Fran Nicholson is the proud owner of a child therapy practice called Sensational Kids and has a bucket load of business experience to share with you in this article. With no formal business training she is has managed to navigate her way through 15 years of ownership and is growing nicely and is keen to share with you some of her strategies.
You're a managing director of 2 sites across Melbourne...what does your day entail and what is the main aim of Sensational Kids?
As we say here at SK, there is never a dull moment and never a dull day. Working with kids and their families means a varied, busy and inevitably loud workplace! Sensational Kids is a child therapy practice. We help kids who are struggling developmentally, with their health, confidence, social capacity or their schooling. Our main aim is to helps kids reach their true potential. For some kids this will be to make friends, improve their social confidence, eat something other than pasta, use single words to communicate or to listen long enough to follow an instruction. We are here to help families connect and function to the best of their ability.
My day is kept extraordinarily busy dealing with families and their requests, managing my team of 35 across two sites, liaising with government departments, training my team, looking for new business opportunities (and recently looking for larger premises for our growing practices), keeping the business engine running so we can all get paid and most importantly, having a laugh with my team.
How is Sensational Kids unique?
We love our team and really look after them. I know of a lot of practices in this industry that feel like a production line. We offer very personalised service, a fun, warm and safe environment for kids and their families to attend. We invest an enormous amount into our team training and our social activities so that we are connected, invested and work tightly as a team.
I hire very carefully and make sure we have a really diverse range of personalities and working styles on the team. We do loads of fun things to help us stay connected and focussed as a team including team training days (at least twice a year our whole team across two sites get together for training and then a social get together afterwards). Our team do a huge amount of professional development (almost 1000 hours in the last year alone) so that they are at the top of their game and using the most evidence based practice (which is what healthcare is all about).
We have our team values which we work on collaboratively and have just recently revised together. These values help guide our practice and help the team focus when trying to make tough decisions, or don't know which direction to take.
We always try to make each other laugh and are there to support each other when we've had a tough session. Our team are wonderful at being there for each other and our culture really supports this.
We have lunch together every day also which is really nice. I know it's a simple thing but one that we really value and enjoy.
You're going to meet heaps of amazing women in Fiji....what is one thing people will be surprised to learn about you?
I have no formal business training! I'm almost completely self-taught as far as business goes and as much as I'd like to do some formal training to be honest, I don't think I'd stick it out! I've enrolled in Masters courses and online courses and in the end I've deliberated and thought that I already know and have experienced so much in business (I've had my own businesses for almost 15 years now - have sold two and now have my burgeoning child therapy practices as my primary business) that I wasn't sure how much more I could get from the textbooks, so to say. I have mentors who guide me, articles, blogs, podcasts and peers from all walks of business that I learn from and I see so much value in. I don't think it's necessary to have formal business training although that said, I'm sure there are those that would benefit if they don't have the other supports in place. I figure you never know it all so you are bound to make mistakes with, or without training!
Even with formal training people make mistakes in business. What have you learned from your failures?
Ahhh, the failures. How much room do we have?! I've learned that partnerships in business can be tricky...very tricky, and to make sure you have a good partnership agreement in place if you go down this path. Lucky for us we did!
A good lawyer, accountant, bookkeeper, designers, website architects, printers, and of course your team. To pass the things off to people who are really good at it. Could I build a website - yes, probably. But it will take me a year to get it right and even then half the links probably wouldn't work. So I pay people to do a good job for me.
I've learned to be skeptical in business, and to take your time to respond to people when they ask you something. To consider all of the viewpoints, positions and impacts on the business.
You can't please everyone, all of the time. Often you have to make tough decisions that people may not like initially, but that means the survival of the business (and ultimately their jobs!). I'm okay being the bad guy sometimes, because I'm the good guy most of the time. :)
I've learned that you can't be everything to everybody either - to do what you are good at and offer quality rather than trying to stretch yourself too thin.
What attracted you to Nurture Her?
Fiji was an obvious drawcard but in all honesty, it was the opportunity to get together with likeminded (and different) women who have all at some stage, been in the same boat. I don't meet many women who have stuck their necks out to make things happen so I thought it a great opportunity to meet and hopefully be inspired by some.
What are you hoping to get from your experience in Fiji?
Relaxation, time to stop and think for a moment about our business, when not at work. I'm keen on hearing the speakers and hoping to gather some helpful/ useful/ inspiration from them that will help be my compass for our business.
How do you currently deal with stress and the pressure of running a business?
So we try to laugh and enjoy ourselves where we can. I also talk to my partner who is also a (silent) director of the business. He helps me re-centre also and puts things in perspective when my views are a little skewed. I also exercise when I can and I like to go on as many holidays as my team will let me get away with!
We have not infrequent conflict everyday in our work given the pressure and stress families are feeling, their expectations of our service and pressure the team is feeling given the type of work we do. I have a door open policy, where my team can come and talk with me anytime. I have established a culture where our team is encouraged to try to resolve issues on their own (with a set of guidelines/ policies to work with) and to come to me if they need to or if what they have tried isn't working. We then either have a facilitated meeting, or I talk to people and try to help them understand the other's perspectives or to realign expectations. I do this with families too, if they need any help or support.
If you were to have breakfast with one of our speakers who would it be and what would you want to learn from them?
I think Janine Allis would be great - I already know a lot about Janine through her TV appearances etc. but I would be keen to hear from her how she balanced growing businesses (and making business decisions) whist balancing the needs of her many team members. What came first? How many people are still with her that were with her at the start? And what was their motivation to stay?
Will we find you down at the beach or at the poolside bar?
Ohhh, both. Maybe more so on the beach, with a cocktail....or two.
Do you love a sleep in or will we see you at our 6:15am outdoor workout sessions?
I'm an early riser so will be at the workout sessions. :)
Finally, if you were one of our guest speakers what issue would you address?
Looking after your business by looking out for your team. Striking a balance between productiveness and wellbeing for a healthy workplace.