VIEW: Learning on the job is more valuable than formal education in fast-paced industries

Nikki Hamilton started her own marketing consultancy, Seedling Digital, under a year ago with no formal qualifications yet is succeeding beyond all her expectations. With a baby just over one, a commitment to constant learning, and a dedication to building beautiful brands with meaning, Nikki is a driven leader and passionate about helping businesses grow and thrive.

In this interview, Nikki shares the ups and downs of starting a business, the challenges she’s faced along the way and her advice to other small business owners and entrepreneurs.

  • What made you decide to go out on your own and start your own business? 

This one was a bit of a journey, with a few bumps in the road for me! I’ll try to keep it snappy!

I started my career as a teacher after completing a degree. After teaching in New Zealand for a year, I decided to move to Canada to chase snow, where I met my now husband. We stayed in a little town called Fernie for three years and I laid the foundations for my first business, making natural, vegan, skincare products.

We moved back to Sydney together, and I went all-in on the business, but after a while realized it wasn’t for me. I loved the marketing side, but the day to day management and production was just not my jam. However, I learnt a tonne, and had great success with marketing the product and building a great social media following in a short space of time.

So, I sold the business, but took that springboard and everything I’d learned and got a job in the corporate world as a Marketing Coordinator for a financial services company.

Throughout my time there I thrived, receiving a number of promotions and becoming more and more specialized in the area of digital marketing. I was constantly upskilling with short courses and development in the evenings and weekends. I primarily worked in the areas of website design / development / management, social media marketing, and email direct marketing. I loved my time in this role and am extremely grateful for the experience in a corporate space. I feel it really allowed me to develop a voice, gain exposure to all areas of marketing, build confidence, learn to work with stakeholders, take criticism constructively and develop a polish you don’t get elsewhere.

After over two and a half years with this company, I learnt I was pregnant. I was in discussions to have my contract extended again and decided to do ‘the right thing’ and let them know about the unexpected tiny human brewing in my belly. Unfortunately, I was told shortly after this that my contract wouldn’t be renewed. I was absolutely devastated to say the least. I remember ugly sobbing through a wad of tissues with the phone on mute to HR. It was one of the hardest times of my life, personally, professionally and financially. I decided to end my contract early, as I didn’t want to stay with a company who could let a woman go at 7 months pregnant! This would have left me ineligible for any government maternity support, and I didn’t fancy my chances of finding another job that close to my due date.

I got another job to tide me over, and took a big step back in terms of pay, responsibility and job satisfaction, and dropping my hours down to around half. It was one of the hardest times of my life. I was also battling with HG (hyperemesis gravidarum) which meant vomiting up to 50 times a day, which was less than ideal!

Throughout the second half of my pregnancy, I decided to refocus my energy, and put this into something positive. I spent a lot of time working on my mindset, setting goals, manifesting and trying to build something that would suit me better than a corporate role.

I wanted to build something where I wasn’t reliant on anyone else, something where I could utilise my skills and hustle as the basis for success. Something where I loved my work, I loved my clients, and I was able to make a difference in the success of other businesses. I wanted to make more money than I made in my corporate role, and have flexibility in my hours to work around my new baby.

By the way, I’ve succeeded in everything I wanted!

  • Were there any areas or skill-sets where you didn’t feel confident? How did you go about filling those gaps? 

Absolutely – a lot! As a woman in tech, I at times feel overwhelmed and over my head! It’s such a male-dominated industry, but I just keep on going and keep on growing. Google is my best friend – there’s nothing you can’t learn from Google with the right search term and a bit of time!

However, I’m a big fan of getting the distilled version, from experts in their field where possible. I’ve spent a lot of money on ecourses this year. My favourite thing is learning, and I’m a big believer that investment in my education, even through non-traditional routes will pay me back in dividends. I also love that as a business owner, I can direct where that money is spent, and I love supporting other women in business offering up their knowledge.

  • What’s your view on the role of formal education and training in the current world of work, particularly in your field? 

My view on this is likely contentious, but I’m of the opinion that it’s not necessary! Particularly in my field. I’ve actively encouraged other women to not invest in formal education, and instead to put their time into learning on the job, completing short courses or finding a mentor.

The nature of my work is so fast-paced, technologies are constantly changing. I feel like traditional education fields can’t pivot that quickly, there is a lot of process and time involved with adding new, more relevant material. Additionally, when tutors are out of the field, not ‘doing the work’, I can see how it would be easy to fall out of touch. 

  • What has been the most challenging aspect of starting your own business?

The most challenging aspect of starting Seedling Digital has been the time factor, as I’m sure most business owners can attest! But as a mum to a busy, co-sleeping baby boy, I think I have a few more demands on my time than many!

In my line of work, creativity is so important, and it takes time to get in that flow. I need uninterrupted space and time to get going, and it’s something I just don’t have while my baby is at home with me. We’ve put him in daycare a few days a week, and having that space has been vital over the last couple of months to really build my business.

I’ve also become a master at spending my time more intentionally. So when I’m working, I’m working. When I’m with him, I’m with him! But within that, I complete tasks within the appropriate pockets. So for example when I’m on ‘mum time’ I can complete errands, like putting a load of washing on, picking up groceries or sending a package. Learning to make the most of time, and almost bend it to suit you is vital to success. 

  • For others considering starting their own business in 2020, what’s your advice and what’s the biggest watch-out they need to be aware of?

My biggest advice is to learn to back yourself. We come inbuilt with intuition, and over the span of our lifetime we learn to tune this out and rely more on our logical, thinking brain. As a business owner it’s important to turn that side back on and learn to work with your gut.

In most cases, you already know the answer, so it’s important to just take action! Watch out for people who take advantage of your skills and knowledge, especially as women we need to stand up and speak out, and demand to be paid appropriately for our time.

About the expert

Nikki Hamilton is an easily entertained, 90’s hip hop obsessed, exclamation point loving, perfectionist. She is a mother, a wife, a passionate creative based on the sunny Gold Coast of Australia.

Originally from New Zealand, she found myself in Sydney after a three-year stint chasing snow (and a certain handsome Australian guy) through the Rocky Mountains of Fernie, Canada.

Her diverse background includes working in the corporate marketing sphere, as a degree qualified teacher, and as an owner of a product-based business. This experience allows her to apply technical, design, strategic, marketing and coaching lenses to every project she works on.

Image description: A black-and-white landscape headshot from the waist up of a women with shoulder-length curly hair, a floral embroidered top and blazer in front of large rock formations.