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Exclusive Interview: Cerys Ashley, Director of Ashley HR

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As part of our ongoing series, Business News Wales had the chance to sit down with Cerys Ashley of Ashley HR.

After qualifying as a barrister and solicitor Cerys worked as an employment lawyer for ten years – seven at Eversheds LLP exclusively advising employers. In 2014 she went on to found Ashley HR Consultancy to provide bespoke solutions that protect employers and enable businesses to grow.

(Photo by Matthew Horwood)

(Photo by Matthew Horwood)

Using her legal background in her own business, she is able to understand and empathise with all of the questions, problems and issues that employers face on a day-to-day basis when managing their staff. Twinned with her extensive understanding of employment law and former career as a practising solicitor, this affords her the ideal position as a HR Consultant.

Tell us about your business?

Ashley HR Consultancy provides businesses with expert HR advice and support services, including specialist advice regarding employment law.  We pride ourselves on providing high quality services at affordable fixed prices.

What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

I plan to carefully grow the business. In five years’ time I hope to increase the size of the business with a larger team of HR specialists and continue to develop innovative ways to deliver our services.

The challenges will be the same as most SMEs face, namely growing a business in a time of economic uncertainty. Brexit is happening, but we still don’t know what it will look like and what the economic impact will be. That said, this in itself may create opportunities. All businesses will have to adapt and work to seize the chances that arise in the next two years, however different they may be.

What do you wish you had known when you started out in business?

A degree in bookkeeping and accounting would have been handy!  It would have made my life easier to have known more about business accounting. That said, I’m a firm believer that you should focus on what you are good at and then surround yourself with people who are better at the things you are less good at. Outsourcing to experts is a wise investment. It frees up your time and provides you with the independent advice you need to make the best commercial decisions for your business. So engage a good accountant from the start.

Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently? 

I think I would have learnt more about the practical, day to day requirements of running a business at an earlier stage. Even if I had not gone on to set up a business, understanding more about the financial and operational issues faced by businesses would have increased my commercial awareness. This has its advantages even when you are an employee rather than a business owner. By understanding how businesses operate you can recognise the importance of your role within the organisation that you are employed in, and it can give you a better appreciation of the difficult business decisions that sometimes have to be made.  Also, it would have helped reduce the steep learning curve involved when setting up my business which would have made life back then a little easier.

What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

Credibility and integrity. Potential customers will only purchase your products or services if they have trust and confidence in the quality of your products and your ability to do a good job. You need to be credible, and a key part of this is having integrity. No matter how small the job or order, you should always treat it as important. My biggest contracts have come from clients who previously asked for a small job to be done.  Your business needs to be seen as trustworthy and reliable and not just by existing or potential customers, but also by suppliers. Building a good reputation amongst all businesses that you deal with will lay the foundations for your business to succeed and grow.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

Consider exactly what your business is about. This involves more than just thinking about what products and services you are going to provide. You need to have a clear understanding about why you are setting up the business and why your business is different from its competitors.

Also, do your research in terms of understanding who your target market is and developing an appropriate pricing structure.  Pricing is one of the most difficult things to get right, particularly in the service sector. Being competitive is obviously important. However, try not to fall into the trap of selling at the cheapest price. This can undermine your credibility and put off customers who may be concerned about the quality of the product or service.

What are your top three tips for success?

Create a brand identity – this is extremely important. It is worthwhile investing in your brand from the start. From your company name, to your strapline and logo, your brand needs to be relevant, professional and convey the right message.

Be visible – it doesn’t matter how good your business is, if no one knows you exist, you won’t be able to grow your business.  Marketing and advertising can be expensive so if your budget is tight, invest time in building up a profile for your business yourself by using free social media sites such as Linked In, Twitter and Facebook. Write and post regular articles that are relevant to your products and services. Also, spend time networking and building good relationships with other professionals.

Embrace technology – before buying a product or service most people will look on the company’s website. It’s important that you have a good quality website – it’s worth spending money on this. A decent quality website will add to your credibility and is a good investment. Also, use technology to work more efficiently. I used to do all my bookkeeping and invoicing manually. I now use software which has saved me a tremendous amount of time.

What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?

One of Wales’ strengths is that its businesses are competitive providing true value for money. However, for me Wales’ key strength is its people. We have great entrepreneurs, business leaders and hardworking employees.  It has been said that historically Wales has been too heavily reliant on the public sector, and this may be compounded by the loss of EU funding which so many private sector welsh SMEs, including new start-up businesses, benefited from.

What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?

Improvements in transport. Investment is needed in both public transport such as trains, and road network links. Also, government investment in private sector SMEs particularly new start-up businesses is key.