Women in business: Sue Hook, Sapience HR

By Growth & Skills Hub - 28th February 2020

In the lead up to International Womens Day we spoke to some inspirational businesswomen here in Cornwall. What a wealth and talent and passion we have in the County!

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your business.

I have always worked with people starting working with young people before moving into training and subsequently into HR. I cut my teeth, HR wise, in the public sector which gave me the best grounding ever but the environment was way too restrictive for me. I then worked in a local company before becoming self-employed.

From my self-employed roots we have successfully grown a sound business and now have a range of clients in a variety of industries where we provide HR services on an outsourced basis.  For some clients we are their HR department and do everything to do with their people, from recruiting to dealing with leavers and everything in between and for some clients we carry out project work, such as designing an appraisal programme. Essentially anything to do with people in your business, we can help you with!

2. If you were to turn back time and give yourself one piece of advice before you started your business what would it be?

There is probably more than one piece of advice I would give myself but the main one is that you don’t have to do everything yourself.  It is my nature to just get on with things and think that I am able to do everything, but that way madness lies!  It leads to working lots of evenings, weekends and way too many hours, having to learn new skills that you are not necessarily any good at and never quite finishing everything. Ultimately exhaustion so that you then don’t do a very good job. So stick to what you love doing which is probably why you started your business in the first place and outsource as much of the rest of the stuff around running a business as you can.

3. Who is the most important woman in your life and how have they influenced you?

There have been many impactful women in my life and I have learnt something different from each of them. Very early in my career I worked with a women who was my manager; the only female on the management team which was not the norm at the time.  She was a pretty strong character and wouldn’t stand any nonsense but this was balanced with warmth and humour. She was a great people manager. The most important thing I learnt from her was not to go to her with problems but with solutions. We would talk things through and come up with a final plan of action. This approach has served me well over the years.

4. What is your proudest achievement in business so far?

Building a business which is grounded and offers a great service to our clients and which I am honoured to be associated with.  I didn’t necessarily set out to build a business but almost couldn’t help myself! I love running the business, building a great team and working with wonderful clients. I think the proudest achievement is that the business has been running for 13 years now and we have the best people working for us, who ‘get’ what we do and want to provide the greatest service to our clients.  Amanda has been so crucial to the development of the business and she became a Director last year. Finding the right people to work in your company is absolutely critical, otherwise you just won’t grow as a business.

5. Have you had to face any struggles in business and how have you overcome them?

Running a business is not easy and I think I initially underestimated exactly how challenging it would be.  I had a bit of a rosy picture that the work would be easy to secure but of course, it wasn’t quite like that. I love HR and could see the benefits of what I could offer to small businesses.  Not everyone shared that view.  To get established meant lots of networking, delivering free workshops & talks and PR to get across what I could offer to businesses.  Eventually this started to pay off. It certainly taught me the value of getting your name out there!

Having built a good foundation of clients and moving on to employ staff, I could share the workload with the team. Inevitably this meant that things changed.  It meant I could spend time on developing the business and not just undertaking client work. It also meant that everything then had to have a process attached to it as I couldn’t carry everything in my head or expect anyone else to know what my standards were.  This meant formalising lots of what I had instinctively done previously.

And of course cash flow. The bane of small businesses and bears no relation to profit and loss or how well the business is doing.  Basically is there enough cash in the business to run everything? It is your job to ensure there is. #1 Tip. If you are VAT registered save 20% of your payments every month without fail. You are collecting on behalf of HMRC so don’t think that money is yours!

6. This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual, championing the individual actions we can all take to challenge stereotypes, broaden perceptions and celebrate women’s achievements. What does equality mean to you and what can we all do to forge a gender equal workplace?

If we all took individual action, just think what we could achieve! I would love that everyone makes a personal commitment by showing up and challenging anything that smacks of gender stereotyping or inequality or just downright crass!  That means always challenging language, terminology, actions, the printed word, expressed views, assumptions etc. on every single occasion. It is not necessary to be aggressive or bullish but to be able to alert others that what they have said or you have seen, is not acceptable. Not challenging could be potentially interpreted as tacit approval. Is that really what you want? I have a bit of a radar which goes off when I hear/see things I am uncomfortable with.  Develop your own radar and when it goes off, challenge away!

Stick to what you love doing which is probably why you started your business in the first place and outsource as much of the rest of the stuff around running a business as you can.

- Sue Hook, Sapience HR
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