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Women in business speak about markers of success

11 October 2017

Women Owned Business Panel 1

Following on from Ruby’s recent Women Owned Business event a Masterclass for women in business to help them grow today and build for tomorrow, Ruby spoke to three women in business – Natalie Goldman of FlexCareers (pictured here on the Westpac masterclass panel, left to right: Kirrah McClelland; Carolyn Mee; Natalie Goldman; Maha Koraiem); Shauna Jarrett of SJ Governance Services and Solutions and Alicia Beachley of April5 - about how they benchmark their businesses so that they can understand what success looks like.

Natalie Goldman is CEO of FlexCareers and the Founder of Launch Pod. After 20 years’ experience in human resources and learning and development, Natalie’s a passionate advocate for the economic empowerment of women, gender equality and the future of work – which lies in flexibility.

Natalie says flexible working provides women and men the opportunity to grow their careers whilst caring for family, or progressing other life pursuits.

According to statistics an underutilised talent pool of around 3.5 million career women exists. FlexCareers attracts employers who are looking to hire flexibly, and couples that with a digital acquisition strategy to build profiles on its database. The platform analyses all of the jobs it has and suggests smart job matches to each candidate, based on career history, location and education. Candidates get more intuitive, relevant job matches, and employers get to see a short list of the most relevant candidates for their roles.

How do you know you’re on track in your business – what measures or financial tools do you use?

NG: I have always set targets and had a business plan that I worked to. The creation of that business plan included competitor and market analysis, consultation as to what would be realistic from key influencers in the market, engaging with my target market and, of course, connecting in with my mentor and coach. Once you have set these key targets and milestones these are the start of knowing whether or not you are on track with your business.

The other key metrics to look at to measure the success of your business include:

Customers; Revenue; Products/ Services

Customers validate what you are offering to the market. Are there people out there that would use/ buy your product/ service?

The next and critical validation is that these customers will pay for your product/service. Both these things need to exist in order for your business to be viable and sustainable. Also, are your products/ services scalable?

I have also used all the following financial/business tools at any given time and all serve a great purpose to keep you on track, especially as your business grows.

Slack – communication tool

Basecamp or Asana – project management tool

Confluence – collaborative document and management tool

Google Drive/ Dropbox/ One Drive – cloud document storage

Xero – financial tool

Insightly – CRM

What did your business look like at the end of year 1 and/or 3?

NG: With FlexCareers we are only 2.5 years old so I will talk to the difference to year 1 and 2.

Very different, is the answer.

At the end of year 1 there was some revenue – not much.  I was trying to get more customers and giving away more things for free to get the customers across the line but in year 2 it became clear that we had created a strong market presence and by continuing to offer anything for free devalued our proposition to the market – so we have stopped doing that. 

As an organisation at the end of year 1 we had four people in the team, but now we are 10 and looking to grow dramatically in the next 12 months. One needs to start focusing on things that create a great culture around engagement and a great place to work including you and your leader’s style of leading. 

The challenges we faced at the end of year 1 are vastly different from now – at the end of year 1 it was about gaining credibility; getting people to pay for your products/ services; figuring out what the market wants from us and what problems are we really solving (rather than what we think in our minds). 

Now we face challenges around massive amounts of growth from increased number of clients, to revenue, raising capital and a larger team. All good things to have challenges with as it means we are doing the right things.

Would you use cash flow as a benchmarking measure? Why?

NG: Not cash flow but revenue. We could make a profit tomorrow if we stopped reinvesting it into the business but we want to continue to scale, develop the tech [technology], expand overseas and so on. We can see that we are growing between 10-20 percent, month on month, in our revenue. Cash flow is very up and down.

Thinking about your business’s life where do you see it ending – have you a plan?

NG: We have a few plans but in the end we would like to be acquired in the next five or so years once we have scaled to a certain size. 

Shauna Jarrett has over 20 years’ experience as a private client solicitor and small business owner. Her most recent business SJ Governance Services and Solutions has been trading for 18 months and provides governance and legal support to insurers, Universities and SMEs on a consulting basis.

How do you know you’re on track in your business – what measures or financial tools do you use? 

SJ: One of the really important questions I ask my clients and myself when starting a business is why are you building the business - to make an enjoyable living business, or to develop a business that you can sell?  I am in the professional services business – I can only sell my time and expertise.

I have always set a monthly financial target. The amount I need to bill and collect to pay the business costs – including a wage and super for me, outgoings and a bit of cushion. Having a target means I don’t need to dig into any surplus that the business may have – it builds up a buffer for when work is slow. A target also enables me to gauge how much work I need to bring in to meet that target and so balance work with the other things I could do with my time. For example: doing my board work; marketing the business; building business relationships; my personal life.

What did your business look like at the end of year 1 and/or 3?

SJ: The advice I’ve received is you need three years to build up a business that will continue on referrals and repeat work.  SJ Governance is 18 months old. My first year (financial) was a good one as I had a part-time contract role – which is a part of my practice model.  At the moment I am looking for another part-time contract – or full-time, short-term contract.

In my previous business I was able to relax about the cash flow to pay myself and a staff member plus overheads by the end of year three. Keeping the business going then became an issue about maintaining the energy and enthusiasm.

Would you use cash flow as a measure? Why?

SJ: I would use cash flow, because “no mon, no fun” is what I always say. Without cash flow there is no future security or sense of the business growing to a sustainable level. Even if you’re using a credit card/overdraft to keep going, you eventually need cash flow.

Thinking about your business’s life where do you see it ending – have you a plan?

SJ: I see myself working for quite some time to come. I provide a service that’s needed and I can make myself as available as much as I want or need. Also my experience keeps adding up – the big difference this time round is that the technology is better and more self-sufficient. I am ensuring that I contribute to my super so that I have that to look forward to and I’m not looking at a big sell at the end.

Alicia Beachley is the founder and CEO of April5. April5 connects brands to humans and humans to brand. It specialises in events, brand activations, promotions, trade shows, sampling, in-store and experiential marketing. Clients include Microsoft, Paypal, Coty, RAMS, Westpac and Homeworld.

How do you know you’re on track in your business – what measures or financial tools do you use?

AB: We set targets in our agency and these are done every financial year and are based on both historic data and growth plans for organic and new business. We set the mix that we need to be profitable (% of events, promotions, PR campaigns, etc.) and ensure we have a healthy mix of business and clients. We review clients in a holistic way at the same time and look to see where our gaps are. These plans feed into our client budgets and targets and are reviewed every month.

I have an outsourced financial controller in my business, which is something I have invested in. She works with me on a monthly retainer. Whilst I know my numbers, she knows my business and industry intimately and helps work with me on the financial success of the agency. I have a bookkeeper two days a week and she manages the day-to-day expenses and reports. We use Xero – financial tool.

 

We have a monthly meeting where we measure the following via a management report. Both senior staff and the bookkeeper feed reports into the master report. We sit down for two hours each month and review, and then plan anything we need to set in motion:

Billings to forecast

GP

COS

Quarterly GP

Staff Productivity

Client Profitability

BD –  Client Growth

BD - New Business

Sales Projection

Client Analysis (year on year)

Cash Flow

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We also track the agencies performance month on month and year on year, which helps us to pick up trends and enables us to plan a strategy for trending quiet times.

I also check in weekly and sometimes daily if there is something financial I need to be across.

What did your business look like at the end of year 1 and/or 3?

AB: I grew really quickly based one major client. I did the bookkeeping and invoicing in the first couple of years with the help of a great accountant. It was a really good eye opener and steep learning curve. I knew how to make money, fee and mark-up (we are a service based business) and how to budget, so it was just the detailed financial side I had to learn (reconciling, reporting BAS, etc.).

At the end of year two I invested in a part-time bookkeeper as we were getting too busy. I had someone I trusted, however I still paid the bills and invoiced the clients. I also realised that my time was better spent with clients and doing the things I was really good at otherwise I would get caught up in too much day to day.

Would you use cash flow as a benchmarking measure? Why?

AB: Cash flow is a difficult measure, especially in a service based business working with corporates who impose non-negotiable payment terms.  You can have plenty of cash, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are making money. It’s about the margins and then GP (Gross Profit) to NP (Net Profit) and the time you are spending making the money. If you have your financial models correct, you will know where to invest your time for maximum return.

You also need to think balance. Cash might be coming in but at what cost. Are you seeing your family and friends or are you working every single hour you can to get cash.

Thinking about your business’s life where do you see it ending – have you a plan?

AB: I never really had a set plan, but as my business has grown (both older and bigger), I am very clear in what I want and a plan has developed. My vision is based on doing the best work for the right clients, with a safe and steady growth path and getting the agency to a sustainable point where I have the flexibility to decide my next move. This next stage for me is steadily getting traction but at the moment, I need to focus on delivering myself options so that I have choice.

That said, I am really enjoying the agency, the work and the team and my current plan is about continuing to grow April5.

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