This week, a look at small business owners upskilling themselves and the impact those experiences have had on them personally, as well as their operations.

Emma Thompson, managing director of Etc Communications. Photo / Tim CuffEmma Thompson, managing director of Etc Communications. Photo / Tim Cuff

Emma Thompson is an aspiring company director, and the managing director of Etc Communications – a Nelson-based public relations consultancy.

Can you talk me through the reasons why you’ve looked to further educate or up skill yourself?
Part of my role as a PR consultant in Nelson is to advise people at board and CEO level. A few years ago I started finding myself spending a lot more time around board tables, and that sparked my personal interest in governance.
I was also a founding co-director of a service called Bizboard with two others who have different backgrounds, where we work with small to medium sized businesses on their challenges or possible opportunities. I was there primarily because of my PR, marketing and sales background, but also because I’m a small business owner myself.
What that’s all motivated me to do is upskill in governance with the Institute of Directors [IoD], with my particular reasons being two-fold: to improve my PR and Bizboard consultancy advice, and to get a good foundation for my own governance roles.

The IoD Company Director’s course I did is a week-long course held in different locations around the country during the year. I chose the one at Millbrook in Arrowtown – I think it’s pretty obvious why you’d want to spend a week there for a training course!
There are different topics each day led by experienced facilitators from around the country, with preparatory reading for each topic that needs to be done before the week starts. You’re appointed onto a mock board on the first night, with the first board meeting on the second night, so there are a heap of board papers to read before you get there.
I probably spent about a month reading through it bit by bit on various nights as the course week neared. Then during the week I also read the information again the night before each session, as well as socialising with everyone else on the course – it was pretty intense.
COMING UP: Brand partnerships can be a powerful way for businesses to leverage off each other, so what are some local examples of brands from different small businesses teaming up? Why and how have they done this, and what impact have those partnerships had on both businesses?
If you’ve got a story to tell, drop me a note.

How do you resource your training, in terms of time and money?
I made the decision to go on that course about eight months ahead of time, which meant I could plan having that week away. I think it would have been harder to do it when I was a sole trader, but because I had staff, projects could keep rolling even though I was away.
In terms of money, I applied for the NZTE Capability Building Voucher – the IoD is a provider of the scheme – so 50 per cent of the course costs were covered. This still meant I paid about $4000 for the rest of the training, accommodation and travel.
Generally, I think learning while working can be difficult when you have a small business, and it can get postponed to ‘next week’. The trick for me is to not let the learning distract from meeting work deadlines, so I now block out Fridays as a non-agency work day.
That’s when I do some reading, move our own business plan forward, get some admin done, meet new contacts, or do my board work. It means when something non-client related comes in the door during the week, unless it’s urgent, I add it to the Friday list and can keep focused on client work for the rest of the time. This year I’ve only had a few Fridays where this hasn’t gone to plan.
What impact has the IoD training had on you and your business?
I was offered a board role immediately after doing the course and I’ve since taken on another two board roles. The governance course and my ongoing IoD membership have been crucial to getting those roles – it’s one of the first questions you get asked when applying for these kinds of roles, or talking to others in governance.
The course is pretty intensive and to get the most out of it you have to get to know your ‘board’ colleagues really well and quickly, so you end up making valuable contacts, which has already been useful for PR client work. Also, it’s definitely strengthened the strategic advice I give my clients. And from a personal perspective, taking a week off to train is a great energy booster.
What other things do you do to educate or upskill yourself as a business owner?
As well as the IoD, I’m a member of Appoint Better Boards and the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand, and all those organisations send through recommendations for extra training and links to good articles or webinars.
I also read articles posted by contacts via LinkedIn. My networks are quite varied in terms of sectors, with a mix of people from New Zealand and overseas, so I find I read some quite diverse information, and then look to apply it to relevant projects.
But ultimately good PR and governance comes mostly from experience – establishing measurable strategies, implementing and then reviewing them, facing challenges and developing solutions, identifying opportunities and knowing how to leverage them.
Clients and my own boards are doing these things all the time, so we’re all learning on a daily basis, while drawing on previous experiences and tailoring the knowledge to the current situation.

NZ Herald