Natalie raven / Parcel London
Next up on our "Mondays." series we interview Natalie Raven, the lovely founder of Parcel London.
Rachele: As it is now tradition with our "Mondays." interviews, why don't you begin by telling us how Parcel London started?
Natalie: I had wanted to start a business for a long time but I was not sure about what I wanted to do and had lots of different ideas. And then I decided I wanted to send gifts to my friends to ask them to be my bridesmaids and I couldn't find exactly what I wanted, which was gifts that they would use afterwards and keep and truly want. So I started thinking, how come this does not exist? Maybe I can make this my business! So I started spending a lot of time thinking about it and then early in 2017 I decided to quit my previous job and proceeded to launch Parcel in November that year. I essentially had seen a gap in the market and decided to create a business to fulfill it.
R: And what would you say was your number one concern when you started the business?
N: My number one concern was probably that nobody would ever buy one! There are so many great companies out there that sell lovely products but people don't necessarily find them. You are up against huge companies that have massive marketing budgets. I was probably a bit naive and I didn't think it would be as hard as it is but still that was probably my main concern, that nobody would find it.
R: And how has that changed now? Is that still your main worry or do you have now other specific concerns?
N: More specific issues. I understand now that there is so much more to worry about, which I didn't even imagine at the start. I still worry about it and still the biggest job is to get people to find the business, but I think once my targeted customers come to the website, I am offering what they are looking for. It is just about getting them there. But obviously, as the business progresses, you also have millions other small worries. Money, time, stockists and deliveries and so on.
R: And how do you manage to prioritise? Of course, you are pregnant as well! How do you manage to do it all?
N: I don't do it all! That has been something that I have learned the hard way: you can't do it all. You have to make a list of things that need to be done and do the most important ones first and then come to terms with the fact that you are never going to finish the list. When I first started, probably the whole first year at least, I didn't stop working and still felt always behind. I just kept on going and going and then I realised that even if you do that, you will never finish and it is never-ending. So you have to choose your life over the business at some point. And especially when you don't have a big team, there are certain things you enjoy and certain things you don't and you are naturally drawn to do the things you enjoy. For example for me, given my background, I like selecting products and organising the creative shoots, I don't really want to do the accounts! But I am quite organised, I make schedules and stick to them and then when the day is finished, the day is finished and I move on.
R: And have you had to make any specific adjustments to your schedule now that you are pregnant?
N: It's harder obviously because you are much more tired, there is no way around it. But it's also good because you are so tired that you can't ignore it! I have been tired for years, and in the past I would just keep on working and maybe sometimes even get ill because I would work too much, but when you are pregnant you are so tired that you would literally fall asleep standing up so that makes me stop. If it is the middle of the day and I can't take it I will just sleep for half an hour, whereas I would have never done that before. I now finish on time and don't work weekends, just because I have a bigger responsibility. The baby is just more important than the business and that's the end of it. So in a way it has been good at making me draw the line, and it has also meant that when I work now I am much more efficient because I know that at 6 pm I am stopping no matter what so I need to push before then. I think it's the same when you have children, people say you work so much faster when you have kids because you just need to get on with it. So although it is hard, pregnancy has been good at making me re-assess my schedule.
R: And how do you relax when you are stressed? Of course you touched upon your schedule already but is there any specific ritual or something you like to do to unwind at the end of the day?
N: I take each day as it comes and if there is a lot going on, of course I need to keep working but in general if there is no emergency I try and stop at a reasonable time and have a bath. That has really become a thing since being pregnant, I always thought baths were so inefficient before as they take so long! But in reality you are in a room of your own, with candles and music and it really it feels like a treat. Also, as I work from home it is often hard to switch off completely from the racing "work-mode" mindset, whilst this really helps me transition from work time to relax time.
R: Slightly chaning topic, you mentioned before the challenge about competing against companies with a much larger marketing budget, that seems to be a common topic that comes up in these interviews. What have you done to address it / what would you say your number one marketing tool is?
N: I would say that instagram is my number one marketing tool but I would say that not necessarily because it is the best tool I could be using, but because it is the one I am more naturally drawn to. At the beginning I definitely focussed on instagram the most, and for example I didn't create any youtube content as I don't "youtube" personally; whilst I understand instagram, I am a fan of it and use it myself. So far I haven't really explored other options, but I do feel that instagram is becoming less and less usable for small businesses. As you know, now if you don't put lots of money in advertising, your engagement will be lower and so on. So it is definitely not what it was 3 years ago; but in a way instead of letting that worry me I am starting to find ways to think past it. Obviously there are lots of other tools that can be used and truly for my business, in terms of revenues, corporate gifting is a lot more important than individual gifting and those customers are not coming from instagram. So although I spend a lot of time and resources on the platform, that's not where the money is coming from. So I try and stop and re-assess every quarter where do the sales come from? I then try to focus on that channel and not just what I might naturally enjoy doing. Linkedin for example is very useful for corporate clients, but I don't use it enough because it's boring!
R: Focussing on the positives now, what would you say it has been the most rewarding aspect about having your own business?
N: When somebody forces you to step back and look at what you made, and you get to think: I made this, this happened because of me! This is of course something you don't do often, as you are too busy putting out fires. But just knowing that something exists, beyond you and you made it...that makes me very proud. I would also say, as I am fairly newly married and I am also pregnant, having my own business means we are able to live our life the way that we want to. Of course it would be ideal if I had retired already and we could just be on the beach; but in general, a lot of women I know who are pregnant or have young children are always being told by somebody else what the guidelines are, whereas I can stop and start as I please. It's one of the first times in my life since creating Parcel that I really appreciate that flexibility and I don't take it for granted.
R: What is the number one piece of advice you would give to people who are starting their own business?
N: It would be research, research, research. If you are working full-time and are at some point planning on quitting and starting on your own, use that time to learn. Because I learnt a lot as I went along, but it would have been so much easier for me to have done that exercise earlier. Could be the simplest of things, maybe those you are not interested in...but learn about cashflows, learn about VAT, learn about accounts and so on. It is probably an industry you know or understand already if you are going into it, but research further. Learn about other businesses, go to the library and get books. Because once it gets going you just don't have time. You are running and you are constantly putting out fires. So plan when you are going to resign, or otherwise you never will, but use that time before you do to research more.
R: Last question before the firedrill: what's next for you and for Parcel?
N: For me it is having a baby! This is the time where I am going to figure out how I ran the company with a child, which is something I am trying not to put too much pressure on and I will just wait and see how it goes. For Parcel, it is to hopefully continue to grow steadily, incorporate more brands that I love and reach even more people!
Firedrill Round with Natalie.
- If you had to describe yourself using three words, which would they be? Fast, thoughtful and tired.
- If you had to describe Parcel London using three words, which would they be? Thoughtful, memorable and modern.
- What would you say is the most interesting thing about your brand? The combination of the brands and the products that we stock.
- Top 3 skincare products? Guy Morgan Flower of the Five Wounds face mask, Ren moisturiser and Batch One Sensitive Beeswax Balm - the best wrinkle cream I have ever used.
- Top 3 items of clothing? Straight leg jeans, my backless Gucci loafers and a cashmere grey roll neck.
- Most treasured item of jewelry? Probably my Cartier bracelet that my husband got me for my 30th birthday.
- What's your earliest memory associated with a scent? The smell of Amber. That sort of musky-amber smell you have in church.
- Favourite scent currently? IIt would be that kind of fragrance, I love quite heavy, masculine scents.
- Favourite travel destination? Italy, which is where we got married. It's one of those places you can go to over and over again and there is still something to see.
- What does luxury mean to you? What do you indulge on? Time. Time is the biggest luxury. In terms of indulging, I indulge on a lot of candles and fresh flowers for my house. And I burn my candles, I don't save them! I think when the house smells fresh and lovely it is such a treat.
Get the latest news you need, straight to your inbox.