Bon Accord Employment Services founder answers the questions
After 12 years delivering human resources advice around the world Donna Reid decided to come home. Last year she co-founded Bon Accord Employment Services in Aberdeen with Neil Carrington. The pair had previously started Confiance Employment Service (CES) in Guernsey but believed there was a gap in the marine sector for employee relations advice in Scotland. Here Reid tells us how things have gone.
What do you do?
We are human resources and payroll specialists. This means that, day-to-day, we relieve clients of all aspects of people management, from recruitment to personnel management to legal issues. We also work with in-house human resource teams: even they need support. As a new company, another vital part our business is development work. All hands are on deck to make sure we reach our targets.
Where did the funding come from and which organisations have supported the business?
Funding came from private individual sources. The main support has been from CES: our first contract was a CES referral.
Who are the key people in the business?
As directors, Neil and myself are the critical foundation of Bon Accord. Our business development department, headed by Clive Kennedy, is also important as we establish ourselves.
What is unique about what the company does?
We replicate an efficient in-house HR team using cost-effective, convenient outsourcing. We refuse to rely on remote services. Face-to-face contact is just as important. An impersonal, distant brand is not appealing. An impersonal, distant brand is not appealing. People want to talk to people. To emphasise this philosophy, we recently launched free lunchtime HR support surgeries in Aberdeens peak business districts. For the first time, SMEs will have the opportunity to have queries answered quickly, conveniently and free of charge. Our marine industry authority sets us apart, too. We are involved in debate about legislative changes expected in the next 18 months.
What has been the single biggest investment?
Probably the employment of services, such as sales and marketing. As a start-up, we dont need these roles filled full-time but the actions are still essential. We seek external providers in the way others outsource to us.
Has there been a key moment or turning point?
Breaking even. I knew we had made it. It happened a lot quicker than you might imagine, due to our background experience and the support from CES.
What is the business plan and how does the company intend to grow?
The plan is to achieve steady growth. As a start up, our approach was to secure income then invest in people and materials. The more the company grows, the more we invest. We have continued to spend cautiously and it is paying off. Our growth plan involves expanding our Aberdeen base, using our global experience to assist their international activities. In time, we hope to set up bases in other locations near our clients.
Do you have any non-executive directors, mentors or key advisors? Who are they?
We dont have mentors as such, but we regularly employ the services of well-known Aberdeen consultants; Simpson Marwicks Sandy Kemp, an employment law specialist; The Yuill Constancys Jim Yuill, a social security advisor, and Futura Investments Paul Shanahan, a financial planning expert.
How does the company use technology and IT?
Technology was one of our big investments when we founded the company. For ourselves, we got HMRC approved payroll and HR software and, for our clients, facilities that permit remote access to our system if required. IT was an invaluable investment. We wouldnt function without it.
Who are your key customers/what are your key markets?
When we began, our specialism was the marine industry. We have good relationships with maritime authorities and are often asked to commentate and advise on issues at the heart of the industry. However, we realised HR is one of the most transferrable professions. Our marine experience positions us perfectly to launch into related sectors, such as oil and gas, and renewables. One of our clients is a healthcare provider. Our support, skills and experience can be applied in any sector.
Does the company have international sales or does it intend to grow internationally?
International activity is a big part of our business. We have operated worldwide and want to help others do the same. Internationalisation is vital to secure the future of the energy industry and there has been a rapid increase in Aberdeen companies supporting this vision. Our Aberdeen base was launched to meet this demand. Eventually, we hope to establish Bon Accord offices globally.
What has been the best achievement so far? Our first long-term contract was a real turning point. It sparked a passion to really grow the business. But, typically, it was like waiting for a bus. None arrive for a while, but as soon as the first does, the rest follow suit.
What has been the biggest hurdle which has been overcome?
Creating a presence in a new city. Although Im very familiar to with Aberdeen, the business was brand new to the area. Starting from scratch was a daunting, but exciting, prospect.
How do you interact with the wider business community (networking etc)?
Networking is really important as we introduce Bon Accord to Aberdeen. Fortunately, most of our advisors have a long rooted local history and getting back in touch with former connections was an ideal starting point. Now, our HR and payroll surgeries are a good way to meet the Aberdeen business community. Were also involved with the SCDI and our local Chamber of Commerce. Bon Accord has sponsored the Northern Star Business Awards and contributed to Aberdeens recent Genuis Loci report, focusing on the future of the Granite City.
What will the next 12 months hold? At the moment, we are renting office space in Aberdeen that provides flexibility as we grow but, by this time next year, I hope we will have a permanent base. Naturally, we want to boost our staff numbers and client portfolio. We will maintain our marine authority, boost our oil and gas involvement and use our transferrable support to break into new sectors.
Where do you want the business to be in 10 years time?
I want Bon Accord to be the most recommended consultancy in Aberdeen. Getting new clients through word of mouth gives me a great buzz. An immaculate reputation is important and Im really excited to be building ours. In 10 years, Id like a big workforce and international offices.
If you were given £1 million to invest in the company how would you use it?
I would boost the foundations of the business: hire staff with expertise in the areas we want to break into and use their talent to secure clients in these sectors.
What's the best part of running a business?
Satisfying customers. Weve not yet been asked for something we cant provide. I also love being an employer in my home city. Im delighted to be boosting Aberdeens economy, creating jobs and making my mark in the community. I enjoy building a business with strong core values and relish in the fact that Bon Accord is a company people really want to work for.