Posted: Mon 14th Feb 2022
Bespoke HR is an independent HR consultancy based in Guildford, Surrey, and was founded in 2005 by Alison King.
With a background in hospitality HR, Alison set up the business after being made redundant on her return from maternity leave.
For her latest blog, on Valentine’s Day, Alison King discusses building her own business and the subsequent arrival of her husband as the company director – and the associated troubles with working with a spouse!
It was my first day back to work from mat leave with my first child, and I was told that the whole company was going into liquidation and due to close four months later! Talk about back down to earth with a bang!
I tried to secure another role at the same level which would allow me to not only continue my career but also juggle being a working mum. Sadly, there were no opportunities of that kind around at the time.
It was at the same time that I began researching what HR support was available for small businesses, that was also affordable. I realised that this was few and far between and there could be a gap in the market. I knew this would also allow me to utilise my skills and work around my young family.
I registered the company straight away and armed with my first ever business card (which I designed myself through Vistaprint), I set out to find clients!
The first couple of years running Bespoke HR were crazy - my oldest child was just under three and I was pregnant with my son. I was networking lots and trying to get new clients with no idea how much to charge or how to market myself.
At that time, there were no networks or communities like Enterprise Nation for support, so I relied on friends and family for input.
After about four years I was lucky enough to be given some office space in one of our client offices. This was the first real milestone as it allowed me to take on my first employees.
I first hired an HR consultant to help me deal with the increasing workload and growing client numbers. Shortly after, I employed an administrator to streamline our processes.
At the same time, my husband Ian (a software engineer by trade) was running his own software business with a partner. After a change of direction for that business in 2012, Ian decided he also wanted a change and his partner bought him out.
We used this opportunity to focus on Bespoke HR, give it some investment and see where we could take it. You could say that it was timing and circumstances which prompted us to work together, rather than being part of a master plan.
Fast forward to today, and we are a team of 13 and work with over 100 clients, from start-ups employing their first member of staff to big corporates with hundreds of employees who use us as an add-on service.
One of the most exciting projects was getting involved with Ben & Jerry’s on a large recruitment drive.
What makes the partnership successful is that we have very distinct roles within the business. Ian oversees finance, IT, all of our processes and marketing. This leaves me to focus on supporting and managing clients and our team of consultants.
Ian works closely with our marketing manager to generate sales leads and I deal with new business pitches and enquiries which come in as a result. Of course, we work closely on strategy and long-term plans but separate our roles when it comes to the day-to-day operations.
For the first 18 months, we had to work hard at finding our vibe and understanding who was responsible for what. At the start, Ian got involved in everything and it used to drive me crazy with his level of detail!
Likewise, he would get frustrated with my approach to certain tasks. We both have very strong personalities and I would be lying if I said everything fell into place immediately. It took a lot of work and compromise to accept and understand where each of us starts and stops. However, it’s very rare that we lock horns now as we recognise where our skills lie and what we each bring to the table.
We also have two ‘bookends’: a business coach and our operations manager, Hannah. They help us with strategy and act as intermediaries or conduits.
Hannah has become very skilled at understanding our personalities and adapts her working style to both of us so she can get what she needs from us. Our business coach helps us to channel our ideas and approaches and it’s so useful to have an outside perspective.
Neither of us are precious about our roles or titles and there’s no agenda. We have just found our groove, recognising what our differences mean for the business.
From our employees’ perspective, many of our staff enjoy working for a family-run business. We are a close-knit team and the family vibe extends to everyone. We host a summer party every year at our house where staff bring their families which has been lovely.
We also took everyone away to a spa hotel last year to celebrate our 15-year anniversary. We genuinely care about one another and look out for each other. As we scale, this is something we are very protective of, and particularly conscious not to lose.
Enterprise Nation is the community and platform that I wish I had existed when I started up all those years ago. We joined in 2019 and have continued our membership year on year as we find it such a useful resource (particularly through the pandemic).
Not only have we connected with some interesting people, and met some new clients as a result, we have contributed to Lunch & Learns and written blogs (which has driven a lot of web traffic to our site too).
We regularly attend Lunch & Learns as guests because the topics are so varied and useful. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is starting out. It’s a fantastic community with a very approachable team behind it. I would say it’s an essential tool.
Alison King is managing director and Ian King is company director of Bespoke HR.