur and get the full story!

Confessions of an Entrepreneur is a series of events run by Leaders in Heels that showcases stories of entrepreneurs who have gone through hardships and difficulties of launching and growing their business. Some were wildly successful, while others failed. You’ll get to hear both sides of the story for a change!

Our first event is on Tuesday April 12 at 6:30pm, and we have four amazing entrepreneurs telling their stories on the night. Sound interesting? Purchase your tickets here!

To give you a taste, we’ve asked each of our speakers a series of questions about themselves, and a teaser of what they’ll be sharing on the night. We’ve previously interviewed Elyse Daniels of Exodus Wear, and Yifat Shirben of ILoveThisBox.com.au who is now an entrepreneurial marketer.

Today, we’re talking with Ben Wong, a co-founder of Academy Xi. Academy Xi is a digitally focused education campus that career transforming courses for individuals wanting to expand their knowledge and skills in design, business and technology. Prior to this Ben developed and managed the admission team at General Assembly Asia Pacific. He has worked across a number of startups like Hire a Human, Lets fit and Lokii app.

Ben-wong-pBriefly describe what you do during the week.

Routine is key, something I’m still fine tuning. I set my alarm for 5:45 am switch on the light. I jump in shower, eat some breakfast and then do a 10 minute meditation. Clearing your head sets you up for a successful day.
Gym time is at 6:45am, then I finish up, coffee in hand and in the office by 7:45am. Within the first 15 minutes, I scan for important emails, check meetings for the day and then read my tasks. I use tools like Trello to manage my tasks and envision what I want to get done that day and how. I’ll usually have about 3 hours of meetings a day, combined with some catch-ups with my team. The rest of my day is emails, discussing partnerships and strategising for new opportunities. I find when I time my tasks, I’m more efficient, otherwise I get pulled into unimportant activities.
Every day is different, I meet with amazing people who share our vision and have a fantastic team to support me.

Why do you love doing what you’re doing?

I never knew what I wanted to do in life, now I get to empower people through education. I can change the world by giving people the knowledge and tools to make impact.

What will your confession be about… without spilling the beans?

I returned more than half of my investment ($55,000) to the investor of my 1st startup. But… why?

How did you grow as a result of it?

It changed the startups I decided to work on, and who I worked with, forever. Money is crucial, but it’s not success. Vision and passion is key.

If Ben’s teasers about returning investment capital has intrigued you, pick up a ticket to Confessions of an Entrepreneur and get the full story!

Confessions of an Entrepreneur is a series of events run by Leaders in Heels that showcases stories of entrepreneurs who have gone through hardships and difficulties of launching and growing their business. Some were wildly successful, while others failed. You’ll get to hear both sides of the story for a change!

Our first event is on Tuesday April 12 at 6:30pm, and we have four amazing entrepreneurs telling their stories on the night. Sound interesting? Purchase your tickets here!

To give you a taste, we’ve asked each of our speakers a series of questions about themselves, and a teaser of what they’ll be sharing on the night. We’ve previously interviewed Elyse Daniels of Exodus Wear, and today we’re talking to Yifat Shirben, founder of ILoveThisBox.com.au and now an entrepreneurial marketer.

Yifat is combines her entrepreneurial and vast international marketing experience to help grow businesses by planning and implementing a marketing strategy that will fit their business, target audience and budgets.

yifat_shirben-pBriefly describe what you do during the week.

Being an entrepreneurial marketer and helping to grow businesses means every week is different from the previous one, as it depends on the current companies I’m working with. However, the building blocks of each week are more or less the same and include:

  • Working – developing and implementing marketing startegies for my clients.
  • Professional growth – dedicating some time to learn (reading professional blogs, industry news, participating in events etc)
  • Networking – catch up meetings, attending relevant events and online social interactions
  • Writing – I recently started writing my own blog and I write at least one article a week.
  • Mentoring – whether it’s by phone, email or 1 on 1 meetings – I dedicate a portion of my time to help starting entrepreneurs.
  • Trying to keep up with my inbox…. :)

Why do you love doing what you’re doing?

Diversity and impact. I like the fact each project brings new challenges along and that I get to learn about new industries. I also enjoy the ability to make a difference.

What will your confession be about… without spilling the beans?

4.5 years ago I shipped my first ever batch of ILoveThisBox.com.au beauty boxes to our customers. Something happened to the box while it was making its way to the girls, that made it very successful. A box that everybody was talking about…

How did you grow as a result of it?

Besides the fact that it helped with the word of mouth factor back in the days, I learned a very important lesson about the importance of first impression.
Since then I’m looking for as many ways as possible to implement it with other products and services I’m working on. I also understood that a good marketing manager is one who is involved in the product as well (as it is very hard to implement new ideas once the product is finalised).

If Yifat’s teasers about the mysterious happenings of her boxes has intrigued you, pick up a ticket to Confessions of an Entrepreneur and get the full story!

Confessions of an Entrepreneur is a series of events run by Leaders in Heels that showcases stories of entrepreneurs who have gone through hardships and difficulties of launching and growing their business. Some were wildly successful, while others failed. You’ll get to hear both sides of the story for a change!

Our first event is on Tuesday April 12 at 6:30pm, and we have four amazing entrepreneurs telling their stories on the night. Sound interesting? Purchase your tickets here!

To give you a taste, we’ve asked each of our speakers a series of questions about themselves, and a teaser of what they’ll be sharing on the night. In this interview, we talk with Elyse Daniels of Exodus Wear!

In 2009 Elyse took a niche idea for jackets you could customise inside and out and turned it into a multi-million dollar business. Exodus Wear now produces a range of custom apparel sold Australia wide to schools, sporting and community groups.

Elyse-Daniels-Exodus-Wear-pBriefly describe what you do during the week.

My week is spread into the following main areas:

Managing our team 

With the sales team a lot of it is just checking in over the phone. They are pretty self sufficient. With the factory I spend a lot more time emailing backwards and forwards making sure we are on track with all of our ETA’s, that we are going to make the cut off’s for sea freight shipments and getting involved with urgent orders that have really strict lead times. The other area I spend a lot of time talking to the factory about is product development. I am constantly looking for and developing products that we can add to our range

Finance

A big part of my role is spent on managing cash flow, payments, reviewing reports, etc. For me this is the hardest part because I am much more creative and so I have had to learn to love spreadsheets!

Marketing

I try and get involved and post on social media accounts, write blog posts and I do a lot of research by following what our customers are doing on social media.

Why do you love doing what you’re doing?

I love what I am doing because I can help my customers bring their vision to life. We go from concept all the way to end product with each customer and there is nothing that makes me happier than walking down the street and running into someone wearing a jacket our company helped design and make. Our customers are also extremely passionate about the product because it is something that they were involved in designing. I love seeing photos and videos of our customers opening the box and screaming with excitement when they get their order.

What will your confession be about… without spilling the beans?

I will be confessing about how I got Justin Bieber to wear one of our jackets without paying a cent!

How did you grow as a result of it?

Having Justin Bieber wear one of our jackets gave us a lot of exposure but also credibility and the cool factor with our target market. It is now something that all of our Sales Reps use as part of our their presentation. The ongoing benefits are priceless.

If Elyse’s teasers about getting celebrity exposure from Justin Bieber has intrigued you, pick up a ticket to Confessions of an Entrepreneur and get the full story!