Where some see economic disaster, others see opportunity. Ella Burke took the leap into entrepreneurship and, with the help of the Rare Birds PropelHer program, is reaping the rewards.
What gave you the confidence to start a business during Covid?
I am definitely an impatient person, and I had been planning for a long time. I was ready to go, so I just did it!
In saying this, I was fortunate enough that I could rent out my house in a good market, and move back home with my mother dearest. I had also saved enough to not make an income for up to 12 months. Knowing that my house would be safe if my business didn’t succeed gave me the confidence to still launch.
Plus, throughout Covid I noticed HR was in more demand than ever and being a service that can be provided virtually, I was quietly confident I would have enough work even during a lockdown.
How long had you spent building your plan?
In all honesty, it has been a very slow burn.
I’ve always wanted to start a business since I was a kid – I had a new business every month, from charging my parents 10c for a foot massage to having annual garage sales.
When I started my career in HR that’s when I realised that was the field I wanted to work in. So, over the next 5 years I kept watching, learning and quietly thinking about things and how they could work. I started listening to employees, managers, friends and colleagues – asked questions, heard people’s frustrations, tested a few theories… slowly, Employii began to emerge.
Originally named ‘HR Initiative’ and themed in green, it took about 1.5 years of planning, preparing and re-branding before I launched in May 2021.
5 months in, my plan is still being refined and developed. I don’t think this will ever change because we’ll always be seeking to grow and improve.
What have been some insights you’ve gained since launching?
I have learnt so much since launching it’s insane. I think some of the most useful tips are:
- There are so many amazing people, groups and organisations out there who want to support start-ups and women in business. I came across Rare Birds maybe 12 months ago, just by being active on LinkedIn for example. Make the most of them and get involved, heaps of them are free or offer scholarships too.
- You can’t function at 100% all the time. Don’t punish yourself if you’re having a slow week, because I’m sure the week before you were working 16 hour days every day before that – and no doubt you will again soon. Be kind to yourself!
- Networking is so, so, so important. If I could go back, I would put the money I put towards a marketing strategy (which in hindsight I didn’t really need at that time) towards networking events and groups – I definitely would.
What has been a barrier to success and what did you do to overcome it?
Imposter syndrome and undermining self-talk is definitely my biggest barrier to success. It’s an ongoing battle and one that I share with many female founders in particular I think.
How do I overcome it?
- I talk about it and listen to others sharing their experiences (e.g. podcasts and articles). It makes it a lot less scary when you’re all in it together.
- Celebrate your successes. Write them down on a big white board and then write “I can do this” right next to it. Put it somewhere visible – like next to your monitor. And re-write them each week, or as often as you like. Might seem kind of lame, but it works.
- Invest in your wellbeing. I’ve found that imposter syndrome, for me, is a symptom of poor mental health. So when my overall wellbeing is a bit shaky, that’s when the negative self talk sneaks in. Gratefulness activities, physical exercise, talking to good friends and a hot bath are my go-to’s.
What was your biggest ‘A-ha’ moment?
I have an ‘a-ha’ moment every week. Things just begin to click.
A few big ones for me:
- Realising my ability to form trusted relationships quickly, is my strength. So instead of spending money on facebook ads etc, I get clients through networking and referrals. This person-centred approach carries right throughout the business and it separates us from our competitors.
- In WA, the Work Health Safety legislation has recently changed and it’s more inclusive of psychological safety. My business aims to achieve exactly that (I just hadn’t put it in those words). Seeing the connection between my service delivery model and changes in the social, political and legislative environments around me has led to some big ‘a-ha’ moments.
- Accepting that not everyone is going to understand my approach. The people that say “you have to pick a side between supporting employees or employers”, are missing my entire point – and I wouldn’t want to work with someone like that.
Who have been your best supporters on your business journey?
I’ve got a key group of best friends, and my family members that have been there every step of the way. I also have a business mentor who has been exceptionally helpful! All of these people are key supporters, motivators and check on me when I get a little bit too stressed. I think it’s so important to have people you trust around you, who not only support you and your business journey but you and your wellbeing too.
However, it’s not all rosy! Life can get in the way. Sometimes there are relationship breakdowns, and sometimes people let you down, and you lose your biggest supporters. If you find yourself in these shoes, it’s OK. Remind yourself you’ve still got this, focus on those you do have – including your number one supporter, which should always be you.
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs about launching their business?
Most of it I’ve already covered, but my top 5 would be:
- Your wellbeing matters – take care of it! That includes the fact you can’t work at 100% all the time, so be kind to yourself.
- Access and learn from as many free or sponsored courses and programs as you can, well before you launch. I’ve found everything just by being active on LinkedIn, following relevant pages and subscribing to relevant organisation newsletters.
- Network, network, network! Informal, formal, LinkedIn, face to face – do it all and do it often.
- Get yourself a great business mentor who shares the same values, and you get along with. Thank you Rare Birds for matching me with mine!
- Watch for changes and trends in the social, political and general landscapes you work within. How do these (or could they) impact your business? Are there any opportunities or risks that need attention?
What does the next 12 months look like in your business?
I’ve just onboarded three amazing new team members which is soo exciting, and our goals are all centred around scaling and growth.
- Grow our corporate client base
- Grow our value proposition and resources on our online hubs
- Release our HR-based online courses
- Release our free webinars and build our brand awareness
I’m a little exhausted just thinking about it!
Please add anything else
Employii is a human resources consultancy company based in Perth, WA. Our purpose is to create strong, supported and strategic careers in psychologically safe workplaces. We do this through our dual-model service, where we support both employers and employees with things like contracts and entitlements, employee experience, employees experiencing domestic violence, organisational conflict and more. By working with both parties we facilitate stronger working relationships, a pro-active approach to conflict resolution and high-trust, psychologically safe working environment.
We’re more than your typical HR consultant though. We have a commitment to the community, where we look for meaningful ways to give back, in pursuit of our Purpose. In particular, we’re proud to support our two charity partners, Worthy Australia and 20talk who work in the spaces of domestic violence support and mental health respectively.