A minimalist guide to running your business

12 December 2017 | Marketing , Systems & Processes

A few years ago I didn’t know #minimalism was a thing. But now there’s a name for it so I’ll run with that. To me, minimalism is a name for an approach to life; a mindset of conscious consumption and priority led actions. It’s about deciding whether something has utility; if it’s useful and enjoyable to you. If it’s time, or money, well spent. If it is, keep it. If it’s not, eliminate it. That practice works for physical stuff, life decisions and business.

It’s a pursuit of freedom derived from simplicity. And since we often start businesses chasing freedom, it seems a pretty good area to apply it.

It’s far more than just throwing away tangible items you don’t really need, but that’s a good place for most people to start which is why it often begins (and potentially ends) there.

Here are some of the ways I apply my ideas & version of it to my business. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any measure – I’d love to hear from you how your business works with or toward this style of thinking, or what you’d like to try.

Minimalism is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.


Simple principles

Freedom, happiness, helpfulness. Nothing complicated. I try to keep these in mind and base decisions around these values.


Writing Emails

I used to write really long emails. There is still a time for them (maybe when you’re story telling or friends you write long letters to), but short of that I now keep brevity and these 3 principles in mind.

1. What do I need them to know?
2. What would I like them to do?
3. How do I want them to feel?

Address those, remove filler, structure the email (use headlines, subheadings and bullets for ease of reading) and you should have a clear, useful email. I also remind myself I’m taking up somebody’s time to read and potentially reply to this – is it necessary?

Need help? If you’re really stuck on this there are approaches such as five sentences which might be fun & helpful.

I also actively work to always reduce my emails. I’d rather spend my time doing and making. Here’s a post on how I reduced my emails by 90%.


Letting Go

This is pretty hard for most people (me inclusive!) let alone business owners but you get better the more you practice. To figure it out I list out these things:

1. What can I not do?
2. What don’t I like doing?
3. What shouldn’t I be doing?

Once you have decided to delegate or let go, I ask whose way I need to be stepping out of so they can do their best work.


Blog Post Titles

No thinking about clickbait, or conversions or advertisements. No split testing. No jargon. Just calling it what it is. Makes writing a lot less agonizing.


Over Analysis

That also leads well to this. I try to avoid paralysis by analysis as much as I can (the inability to make a decision or take an action by overanalyzing it). I often see this when it comes to choosing systems, making a decision about the next path forwards in the business or buying something. With a world of options you could spend the rest of your life looking. Do some research, cap your time, and then make a decision. Clarity through action.

This also forks to another point. Whilst we might do some major stats, brand and user behavior analysis on client businesses, I don’t do it in relation to this business. So no checking web stats for example. At this point it still doesn’t matter, makes me not want to hit publish and isn’t how we get clients, so it doesn’t need to happen. I write or create, try to stick to a schedule and release.


Easy Marketing

I live by quality is the best form of advertisement and word-of-mouth the best marketing.

Whilst we might set up very specific channels and marketing campaigns for our clients (particularly e-commerce businesses) that are right for them and feel ethical and good for everyone, I don’t employ click funnels, lead pages or webinars and the likes for my businesses (and rarely for anyone else). I do the parts I’m good at and what I’m focusing on and have made peace with the decision that I’d like that life over becoming a marketer or ‘growth hacker’ hustling for hundreds of people to get into my sales funnel.

What should you do? Do the things that feel good.


Communication & Project Management

Back and forth non stop emails and a full inbox make me anxious to wake up and start working. And that is not a fun feeling. I also like to be around for our clients in a casual way so that we’re easily approachable and conversations can be started, picked up and left without pressure. We do that through using Slack.

Rather than remembering every phase of a project and everything we should really be marking off a checklist we also use a project management system to actually do this so it’s out of our head (with our clients and internally).

And lastly, I try to keep communications straight forward, direct and clear with easy next steps where appropriate.


Caring Less

They say comparison is the thief of joy and it really is. So let’s stop it. When I catch myself doing it I choose to decide which bits I’m inspired by, or what I can do better that I feel is missing and then close it down and get back to my own life.

Not caring as much doesn’t mean that I don’t care. I deeply do. But about specific people and select things (such as our work). I think we often overestimate how much others care about what we’re doing in actuality too. As much as my life choices are mine, so are my business ones. It’ll suit some people and it won’t suit others. That’s perfectly fine – I’m not here to work with 7 billion humans; just a select few that we adore working with. Most of the rest don’t care anyway.

Also, less justifying. You absolutely do not need to. You can be kind with a No. You can show an alternative, offer a suggestion, provide a referral, send through information – whatever feels good. I try to be as helpful as possible but you don’t need to keep padding it out with Unfortunately, But, Just and I’m So Sorry. You can gracefully say No.

Shout out also to my Accounting teacher who used to mark nearly every paragraph of my essays with VD – verbal diarrhea. You’d be proud now Mrs Corbett (well, maybe not with the length of this piece).


What we work on

After reading the book Essentialism, one question has stayed with me ever since.

How much time/money would I spend to acquire this project/opportunity right now?

I now use this as a guide for what I want to work on (in our business and on personal projects).

I’m someone who can easily have shiny object syndrome as I like starting things, and can get passionate about nearly everything (except hardware – please, please do not make me have a conversation about hardware unless it’s small robots that look lovingly at you with big black eyes). To temper this down I’ve started asking, is this a priority for me?

It also helps to cut down the range of service offerings you have and focus in on a few specific ideas. What’s the one problem you’re trying to solve in this business?

Also, start small and grow from there rather than starting a complex web of funding, investors, boards, execs, mass media marketing and the likes. Start small, grow up til you no longer want to grow (that could be the same size as you started or anything bigger).

Fun fact: “The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality.” {Greg McKeown, Essentialism}


How we spend time

How do you want to spend your days? This is a process (it might be slow or it might be fast – totally depends on your life circumstances and where you’re at – there is no right or wrong) of choosing how you wish to move through time.

A few quick wins we can all take though:

  • remove social media apps from your phone (I only have Instagram on mine)
  • don’t be afraid to say no
  • only open your email during specific times you allocate to it (close it down the rest of the time or at least cut the notification alerts)
  • schedule in non negotiable time in your calendar and stick to it (i.e. exercise on Monday and Wednesdays or be at the dinner table at 7 or write for 1 hour each morning when you get up at 6)
  • no need to reinvent the wheel (i.e. it might not be 100% perfect but 90% of it is so we can make it work without spending the next year and a few hundred thousand dollars building out a new solution)


How we spend money

Pretty much everything in the world is hard to change these days. Except where we decide our dollars go changes a lot. You don’t need to own much. You don’t need to spend millions. But invest in quality where you can. Back businesses you believe in and support the values of.

For me in business that means I pay for craftsmanship. I prefer extremely well run, deeply cared about software at a higher price. I try to find out where things are manufactured and ethical standards. I would prefer to spend more with a business trying to do things differently (i.e. Buffer) in a way I admire than a similar product that doesn’t.

And ultimately it helps to remember that if you run a business, other people pay you too. How would you like them to choose to spend their money? Why should they spend it on you? Hopefully we bring these same values into how we in turn spend it.


Break down projects

We break projects into phases so they’re easier to manage for every single person and team involved, including us. Whether part of their project or part of product development, we discuss & test feature sets and hypotheses, new items and ideas heavily to determine whether it’s truly necessary, whether it’s a nice-to-have, an easy feature with a quick win or long term planning required etc. We add to it to the roadmap where appropriate.

This is as much about prioritization as anything else but doing so helps us, our clients, and their (or our) customers greatly.



Life is about experimentation and minimalism and business is no different. Certain things just won’t work for you and that’s totally OK. Some people get thorough enjoyment of some things that others don’t. Some people go mental without something whilst others couldn’t care less. So experiment!

Can you live without your car for 6 months? Without a credit card? With 30 items of clothing? Minus your takeaway coffee each morning (I’m not a coffee drinker so don’t slap me for this one!)? How about taking public transport to the office as much as possible? Cutting one day out of your work week? We did this by choosing not to come to the office on Fridays. Same work and quality still happens and everybody is happier.

Question more too. Do you really need this? Is that something you want? What if you tried X instead? They say, for example, the best camera is the one you’ve got. Do you really need version X? Are you sure you want to grow/scale? What does that mean to your business?


Digital declutter

Keep your screens organized & clean
Clean your screens (computers and phones) of unused apps & icons.

My phone screens and desktop are pictured below. The ‘To Delete’ folder houses my Screenshots and Internet Download folders and reminds me to go through them regularly to delete! My phone home screen is empty. The second screen has 4 folders holding relevant items I most regularly access.

Yes, I’m a very, very happy Android user :) I cannot stand iPhones but I love my Apple laptop (so please don’t throw yours at me right now).

Digital Clutter Declutter Phone Screens Desktop Screenshots Downloads Minimalism Identity Division Lis Dingjan

Get rid of photos
If you’ve got thousands of images on your phone or computer, archive them to the cloud (i.e. Dropbox) in one fell swoop and then delete them. I know, you probably want to organize these like I did for years, but that’s likely never going to happen. So move them off your device into a buried folder. You can always organize them (much easier) from there later but you’ll feel free immediately.

Information Management
Organize your stuff on your computer into a logical filing sequence. Unsync anything you don’t regularly access (i.e. in Dropbox you can selectively choose which parent folders (or their children) need to be on your computer at any given point).

Your Inbox
Anything older than 30 days, select it all and archive it. Your search function is likely more than apt at finding what you need to anyway. And if you’re desperately hanging onto specific folders to store all emails between clients or vendors or suppliers for your team to refer to, you probably need a better communications system. The remaining emails; action & archive.

Applications & Files
Clean up & delete unused applications, old software, your screenshots folder & internet downloads. I go through those two folders of mine once a week to clear them out, delete and file appropriately.

Need help? Listen to the fantastic Bored & Brilliant and Infomagical series from the Note to Self podcast.


Phew, there’s my list to start with! I’d love to hear your practices, thoughts and ideas.

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