How I Succeeded: Social Playground's Annabelle Smith

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How I Succeeded is a regular series on Lifehacker where we ask business leaders for the secrets and tactics behind their success. Today: Annabelle Smith from Social Playground.

Current gig: Founder and director of Social Playground

Location: Sydney, NSW

Current mobile device: iPhone 6

Current computer: MacBook Air

One word that best describes how you work: Fast

What apps/software/tools can't you live without?

Instagram (obviously). A couple of productivity apps that I can't live without are TinyScan for scanning documents on the go, Google Docs for all our shared documents, Xero to keep an eye on all our business accounting. Plus I usually read Flipboard daily for updates on news and current affairs.

What social network do you find the most useful?

They all serve a different purpose - Instagram is perfect when I want to take a bit of time out and scroll through inspiring and beautiful feeds. Facebook is actually becoming more of a news source for me with all of the articles that friends are sharing. I follow a lot of news outlets on Facebook too. I'm not much of a Tweeter or a Snapchatter... yet!

What were the most important lessons you learned while growing your business?

I learned the importance of prioritising. As a start up, a lot of opportunities can come at once and the urge to jump at every opportunity can sometimes lead to making some ill-planned decisions. For us, we were overwhelmed by the positive response to our Instagram Printer and wanted to take on the world. This lead us to launching an office in London only 6 months after launching the business in Australia. In hindsight, we didn't have the time, resources or cash flow to make this a success at such an early stage of the business.

We closed the London office after 12 months and restructured the company to instead work with license partners throughout the UK and around the world. We now have an established business model in Australia that enables my team to successfully run our Australian operations while I can focus on international expansion and nurturing relationships with license partners.

For a small business wanting to go global, we have found its a more successful strategy to form partnerships that leverage the expertise of locals without trying to do everything ourselves. In our case, the outcome has been far more profitable.

Strategic partnerships have also been a cornerstone of our success. We have partnered with likeminded organisations that share our vision and positivity. This has enabled us to explore some exciting strategies to reach new consumers and build our own customer-base. Social media is fantastic for facilitating this, particularly on Instagram. We have built a trust-worthy and supportive community of people within the industry who have shared our news and products with their audiences to help us meet new customers and expand our network. We love to return the favour and support all of our favourite small businesses across our networks too. This collaboration allows consumers to discover us and builds a really great environment of collaboration to work in.

A lesson I think we got right is branding. We invested early on in creating a strong and recognisable brand. This enabled us to stand out from the crowd and really make an impact on the industry. Branding isn't just about our logo either. Its everything from all our marketing materials through to how we answer the phone or respond to client enquiries. From the top down we make sure everyone lives and breathes brand Social Playground.

We also have a no-bullshit policy at Social Playground. There are so many polite and wonderful people in our industry that we have a zero tolerance for anyone who isn't nice. This ensures that my team love coming to work every day and will invest in the success of the company as much as I do. We have adopted this attitude from early on and while it has seen us turn down one of two projects, these projects often turn out to be more trouble than they are worth. At the end of the day there are so many supportive and kind people who value our offering and appreciate the hard work we do. Focussing our energy on these relationships enables us to build loyal customers and long term success.

What has been the most surprising part of your business journey?

I think I have been surprised by the support and excitement offered by so many people. Friends and industry acquaintances have been so genuinely interested in my success and in doing whatever they can to help me grow the business. In the early days, this was especially important in generating brand awareness. I am so thankful for this support and I think a little surprised. In Australia we do tend to have a bit of tall poppy syndrome and it can be difficult to talk openly about our successes, but learning to talk openly about the business and networking has opened so many opportunities.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

Multi-tasking. Especially now being a business owner, mum, partner, friend and everything in between.

What's your sleep routine like?

A little interrupted now that I have a 5 month old! I am an 8-hours-a-night kind of person though and fortunately can fall asleep in a matter of seconds. There's rarely any tossing and turning at 2am... I save the thinking for the shower :)

What advice would you offer to other businesses on how to succeed?

Plan but don't over-plan. I think a 5-year plan can be incredibly challenging to set when our world is changing and evolving so quickly. Instead I plan for about 12-24 months into the future. This gives some vision as to where I want to take the business longer term and keeps my focus wider than the day-to-day trenches. But it also allows me to evolve the business as the environment we operate in changes - adapting to new social media platforms for example.

And if something fails, fail fast. Make a decision to move on and stick with it. Too often we fall into the trap of giving a failed plan another week or month and it drags on and on. If something isn't working, change it now, learn from the mistake and move on.

Trust your instinct too. Welcome the advice of others, listen to it, but make the decision that feels right for you. It's easy to doubt yourself and be swayed by others, especially when first starting out. However, no-one else knows your business like you do. If something just doesn't feel right with you then it's probably not the right decision.


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