Thursday, 06 August 2020
The Travel Wrap Company has been covering chilly shoulders with its hand-finished luxury cashmere wraps since 2007 – with its signature product the original Scottish cashmere Travel wrap winning Luxury Gift of the Year award the following year. Founder and Aphrodite Award finalist at the 2018 NatWest everywoman Awards, Niamh Barker discusses why good days grow from good mornings, and the value of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone whenever you can.
What is essential for success in your routine?
I am obsessed with the ‘four pillars of wellness’, sleep, exercise, nutrition and mind, and I start my day with a good grounding of all of those elements. I know from years of practice that my day will roll out more successfully if it has a good beginning. I don’t want to be too prescriptive, but I generally get up, drink half a litre of water, make coffee and read for 30 minutes, and then exercise – either a run or a HIIT session in our re-purposed shed/gym. If I can squeeze it in, I will do 10 minutes of meditation using the Headspace app. I come from a science background – I had a career in pharmacy before I started my business – and that makes me a bit obsessive about an evidence-based routine. I like to see my performance improve but also to be able to measure that improvement. For example, my sleep used to be shocking and then I bought an Oura ring which is a great wearable and I now measure all elements of my sleep the night before to understand it better.
How do you manage your digital balance?
I have to be quite disciplined about it otherwise I just go down a bit of a rabbit hole. I keep my phone outside my bedroom and an eye on my screen time. The other important thing I do is turn off all the notifications, so even when I look at emails on my phone, I have to pull them in, they don't come in automatically. If you've got your notifications on, you're always just responding, whereas if you don’t, you're having to make a conscious decision to go and check your emails - so you're back in control.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow as an entrepreneur?
I read non-fiction almost exclusively for five years – until lockdown, actually – mainly because it helps me get into people’s heads and find out how they do what they do. My Mum used to say that as long as you can get one good recipe out of a recipe book it's worth it – and I actually go into a lot of things with that in mind. Back in the early days of my business, I’d set up meetings with people or sign up for events on the other side of the country and as long as I came away with a little nugget of something, I felt it was worth it. That nugget could be something that somebody said, or a connection, or that I learned something. In my experience, it's rare that you don't get something back, so it’s always worth pushing yourself out of your comfort zone or calling somebody that you don't think you're worthy of.
How do you stay focused?
Although I am actually quite disciplined, I do tend to get drawn into ‘shiny new things’…as I think is the case with lots of entrepreneurs. I've got much better at handing other stuff over though: briefing somebody else and then saying, ‘Right, get on with it!’ to them. I used to try to own it all and do it all. On a day-to-day basis, I also use tools like the Pomodoro method to keep myself on track, which involves breaking the day’s tasks down into 25-minute segments, and also take regular breaks. That way I tend to manage my time better – and own expectations of what I can fit into the time.
What is your top tip for staying on top of finances – practically, emotionally or strategically?
People start businesses with creativity, energy and ambition, but if they don't make a sensible, financially astute and robust business model, then they have no business – they've just got a pretty product. I was a bit of a slow starter with business finance and for a long time I hardly knew what a P&L was. I learned the hard way – one year, when we were quite little as a company, we lost £30,000 pounds without me even knowing. These days I make sure I have access to finance information on our business, know how to read it and make decisions based on the tools we use to measure it on a weekly and monthly basis. I have a part-time virtual finance director, something I’d advise everyone to get as soon as they can afford it. Or at least get on a course or read a book to give you some sort of understanding of finance, because without it, you have no chance of running any kind of scalable business model.
How did you respond to the challenges of Covid-19? How have you flexed or pivoted?
In mid-February, I went to dinner with my sister, who's a doctor, in London, and she was in the middle of the preparation for the pandemic, and I've never seen such fear in her eyes. I realised then that we needed to start getting things in place and I needed to be first on the phone to my supplier – the Scottish mill, Johnston’s of Elgin. I didn't know where we'd be cash or sales-wise and made the assumption that we would just fall off a cliff. So, everything was done to pre-empt disaster, and then we nudged back. We were selling a travel accessory, which was ridiculous because nobody was travelling, so we shifted away from travel and toward comfort and quiet luxury. Almost within a week the wrap became a ‘virtual hug’. I also wanted to do something to help the NHS, so we also ran a virtual hug campaign giving one monogrammed wrap away a week to frontline workers that had been nominated. Gradually we started to see a few sales coming in again, mostly from the UK at the start, then from the rest of the world. We're not quite where we were, but profitably, actually, we're probably better than we were a year ago just because I've pulled everything back in.
What makes you feel out of your comfort zone and how do you handle that?
I've always hated public speaking, but I handle it by saying ‘yes’ to opportunities that present themselves. When you start running a business you have to be able to think on your feet and be able to present yourself; you just can't hide from things like public speaking anymore. So, I started looking into how I could get better at it and finding the tools to help – I particularly love Viv Groskopf’s book How to Own the Room. As a result, I’ve just got better at it, although I still don't find it very comfortable. But you have to get yourself out there, because if you're going to build a company and a brand, a lot of it is about ‘you’, and you lose something if you're not prepared to go out, front and centre.