PODCAST EP 71
Simon chats with Isabella Villani, Company Director and Chief Customer Officer at Exceed Global.Listen Now
Simon Dell: So, welcome to the show, Natalie Goldman. You are actually in Sydney at the moment, aren’t you? How are you?
Natalie Goldman: I am, and thanks for having me on your show, Simon. Great to be here.
Simon Dell: Is it still raining here? Because apparently, it’s torrential rain down your way and the world is ending.
Natalie Goldman:Oh yes, we had Armageddon yesterday. We had two months of rain in probably the first hours of the morning from 6:00 till 9:00, and flooding, and yeah, it was very dramatic.
Simon Dell: It’s just a normal…
Natalie Goldman: I’m working flexibly. My team… Sorry?
Simon Dell: I was going to say it’s just a normal shower up in Queensland, yeah.
Natalie Goldman: Oh, I don’t know. This was pretty full-on flooding. I had flooding in my area and there was lots of flooding in parts of Sydney. It was pretty dramatic. I did a post actually on both LinkedIn and Facebook asking, “What are you doing with work? If you can’t get out from where you are, are you working flexibly?” And a lot of people saying, “Yes, we are.” And so, it’s interesting when people are forced to have to work flexibly not because they don’t want to but because the company or boss doesn’t let them. But when extreme circumstances arise, it’s amazing how it just happens, and it works, and it’s fun; the world did not end.
Simon Dell:On that note, tell us a bit about FlexCareers. Give us the elevator pitch so everyone can understand what the company does.
Natalie Goldman: I love a good elevator pitch here. So, FlexCareers, we are a two-sided marketplace connecting progressive employers around flexible work together with candidates looking for flexible work. That’s the pitch. We’re pretty much all focused on flexible opportunities, enabling workforce participation where people might not be able to work because of a lack of flexibility or because, and we can see more and more, that people are wanting to work flexibly, not just women, not those just with children but Millennials, Baby Boomers. Everybody wants to work flexibly and it’s the number one thing that people look for in an organization now, whether it’s a small, to medium, to a large enterprise.
Simon Dell: Give us your definition of flexibility because I think, obviously, a lot of people would perceive it as different to each other.
Natalie Goldman: The paradigm of flexibility often goes to, “Oh, it’s part time” or “It’s a work from home thing.” Well, they are types of flexibility, absolutely. But flexibility by definition would be what I would describe is the ability to negotiate either when, or how, or where you actually work.
Now, it’s not necessarily all three, it’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all example either. So when I fly, my pilot, I hope they are present and not doing a work-from-home day. They need to physically still be there, however they can choose which routes and which days they work.
So, that would be flexibility in their area versus somebody who works shift work; or in a call center they might be looking to do double shifts, so from a health and safety perspective, they’re not as receptive; through to somebody, let’s say, who is in an office where there might be core hours but you might be able to start late, finish late; start early, finish early; work from home; work from a different office; different location, and so on.
So, it really comes down to it’s nothing 9 to 5 really anymore. There are very few roles that way. It’s more about, “How can we do this differently to still meet customer needs, to still meet team needs, or say your individual needs?” It’s about encompassing all of those.
Simon Dell: Does it differ greatly from people who are out there as contractors or freelancers? Do you perceive a difference between the two?
Natalie Goldman: No, because what we’re talking about is how to work. So, we’re not talking about the definition of permanent versus casual contracts, those kinds of things. So, what I would stress is that usually, the formal flexibility is negotiated into more of a permanent-type arrangement. Having said that, casual contracts can also negotiate as well. They just don’t necessarily have as much bargaining power, particularly in the casual scenario.
But then there’s the argument with casual where you get to choose your shift. So, it depends what you need as an individual and that’s the point of flexibility. So, unions often say, “Oh, you know, flexibility is terrible. It’s an employer abusing the employee.” It’s actually quite the opposite.
What we’re seeing is actually, “Let’s give the employee agency. Let’s give them a say in how they work, where, when, what time, all of those kind of things.” That they actually are able to integrate their responsibilities and desires in their own life and what fulfills them as long as they work rather than work dictating how they live.
Simon Dell: I’m going to ask you a couple of questions about the whole trust issue with this, but the first thing I wanted to understand is why you feel that this is the kind of the way of the future. I know that there’s a lot of people that talk about the gig economy and all that sort of thing. Do you feel that this is the way of the future and why is it the way of the future?
Natalie Goldman: Absolutely. Look, it is definitely the way of the future driven a lot by technology. The fact that you and I are doing what we’re doing right now, the fact that I’m sitting in my office in Sydney and the fact that I have clients all over Australia and New Zealand and I don’t necessarily need to travel to see them, the fact that we can deliver what we deliver via technology, it’s changing the way that we work.
However, what that translates to in the day-to-day for everyone else, whether that be smartphones, whether that be crowd-based computing, whether that’s blockchain; you just keep adding to that, artificial intelligence, robotics, automation. There’s so many levels of technology that are impacting our lives day-to-day now.
Whether it be going into your local Kmart and now there’s no one at checkout, it’s all automated tellers, and you do it yourself, through to online shopping, through to whatever it is. No matter what sector you’re in, technology is impacting how we’re engaging with customers, how we are working day-to-day.
To expect people to come into an office and sit down for 8 hours in a day and for them to do their job is quite old-school. All I can say is think of digital photography and think of a company that we once knew called Kodak who said, “Digital photography will never change photography. Photography has been around for over 100-something years and it hasn’t really changed in the concept of film. We process it. We have a photo. And yes, maybe the improvement of quality, and process, and maybe even product, but it’s still pretty much the same thing.”
Look at where we are now. Kodak doesn’t exist anymore. We can create the most amazing photographs from our smartphone. My children create the most unbelievable collages of music. Digital photography and videography has changed everything and it’s been democratized by technology. Work is no different.
And so, anyone who thinks that technology won’t impact or isn’t already impacting how we work has got their head in the sand, and we know that flexibility is the number one key thing that’s driving a lot of the change as well from a social perspective.
So, whether we’re talking about it from a workforce participation of women… At the moment, it’s only around 67%, which is only a few more percent than 4 years ago. Not much. Society is starting to shift whether you look at that from the #MeToo movement, whether it be from a range of other factors as well. The amount of participation in the workforce will shift and increase upwards.
Furthermore, more and more people want to work part-time. They want more agency in what they’re doing. They’re recognizing that, “I don’t want to work stupid hours and then give up my whole life.” People are recognizing that they want to own more of this decision on how to work, and so we’re demanding it.
And so, companies are actually having to sit up and going, “We’re losing great talent because we’re not offering what our people need.” And so, although it’s a future of work conversation, absolutely, it’s happening today. Absolutely happening today.
Simon Dell: You must obviously get a lot of companies approaching you that like the idea of having flexible staff and flexible careers, but they perhaps haven’t got the ability to trust their staff enough. How do they overcome that challenge? Because if you’ve got somebody that’s working from home or working flexible hours or things like that, sometimes, it must be difficult to patrol them or make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. How do they tackle that sort of thing?
Natalie Goldman: That’s a really great question. So, how the how to do flex conversation came up a couple of years ago initially by a few of our clients, and it became a louder question by more and more customers. What we found was that a lot of people didn’t know how to do this flexibility thing, and at the core of it, you’re absolutely right, Simon: Trust is so at the core of enabling a culture of flexibility. Because if you don’t trust your people, how do you know what they’re doing?
Now, flexible work is not a privilege. It’s not earned. It’s not something that can be earned because what we’re talking about is a different way of working. So, a different way of working then requires a different type of culture. So, the traditional culture, so if you think of 50 years ago, 100 years ago, you had Ford doing mass productization, and you had a whole big boss at the top telling everybody what to do, and then you had employees just standing on the production line assembling a car.
And then now, it’s of course sophisticated in an office, but you still have the same philosophy of the big boss telling you what to do, and as the little employee, you just do what you have to do. There’s no trust. That’s a command and control style relationship and one of power totally in the hands of the boss. However, what we’re seeing through technology and through flexible working is the democratization of work. What does that mean? It means we’re talking more that more and more companies now are doing Agile working.
They’re working on really collaborative-style working. And what that means is yes, you still have a boss, you still need someone who needs to be responsible and to drive the team, but they’re an enabler. It’s not a power trip. And so, really, what we’re starting to see is a real shift and focus not so much on input, how many hours have you done, how many numbers have you pressed, how many widgets have you built in that particular time, like how many can I see when you’re doing, it’s that kind of thing, it’s output.
So, by not necessarily knowing where your team are or what they’re doing at any moment, if you have a deadline that by Friday they will have built 20 widgets and every Friday they build their 20 widgets, does it matter where they build their 20 widgets? Does it matter that you didn’t see them for half the time? But in fact, those 20 widgets are now becoming 30 because they’re so engaged and empowered that they’re building more and more quality as well.
Shifting that command and control to a more collaborative leadership and team dynamic is challenging. And so, we actually work with a lot of organizing and developed a program called FlexReady to help organizations do exactly that, to become flex-ready.
Simon Dell:Taking a step back now, when you started the business, where did your idea come from? Was it a light bulb moment or something you’ve been thinking of for a long time?
Natalie Goldman: I wish it was my idea. That would’ve been awesome, but it wasn’t. So, the two co-founders, Marko Njavro and Joel McInnes, old frenemies rather from banking days, they had always wanted to create something in this space. They’ve noticed how few women there were on the trading floor particularly. As they moved up and got more senior, there were less and less women on the floor. They recognized very quickly that something wasn’t quite right.
Post-GFC happened and Joel and his lovely wife, Emily, had three beautiful daughters. Emily took 9 years out of her very illustrious career and decided after that period that she was ready to come back into the workforce, however really struggled to find a full-time, flexible job at the senior level that she was and where she left.
Now, mind you, it wasn’t HR. She subsequently found a job, but HR – and you would think that that’s an area that would be really easy. However, numerous factors were going against her. One, the market wasn’t quite ready, and didn’t quite understand, and was discriminating very heavily against anyone who said, “I’d like to work flexibly,” especially at the interview stage, let alone women coming back or return to work.
And so then, where do you look for a flexible job? Where do you go looking for jobs at all? So, you go into job boards, you seek those recruitment companies and those kinds of things. But most people didn’t understand, and it’s still an education around, “Well, what is this flex thing?” So, the marketplace idea came out of that experience, and it did primarily start in the world of helping women return into the workforce and to enable them to just take more fully in the workforce in robust, career type roles.
Having said that, today, our remit and our drive and vision is very different because we know that that is the very important area that we still focus on. But men want flexibility because of their families. Women who don’t have children want flexibility. Millennials who have no responsibilities, they want flexibility because that’s what they’ve kind of grown up, going, “I want to live my life. I don’t want to work all the time.”
You’ve got Baby Boomers wanting flexibility because they’re dialing down their careers. You’ve got people who don’t fit into any of those boxes but want to integrate work and life. So, the drive has shifted in the marketplace very, very quickly and we’ve followed that. So, where we initially started, yes, very much around women and return to work is still part of who we are, but our broad vision is really about creating flexible workplaces that shift about the needle for everybody, not just for women.
Simon Dell: I mean, I have to say. I’ve got a 10-day-old and I’ve also got a toddler who is 2 & 1/2. We used to… Well, we still do, we’ll start again next year, but take him to swimming lessons on a Monday morning at 10:00. And if you are working a normal, full-time role, a full-time job, that becomes impossible for you as the husband in the relationship to do that, and then everything’s left on the wife who might be staying at home. That was one of the reasons I pursued working for myself.
The other interesting thing is, we as a small digital consultancy, which is what we do full-time, we often need support, and we need help, and we need people who are skilled and experts at what they do, but we can’t necessarily afford to pay somebody full-time. We don’t have the volume of work for that. So, being able to find people that are flexible that perhaps only want to work between 10:00 and 15:00 every day, or three days a week, it’s a huge bonus for us to be able to find people like that.
So, totally, completely see where the marketplace is going. Do you get a lot of push back? You mentioned the unions earlier. A lot of people seem to bag that flexible working and the gig economy as rotting employees. Do you still get a lot of push back from certain sectors?
Natalie Goldman: I wouldn’t say certain sectors. In fact, a lot of sectors where you think that flexibility would be shove to the side is actually the areas that they’re using it the most. Whether that be construction, resourcing, mining, those areas for example, or banking and finance, which are traditionally very male-dominated industries.
The reason that they’re doing that is because, from the resources, mining, construction, is basically they don’t have enough people. They start to boom that they actually need people. They’re recognizing that, “Oh, maybe we should be hiring women, too. Why are we excluding that? Why do we create a culture where it’s just half the population?”
They also recognize that diversity brings an incredible amount of innovation, and productivity, and engagement, and more profitability. All of those have been proven through countless reports and research. There isn’t I would say an industry or a sector. Maybe legal would be the only one, the last bastion where it’s not the greatest because of the way that it’s structured, but even that will change eventually.
Simon Dell: And I have to say, dealings with me from a legal perspective, I think it is one of the dinosaurs of industry still at the moment. The way that it works and the way that they approach potentially helping people just seems to me to be something from 20, 30 years ago.
Natalie Goldman: It’s totally true, and insurance is the other one, but insurance companies are also recognizing because they’re so consumer-focused, and need to sell product, they’re selling to a very… In Australia and New Zealand for example, diverse group of people. You’re not just selling to white men who would be 40 to 60.
You’re selling to a diverse range of people, so you need to have diversity within your business to be able to service your customers properly to be profitable. So, more companies are recognizing that. So, where we see I would say there being blockers or resistance is not industry-focused. It would actually be company by company. It depends on the CEO. It depends on how progressive they are. It depends on how much pain there is.
So, with the rain yesterday for example as I was saying, a lot of people in Sydney were forced to stay at home. Schools were closed. Roads were closed. I think it was quite dramatic in certain areas, others barely touched, but it forced people very quickly in a physical way to go, “I can’t actually physically get to my work. How can I do this differently?” But then you’ve also got…
Another suburb in Sydney had a train station close down up at Macquarie Park, for example and we had a number of clients who became clients, and some already were, who said, “We have 6,000 staff who catch public transport. We have a car park for 100 people. We need flexibility and we need to launch this in the next 10 months because that train station is closing down and we need to change the way that we work.”
So, sometimes, people are forced into having to change the way that they work due to external factors. Others see it as a talent conversation, that it’s about attraction and retention. Others just say it’s just good practice and they’re the really progressive companies. So, watch this space over the next 2 to 5 years and you’ll see a dramatic shift in lots of large corporate and SMEs change the way that they’re working to attract and retain good talent.
And the way that a good colleague of mine once said to me was, “Natalie, think about the construction industry 15 years ago around safety. That’s when they started introducing the incredibly strong compliance around safety, and high vis, and high visibility type clothing, steel-capped shoes, protective glasses, helmets, all that kind of stuff.”
In a very blue collar, masculine culture, macho, ‘toughen up’, “We don’t need that stuff, we’re fine.” Now, you go to that culture, not only do they do safety well, they pride themselves on it. They’re now tackling mental health issues. The greatest challenge for men in Australia is mental health, and these industries and these particular blue-collar ones where they tackle this issue of safety are now tackling mental health.
So, culturally, flexibility is inhibited because it’s seen as a very female thing, particularly when you’re talking about it from the perspective of caring for children and/or aging parents. You then need to shift that paradigm. And when you change that paradigm in that conversation, a lot of people sit up and go, “Oh, it’s relevant to me. Oh, this could be actually quite good. Oh, let’s try this.” And so on. So, it’s a journey.
Simon Dell:So, when you were found in the company, so the founders came to you to sort of say, “Would you be in charge?” or “We need a good CEO. What are you doing tomorrow?”
Natalie Goldman: Pretty much, kind of. I was running my own business at the time and doing my own thing. They literally reached out on LinkedIn. And initially, I was like, “Who is this stranger asking me out for a coffee?” Because they have an interesting idea they wanted to chat with. And I’m like, “Okay, that’s a bit random.” But I did some checking, and then when I saw it was FlexCareers, I’d already heard of them.
I had been watching them for a good 6 months. And so, I was like, you know, I’m very interested to have that conversation, and essentially came on board with them as their CEO and have not looked back since. Because for me, it’s an intersection of… I’m really shifting the needle around technology in the workforce, how people engage with that, but also changing the way we work, and also how it impacts our lives.
So, whether that’s around gender equality, more women and men being able to be themselves at work and at home. So, you can be a proud dad and say, “Yeah, I’ve got a 10-day-old son, and I’ve got a toddler, and I’ve got children.” 10 years ago, men did not feel so comfortable to identify with being a parent. Now, you see men pushing prams, carrying bjorns, their Babybjörns. They’re more engaged. There’s that shift happening. This is wonderful.
But yeah, it’s quite a journey. And so for me, it’s a marrying of my personal values with my background and also my passion. So, it’s really a match made in heaven for everybody.
Simon Dell: When you walked in day one, what was your plan in terms of how to grow the business? And the second part of that is, what do you still do on a day-to-day basis, or what do your marketing people do on a day-to-day basis that helps drive awareness of the company and drive new leads and new business to you?
Natalie Goldman: I think there are two key things when I walked into the business that I recognized that we needed to do. One was the marketing and sales. So, the marketing was around brand awareness and building that credibility. So, who were we compared to SEEK? We’re a no one.
SEEK now see us as a, I wouldn’t necessarily a viable competitor, but they know who we are, let’s just put it that way, and we’re known in the market. So, building credibility was very important. Brand awareness was very important, and what is our brand, and having really great clarity around what that is.
We stayed very true to that. For example, we now have I think it’s 43,000 Facebook followers. Every single one was organic. We never bought, purchased a like or a person to join us. We have about 100,000 people in our database, again, through our marketing and everything we’ve done, all organic. And so, for us, from day one, that was really important.
The second thing from the strategic thing that I did from when I walked through that door was that I noticed that when engaging with customers, we were doing job by job or a job pack. So, what that means is reaching out to CBA and saying, “Commonwealth Bank, you do thousands of jobs, but can you just give us… I know a certain person in the recruitment team. What do you have?” And you’re just doing it at that kind of a level.
And I recognized that we needed to deal with the most senior person in any company. Secondly, we needed to align with their strategic objectives. And so, how do we fit into their strategy? And so subsequently, how can we get a larger wallet size and a larger portion of their wallets that they have to spend on all of this?
And so, that worked really well, and we’ve brought in subscriptions. We brought in a different pricing model and subsequently that just worked a treat. And so, whether you’re an SME or a large corporate, we have products that fit and give you good value, and that was really important. So, that was day one, so part one of your question. So, where are we now today? Today, I would say brand awareness is still very high on the agenda, point of difference and differentiation from others in the marketplace.
As you can imagine, there are now more and more people in this space that we need to really again still build on that credibility, build on the fact that we were one of, if not the first in this space, and why they should even bother engaging with us. And that’s under the client side. And then community side, it’s about continuing to deliver them value with what we can do.
And so, for us, our targets and what our marketing team do in that sense is really drive the conversation in two lanes, essentially, one client side and one community side simultaneously, which can be challenging. And so, they’ve got really clear targets around acquisition of new candidates onto our database, the number of website traffic per month, per day, building of our Facebook and all those kind of really standard metrics so we’re really clear on what they are.
2019 for us is going to be a massive growth here for us where we really want to push those numbers up even higher because that then just again differentiates us from that perspective. So, that’s what I would say would be those kind of things from a marketing perspective.
Simon Dell: I’m also guessing looking at your LinkedIn profile that you’re quite… I was going to say you put yourself out there, but I didn’t mean it to quite sound like that, but you’re quite visible in the corporate world in terms of speaking, and representation, and all those kind of things, and I suspect that that sort of adds to the brand awareness for the business as well.
Natalie Goldman: That is definitely a really key strategy of ours, thought leadership. So, the world of flexibility is becoming a little bit more populated and noisy with people. However, we’re one of the early ones to get in there. And with my background, that being of organizational psychology and having worked in the HR learning talent space for over 20 years myself, I come with somewhat a little bit of information and knowledge about all of this in working.
Simon Dell: Just a bit.
Natalie Goldman: Yeah, just a bit. And so, flexibility has been on my agenda for over 10 years. I’ve got two children, one 14 almost and the other one 11. So, that’s been on my radar for that at least 14, 15 years, and impacting the workplaces and the organizations that I worked with. So, this is not new for me. So yes, public speaking, working with our clients, doing keynote addresses, speaking with you today.
Thought leadership is a very important marketing strategy for us, because then our clients know that, “Well, clearly, she knows what she’s talking about.” But then I also don’t rest on my laurels either. There’s always really great research. So, the University of Sydney just came out with some great research just this week.
To be honest, I haven’t read the entire report but it’s on my reading list: McKinsey, Bain, a number of our organizations reporting have great reports that have come out through the years that I have read, and I keep abreast and go to workshops, and conferences, and here are the people, particularly from overseas, the World Economic Forum have the most amazing future of work resources and information that I’m constantly reading.
So for me, I’m watching, reading, listening, always learning to stay on top of my game. Because yes, I might have loads of experience and continue to get direct, hands-on experience with all of our clients, which is priceless and fantastic, there’s still so much more going on out there.
We’ve now had clients reach out just this year from overseas who said, “No one’s doing what you’re doing. When you are coming over here?” which we’re planning on, going more global than Australia and New Zealand. “Can you service us now? We need help not so much on the talent side, but can you please help us get more flexible?”
So, we’ve been doing a lot of services just this year not just in Australia and New Zealand but globally because there’s no one else offering like our FlexReady product that we’ve got in the marketplace.
Simon Dell: A couple of questions out of some of the things that you just said there. If you were standing in front of a female entrepreneur, and obviously you do a lot of that in terms of you’re global ambassador with Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and some of your other roles in there…
If you’re standing in front of someone who’s wanted to start a business or even somebody that’s been established leading a business for a long time, and they’ve heard the words ‘become a thought leader’, all that sort of thing, what would you say to them is — how would you do that?
We all read this thing about, “You should be a thought leader,” and people look at it and go, “That’s all well and good, but what do I actually do?” Is there a couple of things that you can recommend that would start people off in that journey?
Natalie Goldman: Absolutely. Being a thought leader, technically, my understanding of what it is, is that you’re somebody who has something unique, and interesting, and credible to say about whatever the topic is. So, you need a really strong foundation of whatever that topic is. So for me, I find that having had the 20+ years’ experience gives me that foundation.
But if you don’t have the 20+ years’ experience, which often is the case, you come up with a great business idea in an area that you may or may not have had that level of experience, then read about it, research it, speak to people, go to conferences. There’s so much available, whether it be through TED, whether it be through a MOOC, which is a Massive Open Online Course.
MOOC.org has thousands of amazing courses, programs, short and long, that you can go and learn, from Harvard, through to MIT, through to Oxford University, on any topic whatsoever. Listen to interesting podcasts, and read up on everything you possibly can, and then start formulating your own thoughts about it.
So, rather than being a parrot and just repeating everything that everybody else is saying, true thought leadership comes down to then being able to filter all of that into the context of, “Well, what is your perspective on all of this? How do you see the world and how do you see it in the context?”
For me, how I define flexibility is something I came up with. I’ve come up with the term, “Why do people need flexibility?” Well, that’s reason-agnostic. That was another terminology that I just made up because I’m saying you can do that, you can make up things but there has to be a strong foundation underneath that.
But it is doable, it does take some time. But speaking to people and really listening to people, asking questions of people who at the moment might be experts in your field, it’s all learnable, and in time you can build that credibility as well.
Simon Dell: And I think the other thing that people need to understand is that the entry to do that, aside from the knowledge, so assuming that you’ve got the knowledge, or you’re building the knowledge, and you’re reading, and you’re listening, and all those kind of things, the entry point to start getting your thoughts out there is very, very low. Having an iPhone, or being able to create a podcast, or creating a blog; they’re not expensive things to do anymore.
That’s the sort of thing that you can do. I mean, we all sit there on LinkedIn and see people doing video podcasts in their car, and it drives me bonkers why everyone keeps doing that, but that’s another matter entirely. But it is easy to do. I’m like, “Why do you keep doing it in your car?” It makes you look like… Anyway, there’s obviously a reason. There’s obviously a psychology why people do video podcasts in their car, but anyway, the point is that it’s a very easy point of entry.
And the other thing I was going to add onto that is then, not to be dissuaded that the first thing you write, or the first video that you record, or the first podcast that you record, that nobody reads it, listens to it, or watches it because that obviously happens.
Natalie Goldman: Oh, absolutely. That actually reminds me of a really interesting process. So, I had worked for over 20 years in the corporate space. And although I was running my own business, I was still very heavily involved in the corporate space, but I needed to shift what my mum always called corporate speak into my own voice. She’s a writer, so she knows what she’s talking about.
And I never thought of myself as a writer in that I’m more comfortable having a conversation with you, as we are today, or public speaking than I am writing. However, it’s a known fact that if you’re going to become a thought leader, you need to write blogs, you need to pen articles, you need to be prolific in what you write. You need to write a website. You need to write proposals. You need to write.
And so, I actually went about and spent… I did a course for myself to help me shift my mindset out of corporate speak into my own voice which was a really important journey for myself. It took a while, but I got there. And then the other thing was I gave myself, and was very strict, that I had to publish a blog every Wednesday… Or Tuesday or Wednesday, I can’t remember what it was. And like you said, the first few… My mom, my friends, my husband at the time, all the good people liked it, shared it, commented. It was great.
Simon Dell: I’m glad your mum read yours. My mum’s never read anything I’ve written and I’ve been writing since I was about 13 years old. I’m pretty sure in 30-odd years, she’s not read anything. But anyway, go on, I digress.
Natalie Goldman: My mum’s a writer, so if I didn’t read her stuff and she didn’t read mine, it’d be…
Simon Dell: You’ve got your own critic there, haven’t you?
Natalie Goldman: Exactly. But then slowly what starts happening is your Facebook followers grow, and your LinkedIn followers grow, and your followers generally engaging, and your community grows. And so, it takes time, but I do remember that very first time when I launched my Facebook page or LinkedIn page for my business, just that she, like… “Oh my god, oh my god. I’m putting it out there. Wow, okay, we’re live. And now what?” Okay. Are they coming by the thousands? No. Ýou’ve got to work.
Simon Dell:There’s nobody here yet, yeah.
Natalie Goldman:No. Crickets, literally. And so, tumbleweeds flying past my computer. So, we’ve got to get connectivity, and momentum, and it takes time to build that up, but that’s where the thought leadership is so important. You need to have a really clear voice on who you are, what you stand for, what’s your business, what are you proposing, what are you shifting the needle on, what’s your point of differentiation, and what are your thoughts on all of these topics?
So, that routine and regimen of a weekly blog was really something that drove me to think quite consistently and gave me discipline. That really drove a lot of engagement with my community and brought a fair bit of business, and then eventually brought me to FlexCareers because the prolific nature of these blogs over a period of years caught the attention of Marko and Joel and said, “Well, she clearly knows what she’s talking about. She’s got the tech background. She has the right context of what we’re talking and who we’re talking to.” That was their initial reach out to me, was around that.
Simon Dell: Yeah. There was one other thing, I know this is going to take you back to about 15 minutes ago, that I thought was really important. I just wanted to get further thoughts on it, was that you said that when you’re approaching a new business or when you’re trying to grow the business, it’s important to be trying to talk to the most senior person in the company.
I can’t stress enough how many times we have gone through the whole process of lots of emails, meetings, pitches, proposal documents, to only find right at the end of the process they all sort of go, “Right, well, we’ll take it to the CEO now and see what he says.”
And you’re just like, when you don’t get that opportunity to pitch directly to the person that’s making the decision, your life is in the hands of someone else. So, I just thought it was interesting that you said that. That to me is a massive piece of advice for everybody out there trying to grow their business.
Natalie Goldman: Absolutely, so that’s part of our sales process, that we have qualifying conversations even before we go down the path of any other conversation. So, things like: Do you hold the budget? Are you the decision maker? What’s your strategy?
If they can’t answer those things, then you don’t want to be dealing with them, because then, like you said, you’re going to be going back and forth, and wasting everybody’s time, and they’re not going to be a position to not only to prove that they then now have to go convince somebody else, and you don’t want them to talk on your behalf. You want to be talking to the right person. So, identifying that early on is super important.
And so, for us, that’s really quite easy apart from qualifying questions, but it’s usually directed for us, directors of talent, HR, diversity, and/or CEOs. And so, that’s usually who we speak to and that’s also my network through having worked in this space for as long as I have and we’ve all kind of grown up together, so to speak. And so now, my friends from back in the day, uni and whatever, now are heads of all of these different areas that we’ve stayed in touch.
So, LinkedIn and all of these other places and networking is so important, but the sales process needs to be refined from the beginning. It’s good to be bold about who you are and what you do. I’ve actually just started new technique which I’m very happy to share with you which seems to be working really well with clients and potential clients.
So, if there is that desire to connect but everyone’s just so busy, so you call and go, “Hey, it’s Natalie from FlexCareers. Sorry I missed you, but I’d love to set up a time to come in and talk to you, follow up from our last meeting” or “I saw that you liked my LinkedIn post, so I wanted to come and have a chat with you.”
What I now do instead of doing that or sending an email, I actually just send them a diary note, like an actual invitation two to three weeks out. So, give them a bit of time, so it’s not like tomorrow, and say, “Thursday 11:00 on the 14th of December.”
And then in the message, you write, “Look, I know that we’ve been wanting to speak. It’s always so busy and so crazy. Just wanted to pop something in the diary. If this isn’t suitable, let me know when is. Send me back an alternative and we’ll find a time to catch up to continue or start our conversation.” Nine times out of ten, people either accept it or propose another time that I then go, “Yep, I can do it.” and then the meeting is had.
Or even for a phone call meeting, that is not just for face-to-face. And I was hesitant to do that at first because I thought, “That’s just really arrogant of me to assume that it would be fine.” But the feedback I’ve got from people was actually, it’s really great because I’m so busy with clients.
For me to then listen to the voicemail, then to write down that I’ve got to call you back, and then look into my diary when am I free, then you and I have the conversation, we go back and forth on email – it gets so busy, everyone’s so busy, and it’s just too hard, so people then don’t return calls or emails and you keep chasing them up. You want to cut that down. And so, this technique I found works a treat, so I’m very happy to share that with your people.
Simon Dell: I’m going to start using it, and then I’m probably going to get 50 Calendar invites in my email next week, and I should blame you for that.
Natalie Goldman: There you go, but then close as much as you can because that’s what you want. That’s the whole point, closing the deal.
Simon Dell: Yeah, absolutely. Alright, last three questions. What are some of the brands that you really admire out there? You’ve obviously been working in this space that you’re working in for a long time, so I’m interested to hear about brands outside of your particular channel and outside of your particular industry that you are attracted to, that you buy a lot, or that kind of thing.
Natalie Goldman: As in clients or just companies in general?
Simon Dell: Brands that you like. I mean, we get a lot of Apple fanboys that we talk to, but especially some niche brands that you might see in Sydney that you like, it might be clothing, whatever it might be, but stuff that’s just not in your particular industry.
Natalie Goldman: For us, I would say one brand that… I wouldn’t call them a competitor but a great company that we do watch a lot is a company called LiveHire. So, we’ve been following them or watching them closely because of the journey that they’ve been on, particularly their public listing a couple of years ago which is definitely a path we want to go. So for us, it’s just been really interesting to watch and see how the market responds to what they’re doing.
And although we’re very different, we work alongside within a lot of companies, but we are really interested to see how their growth is. And for us, that’s a really huge learning on where they’ve gone well and also learning from their mistakes as well, so integrating some of those.
Another one would be Afterpay. I know some have seen Afterpay. They’re a really interesting company, Australian that’s gone international. Again, another reason we’re following them is because of that. And so, seeing how they’ve done it, a really interesting model. We’ve had that kind of a model before but somehow it didn’t quite go so well. But now, Afterpay is everywhere. And so for me, seeing how this infiltrated the market and become almost a household name is fascinating to watch.
Simon Dell: It’s like they’ve moved into a position where the brand itself is terminology for a way of purchasing, in the same way that a Hoover is a Hoover, but it’s also a brand. So, if you say to people, “Have you got Afterpay?” You aren’t necessarily assuming that they are using the brand Afterpay because they have two or three competitors, but you’re suggesting a method of transaction above and beyond just giving them a credit card. So yeah, that’s a really, really good point that they’ve done that. That’s a good point.
Natalie Goldman: Yeah. And so then, there’s one other company, Flamingo, which is actually an AI company. It’s the second only Australian company listed by a female founder and CEO, Dr. Catriona Wallace. I’ve been following her journey quite a lot and really look up to her with what she’s done, not just as a woman in tech but just taking the company overseas and the success that she’s been having.
And for me, seeing the company grow in a space which is so dominated by men… But it’s not just a gender thing, but it’s all of these achievements she’s just achieved just by the nature of her company, and listing it, and the global expansion, and all of those things. Again, from where we’re standing today, it gives us that vision of, “Okay, where are we going with the business? Where can we take this?” And it just allows us to get really big and expand our potential and not to go, “Okay, we’re only limited with what we can see today.”
We can see those overseas horizons. We can see the public listing. We can see the mass growth of the business and then being a very different but also serious contender in the space, along with SEEK and others that are in the marketplace.
Simon Dell: Second to last question. You mentioned 2019 is obviously a big year for you guys. What have you got planned within those 365 days?
Natalie Goldman: For us, it’s really the two key really big foci for us. One is mass community growth, so really hitting, aiming to double if not triple our community ties from where we are today. And I would say the other one is really expanding two components from the client side, really growing our SME space. So, we’re bringing a couple of people on just to focus on that. So for us, the economy of scale has still meant that we just focused on large corporate.
You get your CBAs. You get your A and Z, you get your then at least hundreds of jobs on you, easy, great, happy days. SMEs, they might give you anywhere between 2 to 30 jobs a month, but it takes the same amount of energy to do both. So, we just went with the larger corporate, because they generally have more money, they’re in that space, and that is definitely still one of our key strategies for next year and have very strong targets around that. But our SME space will be our new area that we haven’t quite hit. The third would be the overseas component, so heading overseas for us and starting to launch into those markets.
Simon Dell: Where’s your first choice overseas? Where do you think you’re going to go?
Natalie Goldman: You’ll have to watch this space, but we’ve got a few on the agenda.
Simon Dell: Damn, I thought I had an exclusive there.
Natalie Goldman: No. I wish I could give you an exclusive. I would love to. Maybe we’ll have a chat next time I can. But at this stage, we’re still looking into a couple. There might be simultaneous multiple locations, because being a technology company, we’re not looking to buy physical locations, so why not do multiple?
It will just depend on a few other factors that we need to look into, capital being one of them, but definitely if we were having this conversation in three years’ time, if we weren’t in the US, UK, Canada and parts of Europe, I’d be highly surprised. Let’s just say that.
Simon Dell: Fantastic, brilliant. Last question: If anybody wants to come and talk to you, if they just want your advice, if they are looking for advice from a female entrepreneurship position as well, because we never really got to talk much about that and all the stuff that you’re doing there, where’s the best place to find you and talk to you?
Natalie Goldman: LinkedIn. Natalie Goldman, wearing a red dress; can’t miss me. I’m literally at linkedin/nataliegoldman, so it’s really not hard to find me. I’m the one in Sydney. CEO of FlexCareers.
Simon Dell: There are a few Natalie Goldmans out there, aren’t there?
Natalie Goldman: Not in Australia. Globally, yes, but only one in Australia and definitely the only one in Sydney, but very happy to connect with people. Happy to have a chat, a Zoom, a phone call. And if you’re somewhere that either I’m at or you’re in Sydney, but I do travel as well, so really happy to connect as well. And not just female entrepreneurs of which I’m very supportive of, but entrepreneurs in general. Yep, happy to have a chat.
Simon Dell: Just so you know, you are the second Goldman that I’ve actually had on the show and I’m going to assume that you’re not related to Mike Goldman in any way, shape, or form.
Natalie Goldman: Oh, it depends which one.
Simon Dell: Well, the former Big Brother host.
Natalie Goldman: Oh, no, he’s not. There is a cousin but he’s not that same one. I know of him but no. We’re not related.
Simon Dell: Because that could’ve been really awkward if you have been and I haven’t even realized right ’till the end of this conversation, but anyway…Thank you very much for your time today. It’s been absolutely brilliant in terms of all the advice that you’ve got out there, and I hope people listening to this have got some really good takeaways from it. So, thank you very much for being on the show.
Natalie Goldman: Well, thank you very much for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure.