Caroline Guntur: “Go Paperless!”

Go Paperless! If you are a business owner, you have a huge opportunity to set an example by showing up in a sustainable way! And with the technology we have available to us right now, there is no need to embrace paper as much as you had to in the past! So if you’re not already […]

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Go Paperless! If you are a business owner, you have a huge opportunity to set an example by showing up in a sustainable way! And with the technology we have available to us right now, there is no need to embrace paper as much as you had to in the past!

So if you’re not already doing digital signatures, try it out! Think twice before you print something! Encourage your team members to reconsider how they approach their projects. We don’t need all this paper anymore! A paperless system means better sustainability

As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Guntur.

Caroline is a digital organizing strategist, helping families and businesses sort out their digital messes through her online programs, workshops, and coaching services. She is a Golden Circle member of NAPO (the National Association of Organizing and Productivity Professionals) and a Certified Photo Organizer. Her best-selling online course DPO PRO: The Ultimate Photo Organizing Masterclass is extremely popular among DIYers who take lots of photos, and her forth-coming offering Digitally Organized will help more small business owners get their ducks in a row, so that they can increase their productivity and better leverage their existing digital assets.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Of course!

Before I became a digital organizing strategist, I bounced around a lot from industry to industry, searching for the right one. I grew up in Sweden, but came to the United States to do my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, and after I finished my schooling, I didn’t quite know where I belonged or what was next for me. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but I was looking for my passion. I tried everything from web design to photography to sales and visual merchandising, and while they were all ‘nice,’ none felt like the right fit. Photography was where I felt most at home, but I still felt like there was something missing.

Eventually, I decided to start my company in the field of professional organizing. Traditionally, organizers tackle pantries, closets, and storage rooms, and while I did do that for a while, I quickly realized that there was another type of mess that was more prominent and a better fit — the digital one, so it brought me full circle back to photography again. Photos, of course, are nothing more than digital files in their essence, so eventually I expanded into all types of digital organizing, and I’ve never looked back.

“Digital” and “Transformation” are two words that sum my company up well.

Firstly, in terms of the current environment — the digital transformation of the world with it’s fast-moving technology has left my clients feeling overwhelmed and with questions about how to best get digitally organized. There are so many systems, programs, and methods that it’s not always easy to know which one to choose or why. That’s where I come in.

Secondly, in terms of the result — a digital transformation is what I deliver. The goal is to turn the overwhelm into something positive and to develop lifelong skills, so that my clients know how to navigate this new world.

The impact of this niche on my company has been huge — the demand increases every day, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I first got started, I made the mistake of assuming that everyone knew what I knew. I believe they call it “the curse of knowledge,” meaning when you have forgotten what you used to not know. It’s such a rookie mistake, so looking back it’s funny to see how naive I was, but it was also a really good lesson.

Coming back to this concept has served me well because I’ve been able to better put myself into my clients’ shoes and remember what it was like when I didn’t know something. It’s a good reminder that others don’t share your exact experiences and view of the world.

I truly believe anyone can learn pretty much anything if they put in the work, so people are just at different stages. When you get that, you can better help them along on their journey. I see far too much condescension going around and it upsets me because it creates a negative work environment when a positive one is the better option. Everyone should be able to express ideas and suggestions without being shut down. We need to talk less and listen more to each other.

As you can tell, I still might be a little naive. Oh well. It’s an endearing quality.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I would have to say my husband because without his support, I never would have been able to start this business. When I first told him about my idea, we didn’t have a huge surplus of cash sitting in the bank. We weren’t in dire straits, thankfully, but we didn’t have an excess of money to spend on just anything. I told him that I wanted to build my business from scratch and that I didn’t want to take out any bank loans, and he never questioned that decision even once. We both agreed that I would invest 5000 dollars of our money in getting this business off the ground, and then try to make it profitable right away. That was a big risk for us at the time, so it was a little scary.

Fortunately, it went really well. I have been able to take that 5000 dollars and turn it into hundreds of thousands of dollars since, and I really appreciate that he trusted me on that. I knew I could do it, but I just needed the chance to prove it. He let me run with my idea, and without that initial support, I don’t know if I could have pulled it off. Who you have in your corner makes all the difference.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My favorite film is Lion, which is based on the book “A long way home” by Saroo Brierley. It’s the true story of a young Indian boy who goes with his brother to try and find work, so that he can help provide for his family. They end up at the train station, where he accidentally loses track of his brother and gets on a train to try and find him. The train leaves and when it finally stops, he finds himself lost in a completely different city and state. He wanders for two months before he ends up at an orphanage. Eventually, he gets adopted by a family from Australia where he grows up. As an adult, he starts remembering certain parts of his childhood, and with the help of Google Earth, he is able to successfully backtrack the train’s path and find his way back home.

It’s an incredibly touching and powerful story and just a beautifully made film overall, and it really shows what a resilient man he is for never giving up hope. The story hits home for me because I have a family in India and thus feel a strong connection with that culture, but I also love family history and understand how much of your identity is wrapped up into it. It’s everything.

Photos are usually the digital files that most people want organized, so I spend a lot of my time working with my clients’ family histories, and for that very reason. If you don’t have your memories, what do you have? Family is what matters and that comes through in my business as well as in my favorite film. I believe everyone deserves to have great memories and leave behind a visual legacy. Good organization is my way of making sure that happens for my clients.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

As I revisited my company’s trajectory early on, I noticed that family photos were the digital assets that really mattered the most to my clients. Everything else could be replaced. This is why this niche quickly became the core of my business. It had a deeper meaning that way, and I felt better connected to my work.

One of my core values as a human is the concept of family. I believe that everyone deserves to have a family and loved ones to share memories with, so strengthening family bonds and providing meaningful connections, especially for children, is very near and dear to me. This purpose is what drives me still, and it’s a big part of my business.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Yes! Apart from my digital photo organizing program which has been up and running for the past few years, my forthcoming program Digitally Organized will help those entrepreneurs among us who need to get their small businesses organized. By adding a program that helps entrepreneurs get their ducks in a row, I hope that they, in turn, will be more productive, so that they can make greater impacts in their communities. That excites me. The possibilities are endless in this new digital world.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

The word transformation itself means testing your limits to see if you can come out a changed person on the other side, so for a digital transformation, I think it means to keep embracing technology, even as it continues to evolve. It can be frustrating at times, but I believe it’s worth it.

On a practical level, engaging in digital transformation work means being open to trying new things, and not having limiting beliefs about what your digital systems should look like. There are a lot of opinions out there about what’s right or wrong when it comes to digital systems, but I believe the simplest solutions that work for you and your business are always the best ones.

A company can, for example:

  • Go paperless to minimize its footprint
  • Set up more automation to increase productivity and reduce the manual workload
  • Facilitate communication through more targeted and intentional interactions
  • Have better organization to protect digital assets and encourage repurposing

Any or all of these improvements would count in my book as amazing digital transformations.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

I think all companies can benefit from a digital transformation, but I think small teams and solopreneurs will feel the impact the most, just because few people on the team are usually wearing more hats. This makes the transformation so much greater in and of itself. It may take a larger investment in terms of time and effort up front, but in the long run, it will help everything run smoother. I truly believe that.

We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.

As someone who specialized in digital transformations, I have been lucky enough to see firsthand what a difference it makes to have the right systems and processes in place.

Organization is the means to an end so that you can create more, and one way to get started is to leverage technology and automation to do more for you. Yes, there is work that goes into putting the right system in place up front, but then you get to reap the rewards in terms of productivity and output. I’m proud to say that business has an incredibly high output because it’s well organized. There is no way I could serve as many people without having my ducks in a row. It makes a massive difference on the bottom line.

A great example is one of my business clients, who has run her business for decades. A traditional small business, she was paper-based for most of her life and didn’t grow up with technology, so there was a lot of hesitation around using it. She felt like she would lose the control that tangibility of paper gave her. We had to do a surprising amount of mindset work, which I think was a revelation for me (as a coach who was already in the digital world), but once she trusted the process enough, everything shifted for her.

Now, after experiencing some of the benefits and doing the work, she is fully onboard. Her business is paperless with the exception of some annual reports and tax returns. She no longer wastes time looking for the right files because what used to take 15 minutes rummaging through a file cabinet now takes 1 minute or less with a few clicks of the mouse. She can now leverage her digital system to find what she needs faster without feeling stressed.

A few minutes difference may not sound like much, but when you think about how much those minutes will compound over the next few years, the change is significant. She has been able to reclaim time that she didn’t need to lose, and had she not been open to trying something new, the company would have been stuck in its old ways. There is always room for improvement and you just need to be open to change, and believe that change happens for the better.

Was it overwhelming for her? Yes, in the beginning. But anything new you try can feel like that because you don’t know what to expect. With an adjusted attitude and a coach on board, she embraced it instead, and managed to pull off a wonderful digital transformation.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Yes, I think so. In smaller companies, the entrepreneur wears more hats, so it’s a little easier to pivot because it becomes a more personal project, including a few team members at most. For large companies, it’s different. I think the biggest challenge at a large company is that every individual is at a different skill and comfort level when it comes to technology, especially with regards to traditional, offline, companies. Companies that are based online naturally tend to hire from the existing remote workforce, so they are less affected — whereas more traditional brick-and-mortar businesses face a longer timeline in getting everyone and everything up to speed. That also enhances the gap by default.

To solve this, I feel there are two big things that help:

The first one is the right training. I’ve seen a lot of companies throw new employees into the deep end, and then wondering what went wrong — when there were no clear expectations set, no instructions about what to do or what not to do, and no follow up to see how the worker could be encouraged. I certainly experienced this myself earlier in my career. If you want to empower your workers, make it easy for them with the right training. It’s a simple concept, but often overlooked.

Secondly, a culture of openness to testing and innovation must be encouraged from the top. So often, I see that ideas that don’t come from the top aren’t taken as seriously as they should be, even though they might be perfectly valid and sometimes better. If you encourage your workers to think outside of the box, your company ends up benefiting hugely from that.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

1) Increase Your Productivity!

Better systems equals faster output.

Any company that goes through a digital transformation will undoubtedly end up with better systems and that that only leads to good things; with better systems you can do more, you can do them better, and you can do them faster.

The average person spends hours and hours looking for assets that should be easier to find, whether they are digital or physical, so make a dedicated effort to sort out the mess! Can you set up a better and more organized system for tomorrow, so that the mess doesn’t snowball further? If you don’t have a mess per se, can you evaluate whether your current system can be optimized, and if so, how?

I see a lot of small businesses that have a lot of digital assets, but because they can’t find them, they don’t use them. There is so much good content that you have that can be repurposed! Take care of those assets so that they can take care of you!

2) Go Paperless!

If you are a business owner, you have a huge opportunity to set an example by showing up in a sustainable way! And with the technology we have available to us right now, there is no need to embrace paper as much as you had to in the past!

So if you’re not already doing digital signatures, try it out! Think twice before you print something! Encourage your team members to reconsider how they approach their projects. We don’t need all this paper anymore! A paperless system means better sustainability.

We are now in the digital age where businesses who are paperless thrive — if they have the right systems in place. Here’s an opportunity for you to make a long-lasting impact on the world with one simple tweak.

3) Reconsider the Boundaries of Communication!

Really ask yourself if you need that meeting…or can the topic be discussed another way? I get to be a fly on the wall a lot, and from my perspective there is a lot of talking going on, but less doing. Yes, meetings are important, but there doesn’t need to be one meeting for every little detail, and if you tell your team members to do something, they need to be given the time to do it. You don’t want to fill up their schedule with meetings that don’t have a very clear purpose or outcome.

Similarly, the fact that many workers are constantly connected blurs the lines between work and home life, and it’s not healthy to constantly be in reply-mode. Fostering a balanced work environment is so important, and the happier your team is, the happier you will be as the CEO, so reconsider your company’s boundaries on communication. Can it wait until tomorrow? Is there a better communication system that you can leverage to help your team get more done with less interference? How can you improve your communication process to facilitate instead of hinder productivity?

Micromanaging is outdated. Find alternate ways to communicate! Set realistic project timelines to empower your workers and create boundaries to support them.

4) Embrace global talent!

What we’re seeing right now is the rise of the remote worker. You can live anywhere and as long as you have a stable internet connection and some motivation, you can create your own version of the “American Dream.” The internet is the great equalizer in terms of talent, and if I want to hire someone to fill a new role, I can open that up to anyone, anywhere. That is powerful.

As a business owner, you can do the same. You are no longer bound by traditional local in-person interviews, so use this new talent pool to your advantage! A global team lets you experience different cultures and different viewpoints, which captures new thinking, breeds innovation and creates a more tolerant company culture

5) Reach a broader customer base!

It goes without saying based on my previous point, but yes, your customer base is no longer limited to your local area either. If you offer virtual or remote services, you can help support people you never would have met otherwise.

I run a small company, yet I have students and clients from over a dozen countries — spanning four continents, and how would they ever have found me if I didn’t embrace my own digital transformation? It’s a chance for me to serve on a global platform and have a deeper impact on more people, and what a gift and a privilege that is! Embrace that and scale your vision beyond traditional borders.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

I think companies can create a culture of innovation by encouraging ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, but that requires an open mind and seeing change as an elective rather than a requirement. The five ways I shared on how to take your business to the next level using digital transformation are good ways to get started exploring:

  1. Increasing productivity by getting digitally organized with the right systems
  2. Going paperless by choosing to print less
  3. Communicating more effectively and within new boundaries
  4. Embracing global talent and encouraging diversity
  5. Reaching a broader customer base by thinking beyond traditional delivery means

All of this encourages a positive attitude towards change and innovation, and constantly improving on them with intention helps any business stay ahead of the curve.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “Fail Fast,” and I can’t remember where I heard it, but it stuck with me. I think it sums up courage, innovation, risk-taking, and productivity all in one shot. “Failing fast” means that it’s OK to try new things. It’s OK to take risks. Not all of your ideas are going to work out, and that’s to be expected, but if you “fail fast,” you identify those ideas quickly and move on. I think that testing is a good thing, but most companies don’t do it enough. If you’re always testing, you can always improve on what’s working. The key is to identify what’s working and focusing your energy there, and actually that goes not only for your business, but for anything in life.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow me on instagram @theswedishorganizer, or on twitter @CarolineGuntur

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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