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Insiders Story: Life as an HR interim

In my July blog, I gave my views on what I think it takes to become successful in the interim HR market. For this month's blog, I had the pleasure of meeting Becca Roberts.

After years of being in senior HR roles, Becca took the plunge into the interim market and 14 months on, has a highly successful consultancy (HRizon) and an enviable client list.

In this article, I find out the motivations, frustrations and sheer determination it takes to make it on your own!

What attracted you to the interim market?
I always wanted to move into HR consultancy for a number of reasons: I wanted more flexibility and to be my own boss as I had always been permanently employed. I knew I didn't want to take the route to becoming a HR Director, managing a big team and being involved in the politics. I loved the side of my role where I really could help, add value and see results. I chose to resign from my role - which was both liberating and slightly petrifying at the same time. Luckily for me I already had a couple of contract projects lined up.

Where and from whom did you seek advice?
I spoke with a number of people who had recently set up their own businesses to understand what was involved and also spoke with an outplacement counsellor, overall, around twenty people.

How did you create your brand?
It started with the name, which I have to admit was a family effort! I used a marketing agency for my logo and someone to put together my website. I had a vision of what I wanted it to look like and how it could be navigated.

What have you done to develop yourself into a successful business?
When I decided I wanted to become a consultant, I created a business plan, a marketing plan and set goals that I wanted to achieve within my first year. If you don't have a plan, then what are you going to do all day? The key for my success has been keeping in touch with contacts and possible referrals, it's all about making the best of every opportunity without the hard sell. I go to various networking events. I really enjoy the BNI networking events - which is very referral focused and you go with a set agenda. Becca says 'Their philosophy is 'givers gain' which means if I give business to other members they'll give business to me - and that's exactly the way it's worked!'

How did you get your first contract?
My first piece of work actually came through a referral. I had been on my LinkedIn contacts and categorised them on criteria according to: industry, network, and influence within the business. I targeted the individuals and sent personal emails to them all.

What have been the main challenges since creating HRizon?
I was unprepared for the amount of time it takes to develop new business. At times you can get a little despondent and think what you are doing isn't working. When this happens, I always look back to my plan and reassure myself that it does work!

Motivation can also be a challenge. There are days when it's hard to work on your own. That's why I make sure I keep active with groups such as BNI who meet weekly.

There is always a challenge around balancing your current work with doing continuous business development; you have to find a way of automating it or fitting it into your diary.

Every now and again I do get a crisis of confidence - it has been a rollercoaster!

What does HRizon offer to its clients?
I act as a business partner for a number of SME clients, who quite often don't have a HR team. In an SME people are their biggest investment, so it's important that they get it right. I work with clients on a 'one off' or retained basis dealing with the day to day issues, such as disciplinaries and grievances. I also undertake projects for clients such as pension's auto-enrolment, recruitment, running employee engagement surveys and setting up appraisal systems. It often starts as a reactive service, where a problem needs to be solved and then the relationship develops from that point.

What do you enjoy most about being a professional interim?
I never get bored! I do a variety of work and have a number of client contracts. In one day I could be seeing three different companies and the best thing is - they want you there! They have asked for your help.

Are there any downsides?
There are always financial worries - I never feel financially safe. I am always keeping an eye on my pipeline and looking at what I have going on so I don't get into a position where I have to look for a permanent job - I don't want to go back to that life!

What does a normal week look like for you?
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are my client days, I am either at client sites or doing pieces of work. On Wednesday I do my networking, 1-2-1 meetings, make calls and attend my BNI meeting. I spend 50% of my week working from home doing remote client work or business development.

How do you see the business developing over the next few years?
When I started I was a HR Consultant. I would like to get the business to a point where it can run whether I am there or not. I'm always looking at what other services can I add, how to generate volume and to keep it consistent. I'd love to retire in 10 years and get to a point where clients engage with HRizon as a brand, rather than me!

If you could go back in time and launch HRizon again, would there be anything that you would do differently?
Yes! My first mistake was getting a cheap, static website. I had to ditch it after 2 months! The content and branding of it was fine, it just didn't do what I wanted it to. My other mistake was that to start out, I went to every networking event going - I have now cut down to ones that add real value (and these tend not to be HR networking events). I like to attend BNI and also Breakfast meetings where SME's will attend or if there is a topical speaker. I am also a member of the Black Country chamber of commerce and I am about to join the IoD.

If you could give any advice to someone looking into the interim market, what would it be?
PLAN!!!! And use it! Don't just leave it in a drawer. Think about how it is realistically going to work for you. Speak to other people and get their advice and support. There will probably be things in your plan that you don't enjoy doing, but if it works - do it. Don't just do the easy stuff!

When I started I was given the advice to work out my target audience and on a specific sector you want to specialise in. I found this was the most useless piece of advice I ever got - I have clients in all sectors. Focus on your service offering and what you can do for your clients instead.

So there you have it!

Becca has demonstrated that if you are truly determined to make a success of being a professional interim, you need to plan and execute consistently.

I would personally like to thank Becca for her time and her honest and candid answers and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that HRizon is going to go from strength to strength!

If you would like support with your HR matters, get in touch with Becca via her website

We are Harvey Nash HR, specialists in finding and attracting the brightest HR talent to your business. We recruit from entry to board level, interim and permanent, UK-wide. For market insight, recruitment support or events information. Please get in touch with the team on 0121 717 1900

Kate Wass
Harvey Nash HR