News and commentary from the world of work
At Work Horizons our job is creating a service that helps people find work that they find rewarding and fulfilling. But we are also interested in the wider world of work and employment; here are some recent thoughts and ideas posted by the Work Horizons team.
This interview is reproduced with the kind permission of Transmit Start-Ups, where Ralph Savage is an advisor, helping people to obtain start-up loans.
Deborah Witcomb launched her HR Dept franchise in February 2017, providing quality outsourced HR services, covering Fareham and Southampton. After continued growth and success she is now adding to her team and moving into new offices. We thought this would be the ideal time to have a chat with Deborah and discover what her first year in business has been like and what she has learned from it to date.
What is the nature of your business?
I bought a franchise license from the HR Dept and started the business in February 2017 from my home in Totton, New Forest. The HR Dept provides a personalised service – we don’t operate call centres and we build strong relationships with our clients. We add value by being local and responding quickly to your needs. It’s a professional and bespoke service that offers practical and pragmatic advice at an affordable price. We genuinely aim to feel like a seamless extension to your business and in essence, your HR Dept.
What has your business achieved over the last year?
I began my journey with ambitious growth plans and after just eight months had nine retained clients on my books. I then went on to secure a business loan last October and was able to expand the operation by acquiring a second HR Dept licence, enabling us to widen our reach across the Fareham and Whiteley areas.
I’m very proud of what I have achieved over the past 12 months and pleased that what we offer clients has been so warmly received. The HR Dept will always keep you legal and up-to-date, and we add value by being local and responding quickly. I very much enjoy solving and preventing other people’s problems. There are so many businesses struggling with issues and it’s affecting their revenue and overall performance. I work with business owners to quickly understand and expertly address the problem, whether it be a high rate of absence, poor office culture, lack of leadership or a disruptive employee.
What have you learnt from the first year in business? Is there anything you would do differently?
I really thought it would be tough to replicate a corporate income and made all concerted efforts to get rid of all our luxuries, gym memberships, cleaner, horse livery, grocery delivery, etc and pull the belt in as far as possible. However, it wasn’t long before the luxuries were reintroduced to our household and in fact, in approx.. month 8, we’d reverted to all our high-end habits! I also never dreamed I’d have taken on a second territory in month 9! If there is anything I would do differently it would have been to focus my target audience to a wider market of SMEs of different sizes.
Would you recommend a start-up loan from Transmit Start-Ups to other businesses?
Yes absolutely, Ralph my main point of contact was fantastic and really helpful. He made sure I had everything I needed and kept me updated. I haven’t used the free business support as this was something offered through The HR Dept in the set up phase, but I can see that this would add real benefit to other new businesses.
If you could give one tip to a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
Hold your nerve! As you grow you need to set yourself ambitious goals. That approach may not work for everyone, but I found that setting myself stretch targets motivated me to achieve them.
The latest employment figures suggest that more people are in work than at any point in the last 40 years. But it would be a mistake to assume that this reflects a settled and stable situation for employees. Trading conditions are difficult for organisations of all sizes, while the public sector is under intense financial pressure. Closures and redundancies are announced every week.
Under these conditions, one option for employees is to keep their heads down, work harder and hope for the best. However, when current research shows only a third of people are motivated in their current role, it may be that making the leap and embracing self-employment could provide the motivation to succeed and to achieve a different kind of security.
The paradox of self-employment
If you go self-employed you have no boss. You cannot be fired or made redundant.
But self-employment is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on your circumstances and priorities you may choose to work the gig economy where your income is limited to what is being offered during the hours that you can work. Or you may be attracted to the quick money available in freelancing, although rates are being driven down by global work-by-the-hour websites. You may be fortunate and ease your way into self-employment by starting a business in your free time (a ‘side-hustle’). Or at the other end of the spectrum, you may feel ready to make the substantial commitment of buying a franchise.
The opportunities are endless, but before you invest your time, energy and possibly your life savings into self-employment, it pays to reflect long and hard on what you will be tying yourself into and why.
A new kind of security
The most serious downside of self-employment is that you lose income security. Your workload may fluctuate enormously from one month to the next, you may be paid late and clients can leave you without warning. However, once you have built up a number of clients, you can be reasonably sure that they won’t all move-on at once (in contrast to being made redundant from a full-time job). Equally, with a little discipline you can put a proportion of your income aside each month into a business savings account, so you have money to draw on during the lean months.
If you have a family or other dependents, you need to consider what would happen if you became ill. Long-term sickness insurance is not cheap, but could give some of the security that you need. Or you and your partner may decide they are earning enough to cover the essentials, so you can effectively self-insure.
Perhaps the greatest advantage – and responsibility – of self-employment is that you are 100% responsible for bringing in new business, with potentially no limit to your income, in contrast to earnings from employment. In your new role, your income security and growth potential will depend on continually investing your creativity, energy and resources into well-researched, professional marketing and sales.
Your best predictor of success
There are many factors that determine the success of a new business, but perhaps the most important is your passion. The energy, enthusiasm and resilience that are essential in your first years of self-employment don’t come from outside; they are fundamentally rooted in a belief in what you are doing.
If you are considering doing work that is just a way of paying the bills; if you have no real feelings for the people who would be your clients; then you are going to find it harder to persist in the face of setbacks and disappointment.
On the other hand, if you start your self-employment in alignment with your core values then you will gain a huge advantage, starting every day knowing that you have the chance to make a difference – however large or small. What’s more, others will recognise this genuine passion, and will be far more inclined to respect, recommend and hire you.
The path to self-employment
At Work Horizons we do not encourage people to just walk away from the security of their job. Do your research and make a plan. Talk to a financial advisor. Discuss the implications with your family. And be patient – your dream of self-employment may have to wait until you can made adequate provisions or until your circumstances change.
We suggest you start by considering the personal implications of self-employment. Take a look at our short video on the subject.
I must admit that my partner and I have always done a little work while off on holiday. At times that was during the heat of the day. I would retreat to the cool of the hotel room to finish off some writing for my research project.
At other times we’ve both spent an hour each morning writing, emailing and generally catching up. Then we’ve gone out to enjoy our holiday. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works well for us.
And that’s my point. If the current advice – switch everything off, do nothing for work, and then return to the office fully refreshed, recharged and raring to go – doesn’t work for you, then it’s simply going to cause you greater stress than if you’d previously agreed to check emails once a day, or spend some time writing up a report.
The important thing is to take a break away from the office, and to exercise control and moderation over your various commitments. If you do plan to do this, then share your plans with the boss. No point deciding to do a little work only to be bombarded by the boss and everyone else back at the office – that will undo all the good that a holiday can do, and see you returning to work more washed out and stressed than when you finished work.
I have a friend who calls their behaviour ‘work life blend’. He is very happy working through his holidays but he also uses his work time to make private phone calls or appointments. It seems a little heavy to me, but if it helps to keep him sane then that’s okay.
Just as with all work life balance ideas, it’s a matter of personal taste and preferences. There is no absolute right and wrong for this, but it’s helpful to discuss your plans with the rest of the family before you head off, so they all know what to expect. They may be the ones who gently remind you that one hour of working is okay, but giving up most of the day every day is most definitely not.
One last thought: Even if you aren’t doing actual work, be mindful of how you use your phone or tablet while you are on holiday. It is so easy to get sucked into all the same social media, news and apps that occupy you at home, when you could be spending time, building memories and enjoying the company of your partner, family or friends.
At Work Horizons we help people who are dissatisfied with their career or their current job. If this sounds like you – or someone you’ll be enjoying your holiday with – read more here.
Despite the competitive advantage that organisations gain when they employ people with different attitudes and varying backgrounds, some employers prefer to recruit in their own image. They feel more comfortable with ‘a face that fits’, effectively building a business where everyone thinks and acts the same.
A good place to work?
If you are offered a job at a place like this, on the basis that you are a good match for their culture, it pays to reflect on the downsides:
- A predictable business culture may lead to boredom
- Creativity will be stifled
- There will be fewer challenges for you to get your teeth into
- You may feel the ‘real you’ is being suppressed
On the other hand, there are upsides to this kind of workplace:
- You know what to expect
- You can meet the standards
- There will be no big surprises
- Your new colleagues will readily accept you
How will you play it?
So, if you have been invited for an interview and see a fairly uniform culture with little diversity, how do you play it? Do you let your own personality shine through, or try to reflect the culture as you perceive it from your research and the interviewers?
Whichever way you sell yourself, if you are successful and land the job, your performance at interview has set the expectations for how you will be expected to work.
It is very tempting to see the selection process as a challenge, where the only successful outcome is to get the job. However, if you feel pressure to be the person you think they want to hire, everyone could miss out on the true potential that you offer.
If you don’t like the thought of compliance and of uniformity, do not behave as if you were someone else. Use this as an opportunity to sell your diverse talents, to demonstrate how you will bring new perspectives and, in the right way, challenge the norms. If this means the job goes to someone else, don’t see it as rejection, but as a statement of the conservative culture and staid behaviours in that organisation. However, imagine the possibilities for you and the new company if they like your independence, your thoughts and your talents.
Compatibility, not fit
Rather than talking about a good fit, let’s think about compatibility. In any relationship we have our differences, but it is compatibility that makes for great marriages, friendships and work environments. Everyone is different, but we recommend that you embrace the diversity, set out to enjoy your work and make a significant contribution.
Every week the news is full of business closures and job losses, from the total shutdown of Toys R Us, to major cutbacks at Carpetright and the inevitable ‘rationalisation’ as Sainsburys and Asda merge. Beyond the media spotlight, many more small businesses are having to shed staff, with similar effects on those individuals and their families.
Impact of redundancy
For a few this may be the chance to take early retirement, with a lump sum to buffer the financials over the next few years. For some this is the catalyst for change, the stimulus to review, re-train and find a new direction. For a fair number of people, redundancy is ultimately a good thing.
However, for many people it is a disaster. They lose their home or suffer ill-health or endure the break-up of relationships and, for some, never work again. There is no simple solution but with appropriate help, people can re-focus, make informed attempts to move forward, and ultimately thrive post-redundancy.
Outplacement alternative for small businesses
We recognise that many small companies cannot afford to provide the support they would like for people who they are making redundant. For them, we have put together a Work Horizons outplacement package. Paid for by the company, it provides the employee with a year of Work Horizons membership, with articles, exercises and videos to help them work out their aspirations and constraints, to prepare for and find the right work and then, crucially, to thrive in a new position.
If you know a business owner who is faced with making redundancies, please direct them to www.workhorizons.com/corporate or contact us on 0121 663 1710 to discuss our referral programme.
If you have seen coverage of the Budget speech, you will know the Chancellor is very concerned about productivity. The problem is, when it comes to turning resources and labour into wealth – delivering better goods and services at lower cost – many businesses in the UK are falling behind their international competitors.
It is well understood that the key to business productivity is employee value-add: how focused and effective managers and staff are. At a practical level, they need the right skills, but above all we need people who bring real enthusiasm and energy to their work.
So the real question is, how can we achieve these higher levels of motivation?
Achieving productivity and motivation
This is a complex subject but to take just one facet, it requires people to have a crystal-clear sense of purpose and a belief in their employer and its work. The primary responsibility rests with each of us to know what would give purpose and meaning to our lives, so that we can find and totally commit to the right organisation, delivering true satisfaction for us and major benefits for the employer.
There is a school of thought that dismisses this as woolly or utopian thinking; all we need is to knuckle down and work hard. But in an economy so dependent on innovation and service, that kind of one-dimensional thinking inhibits companies and prevents us from making progress as quickly as we could.
Finding purpose in your career
Truly, deeply and effectively thinking about purpose and meaning is very difficult. It requires introspection, open-mindedness and personal honesty. To achieve these often means we need stimuli: someone asking questions and prompting us. We cannot know all of the jobs, industries and companies that exist, but we can learn how to apply our new perspectives to finding something that will meet our standards.
At Work Horizons we ask questions, prompt ideas and give you tools to be successful but it requires thought and commitment to get there. Find your purpose, be the person to which you aspire and be the employee for whom organisations will fight.