In Conversation with Nikki Faulkner

Updated: Oct 21, 2018

Nikki Faulkner of Mulberry Bush Consulting and I talk about how Nikki made the transition from studying geophysics to working with small businesses to get their people and processes right! Nikki shares her journey, her tips and how she manages her well-being while running a small business.

She also talks about how she established a business support network and the challenges business owners can face in letting go of things as they expand.

Abbreviated Transcript of the Interview

What services do you offer? (00:33)

We fill a niche somewhere between business consulting and HR Consulting. I focus totally on the people part of the business and make sure that's working really well because once you are working with people, you're relying on them to do a certain amount of the work for you to bring your business on and move it forward.

There are 3 key areas I focus on (01:02):

  1. Businesses with 4-5 employees, they are probably that first team that business owners had. That business is very good at doing whatever the business does, but they may not have much experience in managing people.

  2. Businesses that are somewhere between 10 to 15 employees. So they've had their first growth spurt. They’re trying to grow again and looking to put their first layer of management in. I work with the business owner and whoever is going to get promoted to make sure they have the soft skills they need as well as the processes in place.

  3. One man bands who have decided they don't want to go down the path of employees, but they have to have a team of people to support them. So they might have technical people to do specific projects or they might have virtual assistants or virtual hr or IT companies and outsourced some sources of support. They have to be very careful of in this day and age legally what language you use when you're working with these people. So you don't take a freelancer and suddenly convert them into a worker that comes with all sorts of legal requirements.

With all of them, I help them put in some processes, help them build the consistency, learn to communicate well with their team and help build the right team in the first place.

The nature of the team and what is required varies depending on the business.

I have a lot of templates that I've developed that we use as a start point.

Moving from geophysics to Mulberry Bush Consulting (10:01)

Initially I started out in geophysics when I came into the corporate world, I started off as a technical support person and I was supporting a piece of software that I used for my PHD.

It was very natural place for me to start in the corporate world because it was something I already knew how to do. Once I joined the technical support team I very quickly was given the responsibility to look after project on quality processes, around technical support that were audited annually.

It was actually a really pivotal point for me because being involved in that audit programme for probably about 12, 13 years. I learned an awful lot from the audits about how to look at the processes we were using and how to look at the people management side a bit.

I progressed through to management which also worked on how to find the right people for the team. It was a really good place for me to learn how to manage a team because we were such a big company, if I made a little mistake, it wasn't going to bring the company down.

What I can do now is help people not make those mistakes when it's actually much more critical because it's a much smaller business.

The last role I had in corporate, I was actually moved to a different business unit where they have people out on oil rigs. It was a very, very different environment from working in technical support. It was a great a practice ground if you like, for me to go and work out what it is that new managers need, people without management experience who are responsible for running a business unit in some part of the country, often in deepest, darkest Africa. They didn't get much support helping them make sure they had all the bits in place so that they could do it really well. And again, these guys were very good at what they did but could they hire the right people? Probably not because nobody ever stopped to tell them what they need to think about. So all of the things that I put together in that role are essentially what's come out to become Mulberry Bush Consulting.

When I was given an opportunity to come out with a bit of cash, I thought, actually this is my opportunity because I've got all the bits I need to be able to go and do something I've always wanted to do.

And that's when I set up Mulberry Bush Consulting. So essentially the only difference for me now from that last role is rather than having clients given to me, which I did in the corporate world, they have no choice but to work with me. Now obviously I have to go find my clients. But for me that's a bonus because somebody that has to work with you and doesn't want to, it's very difficult to work with. And it's very difficult to make yourself feel that you're actually adding value when you can't get in to do anything cause they're not interested. Whereas now it may be harder to find people, but the people I find they want to work with me and so we've had some fantastic results because people realize that they want the help, they're ready to put the effort in and we could do some really good work together.

Do business owners face different challenges compared to the managers in corporate? (17:14)

I would say that the differences are more related to what stage their business is at. In corporate, it was more what stage they, as a person, were at in their development rather than the different industries and things.

Really it's a question of - do you have any idea about people management or are we literally started at the beginning. Essentially, across different sectors, it's the same - it's about human interaction.

Nikki suggests (23:21)

  • Planning – have a 12 month plan but break it down month by month. Review and adjust regularly.

  • Don’t overestimate what fits into a day.

  • Try and time regular tasks so you know how long they will really take.

  • Keep your priorities straight.

  • Be kind to yourself.

  • Make sure you have a support structure of fellow business people

  • Building your business network

  • Networking – finding the rig