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Advice on hiring staff for business growth

'There's no way I would have had the time to be exploring how to grow the business if I didn't have the office support I've got now.'
Andrew Murphy, In Style Gates

Top tips

  • Have the right systems and people in place
  • Hire staff to free up your time for more sales
  • Get skilled – 'As a small business owner you need to know every part of your business'

The business

Andrew Murphy hasn't always loved gates. But when he found himself back in Melbourne with no formal education and no trade certificate after 15 years as a professional tour guide, he took a job installing garage doors. He soon realised that if he up-skilled to become a welder he could make and install gates instead.

With his wife, Kim, he started In Style Gates. 'It's romantic to say the business started in the backyard,' says Andrew, 'but really it was an extremely hard slog. I was even driving trucks part-time on Saturdays to subsidise our income.'

Today In Style Gates operates out of a factory in Mordialloc and supplies the Bayside area with a range of gates for every type of home, from heritage to modern.

Making time to do it all

At first, Andrew and Kim tried to do everything themselves. Andrew worked six days a week building and installing the gates and doing quotations, service and maintenance. He also did paperwork in the evenings, with Kim overseeing the books one day a week. 'It was killing me,' says Andrew. 'With two young children, it was putting a lot of pressure on us as a family.'

Andrew realised it was time to share the load: focusing on what he did best, and delegating the rest to others. 'I hate the office, but I'm good out on the road and face-to-face with customers,' says Andrew. 'They're my skills and that's what I should be focusing on.'

Freeing up his time meant hiring staff – which can have serious cashflow implications for a small business. It also meant finding people with the right skills and a flexible mindset.

'Looking for administration support in a small business is quite different to a similar role in a larger company,' says Andrew. 'It's not just sitting down and answering the phone and processing a few transactions in MYOB; you pretty much have to be good at every aspect of the business.' It took several months, and a few hires that didn't work out, to find just the right people.

A dedicated team freed up time to grow the business 

'Looking for administration support in a small business is hard... it's not just sitting down and answering the phone...you pretty much have to be good at every aspect of the business.'

After intensive interviewing, trial and error and a bit of good luck, Andrew found his 'dream team' in Richard – his on-the-ground building and installation support – and Nicole – a full-time office manager. 'Hiring those two was the best thing we could have done,' says Andrew. 'In a small business, lots of elements have to succeed for the business to go forward. The most important one, apart from your own drive and vision, is your staff.'

'With assistance in the office, I now have the ability to almost double our workload over the next six months.'

Kim, Nicole and I spend one morning a week these days discussing marketing options,' says Andrew. 'There's no way I would have had the time to be exploring how to grow the business if I didn't have the office support I've got now.'

If I were starting a business again I'd...

With the benefit of hindsight, Andrew would now do things a little differently if he started a new business. His advice for others thinking of starting a small business is:

  • get financial backing. Take out a loan, if necessary, so you can afford to put the right systems and the right people in place from day one. 'We started with literally nothing, and it was incredibly hard. You can only do so much with two hands.'
  • 'get yourself set up properly from day one. It's worth it to have the right systems and people in place.'
  • start off with the right team. 'Next time I'd start off right. I'd get a full-time person in the office and a full-time person onsite to help me. I'd maybe even get a business development manager, so I could work across both domestic and commercial markets.'
  • make sure you know the industry. 'Understand the industry you're getting into; understand the game; understand the market place and understand what people need and want. That's the key to success.'
  • get skilled. 'As a small business owner you need to know every part of your business. Get skilled at everything. You have to be the admin person, and the service person. You have to do every part of it.'

The result

Andrew now spends only half a day per week on administration, but keeps a close eye on MYOB, making sure clients have been invoiced and that they have paid their bills. 'Nicole has not only taken on the administration work and much of the quoting, but she's also put systems in place to make our processes more efficient,' he says.

Andrew's increased availability has allowed him to develop a new website.