Small Business Spotlight: Natasha Hawker- Employee Matters
Natasha Hawker works well with deadlines. It was what prompted her to have three children in three years, become a yacht skipper before a holiday and play squash two to three times per week. It also enables her to juggle the different demands that come with being a mother, wife and joint owner with her husband of a business that employs thirteen people. Employee Matters, deals with people problems, often the gnarliest of problems facing many small businesses.
What was your background before starting your business?
I originally started my career working in dealing rooms that traded hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of stock and I was responsible for settling them. People kept telling me I was good with people so I moved into recruitment consulting before being lucky enough to move into Human Resources (HR) with Accenture. I spent the best part of the next twelve years with them, working both here, in the UK and in India setting up the Delivery Centre with a team who’d never worked for a woman before.
Why did you start your business?
Employee Matters started five years ago and my husband and I now run the business together. I’d had three kids in quick succession, and I knew I didn’t want to go back to a senior manager role in a consulting firm where I would struggle to see my kids. I used to think I worked hard before but nowhere near as hard as now that I’m my own taskmaster.
What excites you most about your industry?
It’s people and the legal and emotional complexities around managing people. People find people really difficult and they do weird things. I really enjoy trying to help our clients with their people problems.
I see employees as your greatest asset and, also, potentially, your greatest liability. But most people hire them into the business, and then assume they’re going to learn through osmosis, and they don’t. It’s about how you leverage them to get more productivity, and therefore more profitability for your business. Most people don’t know how to maximise their team. I get a kick out of seeing a business do better because the people have been hired well, managed well, and the ones that shouldn’t be there, they’re out the door.
What are the key lessons you’ve learnt in business?
- Business is a sport.
Whilst I maybe an HR expert, I’m not a finance, IT, marketing, legal, compliance, social media or legal expert. And so, to effectively run the business, I need to see business like a sport, an intellectual sport. It’s like drinking though a fire hose when you don’t know everything about other areas. I made some really rookie mistakes.
- Get the balance right between revenue and costs.
In the beginning I didn’t charge enough for my services. Like many women I thought I’ll choose a lower hourly rate because I don’t want to be too greedy. Plus, I paid my team way more than was necessary because I thought I needed people as experienced as I was. And I didn’t for some of the stuff that I was doing.The result was that I wasn’t charging enough and I was paying too much. The other problem was we were getting paid in arrears. We changed that to getting paid in advance which had very little pushback and revolutionised our business.
- Invest in your own business education.
I would have got more business education earlier on. I made lots of mistakes and kept saying to my husband, “I don’t know what I don’t know, and I’m struggling. And if I don’t learn it, then we’re not going to do any good.” And I think, had we done that earlier on, we wouldn’t have had half the hassle that we ended up having. You’ve still got to learn, and you still learn through your mistakes, but I don’t imagine you’d go through the same pain points that I did, if you educate yourself.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
When I started my career, my Dad who was a Director of a merchant bank who worked his way up from filling inkwells in the bank, told me, “Always teach the people under you what you know because that makes you really easy to promote.” If it was easy to backfill your role and you were good at your job then you were much more likely to be promoted.
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by women who have made it to the top. I think it’s incredibly difficult for women to get to the top of the corporate market, and even more so in private business. And I see all these women out there, like me, who are working incredibly long hours and still managing a family, and still bringing up brilliant kids. I think they’re the unsung heroes, those women that are doing it all.
What book do you think everyone in business should read?
The Wife Drought, by Annabel Crabb, the very successful, fabulously funny, political journalist. She talks about the fact that, it’s not male or female, everybody needs a wife. You cannot possibly do it all, career and family, without support at home to look after you.
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