Hello Contractors founder Louise Woollett-Ratcliffe talks to Rahul Bhattarai about her startup which helps self-employed Kiwi professionals find flexible jobs.
What does your business do?
Hello Contractors is an online service launched late last year. The platform connects businesses with self-employed Kiwi professionals. Our contractors include skilled parents, remote workers, and "access citizens" who find it physically challenging to work on-site.
Our platform helps people to work without having to be hired on a long-term basis. They can find local contractors who are available to work on-
site on a flexible basis; and if the business is open to remote workers, there is a great choice available.
The way our platform works is that businesses can connect to contractors for free.
Depending on the type of service contractors pay up to $33.33 monthly subscription fee to join.
More than 500 contractors have joined the platform since it launched in late 2020. There is a wide range of skills available, from accounting to marketing, virtual assistants, web development and more.
What was the motivation for starting it?
For many years I have juggled working and parenting. I wanted a job that gave me enough flexibility which enabled me to be available for my family when they needed me.
I saw many people in a similar situation. So I decided to offer my services to businesses as a self-employed contractor. However, it wasn't easy to find and connect to the businesses that needed my skills.
My business was too small to be found in Google searches, it was difficult to get to the top of any skills requests in Facebook groups, and networking could be hard work and time-consuming.
On the flip side, I have also been involved with many businesses that needed a skills injection. But, they have not had enough work to hire a full-time employee, and their need was too small to justify using a recruitment agency.
Finding the right person became too complicated or expensive.
This is where the idea for Hello Contractors came from.
What's your background?
I have worked as a finance professional for over 20 years in large and small businesses in various industries. I have also worked as a contractor for several businesses over the last few years.
Last year, I was a contract chief financial officer to a reasonably sized New Zealand business. I was working with the business owner to sell it to US investors when Covid-19 hit. But the sale fell through, and the company went into voluntary administration. We managed to salvage the company and sell it to a local business. I accepted a four-month contract to integrate the old business into the new company, and I was then offered an employment role with the new company.
At this stage, I realised I was exhausted. Covid-19, and my long hours of working, had taken it out of me. I was not giving my family the attention they deserved, I was not looking after myself, and I needed a change and a break from the corporate world. I turned down the employment offer and decided it was the perfect time to launch my business.
How big is the team today?
At the moment, it is just me working full-time on the business. But I do work closely with several New Zealand contractors, including developers, marketers and coaches.
How was your business affected by Covid-19?
Hello Contractors has been riding the wave of changes in the labour and employment market during Covid-19.
There has been an increase in self-employment since the pandemic. In the year to March 2021, the number of self-employed women increased almost 14 per cent to 143,500, and the number of men increased 3.5 per cent to 211,600. The Hello Contractors platform provides another avenue for self-employed contractors and freelancers to find clients.
In parallel to the increased number of New Zealanders choosing to be self-employed, recent data shows that the unemployment rate fell to 4 per cent in the June 2021 quarter. The underutilisation rate is also falling. As a result, we've seen an increase in demand for the contractors on our platform, as businesses search for an alternative workforce in response to the talent shortage.
How long has your business been around?
The idea for the business I had a few years ago. I worked on the concept in my spare time, but it wasn't until late 2020 (after I decided to take a break from the corporate world) that I officially launched the business.
What's your focus for the remainder of the year?
Our focus for the rest of the year will be building brand awareness and educating businesses about the benefits of remote contractors.
What are your long-term plans, and where do you see the brand in five years?
We plan to make Hello Contractors a household name. For businesses, we want it to be the go-to place to find a skilled, remote workforce. For contractors, we want us to be the go-to hub to find the clients, information and support they need.
How does your business stand out in comparison to other businesses in the market - what makes it unique?
We find that many Kiwi businesses prefer us over the overseas mega freelancing sites that compete in this area. They want New Zealand-based contractors due to communication issues, time-zone delays, the need for local New Zealand knowledge, and their customers' expectations.
They also prefer our off-platform, fixed-fee model (rather than having to transact on the platform and pay commission on every dollar spent).
There are also several specialist contractor directories and platforms within NZ. Hello, Contractors is unique in that our contractors are strictly New Zealanders, we are not gender-specific, and we have a broad industry focus. This fits our target contractor and business market.
How are you marketing it?
We have been taking it slow as we build and verify our concept. To date, we have focused on social media marketing, with Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook (our Facebook page has grown significantly and now has close to 1000 followers). We have also recently started a small amount of paid search advertising.
What does the competition look like in this market?
Our main barrier to growth at the moment is not competition but more education and acceptance of remote contractors as a viable and valuable option for businesses. This is our main marketing focus for the rest of the year.
What advice do you give to people wanting to start a business?
Starting a business is rewarding but hard work. Make sure you have support and coaching. Be ready to pivot if you need to. There will be downtimes. But just keep going and have faith in yourself!