NOW HIRING: When to stop flying solo in your small business

Published on 05 March 2020

Natalie Nichols and Elize Hattin sitting in front of SmartHub logo wall

SmartHub Business Manager Elize Hattin is joined by project management, digital marketing and technology expert Natalie Nichols to discuss when, who and how to hire, where to find candidates and how to manage teams, well.

Working upwards of 80 hours every week is not unheard of for solopreneurs and start-ups, starting out. Trying to get your business up and running while keeping cash tight usually sees business owners doing everything from sweeping the office floor to emptying rubbish bins.

Unfortunately, many business owners end up working in the business not on the business, according to Natalie Nichols, who helps start-ups get up and running.

"You're the help desk, product development, everything. It comes down to a financial point of view as well… but you must look at the processes you've got running in your business.

"Identify any easy repeatable processes you are doing that could be someone else's job." she suggests.

Natalie says this is a common trap for those starting out, with very few fortunate enough to have sufficient cash to float a business and have the right people in the right jobs from the outset.

"The sooner you can get to the point where you're working full-time on your business rather than in it, the more likely you are going to become successful, very quickly," Natalie advises.

Fortuitously, there are plenty of cost-effective ways to get your business going, without having to hire expensive resources.


In addition to looking at which everyday, repetitive and time-consuming tasks can be outsourced, Natalie recommends looking at whether you need to build certain technical skills or require certain innovation or creativity to lead your company to the next step.

"Depending upon the business, you have to be very aware of the different areas where you can easily carve out and say, this is an area that perhaps I'm not so good at.

"As founders, we often go into areas just because we can, but it doesn't mean we should. I have to sit back and say, "No, just because I can sort that funnel doesn't mean that it's the best use of my time." What other people can't do is come up with the actual design of a marketing funnel…therefore, I'm best to do the design and outsource the actual building of that," Natalie explains. 

Natalie also differentiates between being busy and being productive too. She cautions it can be easy to do things because they need to be done, without questioning whether they actually move the business forward and add to the bottom line.

Q: How do you know you're ready to Employ Your First Hire?

A: Do some critical analysis around your own skill set and the dollar value of your time. Look at what is needed to grow your business quickly. If you're the spending 10 hours a week cleaning the office, when you really should be the person spending 10 hours a week selling your goods and services or finding new customers, you need to really seriously think about getting someone to help.


When hiring someone in your business, Elize explains the cashflow rule of thumb or trigger for hiring someone is when your business is making enough cash flow to cover half of that person's wage. She also suggests having an additional three months' worth of spare cash as a buffer in case things don't take off as quick as imagined.

"The person joining your team really should then be making up the other half of their wage, plus a bit of profit," Elize advises. 

Natalie offers several options for building a team in the current global market and flexible economy. With more people opting against working for an employer full-time, she says there are countless candidates with high end skills looking for casual or project work. 

"Highly competent people may not necessarily be right here in this building, in this town, in this state or even this country.

"While I really love to employ Australians wherever possible and I'm a big exponent of this, the reality is that it's not always the most effective way to grow your team or grow your business. We need to accept we now operate in a global economy, and our workforce has to follow suit," Natalie says.

OPTION 1: HIRE LOCAL - Employ a local to work in your office

Before seeking a new hire, Natalie recommends being very clear about the sort of person that you're looking for and dedicate time to creating a proper job description for them.

With this done, where do you find someone local to come and join your team?

  • Seek may be the biggest employment engine in Australia, but Natalie says it is not necessarily going to be the best fit for your job either.
  • LinkedIn is another great place to put out to your local network to say, "Hey, I'm looking for this sort of person."
  • Social media (local Facebook pages and Instagram) a lot of businesses have successfully hired, by simply putting out a post on their Facebook and their Instagram to say, "We're hiring. This is what we need." Be a little bit creative too about the sort of person that you want.

Natalie suggests being very clear in your own mind your first hire is probably going to have to wear multiple hats at the beginning, and they may not be the best at the specific deliverables you want.

Q: What does an ideal local first hire look like?

A: The ability to be flexible, open to change, comfortable living in a little bit of uncertainty, coupled with that person's actual skill set. Somebody that's energetic, has a great vision, is a good personality fit from the beginning.  You don't want to hire yourself either; you need complementary skill sets not two of the same people in the one business.


Natalie says there a lot of people in the market who are quite happy to work a couple of days a week in your business, which can be a viable option for businesses not quite ready to get a full-time person in, but require a higher level of experience.

While contractors and/or consultants may charge a higher rate, they allow hiring flexibility; you can start at two days a week, or one day, or three days and grow from here. 

Natalie recommends getting a great accountant and a great lawyer.

"These professionals are going to provide awesome advice as you move forward and make sure you don't fall into any nasty traps that you may have overlooked or just not been aware of. You don't know what you don't know when you start out with businesses, particularly if this is your first," she says.

Q: Where do you find good consultants or contractors?

A: The best channels are LinkedIn, asking for recommendations from business pages on Facebook, networking events or word of mouth referrals from your colleagues or community such as SmartHub.

OPTION 3: OFFSHORE - Virtual assistants and global teams

Natalie has extensive virtual office experience, with virtual teams in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, as well as personnel in the USA and England.

She suggests matching the skills of personnel to the sorts of jobs they can do easily and to a high quality; typically, the sorts of jobs that don't require a lot of initiative.

"It's more a case of saying, "I need some design assets done…here is the framework for our design…here is the design specification…I need 10 Facebook posts to fit within that design spec…or here is a design for a website, all done up, please go and build that on a WordPress.

"I might engage a virtual assistant to desktop market research the venues across Australia that are of X size… these tasks are great to offshore," she attests.

While Natalie encourages outsourcing simple, repeatable business activities offshore, there are certain business components she does not outsource overseas, such as over the phone customer service.

"If they're just doing chats and email support, great, but personally, I'm not one for having offshore phone support, because I think there is a little stigma attached to that with some language issues," Natalie advises.  Where do you find offshore personnel?

  • Fiverr: Natalie found her tech lead for Pakistan on five years ago, and he's been with her business ever since. "He's got a master's in IT and does a great job of my website development, Shopify, WordPress and leading a team over there," she says.
  • Global Facebook groups: Natalie found a couple of her key people via Facebook. "Somebody will say, "Hey, I'm a specialist in automation"…you get chatting to them and they're in Bangladesh. Straight away you know that you're going to be paying a lot less, maybe $20 an hour whereas for the same skill set, you're going to be paying potentially $150 an hour here. Finding the right Facebook groups to join is simply a matter of seeking out those associated with your industry, a skill or service, or offshore work.
  • Upwork: a global freelancing platform where businesses and independent professionals connect and collaborate remotely.
  • Design Pickle: offer design services for a monthly fee (approx. $399US), giving you a designer to pump out work for you.

 Q: When should I outsource offshore?

 A: When you only need them for a small piece of work. Offshore resources are often happy to work on a per piece basis, a part-time or full-time basis. Sometimes you can get them full-time for a fraction of the cost. Before you put them on full-time, have them complete little projects to check their work and make sure they deliver to an acceptable standard.


When you have people all around the globe who aren't coming into your office every day, or you're not seeing every day, how do you know what are they doing? 

Natalie says time management tools for virtual teams is crucial, as well as having robust processes in place. She urges businesses to embrace technology (it's your best friend); and use it to their advantage.

  • Natalie uses this project management tool to manage her teams; all tasks are written out, assigned to relevant people, and it has a communication stream running about particular tasks as well. Other similar tools include Asana and Trello
  • Vidyard: Natalie creates videos using this free and paid program to explain tasks and project scope to her team, particularly offshore personnel. "You have to be very, very specific about what you want and what you need. Don't leave things to be ambiguous at all. Giving your team videos and screenshot diagrams that they can work from, the better results that you're going to get.

 From her experience, Natalie says processes and technology aligned with your business mission can help foster and support a great team culture.

 "When processes break down, you start to get an acceleration of people resigning and a big change in personnel. Instead of adopting process and moving forward, new hires start to do their own process leading to splintering.

 "Nothing kills your culture quicker than that, because suddenly you've got pressure from the top… you're not achieving your goals, you're not making your financial goals, there's then financial pressures.

 "Setting up repeatable processes that are very clear prevents having to perform business triage to get it back online," she counsels.


Culture is one of the hardest things to define. It's also one of the hardest things to train because you really can't train it, you recruit it, according to Natalie.

"Team culture is driven by leadership. As a leader, you need to walk the walk that you want the business to be. If you're saying one thing and your behaviour is another thing, straight away that's at odds with what people are seeing," she explains.

Natalie says when someone decides to work for you, half the job is about not just the pay.

"It's one thing to have a great product and service. It's another thing for a business to say, "We are an employer of choice; people love working with us because they love the vision and are dedicated to our mission," Natalie claims.

With the current uncertainty over Coronavirus and the hardship it is extolling on business, Natalie says the people you want in your team are those who can carry on through adversity.

"Those who know things are going to improve and keep working forward, who think of ways of collectively using our skills, our vision and our abilities to overcome challenges are the sort of people you want; they're the people that are going to buckle down and really pull through for you when things get hard, " she says.

Natalie's tips for cultivating a good team culture

  • As your teams get bigger, people will be unhappy – as a leader and a manager, it's up to you to tease out what those issues are and see where you can support and help.
  • Use personality profiling tools (such as Clifton StrengthsFinder) to understand team strengths and weaknesses - play for people's strengths rather than their weaknesses. Personal awareness shapes your own behaviour and helps a team know how people are likely to react in certain situations.
  • Everyone in the business needs to know their role and when they're succeeding - Nothing works better than a little bit of praise and saying, "thanks so much for a job well done."
  • People changes = team changes - you might have a grand final winning football team this year, change a couple of people out and suddenly that team goes from being the best team one year, and at the bottom of the ladder the next. Each person plays a unique part and it can change that rapidly.
  • Managing by walking around – despite spending approx. 90% of her time in meetings in one busy role, Natalie dedicated at least half an hour a day, to walking around her team. "I used to call it my temperature test, just to see how everybody was feeling, what they were stressed about. It gave me such a great insight about what the problem was and be able to do something about helping those people.
  • Get them excited by your business - your vision, what you want them to do, what you want them to deliver and the team that you're trying to build.


  1. Focus on your processes - they are going to hold your business together. As you're growing, it's essential to get those processes right.
  2. Have clarity - make sure that you're very clear about the sorts of people that you're looking for, you're clear on the job description, you're clear on what their skill sets are
  3. Have the right technology to support them - as you expand a team, particularly globally, having good technology will make the difference between success and failure.
  4. Walk a mile in their shoes - we're all human; you don't know what road a person is walking. You see them for this part of their life, but there's a whole other life out there that they're leading…be a little bit cognizant of that as well.

Natalie Nichols has joined other world-class subject experts providing practical guidance and advice to start-ups during Turbo-Traction Lab 3. Turbo-Traction Lab is a hands-on program designed to build a modern business in 80 days, delivered with a ‘lab’ mindset. An initiative of the Australian Government, in conjunction with Capital[b] Pty Ltd and Rockhampton Regional Council, Turbo-Traction Lab is a program delivered by the SmartHub. 

 The SmartHub encourages entrepreneurs and business owners to adopt technology and modern based best business practice to make the entire business journey more profitable, more enjoyable, more effective and more efficient. Being part of the SmartHub gives local business owners opportunities to meet with and learn from mentors, to help them learn the discipline required to succeed in business.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming part of the SmartHub, contact us via the following channels:



Phone:             07 4936 8444

In person:         Customs House, 208 Quay Street, Rockhampton for a personal tour.  

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