We talked to Alison King, Managing Director and Founder of Bespoke HR about unique HR solutions and this is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Alison King: We are surviving; like a lot of people juggling the combination of homeschooling and working. However, we are desperate to get back to our new office, which we had only been in for a few months before lockdown number one started!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Bespoke HR.
Alison King: My background is hospitality HR; I started my career working for Millennium Copthorne Hotels, then moved onto David Powell Bakeries (a large supplier to leading coffee houses). After this, I worked for SFI which then owned 150 pub sites across the UK (including the Slug & Lettuce brand). Sadly, on my first day back to work after maternity leave (after my first child), I was informed that the business was going into liquidation and closing down!
I looked for similar opportunities that would allow me to continue with my career, but provide flexibility with a young family and found very little around. This is where my idea for the business came from; I wanted to utilize my skills but also be there for my family. At that time there weren’t many outsourced providers on the market offering affordable HR support so I identified a gap and went for it! That was 15 years ago and I haven’t looked back since then.
How does Bespoke HR innovate?
Alison King: We are constantly evolving and innovating in the way we deliver our services; but also, in the way we market and promote ourselves. If we can’t find solutions on the market to help us, we develop them ourselves! A prime example being the performance development software we created after being unable to find anything suitable that would work for our clients. We are always experimenting with marketing our services in different ways and are never afraid to try out new approaches to reach our target market.
One of the USPs is the hands-on, personal approach that clients receive. We match every client with a consultant who will understand their business and market (rather than just offering a telephone/call center style helpline). Over the years, as we have grown, we have continued to keep this at the heart of our business offering and that’s what keeps clients coming back or staying with us for the long run.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Alison King: It has been a tough past year for all small businesses, and we are no exception. We furloughed a few staff which helped but our projected growth slowed down. However, we found that we were very busy last year as our clients needed our services more than ever to help them navigate through this difficult time. We were extremely busy with people’s issues and helping clients understand the ever-changing guidance and legislation (who was familiar with the term ‘furlough’ before last year?!)
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Alison King: Within our own business, we were very fortunate that we didn’t lose staff and were able to furlough. We mainly furloughed those employees who had additional responsibilities (such as young children) and those who were able to juggle continued working. Throughout the past year, we have stayed closely connected, even though we’re not in the office, with daily Slack catch ups and team meetings. Our focus is on keeping the team motivated and looking after their well-being. It has been a tough time for everyone, no matter what their circumstances.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Alison King: Our CRM process has been the same since day one – built on the ethos that all clients receive their own dedicated consultant and point of contact. So many clients come to us, having used larger HR providers, who offer a call center helpline. Every time they have an issue, they have to explain it to a completely new person, which isn’t an efficient use of time for anyone.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Alison King: Yes, we used the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to furlough a small number of our employees.
Your final thoughts?
The most important thing you can do when growing your business in terms of HR is to make sure you have the correct policies and procedures in place. Make sure your staff has proper job descriptions and that their contracts are up to date. This will save so much confusion and protect your business as it grows. We’re offering 15 mins of free HR advice to any business that needs support (go to our website to click on the booking link).