Time to thrive
Born amidst the fear and uncertainty of New Zealand’s first lockdown, Manaaki is a business support network and online forum set up to empower Aotearoa’s budding small business owners. Its GM Rachel Adams outlines her personal journey and introduces a remarkable business upscaling resource. When Rachel Adams dropped out of high school in 2004 at […]
Born amidst the fear and uncertainty of New Zealand’s first lockdown, Manaaki is a business support network and online forum set up to empower Aotearoa’s budding small business owners. Its GM Rachel Adams outlines her personal journey and introduces a remarkable business upscaling resource.
When Rachel Adams dropped out of high school in 2004 at the tender age of 14, the ‘café culture’ had yet to fully emerge in the cities, let alone reach smaller rural communities such as her home town of Waipawa in central Hawke’s Bay. So Rachel and older sister Rebekah were essentially pioneers – borrowing $75,000 from the bank and using a large chunk of those funds to buy and renovate a main street heritage building and open a café.
The business venture, complete with art gallery and drop-in community centre sparked Rachel’s deep interest in the mechanics of business – a passion that would serve her well in her subsequent career.
When Rachel’s family relocated to Raglan on the opposite coast, she took the opportunity to study business and marketing at Waikato University. Her practical management skills had already been tested through a cultural stage show created by her mother that celebrated the best of both Maori and indigenous Irish music.
The next major step was an opportunity to manage Soda Inc. – the business support agency tasked with helping nurture the Waikato’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Rachel had previously completed an internship there.
Over a decade she worked with more than 700 start-ups and small businesses, and helped develop connections for more than 2000 people.
Rachel’s previous business experience means that now, as general manager of Manaaki, she can relate to the issues and challenges faced by business owners.
“Often it’s simply a matter of asking them a couple of questions and having a conversation. It helps them to gain clarity and establish what immediate steps they need to take in order to achieve their goals.”
Self-confidence and belief can often be lacking when in business, says Rachel. Often all it takes is a little reassurance that they’re on the right track.
“Starting a business can be scary – especially if you’re leaving a job. You have so many responsibilities to deal with and owning a business is not for everyone.”
There are big challenges around understanding the financials too, she adds, and it’s key that business owners push themselves to understand the basics.
“It’s important to know the triggers that determine whether your business is profitable or not. If you’re not at least breaking even or making a profit, then you’re just managing a hobby, not a business.
“To grow a business you must understand the mechanics of how you receive money, how you spend money and what margins you require.”
Knowing who to go to for advice on specific issues is also important, explains Rachel. And this is where Manaaki has an important role to play for both new and experienced business owners.
It’s empowering to receive unbiased advice from people you can trust.
“We deliver quality value to the people who need it most. The approach is always to provide value first, and if we deliver what the client needs, only then can there be a monetary engagement. We’re flipping the traditional engagement approach.”
Rachel says Manaaki’s goal is to humanise at scale. “We’re humanising the way in which small business owners get what they need – in a very real, immediate and practical way.”
Leading by example
Rachel points out that Manaaki is effectively leading and inspiring by example. When it launched in 2020, going from an idea to a platform in just 14 days, the website received thousands of hits from businesses needing support.
But while 2020 was about survival, 2021 is now about revival, she says. “That’s our focus now. Manaaki is a place where small businesses and their owners can come to revive and then thrive.”
She uses Sneaker Clean New Zealand as an example of this – where plumber apprentice Christian Prescott set up his online sneaker cleaning business as a ‘side hustle’.
“He was the successful applicant who won the Manaaki $10,000 cash grant to fuel the growth of his small business.”
When Rachel spoke to NZBusiness in February, she could report that his business was “very busy and financially sustainable”.
“It wasn’t just the cash that got him going, it was the fact that the business was wrapped up in Manaaki’s support system, which included assistance from service providers such as Xero.
“We help all businesses, but a business like Christian’s is the kind that I would say has been traditionally forgotten about in New Zealand. Smaller business and micro businesses are where we see ourselves having the most impact.”
Digital Doers Academy
Manaaki is all about solving business problems and, as Rachel puts it, being the world’s best small business content hub.
Manaaki is an end-to-end solution platform, explains Rachel. “A small business owner will come to us with a question. They then access value from business experts, are matched to contractors, plus a whole bunch of resources such as website development.”
Her first project after taking on the GM role was to launch Manaaki’s Digital Doers Academy, in partnership with MSD – which trains and mentors people on Jobseeker benefits in order to build their digital capability and gain employment or self-employment.
This initiative is especially beneficial for rural communities where job seekers aren’t aware of all the digital opportunities. Rachel understands this completely, having grown up in Waipawa.
“It’s no longer about having to move to the big cities; as long as you have a computer and Internet connection the world is still your oyster,” she says. “You just need to know where to go [online] to upskill yourself.”
There is a 12-week practical training course where the best Digital Doers are upskilled in the key aspects of branding, digital marketing and website creation. Participants are then linked to businesses that fit within the Manaaki and Chooice (an e-commerce site marketing Kiwi-made products) eco-system. The entire programme either leads to full-time jobs or to self-employment, and although the programme has to prove its effectiveness with an initial 25 candidates, the ultimate goal is to play a major role in upskilling the entire nation.
A decreasing participation in digital technology in education and New Zealand’s trend towards a less diverse workforce engaged in digital technology, as confirmed by research from NZTech and the Digital Skills Forum, clearly shows the size of the problem ahead.
Looking back, Manaaki has come a long way in a short time, says Rachel – but they’re only just getting up to speed. At their Grey Lynn premises, tradesmen were still putting the finishing touches to its recording production facility.
Looking forward, the energy and vision has clearly been channelled where it’s needed the most. Manaaki’s grand vision is all the more achievable with Rachel Adams at the helm.
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