Episode 3: Set up your start-up for long term success with Aleisha Haslemore


All Xero In episodes

Hosted by Jeanne-Vida Douglas and Rob Stone

How do you set up your thriving startup business for long term success? Aleisha Haslemore, four-time world championship figure skater turned entrepreneur, reveals how she’s learnt from mistakes, developed business systems in the cloud, and drawn inspiration from volunteer work in Cambodia. The New Zealand-born founder and managing director of Ultimate Edge Communications chats with Xero In hosts Valerie Khoo and Rob Stone about the benefits of paying it forward, her passion to succeed, and the value of working with a business coach. Tune in to learn about the tools she’s using to make the switch from Excel to the cloud.

Episode transcript

Participants: Valerie Khoo (VK), Rob Stone (RS), Aleisha Hasslemore (AH).

VK: Hi there small business owners, I’m Valerie Khoo and you’ve just tuned into episode three of Xero In. Joining me in our Sydney studio is Rob Stone, how are you going Rob?

RS: Hi Valerie, really well thanks.

VK: Now Rob, earlier on you were talking to me about an app called, Strategiser. Can you tell us a bit more about it? I’m intrigued.

RS: Yeah it came about from an amazing book that I read which is Business Model Generation. Excellent book, highly recommend it to anyone, it’s in the show notes. But what I love about Strategiser is it takes that canvas and puts it in an app, so you can access it from any device.

VK: Do you mean it’s an app to help you build your business model?

RS: Exactly right, so you’ve got a strategy, you then need to break it down into its business model, how it creates income and the canvas is normally just done on pen and paper but now because it’s in Strategiser you can access it online.

VK: Yeah, and you can share it with anyone presumably as well.

RS: Correct.

VK: And of course accessing it online ties in beautifully with today’s theme, which is about cloud accounting and I feel it’s something that will resonate with our interview today, Aleisha Hasslemore. Tell us a bit about Aleisha.

RS: Yeah, Aleisha is running a media communications agency. It’s an award winning boutique. But what I find fascinating is her background as being a very successful figure skater for New Zealand.

VK: And we will have more on that later but first lets chat a little bit more about cloud accounting. I know you have lots of thoughts on this Rob, what trends have you seen on cloud accounting in the past couple of years?

RS: Well the – the huge benefit straight away is small business owners realising that their business doesn’t have to be fixed in a location anymore. They can be out there on a mobile device and still running the business as if they were in the office.

VK: Yeah absolutely, and I remember when I first moved to the cloud, in terms of my accounting. I didn’t have to sit at that exact computer to enter in all my data and enter in all of my finances; I could do it from any computer even while I was travelling which is fantastic.

VK: We’re part of the Xero podcast network and we’d love you to subscribe to the show in iTunes.

RS: And leave us a review, the link is in today’s show notes on xero.com

VK: But now we’ve got Aleisha, joining us in the studio. Aleisha thanks for coming on the show.

AH: My pleasure.

VK: Lets just get started, give us your elevator pitch.

AH: Wow, so we are Ultimate Edge Communications. We are a boutique media communications agency based in Sydney and our whole proposition is where are you now and where do you need to be? And how do we get you there faster, better and stronger?

VK: Now, you have an interesting background I believe? Tell us a bit about that.

AH: Okay so there’s a few things but I won’t bore you with the details. So I migrated to Australia from New Zealand at the age of 18, with the ambition to compete at a world championship for figure skating. Ended up, was meant to be here three months to try out for Team Australia, do the world championship and go back home, and now ten years later I’m still here. So finished the skating career, did the world championships, went into business and obviously got into the media space from there.

RS: And what was the turning point when you decided to open up your own boutique agency?

AH: The turning point, I was in radio for five years and had achieved a lot of great things and done some wonderful, you know generated some wonderful campaigns. I think I got to the point where I was thinking, okay well where is the next level. What’s the next step? And I could go and work for an agency, having a radio and print background. I could go and work for an agency, or I could just get out there and give it a crack myself. And giving it a crack myself at the time, seemed like a lot of fun.

RS: Love it.

VK: And so give us an idea of the size of your agency, or your number of clients or your headcount and how you have grown since you first started?

AH: Sure so we are 11 months in. So still very young. We’re very much boutique so at the moment we have a team of four. So myself, my PA and a media coordinator and design and graphics. So very, very boutique. We work with about 5-6 clients at any given time. We’re looking to grow that I would say by about 2 or 3 but we will always, the goal at the moment is to always remain boutique, so that we can give that specialised one to one service.

RS: Great and you’ve moved some of your back office functions and your forward CRMs onto the cloud, what was your thought process in doing that and some of the benefits and challenges you’ve had?

AH: It was almost at the – at the – when you’re going through the process you’re doing everything manually and you’re going, “I know I need to do this, I know I need to do this, but I don’t want the pain of doing it”. And the reality is, it’s short term pain long term gain.

RS: Yeah.

AH: So we got to the point where obviously I had acquired a couple of databases, I had email campaigns going on and so it was almost a point of just having to bite the bullet, and do it, and do it well. So it was essentially, we need to get this out, we need results in the business, we also need to lead from the front. So I can’t tell my clients to do this if I’m not doing it myself and so it was really a matter of just going, we know this is going to be a really great long term benefit and so we bit the bullet with the likes of our CRM and our – our cloud accounting.

VK: So many small business owners know like yourself, that they need to get onto the cloud, but they don’t know what to do. Can you tell us which cloud applications you actually use?

AH: So I use Infusionsoft for my CRM system, and that was basically just talking to people who had prior experience, people in the industry but also good business advisors – advisors as well to say, what do I need? What are my core fundamentals that I need for this platform? What do I need it to do? What do I – what I – do I not need? What’s just a nice to have? And then how do I go from there? So it’s really just a matter of what do you need? And how quickly do you need it done?

VK: So apart from in Infusionsoft do you use other cloud based app?

AH: I do, so I’ve obviously had Infusionsoft since the business started and just recently we’ve jumped on the Xero platform as well for our accounting, which I – I know that’s going to save me about 3-4 hours a month of personal time trying to go through all of the different profit, loss, where are we at? What have we got coming in? What have we got outgoing and when, what we realising as a small business, we need to focus on what we do best and we can’t be spending our time on trying to figure out databases or trying to figure out accounting, what we should be doing each month. It’s just not our area of strength and platforms like Infusionsoft and like Xero, are really – are going to save us a lot of time.

RS: Fantastic, and you know, it’s a media communications agency, what’s the kind of key success factors that make a, make an agency thrive?

AH: Well I think media is change – is changing and will continue to change rapidly and I think it’s really coming back full circle, in the sense of, where are your clients? What are they, what results are they getting today and where do they need to go to, and the reality is anybody could say that they could buy a media campaign or do a good media buy but it’s about, how do you decrease that cost per lead? How do you increase a conversion and how do you bring a better quality lead to the table for your client? And so I think that’s really the direction that things need to start to go in and I know they are going in and that’s our area of focus, is how do we get one or two or three more dollars out from every dollar our client spends?

VK: And how do you get clients? Where do you go to, to find new customers?

AH: So a lot of it is word of mouth, being a small agency, so you’ll work with one client and you will be midway through a campaign and ask for a recommendation up front, which can be a little bit daunting, but as a small business you do need to reach out to your networks. We also, in the past, we’ve have done email campaigns where we’ve actually bought databases and so we’ve gone and looked at, Dun & Bradstreet, and we said okay, what is the ideal client for us? What are their attributes? How much revenue turnover do they have? What’s the nuts and bolts of it? And then we’ve actually sent specific email campaigns out to those clients, using Infusionsoft and AB tested our emails to try and acquire media audits or free trials or whatever it might be that way.

VK: So you’ve been going for 11 months so you’re pretty much still in start up mode. Have you reached the level of growth that you anticipated and you expected?

AH: I think being ambitious I always expect more than what happens so, we had an amazing, a very, very good first 6 months, which was almost a little bit overwhelming so it actually went better than I expected, hence in January/February of this year I really had to realign the business and put some systems in place so that we could actually set ourself up for sustained growth. I think everything was a bit out of control, I was still trying to get people on board and unfortunately we probably had a couple of failures due to that. And I think early this year in January and February we really sat down and went okay, “What systems do we need in place to make this great? And when we do acquire new clients, how do we keep them, grow them and make them even more successful than what they were before?” So…

RS: Excellent, and you’re big about paying it forward, any suggestions for other small business owners out there, when they’re first starting out with their own – with their own idea?

AH: In terms of paying it forward I think it’s just sharing, just constantly sharing. I have a – a belief that, you know, what – what comes in goes out and I think that I’ve always been very lucky to have wonderful people around me and – and wonderful mentors and for me it’s about whatever I learn, it’s sharing that and – and obviously growing upon that and everyone you meet they’ve got something to teach you and you’ve got something to teach them. So I think it’s just keep, keep a really, really open mind and it’s so easy to think, yeah I’m on track, I’m on – moving in the right direction and actually get a little bit, I’m trying to find the nice word for it but you know what I mean? [Laughter] A little bit, too confident.

RS: Okay.

AH: And so it’s really, it’s really important to keep that open mind and always learn and know that every day you get up, you’ve always got something new to – to learn.

VK: Apart from sharing you do some work with Cambodia, can you tell us a bit about that?

AH: Oh they stole my heart. Cambodia, yeah. In 2011 I travelled to Siem Reap to do some volunteer work, just for three weeks, just to, had a really great couple of years. Life was good and I really wanted to just kind of give – give something back and – and kind of just get back to reality and get back to what’s real and I went over to Cambodia and spent three weeks in an orphanage called grace house, and – but no, actually it was a community centre and so we’re there for three weeks, I was teaching anything from social studies to English to, you know, math, God whatever, and anyway got to the end of three weeks and I was just so filled up. Like I’d gone there to give and they just gave, these kids anywhere from about 8 years old through to 17 just gave so much back, and their stories were just so incredible. So I spoke with the director – the directors and kind of said, well what can we do? There’s got to be something more that we – that we can do? And so we actually, from there I started a lunch club.

So we built a kitchen so that the mums of the area could come in and cook each day and then they would obviously earn a wage from that. And then we got 20 kids and we said okay we’re going to provide you with chicken and rice each day, and so that was just a – a basic funding process and then it’s grown now, we’ve got – I’ve got I think 45 kids this year.

VK: Fantastic.

AH: So we’re three and a half years on and – and it’s just amazing. So I go back, I check it out every time I go back I – I get in and I feed the – you know, dish up lunch – I don’t cook it, I’m not a great cook, but [laughs] dish it up and…

RS: That’s excellent.

AH: …it’s just – it’s amazing. It’s a really amazing thing.

VK: Brilliant. Back to your business, apart from you know, not having, having a lack of systems, what other challenges did you face in – in the last 11 months?

AH: I think, I went from a large corporate organisation where everything was set out for me and the path was set out for me, and as a new business it’s very easy to get distracted by the little sparkles in the corner or the, you know, the next new great thing. And I think that was a – the big challenge of how do I stay focused and how do I know what that next step is, and so I’ve always had a business advisor in which I kept on for the first year of business to make sure that I stayed on track and I – I hear calls of concentration of focus and that’s what it’s about is, what is your outcome? Stay – stay focused on your outcome and make sure that you don’t go off track because it’s so easy in that – especially in that first year, to go off track, get distracted and also lose a bit of confidence. So that would be my advice.

RS: That must be quite challenging at times as well, you know, having to prioritise and there’s certain things you just can’t do in one day, how do you actually implement that.

AH: Yes.

RS: Like, is it just a matter of saying no to things?

AH: You really do, you have to become very, you have to make – and not, I hate the word sacrifice, but you do have to prioritise and make decisions and - and know that some of the jobs that you don’t necessarily want to do, you have to do in order to grow or in order to take the business to the next level. And, you know, often in a start up business, you’re a jack of all trades and a master of none and you kind of feel like, hang on, what’s my true area of expertise? So for me in the – in the last sort of, especially three to four months it’s been about getting back out in front of clients and getting, injecting myself back into my clients’ business and thinking about what’s the highest and best use of my time? So on my whiteboard at the moment, the goal is 80% of the time I’m doing something that’s the highest and best use of my time. And anything else that I shouldn’t be doing, I should delegate that out so that it’s, I’m not – I’m not spending time on that, so that’s been a really good learning as well.

VK: Has there been any point in the last 11 months where you’ve thought, you know, what have I done? This is all too much. It’s all too overwhelming, you know, did I make the right decision?

AH: About twice.

VK: Really?

AH: Yeah.

VK: Tell us about those times.

AH: So, at the beginning of the year, January, I’d had a – a massive 6 months, I was feeling overwhelmed because we didn’t have a lot of systems and pro – and processes in place. I realised how easy it was being an employee and how much – how much I took it for granted. [Laughs] And the fact that I had great managers around me I had a great infrastructure, I was earning amazing money. Like it was, it was really incredible. So, I think at that point it was, what have I done? Oh my gosh! Like, it’s just me now, I – I have to build this business. And – and you feel a little bit caved in and – and I think the best feeling, the best way to describe it is overwhelmed and once you can just sit down and go, “Okay what am I feeling, what’s the truth behind this? What am If feeling overwhelmed about? Am I feeling, am I lack of confidence? Am I feeling confused? Is there something that I need to learn that I don’t know yet?” And I, you know, I always whenever I get into that overwhelmed stage I always go back to white boarding. [Laughter] So I get – get the whiteboard out, what’s the – what’s the key problem, how do I solve it.

And If I had no limitations at all how would I solve this problem. And so that has got me out of both times, going oh my god what have I done? I almost want to pick up the phone to the old boss and go, “Okay I’ll come back”.

VK: [Laughs] What’s the most rewarding thing about what you do?

AH: I think every day you know you are building something from the ground up. So you can basically make this, you can turn this into anything you want it to be. So your basic, every morning when you roll those legs out of – out of bed it’s like, “Okay what do I want this to become? How great do I want to be today, and what do I want to learn?” So I think that’s probably the most empowering thing about, about building the business is that you control your destiny.

VK: So, some small business owners are a little bit scared of advertising. Do you have some tips for them? Because they don’t have the kind of budgets that big corporations do. Do you have some tips, on where they should look at in terms of spending their advertising dollars?

AH: Absolutely, I think for a small business especially, measurability is critical. So before engaging in a – an advertising campaign or a media campaign, you haven’t got the luxury of going and spending half a million dollars on an outdoor or a radio campaign. So what I strongly recommend to small businesses is to sit down and work out, what is their ideal cost per lead? What is their ideal cost per acquisition? And work back from there, because once you know those numbers, you know what you can afford to spend. And then your next step, once you’ve worked out those numbers your next step is finding media partners that are able to deliver on those objectives. Not just say they’re going to deliver, but actually show you that you’re going to get the return on investment that you’re looking for.

And digital, I mean, now that we’re in the digital world, that is a great place to start. So there’s providers out there, depending on what medium you are in, that you can go to and you can work out a cost per lead, or a cost per click scenario so that you can actually know how many visits am I going to get to my site as a result of this advertising. How many leads am I likely to get? And obviously how much, how many sales is that going to generate? Nothing is guaranteed in life but if you can do those – those few things that will help you get on the right track to starting an advertising campaign.

VK: You sound really busy, your business is still in start up mode, you still do the work that you do with Cambodia, do you ever relax? And if so what do you do?

AH: Well I – I’m recently married so my husband literally will make me sit on the couch and just look at a blank TV screen every now and then just to bring everything back into line. So he’s wonderful for that, but I think when you’re passionate about, you know, about life, and about growing and – that is resting. You know? Reading a book or watching a TED Talk or, you know, just having quality time with friends and – and catching up I think is – is down time. But I’ve definitely learnt, especially in this past year with starting the business, how critical down time is. So I coach figure skating, of a weekend and during the week as well and that to me, even though I’m surrounded by teenagers that you know, often will drive me insane, there’s something really grounding about it and there’s something really wonderful, you pop the music on, you skate with the kids and – and it does feel like a bit of time out.

But I have definitely learnt in the past year that taking a moment to reflect on your, on the wins, along the way, the last – the last couple of months or even just taking time out to relax is a really good thing so...

VK: And maybe you use the white board.

AH: And just use the white board exactly!

RS: If you’d like to try Xero, head to xero.com there is a 30 day no obligation free trial, go ahead and check it out.

VK: It’s time for the small biz quiz now, it’s not really a quiz in the typical sense but it’s a chance to find out a little bit more about today’s guest. Are you ready Aleisha? Who’s your favourite entrepreneur or business personality?

AH: Richard Branson and Steve Jobs

RS: What’s your favourite business related book?

AH: Lean in.

VK: What do you do when something in your business isn’t working for you?

AH: White board. [Laughs]

VK: Of course!

RS: And what wakes you up in the morning?

AH: Just the desire to be better, just to kick some butt and get to the next level.

VK: What inspires you?

AH: Gosh, what inspires me? People. Mentors, good videos, good ideas.

RS: And what are your three apps on the phone you can’t live without?

AH: Flowdock, for managing – managing work in progress. Infusionsoft, for obviously following up on client activity and gosh, Bloomberg, I need my news.

VK: Apple or android?

AH: Apple.

RS: And your favourite TV show?

AH: Friends.

VK: Are you serious?

AH: Absolutely. There is nothing better.

VK: But it’s so 1999.

AH: That’s my downtime.

VK: What’s your go to for news?

AH: Bloomberg news.

RS: And lastly, best piece of advice you’ve been given?

AH: Back yourself, back yourself 100%. I – I was told by a mentor a few years ago, you know, risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise, dream more than others think is practical and expect more than others think is possible. And I live by that every day.

VK: And on that note, thank you so much for your time today.

AH: Thank you.

RS: Thank you.

VK: If you have any questions you’d like answered on the show...

RS: Tweet us at Xero using the #xeroin...

RS: Now there were some really interesting takeaways from Aleisha, for me, you know, what she got from using cloud based technology to run her own business and the advantages, but the thing I loved the most was her just resorting back to the white board when she had to get a solution.

VK: Absolutely, underrated the white board. But you know what was inspirational to me was her work with the charity and how she is doing all of that work with Cambodia and I think for our listeners if you’re interested in donating and supporting it. Have a look at Gracehousecambodia.org. Now if you’re listening from the UK, you do get a tax deduction for a donation, it seems like if you are listening from Australia you probably don’t get a tax deduction but that may not be important to you. If it is important to you, there are lots of Australian charities that support Cambodia such as Sunrise Children’s Village and you can have a look at that at scv.org.au and they’ve got orphanages in Siem Reap and Phnom Penn.

RS: Well that’s it for this episode. Be sure to join us next time. I’m Rob Stone...

VK: And I’m Valerie Khoo, thanks for tuning in to Xero In.

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