Spending the last 18 months getting the platform right, Natalie Franks prepares her businesses, Health Legal and Law Compliance, to scale and double their clients. Now, she’s getting ready to take on the rest of her entrepreneurial journey and speed up the growth of her firms.
“Slow and steady” is how Natalie describes the movement of her journey at the moment. Looking back, she feels she could have grown faster, but it would have meant sacrificing other things. Thus, the mum of twin boys is happy with how her entrepreneurial growth has unfolded as she was able to devote time to both her ventures and her family. Knowing her capacity, and with her boys now in their teens, she’s excited to go forward with her businesses for the next five years because she can provide more focus on expanding them.
With plans to grow her businesses by increasing their sizes twofold or more, she now equips herself with more knowledge, learnings and skills that would help her scale her firms, particularly Law Compliance. To do that, she puts more attention on sales by making sure that they have the right people in their sales team and an effective sales and marketing approach to carry out. That also includes tapping into the digital marketing space, an area where Natalie admits she needs some support and assistance. Her intent to scale her business is also one of the reasons why she recently joined EO Melbourne.
Having carved a career in the health law sector, Natalie never had prior experience when it comes to starting, running and growing a business. She was a partner in a large multinational law firm doing health law before she put up Health Legal in November 2003. A huge change happened in her life that brought her to consider transitioning to entrepreneurship. “In the year before that, on October 2002, I gave birth to twin boys. I quickly realised that being a partner at a major law firm and being a mum of two boys would require some compromises. But I didn't want to make them. So, I started thinking about what I wanted to do,” she explained.
At that time, an employer representative group that was thinking of creating a health-specific law firm approached her and asked if she wanted to start it and run it. “We had a lot of discussions, and they were happy to fund it. So, I said yes. That was how we started the business,” she recalled. Although the group initially put money in her firm, she eventually bought them out and now runs Health Legal as a sole director. As soon as she started Health Legal, Natalie took her team that was working with her in the law firm where she was a partner to join her business. Because of her good reputation in the health law sector, her clients also wanted to follow her. On day one, they already had over 100 files in Health Legal.
As they were acting for various public hospitals in Victoria, they learned that these hospitals had a compliance obligation as part of their accreditation requirements. Natalie and her team provided these compliance products on the side to their clients. “That part of the business started getting bigger and bigger to the extent that we now run two businesses. And that was the genesis of Law Compliance, a regulatory compliance business, which started off in health but now extends beyond health care providers. Now, it is a national business,” she quipped.
Being at the helm of these businesses, Natalie realised the responsibility of looking after her team. When she started with Health Legal, she had to oversee everything, unlike when she was employed. As a business owner, every decision she makes affect the people working for her. “Since day one, I had about five or six staff members. The scariest part was that there was no backup plan. If I didn't get it right, then these people wouldn’t get paid. Their families and their livelihood depended on me getting it right,” Natalie shared.
She had to wear several hats to keep her business going. She narrated, “I tried to keep the business lean, which meant I had a lot of different jobs. Until recently, I had a full file load, as well as being in charge of HR, finance, risk management, marketing, and IT. The biggest challenge was how to juggle everything and do it well. When I was at the big law firm, there was everybody else who took care of all that.”
From five staff members, they grew to 19 people. “With more people on my team, I delegate things. Now that we're more mature as a business, I can take on a finance manager and an IT company. But I still have to make sure they do what they need to do,” Natalie said.
Their compliance business currently has about 240 clients across the country. These are airlines, universities, childcare organisations, public hospitals, and other institutions in high-risk industries. They also operate internationally, with clients based in the US and other countries setting up offices in Australia that seek help in their regulatory requirements.
Natalie cited a few of their best practices that have helped them achieve such wins. “I think it's the strong focus on systems and processes. It’s a very operational way of thinking to ensure that systems, processes and platforms are right so we can scale the business. I'm a lawyer, so I'm also risk-averse. It’s all about lowering, reducing or minimising your risk. I always keep an eye on the costs. That's what you do when it's your firm,” she stated. Having an accounting degree also helped Natalie in understanding the numbers and managing her ventures.
Another factor she pointed out was her organisational skills. She always keeps lists of things she needed to do and work on them. It helps her to prioritise things, delegate tasks, and prepare for unforeseen circumstances. She also communicates her vision with her team. “Everybody here knows that we're very strong on customer focus. We have some basic rules that everybody needs to follow. It's on their desk about how quickly they should return calls and respond to emails. The attitude we have is 'yes, we will solve your problem.' It's never 'no, we can't do that.' It's a very strong philosophy of the firm that we will find a solution for you. We make sure that everything we do in our communication with clients follows that philosophy. We have regular staff meetings to make sure that they understand it and live it as part of the business,” expounds the lawyer-entrepreneur.
As she sets her eyes on the future of her enterprises and prepares herself to accelerate her growth, she realises that she needs to learn a lot more. She found a healthy business environment in the bosom of EO Melbourne. Natalie remarked, “I haven't had an entrepreneurial network, which is why I joined EO. Even after running a business of 15 years, the business is always changing. We're looking at growing and scaling the compliance business. I felt a need to be able to engage with other business owners. I think of being in a room of entrepreneurs who are so excited and passionate about their businesses and dealing with the same things I also encounter. That's what I'm hoping to get out of EO. Hearing about all those stories in EO, they are motivating and inspirational.”
For those who are about to set off on their entrepreneurial journey, Natalie imparts these nuggets of wisdom. “They need to have a good understanding of what skills they have and what skills they don't have. Then they need to surround themselves with people who have the skills they don't have. They need to have some financial accounting knowledge. You can have an accountant or finance manager, but you still need to understand the numbers. If you don't get that bit right, you're not going to be in business for very long. The other thing I've benefited from is the ability to turn off because this job can be completely consuming. There are more things to do than time available. If you can't go home and turn off and think of something else, I think you'll burn out. I've been able to do it for as long as I have. I’m still motivated and energised because I turn off and have that notion of what I can achieve.”
With her passion and drive for her work, there is no mountain too high not to scale for Natalie. “I've proven that I can be a mum with a happy family and still be able to run a business with a happy team without sacrificing what's important,” she affirmed. Next on her list is to bring her businesses to greater heights. And she’ll stop at nothing to be able to achieve that.