Jaimie: Well my guest today is Alison McQueen. And Alison is the founder of Newcastle and Hunter Community Health, which is an award winning organisation which delivers aged care and NDIS clinical care and support services to clients in their own homes. Allison has a diverse background as a registered nurse covering acute residential and community care in the public and private sectors as well as overseas. In addition, Alison has worked in the health insurance sector, the skills from these roles and the desire to provide a quality service to clients locally led to the decision to begin Newcastle and Hunter community health from the organisation's Inception where it delivered four hours per week to one client to today where it delivers hundreds of hours per week to a variety of clients. In Newcastle and Hunter Community Health has grown to an established small business now employing a variety of team members including admin management, registered nurses and home care support workers and is continuing to grow. Allison's strong understanding of people's care needs clinical knowledge and her involvement in wider corporate responsibilities and relationship management are complemented by her passion for high quality care and the importance in educating staff clients, carers and families with her combined skill set experience and qualifications. Allison has said Newcastle and Hunter community health to be recognized in the local business community right here in Newcastle where I am based and she has really set it up to be recognized through the Newcastle business clubs organisation of the year 2022 as well as nationally also in 2022 as the Australian Small Business Champion disability provider, and in 2020, the professional medical services. Wow what a background. Allison, welcome to Pitch Perfect.
Alison: Hi, Jamie, thank you so much for that introduction. I'm really excited to be here this morning. And I'm really grateful for your invitation to join you today.
Jaimie: This is your very first podcast interview, isn't it?
Alison: It is yes and I'm I'm really excited and I feel privileged to be doing it with you. Because you've got such a great reputation and skill set and you've worked with lots of established and new business owners and so I'm really grateful.
Jaimie: Thank you because today's all about you guys. So I want to start by saying your house. How did you get started? I mean you you've started this business and this is a great episode for anyone in any industry who's either thinking about taking the leap and starting their own business or perhaps they've just established their business and really wanting to scale as you have. So just take me back from the start to the start. What kind of got you into what you're doing now. So did you always want to be what is I guess an entrepreneur and a business owner?
Alison: I probably didn't always want to be a business owner, but maybe subconsciously. So during my early career, I worked as an operations in the operating theatre as a registered nurse. I was working with lots of surgeons who are essentially business owners and in those experiences you are, you know, talking to them around, you know, their businesses and how you know, how they manage them, and it might be talking around, you know, that operation in the practice as well as how to operate in, in in the hospital system. So I found that very interesting. Then through some of my other experiences in nursing, I've worked I've worked in the private health insurance sector and worked in the private hospital system as well. So I guess I've had some exposure to business settings as a registered nurse and I've always found it very interesting. And then I did see an opportunity about six years ago with some changes in the age and disability sectors. And but there was an opportunity for a new business and to really focus on the quality of services. And that's how Newcastle and Hunter Community Health was born.
Jaimie: I just want to pick up on the point where you said that you always found it really interesting because we we've caught up for coffee in one story that really stood out for me was you were working on operating theme shot and I think it was the surgeon perhaps might want to clarify, but talking about his business and different sort of structures and systems in relation to his business and your ears would pick up and you were really interested. Can you talk me through that?
Alison: Yeah, I found you know, talking with the surgeons and you know, how they, you know, build that team to build that business essentially. And you know, they're in the operating theatre but they've got a team behind them that are running their rooms and, you know, having very streamline structures and efficiencies so that they can, you know, perform their duties as a surgeon and then build their businesses. So I found I found that very interesting. And, you know, and also just the drive that they had to build their business and, you know, provide a quality service and also build a business that's making money and providing income for other people as well.
Jaimie: Yeah, that's really really cool. And so was it easy was it smooth sailing? Did you just set it up and then it just grew? Or nothing challenges along the way?
Alison: Well it is in any business and particularly in small businesses, lots of challenges. In healthcare, there's a unique set of challenges that we have, and certainly probably the most unique challenge that a healthcare business would have is a pandemic, which happened when Newcastle and Hanover Community Health was a very new business. So that was a really unique challenge. And we probably need to do a complete podcast dedicated to those challenges. But there's lots of learnings and so what I would say it's not smooth sailing, but you know, each time there's a challenge or you know, something that we may have to do in regards to compliance and things like that. That's just looking at sort of what the goal is, what we need to do and how we get there. And sort of each time it's those experiences or what we learn from them for a business owner. That's what you grow, and that's how you grow your business and make improvements.
Jaimie: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like you were saying before we hit record that you've got 25 staff, and so for me, I look at you and think wow, must be a really great, Linda, have you had to learn leadership skills along the way or do you think that you're naturally born with that kind of leadership skills instilled in you?
Alison: I would say I would say I'm not a naturally born leader. Personally, a quiet person. And yeah, I would say I'd like to keep to myself and, you know, I like to sort of be at the front of an audience. But when you've got a team of 25, obviously you have to be front and centre. So it's, it's a skill that I've developed. I work with the leadership coach, and I find that really valuable to learn some of those skills. That helped me as a leader and just as a person, which then tracks wise and how you lead your people. I guess as a registered nurse is you do have some leadership skills so you're often you know, that you know, when I was working in the acute system, you know, you will be in charge of the team and, you know, when I was working in the operating theatre is hard, have a team and you might be leading that team and coordinating services. So there are some skills that has been transferred across but as a you know, as a growing leader, and as a growing organisation, it's something that you constantly have to work on.
Jaimie: Yeah, I'm sure it's a great thing for your leadership coach, they really give you sometimes that hard advice, looking from the outside in and about the things you need to work on and it can be confronting, but it's great that you certainly engage the leadership courage and it certainly has worked for you. I can see. Take me through what Newcastle and Hunter community health does in a very layman's terms, right. For those of us who aren't in the medical field, what do you do?
Alison: Essentially, they're an in home provider. So we work with people who have funding government funding through the disability sector, or through the aged care sector through homecare packages and DVA. So we've worked with veterans as well, and we provide services to them in their home. So it may be anything that they need to live at home independently, and maintain their health and build that capacity. And so we can work with almost anybody. And we can do almost anything that they need so that they can remain healthy and safe.
Jaimie: Yeah, that's great. It's been around six years and I can imagine doing the math, probably two to three years and that has been COVID. What was that like for you going through that?
Alison: It look it was it was certainly a challenging time and it was a challenging time for everybody in the world. It was challenging for everybody in small business. And the challenges that we had were different because our business is actually growing. And we have challenges around keeping up to date with the change in compliance. Looking after the mental health of our team and our clients and just finding the resources. So there was a time that we had, you know, looking for PPE, so gloves and masks and things like that was really challenging. And for small, newer business they were really unique challenges. We didn't have supply chains established so there were things that we were doing as a business during the pandemic. But I think the things that we've learned, brilliant, and then we can, you know, use them across sort of, you know, to sustain the business ongoing things like building up supply chains and building relationships with providers and workforce planning. All those things.
Jaimie: Yeah. How much does it mean to grow your business so successfully? How much importance have been placed on networking?
Alison: It's, it's hugely important. And, you know, initially as the business was established, and I was very busy, sort of, you know, in the depths of the business, providing the client services and then as its evolved, my role really is as the Managing Director, providing the overall governance and the direction for the business to grow. So definitely networking with other businesses and individuals, including referrers. And clients is so important. It's it's something that I do, I do regularly. So I'm you know, it's something that you will almost be doing daily as a business INR. And it's just, you know, it keeps people you know, you're at the forefront of people's mind, and you never know who might need somebody to help somebody at home. I spoke to a real estate agent yesterday. Who's has a client who's looking for aged care services. And, you know, if I wasn't out there, speaking to the local community about the services that we do, those connections would be lost.
Jaimie: So interesting. Yeah. It's a great reminder because I think I almost forgot how important networking was during COVID. You know, I had a toddler and I gave birth right in the middle of a pandemic in 2020. And I just became a hermit for a couple of years there. And it's not until now you get out and you attend lunches you know, you and I are in a BNI together. You network online through different communities that you realise oh, wow, this is so important in order to grow my business long term just people meeting you constantly and just that constant reminder being fronted via and so I think there's a really great message there.
Alison: I agree. And, you know, Newcastle is as a business owner, Newcastle, we've had some great support from the local community. And, you know, we couldn't have achieved some of the things that we've achieved without that support. And you know, we've gained that by being involved in the local business community and you know, developing those networks and engaging with other business providers, and I agree, particularly post COVID. It's, you know, it's really great to be at different events and functions, and, you know, have those face to face conversations with people and just learn I love to hear from other business leaders and people who work in businesses about you know, the things that they're doing and the problems that they've solved, and it's amazing, the different learnings that you can take from people.
Jaimie: Yeah, absolutely. I'll ask you about the future in a moment. But one question that just popped into my head if you've been in business now for six years and obviously navigated a lot of challenges during that time, if you knew now what you have to go through. Over the last six years, all those challenges and hurdles you'd have to jump over. Would you still set up your business?
Alison: A 100%.
Jaimie: Cause I wouldn’t.
Alison: There's certainly been there have been challenges. But, you know, at the end of the day, the challenges would be the same whether I was, you know, in the business that I've established myself or if I was working in a similar role for another business, and in fact, sometimes there's challenges I think would be harder. So you know, and I just, I just look at all those things. I feel like I've just learnt so much and I've grown so much as a business owner and as a person. And you know, what, what I have now has given me lots of opportunities, and I really enjoy all the opportunities, opportunities that I've had.
Jaimie: Yeah, that's great. I mean, just to clarify, I mean, I would go through it knowing that I want a successful business on his way down, but I think at the time when I made the leap into business, if I knew how to be I don't think I would have made that initial wave if that makes sense. So yeah, it's very interesting to reflect back on that. I want to ask you about the future you know, you've achieved so much just going from a really a one man band in six years ago to now 25 staff and continuing to grow I know you're always recruiting. What are the plans for the future? Do you have like an end goal in sight? Are you just going to keep growing and growing, growing and see where it gets to?
Alison: We, look I do have an end goal. The growth will be, it won't be forever. So, you know, I don't I'm not looking at you know, establishing satellite organisations along the east coast or franchising. You know, it's really the goal has always been to be an established local provider of choice. I believe that we are you know, we're heading down the right path to reach that goal. So that's, that's really the end the end game and continuing to provide contribute to the local economy by providing an educated workforce in the age and disability sector. Certainly, I've got lots of goals as a business leader, and I'm really excited about some of those. And so hopefully, in the future, I have the opportunity to act on those goals and, you know, looking at sustainability and diversity vocation for the organisation as well.
Jaimie: Yeah, that's fabulous. And so one thing that's not in your bio is that you are a mom to two girls, two teenage girls and memories that right? So we have so many entrepreneurs listening to this podcast who are juggling a family and it's hard. What's it been like for you building this business with two teenage girls with a teenage girls now? Has that been a real juggle and what's the experience been like for you?
Alison: Yeah, look, it's definitely a juggle. And the experience is it can be very challenging and you know what you touched on before when you start your business, you don't realise how difficult it is? You know, and that can be one of the challenges when you've also a mother. But what for me, with my teenage daughters, what I'm really benefiting from now is they can see some of those challenges that I have had and they can see you know, the outcome and so now they're actually talking about being working in healthcare and being business owners themselves. So, you know, I feel like you know, potentially they might be a little bit, you know, inspired by what, what they've seen happen, which, you know, really makes it worth it for me, but it's I guess it's the same as the challenges in business. You just work out what works for you. And you know, as a busy working mother, that's about having, you know, a good routine. And sometimes when things aren't working, it's changing the routine. So that works again, and just being kind to yourself. So you know, I did learn a long time ago to work out what the reality is, you can't do everything that you might need to achieve in a day. So it's just working out what you have. You know what the thing is that you couldn't, you know, sleep at night without doing focus on that and everything else will just sort of, you know, get done when it can and and like in business, outsource if, if need be, and, you know, it's definitely something that I have done at times, to make it work for the family. And I love talking to other women in business and just working mothers as well, because there's always lots of tips and tricks that people have. So I love to sort of hear how people plan and organise their lives and I sort of can take tips from that that helped me in my life as well.
Jaimie: I love that and I love that part about how your daughter's now looking up to you and wanting to follow in your footsteps. And I think that's such a powerful message in that even myself I've struggled with a bit of mum guilt. But then I don't know who it was it might have been a business coach along the way pointed out to me and said, Well, I've got two little boys, they're three and four. They are single mom achieving their goal, achieving her goals and you know, really doing what she loves and just going for it. And I kind of look at it in a different perspective now and even my three year old who's very switched on, he said to me last night, you’re not going to work again. I just got to the home office to get an email catch up, and I turned to him and I said, I love work. I love this. I really wanted to show him that that it wasn't like work. It was something I was choosing to do. We always empowered by and I really floats my boat. I really want to sort of portray that image to my kids. I love how your daughters are looking up to you in that way and potentially wanting to enter the health industry as well.
Alison: Yeah, it is and and I think that's that's a really great point. It's you know, that positivity is important that it's important, you know, to show that to our children and it gives them it gives them sort of the idea that, you know, there's there's a lot of good things that can happen from what you're doing. And then it helps them to sort of you know, focus on some goals and strategies and at the end of the day doesn't matter what they do, as long as they're happy. But what I see is it gives them it gives them the opportunity to have those ideas.
Jaimie: Yeah, absolutely. On that note, I want to say a big thank you Alison, for coming on. Your very first podcast, which is, you can pop that cherry now, don't be inappropriate about it. Right? Yeah, hopefully. I know this will be one of many to come and you're inside PR club you’re an absolute delight, because I just see how grateful you are that I'm sharing the knowledge inside the monthly masterclasses. So thank you so much for coming on today and sharing your wisdom and knowledge.
Alison: Thank you, Jaimie. Thanks for having me and I look forward to talking to you again in the future.