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When Neil Atkinson asked his girlfriend Louise for some informal advice for his business back in 1999 neither realised they were actually dry running the company they’d later set up as husband and wife. Eight years from launch Neil and Louise have seven offices, 20 staff and over 300 happy clients making them this month’s Fampreneurs of the Month.
Back in 1999 Neil and his business partner were running a successful mapping design company which had grown to 30 staff. But, like many small companies, when the recession arrived the business took a hit and required a restructure and some redundancies to weather the storm. At the time the business outsourced its HR function to a helpline which took queries by phone and came back in roughly two-hour timeframes with advice and guidance.
“I knew this arms-length service lacked the intimacy and sensitivity for what our business was facing,” Neil explains “so I searched for an alternative but without any luck.”
His girlfriend at the time, Louise, was a senior HR Manager in a large financial firm. And so Neil began asking for Louise’s help and guidance on how best to deal with the process from start to finish. Her advice proved invaluable in ensuring those made redundant were supported through the entire process while the morale of the staff that remained was protected and built.
“I have every confidence that had we used any of the available HR services everyone affected by the changes in the business would have had a more traumatic experience than we were able to deliver with Louise’s expert help.” Neil says.
The mapping business was re-established and both Neil and Louise continued with their respective jobs over the years that followed and also got married and had two children, Sophie and Katie. Louise was determined to continue with her career, and also wanted be there for the children and so she negotiated a 3-day a week contract with her work. But, like so many that do, she found the workload was not proportional to the contracted hours.
Neil and Louise stuck it out for a time but when their youngest started nursery they decided to see if the service they’d accidentally discovered was really a business in the making. Neil sold his shares in his company to his partner and Louise gave up her job and they launched their HR consultancy Deminos. Neil’s role was business development and marketing while Louise became Deminos’ first consultant. Although the offices were in Gateshead owing to the reach of the website and its online advertising it soon secured its first clients in Manchester and Bristol.
“From the start we expected to appeal to businesses with between 20 and 50 staff,” Neil explains, “On the basis that smaller companies can manage staff internally and that larger companies will have an in-house HR department. However roughly one third of our clients have ten or fewer staff and at the other end of the scale Deminos has clients with over 1,500 employees.”
The broadness of Deminos’ appeal is that it successfully manages the less attractive HR issues such as redundancies and tribunals. Louise explains “Even when there is an in-house HR resource, having an objective external business manage these challenging processes is a wise choice. It ensures impartiality and so far every time we’ve managed such cases all parties involved have been pleased with the service.”
Deminos now has 20 staff and structures itself much like an agency business with administrative and consultant teams being dedicated to particular clients local to them. This ensures great service levels and attendance at meetings is easily arranged. With offices in Bristol, Gateshead, Leeds, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Reading the business’s geographic reach is pretty extensive.
A high proportion of the client base is in the retail and hospitality sectors, which are not 9-5 businesses so Deminos trades from 8am until 9pm and enables its staff to split shifts around client needs and their own personal requirements such as childcare.
“One of the reasons we set up the business was to ensure we had time for each other and our children” says Louise “and our staff naturally get the same benefits, which is a huge factor in attracting and retaining some really talented people.”
When asked the key to their success as fampreneurs Neil answers, “For us I believe it’s that we have very distinct roles that play to our strengths. Day-to-day at work we spend very little time together. Each trusts the others skills and the growth of the business is testament to the fact we’re each doing a great job. In truth the success is experienced outside the business as it gives us more time for each other and the children.”
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