Companies House podcasts
Ross Maude: Director of Digital

Ross Maude: Director of Digital

January 8, 2021

In this podcast Meg speaks with Ross Maude, Director of Digital at Companies House. They discuss how our registers and data inspire trust and confidence. This is the third podcast in a six part series, each one discussing our strategic goals. 

 

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to another podcast episode from Companies House. We have recently launched our new five-year strategy and one of our strategic goals is all about how “our registers inspire trust and confidence” and the use of our data. Data is one of the backbones of Companies House. And today I'm here with Ross Maude, Director of Digital, at Companies House. And today Ross is going to give us a bit of an insight into his work and how that work runs through who we are and what we do. So, hi Ross. How are you?  

 

Ross Maude: Good. Thanks, Megan. Yes, very well.  

 

MH: Starting to feel a little bit festive? 

 

RM: I am. Christmas tree is up. The lights are up. Yes, I'm starting to get there. Almost there, almost at the Christmas period. So, looking forward to a chance of a good break.  

 

MH: Excellent. Not long to go now.  

 

RM: How about you? Are you ready?  

 

MH: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's a quiet one this year. So not too much to get ready luckily.  

 

RM: Relying on delivery for most of the presents, but yes.  

 

MH: Yes, definitely. So, I'm going to kick off with my first question. So, being the Director of Digital, what does that mean, first of all to you and to us as an organisation? 

 

RM: So, the strategic question about data and having trusted and valued data that inspires trust and confidence. I think it's really important. Perhaps because I'm a slightly sort of digital person. I think data is super important, how we treat it, how we manage it, how we look after it. But that's a starting internal view. But I think what's more important actually is what the register is, why it exists, and it's always been sort of a, you know, if people are dealing with a legal entity, they can look up the individuals and the history of the entity and they can make investment choices based on you know, who forms the leadership of that organisation and what their history of their account filings look like for example. So, it allows people to understand, you know, what's inside the legal entity they're working with. What it's made up of and that's really really important. And actually, you know, right now this second, we had some figures last year from some of the credit reference agencies. There is something like 1.7 trillion pounds is invested in UK business every year and the credit reference agencies use our data as one of the foundational elements to make those decisions. And so, I suppose that data, if our data is being used to inform that level of investment then you know, it's so important that we have it right and we have it available and we have it in the right format that people can access as easily as possible to make those decisions.  

 

MH: Yeah. So, you touched on the credit reference agencies. Obviously, our register and the data is trusted by a variety of users. Can you give me a bit more of an insight into some of the other groups that might use our register? 

 

RM: So, I think it’s an interesting one. So, the data is used by a huge range of different stakeholders, if I can use that phrase. So, obviously other companies look at each other in the first instance. Individuals, who look, I mean interesting one of their kind of highest hit rates is when a football club has a change of directorship, you know. That drives huge traffic towards our register. People have a look at who it is, what's going on. But, you know, there's more than that. So obviously investors, you know, investing groups would look at the data to make investment decisions. I have kind of touched on that before. It's used by researchers from all different areas to understand what's happening in the economy. It might be used by people like Transparency International Group who would be looking at particular transfer data for activities. It's also used by law enforcement agencies and actually a really big users of our data are other government agencies. So, really broad spreads of individuals, organisations, and different stakeholders. And I probably missed off loads of other people who fall in different camps. It's just such a widely accessed data set. I think it's last 12 months; it was something like 9.7 billion searches across our register. The data register which is vast. So, really really powerful, of great value with those that we hold.  

 

MH: Yeah. Definitely. It's funny other than you know, people just having a nose. That's you know, a lot of what our searches are. But there are you know, really important reasons that people use our data and need to go and look. So there are like business decisions. But is there anything else that brings to your mind that people could be using our data for.  

 

RM: That's a really good question. So, of course, you know, there's understanding what's you know, what's happening with inside companies to make investment choices, but there's also 

understanding what activities organisations do. So, you can do you can see things by industry, by geography. You can see how many individuals are responsible for different organisations. So, there's a whole range of activities that go on including as I mentioned things like Transparency International and or law enforcement and or government and obviously we can see lots of information about the activities of organisations. Appointments, removals, filings of account data and all this information can be, you know, can be pulled together and used to support understanding activity by these organisations. And that can be really useful for folks like law enforcement agencies, people with a remit like Transparency International journalists who are trying to get, you know, a more data rich picture of particular activities that, you know, that meet their needs.  

 

MH: Yeah. It's almost impossible to know the actual length of what our data is used for. But that definitely gives a really good insight. 

 

RM: Yeah, there’s something in there. I think it’s interesting if you think about that data on its own. As a big dataset that you can look at and search. I think, obviously, what credit reference agencies do is take that data and then they add other datasets, and they link them up. And I think, when you start doing that, then the possibilities become countless in terms of what sort of questions you might be asking or looking for corroboration of activity.  

 

MH: Yeah, like, it's almost like we're part of a really big jigsaw for some people. A really important jigsaw. So, my next question is over the next five years, and I know that we're going to be making changes to the data on our registers. And can you tell me a little bit about what those changes will be out and why we're making them.  

 

RM: Yes. In kind of broad brushstrokes, I think the main thing is the quality of our data. So, you know, how do we check the data that's coming in against other data sets. So, you know, simple answers could be things like an address. So, you know, there are lists of UK addresses, for example. So, can we make sure that all of the address data that we hold links to like a national data set which means that all our addresses that we hold are correct or a percentage aren't. How do we make sure it's more reliable. So again, a lot of this is about cross checking with other information sources. Making sure that we have the right checks, the right automation. All the things that we can do to make sure that the information we've got is timely. It's, you know, it's been checked. It has good quality to it overall. That's going to be quite a big change, I think. Obviously though, the higher quality data that we're taking in and we are then presenting out having done the things you need to do with it. That means that the answers people get to their questions come from more reliable data, and I think that's really important. So, that there is this constant level of quality reliability of the big data that we're offering to others to make decisions. I think that's going to be really really important. And as the quality gets better and better it means those activities if you want to stop quite frankly, you know, fraudulent activities or other economic crimes that can misuse legal entities. I think as our data gets clearer and clearer, then it will be much easier to spot those sorts of activities for those who you know whose job it is to do that.  

 

MH: Yeah, definitely. That's really good and it really gives an insight to you know, when you've got such data out on such a public register, it does need streamlining in a way.  

 

RM: It needs to be. You know, we need to be able to make sure it's of the highest quality as possible. That's one end of it. So, we need to be able to check and do some more confirmation and check it against other information sets to make sure that what we are holding is a well reference set of data. I’m being a bit boring and techy now. But that's really important. Because then you know, it's good quality. You can compare it to something else and that's really important and that then allows much better decisions to be made on the back of it. That's where the question is. How do we make it available? You know, I don't have concrete answers. But how do we make sure it's available at scale in ways that people can intuitively understand the information. That's going to be really important too. So, it's all there, you can get access to it now and you can download a really vast set of numbers and letters. But perhaps, you know, one thing you might consider, and I don't know if we will end up doing it is how do we kind of present 

more intuitive versions of the data so that people can do, you know, their own kind of investigations about needing to be kind of having a whole set of data science skills behind them.  

 

MH: Thank you. And my last question, and it's kind of away from data or data may be in your answer, but what have you learned about yourself this year in a personal or professional capacity or maybe both?  

 

RM: So, it’s a really good question. Well, I'll probably try and do both. So, I think there's a real difference working in a distributed way. I don't use that phrase specifically. I've stolen it from Matt Mullenweg from Automatic. You know, remote working makes that other people who aren't of your stand think that they're less important and it’s not as good. So, we've had to really work hard to make our organisation continue to be so high performing, you know, without all being around each other. And I always thought about everything quite content to kind of go on and do stuff. Actually, I suppose the honest answer is I desperately miss my colleagues. I desperately miss being able to hang out and have a chitchat. And no matter how much you kind of make space for that informal contact, you've got to still plan it into your day now. Oh, are you available for an informal catch up, you know, it's hard and I do really miss the spontaneity of meeting with colleagues and sparking ideas and the wonderful energy that comes from those sort of interactions. And I know, whilst I'm content to stay safe and work home and ask everyone to stay safe, I would be lying if I said I wouldn't, you know, I'm not looking forward to the chance to kind of meet with my fabulous colleagues and have those energetic conversations. I think that's what I really miss.  

 

I suppose in a personal capacity, I suppose it's how to break up the day. I think we probably all been through a journey like that. So, these two kinds, of slide out of bed into work and slide out of work, which really late and so what I've learned is that you know, 

walking is really beneficial to us. I mean I've been doing walking about 6-7 miles a day. So, I found of I walk before work to kind of mark the end up. I kind of commute to work by doing like a two-mile walk. I try and get away from my desk at lunchtime. And I then I commute from work back to my home by do another set of walking. So, to try and make sure that I can get out and get some fresh air. That's probably my personal thing.  

 

MH: And you have got a new dog to do that with.  

 

RM: That certainly helps because perhaps on days like today, specifically when it's pouring with rain or sunshine today and it's a bit windy too, I probably wouldn't want to go for a walk. But I don't really have much choice. So that's been really helpful.  

 

MH: And as you say that I get a Met Office yellow weather warning for rain.  

 

RM: Yeah, it was certainly wet this morning and dark. So, it's not the most perfect. But, having done it, it just feels brilliant. Getting outside and then kind of getting to you know, clear the mind for the day.  

 

MH: Thank you so much. And thank you everybody for listening. If you haven't already then please have a look back on our podcast channel where I discuss some of our other goals with team members, and also keep an eye out for next month's podcast discussing our next goal. And thank you Ross, you've been a brilliant guest. Take care.  

 

RM: Thank you so much. Thank you for asking all the great questions. 

Emma Hares: Our brilliant services

Emma Hares: Our brilliant services

December 9, 2020

In this podcast Meg speaks with Emma Hares, an Operational Manager at Companies House. They discuss our brilliant services and how they give great user experience. This is the second podcast in a six part series, each one discussing our strategic goals. 

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to another podcast episode of “Meet the team” by Companies House. We have recently launched our new five-year strategy and one our strategic goals is ‘Our brilliant services that give a great user experience’. Our customers are at the heart of everything we do and today I am here with Emma Hares, who is an Operational Leader at Companies House. Emma is going to give us an insight into how that great user experience is provided and the inner workings of the team that speak to our customers every day. Thanks for joining me Emma, how are you? 

Emma Hares: Thank you for having me. I am really good, thank you.  

MH: Oh, good. So, I am just going to jump straight in with my first question. I remember us having a meeting back in January in the office before all of this working from home started. So, how have you adapted to working from home in 2020. I remember saying that I did it, you know, on and off and I knew that other teams, the directorate, would work from home from time to time but you were like “Oh, that’s not really an option for us. We don’t do that. We are only in the office”. So, how have you found it? How has it been?  

EH: Yeah, well, it feels like such a long time ago that we had that conversation now. So, not only a long time ago in time but a long time ago in our technical abilities to work remotely as well. So, some of the operational area could already work from home but it depended on their job role. But they really were the minority of the area really. At the time we spoke in January, we were definitely planning to enable a lot more people to work at home, but we wanted to make sure that we were fully supporting them to do that. Especially, our customer facing colleagues. I’d say we were looking at taking about 18 months for us to get there all together but got a big push from COVID and it ended up taking us a few weeks to roll it out. It was a massive co-ordination of which work streams are priority and who needs what type of equipment and stuff. So, but, throughout all of that time, the safety of our colleagues has been the absolute priority and enabling as many people as possible to stay at home was always top of the list. And, it hasn’t just been keeping people safe in a physical sense but also their mental wellbeing. So, we’ve done a lot of communication to make sure people are talking regularly and checking in on how people are and really trying to keep the amazing sense of community going, that is really loved by so many people in Companies House.  

MH: Yeah 

EH: So, but I would say that even though we have got the vast majority of people working at home, some of the work we do in the operational area can’t be done at home. So, we do still have a small number of people in the building. But, a lot of work is being done to provide a safe environment for us to be working in when we are in the building. So, it’s a complete change of direction from what we were in in January working towards smarter ways of working, sharing desks and taking up less space in the office and now we are in a situation where we’ve got our own desks spread really far apart with lots of hygiene and social distancing measures in place. And I would just like to add one thing to that as well that it’s really important that we’ve got someone in the building because we do provide a service to our NHS tenants. And without us being in the building, we wouldn’t have been able to do that during the lockdown. So, that’s been something that has been just as important for internal customers as our external customers.  

MH: Yeah, definitely. So, how have you found that balance between delivering our excellent services and protecting our colleagues. It really is a fine line, isn’t it?  

EH: Yeah. So, as I said, the safety of our colleagues has been the most important thing, but we are here for our customers. So, continuing to provide a service to them was still important to us. During the first few months of working from home, we weren’t able to provide a telephone service, just simply because we didn’t have the equipment to do that remotely. But our contact centre have been brilliant with supporting us with that and they’ve maintained that service to our customers throughout. So, if there were any occasions where they needed to pass on some more specific queries to the wider teams, they did that via email. And we saw an increase in over 200% in volumes in some areas which was really challenging. Some of our services were slower. But we are really proud to say that we maintained services to our customers. So, at the time, our customers were using our information to make some extremely important decisions in relation to things like share capital and lending money and putting people on furlough. So it was, you know, really important we were still maintaining that service for those people. Umm, a lot of work has been done to provide alternative filing routes for our customers as well. So, we’ve got lots of paper processes. I mean we’ve still got some of them leftover, but we’ve provided alternative routes like upload facilities for forms that didn’t already have an electronic filing option.  

MH: Hmm, okay.   

EH: We’ve provided a service for directors to access their authentication codes where they were unable to go to their registered offices during lockdown which meant that they were able to file online. And not only did this keep our services going for our customers, but it allowed us to reduce the number of people we needed in the building as well which helped to keep them safe while they were at work. So, we’ve made a lot of internal changes as well to the way we pass work around between teams which has been successful in enabling us to have so many people working from home. And we introduced legislative easement for our customers struggling to meet statutory deadlines by allowing them more time to file with us and we’ve taken an empathetic view that COVID has caused delays in filing as well.  

MH: Yeah, wow, it’s like a lot of adaptability in a very short space of time. Umm, can we talk a bit about our service to vulnerable customers. I know this is something that is vitally important to us.  

EH: Yes, of course. This is something that has always been important to us. Not just through the pandemic but in recent times we have seen an increase in customers facing mental health challenges and that’s why we launched our vulnerable customer pledge back in February. So, around the same time we also launched the customer charter which sets out the way in which we will deliver a professional service to our customers and also, we’ve recently launched the unacceptable customer behaviour. But, going back to the vulnerable customer pledge, as you know, being a government organisation, our customers have statutory obligations that they’ve got to meet. So, like filing their accounts on time. But we do recognise that it can be really difficult to do if you’re in a vulnerable situation and by that I don’t mean just mental health. It can be a physical health problem or a financial situation or a life changing circumstance that somebody is going through. So, we want to help our customers experiencing these difficulties to meet their obligations and avoid any extra burdens on them. So, it’s really important to us that we provide a professional service to all of our customers and in our pledge we committed to working with our vulnerable customers to make sure they can access our information in a way that meets their needs and we train our colleagues so that they are able to identify customers who might be vulnerable and sign post them to any additional support that they might need. And we are committed to reviewing our policies as well to regularly make sure that they are constantly improving our business practices.  

MH: Yeah, that is really impressive. Like, I can’t believe that I didn’t know about that already. It is quite admirable, and I don’t even know if any organisations who have got such a direct route to tackling that kind of thing. So, going back to talking about the goals. What are you doing to work towards the goal of brilliant services that give a great user experience and what’s planned for the future?  

EH: Well, we have so much planned for the future. It is really quite exciting. We’re preparing for register reform and with lots of changes to our systems, we plan to make them more user friendly. So, moving away from WebCheck and CHD for example where customers are able to order documents from our Companies House Service, which is far more accessible, and it meets the needs of a wide range of our customers. We’re making changes to some of our customer contact route. So, we will have something called natural voice where if the customer is ringing from a mobile and says they want to incorporate a company, we will be able to send them a link to our incorporation service. You know that is a huge improvement from where we are now, where we have just got telephone and email routes and social media. We’ll have chat bots and web chat services. We’re working on improving the way customers can order records of companies that have been dissolved for up to 20 years. So, we are putting that on Companies House Service as well. And, we want to increase the number of digital transactions that we are receiving from our customers and we are getting closer now to validating incorporations in a more automatic way. And, just as importantly, we will be investing in our colleagues development by rolling out the operational delivery profession which is a fantastic way to recognise the profession that we are all a part of and we will be increasing the framework we have implemented this year to ensure that the quality of work being produced is at the highest it can be.  

MH: Fab. That all sounds really really good. My last question to you is, what do you think you have learnt in a personal and professional capacity this year? 

EH: Hmm. Okay, so, personally I think that I have learnt how resilient I am. Dealing with some really big changes and challenges and I’d also say that I’ve personally learnt how important having a healthy work-life balance is. Professionally, I have learnt how adaptable Companies House and the people I work with are. Umm, it feels like it would take quite a long time to get changes done in the past and we have really worked so quickly over the past few months. It’s just absolutely been amazing. And I suppose, personally within the organisation, I’d say that I’ve always felt valued working at Companies House, but this year has really highlighted how much wellbeing is important to the organisation. So, you know, it’s fantastic.  

MH: Yeah. Same, I feel so grateful for that and I definitely don’t think that we’re alone in feeling that way. And, that brings me to the end of my questions. Thank you so much for joining me today Emma. It has been great to get an insight into your role and the teams around you. And, Thank you everybody for listening and if you haven’t already, then please have a look back on our last months podcast between myself and Angie Lewis talking about the goal of our culture enabling our brilliant people to flourish and drive high performance. And, again, please keep an eye out for next month’s podcast discussing our next goal. Thank you so much, Emma.  

EH: Thank you.  

Angela Lewis: Head of People Transformation

Angela Lewis: Head of People Transformation

November 5, 2020

In this podcast Meg speaks with Angela Lewis, Head of People Transformation at Companies House. They discuss how our culture enables our brilliant people to flourish and drives high performance. This is the first podcast in a six part series, each one discussing our strategic goals. 

Transcript

MH: Hello and welcome to another episode of “Meet the team” by Companies House. Today, I am joined by Angela Lewis, our Head of People Transformation. She's someone who has an extensive career in HR and has been at Companies House alone for nearly nine years. She is a ray of sunshine and I am so looking forward to speaking to her today. So, without another second to wait, welcome Angie. 

 

AL: Aww, I love the fact that Meg you called me a ray of sunshine. That might be my nicest thing all day. 

 

MH: Oh well, it's true. You okay?  

 

AL: Yes. I'm very good. Thank you. You are the perfect end to a long day.  

 

MH: Yes. Well, it is hard to find a tiny little gap in your calendar. So, it was the only gap in weeks, I think.  

 

AL: Well, I was definitely pleased to give it to you. That's for sure.  

 

MH: Thank you. So, I'm going to just kick off with my first question and it is to address our recent amazing achievement, which has been awarded to us from Investors in People, which is the Platinum Status. Can you tell me a little bit about the journey to getting there and what's next?  

 

AL: Okay, happy to do that and can I say I'm still you know a month on from finding out that we were awarded the Platinum. Still smiling about it because so few organisations are awarded this sort of level of assessment. So, it does really matter. And you know three years ago Meg, we were awarded the gold level which is amazing as well. But, we set ourselves a goal back then and I remember talking to Louise, our Chief Exec and saying, you know, wouldn't it be amazing for us to show in three years that we're a platinum organisation and she said, “Oh, I love the fact you aim high Angie.” and I said, “Well, actually this is about ambition, but it's also about, if we really do aim high, the only thing that we can have is a much better experience. But also, imagine what that would be like for our colleagues”. So, we've worked really hard over these three years to sort of focus on the things that we were given in terms of feedback from the gold assessment. Particularly around leadership and making sure that our colleagues could understand the sort of role and purpose of Companies House and to really focus on how can they bring their whole self to work and how can we allow people to truly flourish which has been brilliant because it links directly with our Companies House strategy. And this isn't sort of a surprise that our focus on the strategic goal of creating a culture where colleagues can come to work and flourish and drive high-performance. So, there's been this link for the last three years and to get that validated by an external organisation to say “you're on the right track. You've made huge progress”, and for us it's a continuum because it's not about sitting back now and saying, oh, well, we've cracked it. It's about maintaining those levels, learning from the sort of advice and recommendations they put in, celebrating where we've done really well and holding on to it. And you know, it's really exciting because it genuinely is an organisational wide achievement. And that was one of the main sort of comments from IIP, was that everyone they spoke to was with us in terms of understanding what we wanted to achieve but also felt part of this sort of very exciting transformation journey we are on, but also part of our culture change journey.  

 

MH: Yeah, I think what you said then about, it runs through everyone. It's not like a top-level thing. Those values are really throughout and I've definitely experienced that and I think it goes to show that everyone still feels it. We've been working at home now since March as have a lot of people and to still feel that you know feeling of being part of something at home, it goes to show how special it really is.  

 

AL: Yeah, I definitely agree, and I think you know, we've been in this unique situation. We've obviously had you know; our offices have been open, and we have been providing services in our you know offices as well with smaller teams and the large percentage of our workforce has been at home. But managing, you know, remote workers and those in the office has been challenging at times but actually all the work we've done before COVID hit us around networks and community and being able to be your true self have just reaped so many benefits and dividends over the last six or seven months that people I would say, ironically genuinely feel more connected now than they did before the pandemic, which quite frankly just goes to show that if you'll invest that effort in giving your employees a voice, building these networks under the umbrella of sort of culture change and diversity and inclusion. Actually, when it truly matters, you will see the rewards. And like you, you know, there's not a week goes by when I don't think, wow look at what people are doing here to drive change, to improve the experience for the customer, to support their colleagues, and to keep talking to us to make sure that we are making good decisions. You know, it is pretty, and I think I wrote about it somewhere to say it's magical and I know that sounds a bit naff to some people. But you know, I worked in HR for sort of 30 years. And I have never been in a situation where I've felt this sort of level of magic in terms of a movement and it is a movement. It's not just one or two people. You know, you're talking about a movement of people passionate about change and about delivering great services for their customers. I mean, it's amazing.  

 

MH: Yeah. Enchanting is another word.  

 

AL: I like that. Yeah, enchanted.  

 

MH: Another thing I was going to say, it's like people say there's nothing that could have prepared you for this year. But actually, as far as being prepared goes I think Companies House had it as prepared as you could be for something like the pandemic.  

 

AL: Yeah interesting, isn't it? Because gosh we would never want this. Of course, we wouldn't and I'm sure lots of other organisations feel the same. That you know in a sense you've had to respond. But it's these challenges, these horrendous challenges, that come left field or be at this is a much longer one that really show how resilient you are as an organisation but also demonstrate to me that if you invest in your people and you provide this infrastructure, and you really you live and breathe a sense of compassion and connection. Whatever hits you, you will come out of it stronger.  

 

MH: Yeah. 

 

AL: Now that's not too for one minute to disregard the personal circumstances of individual, which have all been very different. But what we've tried to do, is to say from a work perspective, we're going to try and really help sort of mitigate stress for you, we're going to try and support you so that you can carry on supporting your customers. Because actually we're all dealing with a lot of tough stuff personally as well while this is going on. So, you know our commitment to the sort of well-being and mental health and physical health has been even more important. But probably bigger than that to me has been the social connection. Making sure nobody's left behind, making sure nobody feels isolated, checking in with people to make sure they're all right, and you know as a compassionate employer, as Companies House is, we genuinely believe that that's our responsibility. And that matters to people.  

 

MH: It really does. Yeah. And that leads me on, you touched on our culture. But can you tell me from the start basically about our culture story.  

 

AL: Okay, so, you know, we've always had a great culture in this organisation. But you know particularly three years ago when we were looking at transformation and where we saw ourselves as an organisation, we brought that to life by engaging with the whole 

workforce in workshops to say what makes what do we want to cherish? What do we want to hold onto that makes us special? But what do we perhaps need to change? And we realised we had sort of three key behaviours we wanted to focus on, and they were adaptability, boldness and curiosity. That perhaps they weren’t as prevalent as they could have been.  

 

Okay, we did have the compassion and we had that sense of community, but we wanted to build on it. So, we've done a huge amount over the last three years around the adaptable, bold, and curious behaviours. And so, they have become our sort of link to things like our ideas hub where we encourage people to come forward with new concepts and things that are stopping them from doing their, you know, their work effectively. We've got our boldness, which is about actually challenging the way we do things and challenging the status quo. And just challenging because actually this isn't personal. This is about the best outcome for our customers and that's really helped. And then the curiosity, which is really been about you know, all of us looking outwards, being aware of what's going on, how that relates to our organisation, questioning and you know, all of these things have been gradual. But you're starting to see that change, and this is about building on that and also saying under the umbrella of the community, that's why our networks are so important. Which is we wanted people to have this passion for the organisation. And so, we've got probably I think it's nearly 30 networks in the organisation now which cover all aspects of diversity and inclusion, but also cover areas such as our Coaching Network, our Environmental Network, our Community Social Responsibility Network. They are a collective group of people who care passionately, and they've come together to say, and this is the boldness, we want to be part of this change journey and we want to be the difference. And that has been, as I said, magnificent to see but it's evolving on a daily basis. And what you are then seeing in terms of boldness is, it's not led from the top. This is coming from all parts of the business to say, right, how can we improve this? What can we do differently? How can we make change for the better? Which if I'd spoken to maybe a year or two ago Meg, I would have probably said if we can get that, it would be amazing. I didn't think we'd accelerate it to the sort of level; we have which is partly been driven by COVID.  

 

MH: Yeah, it's funny isn't it? How sometimes something so negative can actually bring out positivity.  

 

AL: Yeah. And I think when we're all working and we're going to be working in these ways and dealing with what's going on in society and you know the worries about the pandemic etc. for so long. It's trying to find those moments in, what you can control. So, we talk a lot in terms of what can you control in the work you do. We can make sure you have meaningful work, we can make sure you feel safe and trusted and supported at work. We can make sure you understand how you're making a difference; you know. Because research shows if you feel like you're making a difference, that can really help. So, if we can alleviate any of the pressure and stress associated with work, that has got to be helpful in terms of how people are able to manage the other aspects of their lives.  

 

MH: Yeah. Amazing really. So, my next question, a huge part of the culture at Companies House is within our networks. Can you tell me about their strength and their power?  

 

AL: Well, I mentioned how many we've got but you know for me particularly its exec sponsor. So, I'm exec sponsor for the Ability Network which supports and celebrates those of us in the organisation living with long-term health conditions, of which I'm one of those. Our cancer Advocates group, again. My own personal experience of cancer has made me want to be part of that group. Our mental health advocates and first aiders. They are again a key one. But there are so many others and I think you know the point I want to get across is that we’re not one thing. And I think I talked about this when we had a culture meeting, you know, I don't just identify as a woman, or a mother, or someone with a disability. I'm a mixture of all of those things and the fact that in this organisation, you can connect and reach out, and be supported, and work with colleagues who have a shared understanding and a passion for something is the bit that truly I think makes it magical from my perspective. And whether I'm an ally for one of our other groups, whatever it is, this sense of community and family, but also not just a talking in shop about making real change. That's probably the strength. And you know in the last two weeks alone, we've seen you know, our Working Families Network take off. Our FACE Network, you know, our Faith, Allies, Culture, and Ethnicity group. You know, all of these groups are being coming forward because people are recognising that they would like to see change, but also to give this further sense of connection. And they all come under the umbrella of culture and culture change and engagement and that's probably what makes it so powerful. It's not just what we have to have these diversity groups. It's much much bigger than that.  

 

MH: Yeah. It's not a box ticking thing by any means. I've been part of the Women's Network since I started Companies House and I sit in the meetings and it's not just for women it, you know, the men come along to those meetings at the allyship part of it. I think it's something that I'd never experienced in a workplace before. Like there might be like groups of people but it would be just them and it wasn't open and fluid to everyone for everyone to see. So, it's really unique in that way.  

 

AL: That's good to hear. That's good to hear. 

 

MH: So, my last question for you is thinking about during this year, what have you learned about yourself? In both a professional and a personal capacity, if anything.  

 

AL: Oh, I learn something every week Meg. Honestly because when we talk about the curiosity, it's about being curious about yourself, being clear, you know constantly learning, evaluating.  

 

So, if I take professional first, so I've learned that however much you plan, you can't be ready for everything and you have to be able to adapt and respond. I've realised that I thrive and get my energy from personal connections. So, I have struggled with having to work remotely. I know it's absolutely the right thing to do from a safety perspective, but I have struggled with it because I genuinely loved going into work every single day and I would interact with maybe 40 or 50 people and I just love that energy it gave me. So, I've had to find other ways to get that energy. And I think as well as professionally as well for me, I've learned that I've had to be more creative and definitely develop more digital skills in terms of how I connect and also, as someone very visual, how you learn using the tools remotely, the digital tools. I'm really challenging myself to think about how I can do that in different ways.  

 

Personally again, I suppose the same. It's back to that needing sort of personal connections. You know my own personal anxiety. I have got family members who were shielding for a long period during the lockdown. So, you know worrying about them. But also, you know, I was somebody who like lots of spontaneity and in my personal life often travelled a lot. And so, I've had to spend the last six to nine months at home. But actually, I've realised that you can still get lots and lots of joy out of being in your home. So, I talk about jolts of joy. So, my garden. If you could see now with my desk, I've got flowers on it and candles. I've got everything going to sort of create this positive space for myself. And I think that's what I've learned. That actually you have to adapt, which comes back to the adaptable, to your circumstances. And it’s back to that mindset. Reminding myself that this is the right thing to be doing because this is about safety and this is about others and it's about making sure that we keep each other safe but also, we're still able to deliver. So, it's been a fascinating sort of six to eight months. And I think this is the point about all of us probably learning every day and keep thinking. Okay, we can't control everything but there's a few things we control in terms of our mindset, how we want to approach things, and again, probably I've earned you've got to reach out when you think I'm having a tough day today, I could really do with some social contact, face-to-face, but I'm not going to get it. So, how am I going to deal with that? So, they would be my sort of learning things. What about you?  

 

MH: I think listening to you then, would you say that you're quite extroverted?  

 

AL: Oh, yeah, definitely.  

 

MH: Yeah. Well, I'm the on the other side, which I think shocks people sometimes about me, but I've actually really enjoyed my own time and my own space. Like, don't get me wrong there have been times when I've wanted to see other people and my partner's worked throughout. So, I have spent a lot of time alone and it is just the two of us. But yeah, I actually realise I really enjoy my own company. I knew it. But I definitely know it now. 

 

AL: That’s fabulous because I mean I love my own company, but I like it at the end of the day and interestingly there was five of us at home. So, my husband was shielding. My daughter was out working from home with schooling and my two university student children were home too. So, five of us in the house was a nightmare. That was the first thing. It really was. But I was always someone who like to keep home and work very separate. I loved going to work. I used to talk about it being my respite. Because I just loved it. And you know, if you've got complicated home life etc, and everything else that's going on. I loved having that separation. So again, I've struggled with that sense of how do you separate the both.  

 

I've also found, and I'll be interested but I've tended to revert back to seeming to do all the cooking and all these other sort of very domesticated jobs that I never did before. So, I'm trying to push back on this one. I don't know how it's happened.  

 

MH: Yeah, some things can't stay. Can they?  

 

AL: No. No. So, I'm pushing back on that. But I'm trying things like getting out and walking around outside to try and turn it into a different sort of work and home, you know, I'm trying to learn and I'm learning from others.  

 

I'm reading lots of material about techniques to try. Because this is here for the long term. So, you've got to adapt, and I want to adapt but I also don't want to lose who I am. And I think you know, one of the other strategies I've used is to do things like I'm doing with you now, but also to connect with other HR professionals in other organisations to learn from them because that gives me energy. So, it's finding where you get your energy from. Because if you're dealing with things like COVID as I have, since the beginning, it can be very miserable and quite draining. So, you have to think how else can I get my energy and keep myself motivated so I can also motivate others.  

 

MH: Yeah. Well, I think your inspirational. I think you know, like you said earlier you've been doing the job that you do for 30 years. It would be so easy for you to sit back and say I know it all, I'm done. I don't need to learn, but you're just on a continuum journey of learning new things and that is why you are where you are.  

 

AL: Oh, thank you Meg, and that's why I love working with people like you. 

 

MH: So that concludes my questions for today. Thank you so much for your time. It's been an absolute pleasure.  

 

AL: And with you. Take care of yourself.  

 

MH: Thanks, Ang. 

Martyn Flynn: Diversity and Inclusion

Martyn Flynn: Diversity and Inclusion

October 21, 2020

Martyn and Meg discuss D&I at Companies House. Inclusion is a golden thread that runs through all Companies House activity, and we will find ways to embed diversity in everything we do. Our ambition is to build an inclusive, positive culture where everyone can bring their whole selves to work, facilitating retention of motivated, high performing colleagues. It is also critical for us as a business that we work to reflect the diversity of our customers through our own diversity.  

 

Transcript

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to a new episode of “Meet the team” by Companies House. Today, I am joined by Martin Flynn, Head of Resourcing, at Companies House. We are going to be discussing diversity and inclusion today, which I'm really excited about. 2020 is the Civil Service Year of Inclusion. This is an opportunity for us to celebrate our achievements in this space and share what we're doing as an organisation. I think having a sense of belonging, being able to be your authentic self, and feeling you have a voice are vital for all inclusion. So, on that note, hello Martin and welcome. How are you?

 

Martin Flynn: Yeah, great. Thank you, Meg. How are you?

 

MH: Yes, good. Thank you. Not too bad. So obviously just a note for the listeners we are recording this remotely. So that's a new thing for us. This is a second one I’ve recorded now remotely. So, fingers crossed, it all goes well. Bear with us.

 

MF: Technology, fingers crossed.

 

MH: Yeah, so my first question is, what is diversity and inclusion and what does it mean to us as an organisation? And could you speak a bit about our D&I ambition?

 

MF: Yeah. Sure. That's a good question. I think for Companies House diversity is really about understanding that each individual is really kind of unique and that we do recognize those individual differences. So, these can both be visible and invisible and along the dimensions of things such as gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, age, physical abilities, for example. So, these differences mean everyone brings something different to our organisation. Different life experiences, skill sets, thoughts, ideas, innovation. So, it's really important that we recognize, respect, and value these in a safe and positive environment. Ultimately, it's about understanding each other. I suppose celebrating and welcoming these differences that each individual has. Inclusion then is all about having a sense of belonging. You know where the different groups or individuals with these differences are then accepted, welcomed, and treated fairly, and equally. So, if you have an inclusive culture, it makes the individual or the group of people feel valued, feel kind of respected for who they are. This for Companies House is for all people to just feel comfortable, and confident to bring their whole and brilliant selves to work. So, we want everyone to feel that they are respected, and that they are treated fairly and this means that then everyone has the opportunity to perform to their full extent of their potential, they are rewarded fairly, and they're recognised for the contribution that they make to Companies House. But it is also important that our diversity reflects the communities and the citizens that we serve so that we can better understand them and serve them as well.

 

MH: Yeah, absolutely. That was a very good answer, I must say. So, we've launched a campaign this week which will showcase our brilliant D&I networks. And I know that you've got a personal passion for these and supporting our diverse colleagues. So, would you mind sharing a bit of your own D&I story?

 

MF: No, not at all. Yeah, you're right. I am really passionate and proud of the great networks that we have here Companies House. When I talked about inclusion, I suppose a sense of belonging. You know, obviously inclusion networks have really helped to bring our people together and create those safe environments. So for example, you've got a Chic Network for our LGBTQ colleagues. There's a Carers Network, a Working Families Network, a Women's Network. We've just launched our new FACE Network. So that’s celebrating, let me get that right now, Faith, Allyship, Culture, and Ethnicity. And a Mental Health Network as well. That's just to name a few.

 

I suppose these of all really helped especially through the current situation in really providing that support and resource for our colleagues that allows a safe space to talk which really helps with well-being, promoting improved mental health, which is all really important. Our networks are really thriving. I think some of our most powerful stories in many ways is how we use our allies for the networks. So, we've got male colleagues who are really active in the Menopause Women's Network, for example. We've got colleagues who maybe just have an interest in other networks through their own personal experiences or maybe for just having an interest or passion for. And it's these allies that can really be I suppose our change agent for a really diverse, I can really say in inclusion, remove barriers and stereotypes that may then kind of exist. Personally, I'm involved in several networks. But I also act as kind of an ally. But I also helped to form our Ability Network. So, this was set up to support colleagues with visible and non-visible disabilities. To really help create a supportive environment where those colleagues can feel confident talking and declaring to their managers that they've got a disability. They can also also talk freely and network in open. Open to talk with us as well.

 

So, I've got Crohn's disease and that's a chronic kind of lifelong condition that affects my digestive system. So, in the past this has resulted in quite a lot of surgery. I've had to make some personal changes in my life to make to manage the condition. However, it is an invisible disability. So, if you were to look at me, you’d think there's absolutely nothing wrong with me. I look fine from the outside. However inside I might be in pain, I could be having a flare-up can, can be just really fatigued. So it's important for me that my colleagues as well as my team understand my condition and the side effects that the medication can bring so that maybe if one day I'm not quite on the ball, or I'm really tired, you know, they would kind of understand why. No, go on, sorry.

 

MH:  No, I was just gonna say, I love that it's the Ability Network, not the disability network.  And I think why we are so different to other employers. Like you said about having Crohn’s. It's something with other employers, you'd write it on a form as soon as you start with the business or the company and then that's it. And then it's never spoken about again. It’s not made visible. There's no way to make it visible to your colleagues and that can be really difficult for that person.

 

MF: Yeah, exactly. I think that's why we set up the network. We want our colleagues to understand everyone's ability not a disability. You know what it is that they can bring to that organisation regardless if they have a visible or invisible disability. So, if we can create that kind of environment, where people are you know fully understanding it would allow them to perform at their best, you know, really flourish and hopefully in an environment that is free from discrimination or harassment.

 

MH: Absolutely. I remember, it was like within my first few weeks and I had a meeting with Amy Harcombe and she was like, you should join the Women's Network. I was like, what is this? That sounds amazing. Absolutely. I go along to as many meetings as I can, and I come out of them just feeling so proud and they're so uplifting. You could almost never think that would be within a workplace. It's amazing. So, my next question, is. Or, not so much a question, it is a question or not a question the way I see it, which could be quite a naive view. I personally don't know anybody who purposely discriminates or doesn't try to be inclusive but I'm also really aware of unconscious bias. And I know that this is an area that you're quite passionate and interested in. So, can you chat a little bit about that? Because I think that's really important to be made aware of.

 

MF: Yeah, definitely and you're right. It is some of this that is important to be aware of and you know, I think personally I would challenge anyone or somebody who maybe says that they don't have any unconscious biases. You know, everyone does hold some unconscious biases or beliefs about maybe various social identity groups, you know, and these can cause us to make decisions, you know in favour of one person or another group over another. You know, it's really important for organisations to work hard to educate their people on unconscious bias and to help adjust, I suppose, you know, automatic patterns of thinking. Maybe trying to eliminate that discriminatory behaviours. Unconscious bias can be a huge setback in creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace and these biases can impact on recruitment, promotion, I suppose equal opportunities for everyone. So, yeah. Now this one example is that there is one called the halo effect. So, this is where people who think maybe highly of an individual in a certain way and likely to think highly of them in other ways. So, for example, if we think that someone is good-looking, we may well think that they are intelligence and charismatic, for example. So, you know as managers and leaders we've got to be wary of as we're generalizing a colleague’s performance based on one specific characteristic of their personality or appearance. But then you have the opposite effect, which is called the horn effective then. So maybe just because somebody made a mistake once doesn't mean that they're then incapable of improving again. Other examples are gender bias or similarity bias. On an individual level, I suppose it's important to firstly understand what unconscious biases are and then assess which biases are likely to affect you. I suppose try and figure out which of these individual perceptions are the most likely to be kind of governed by your unconscious biases and then when you know that information you can then take some really personal proactive steps to address them on a personal basis then.

 

MH: Yeah, that last thing you said then, that's the thing that struck me is that it's unconscious. You've got to challenge yourself. It's got to come from within and that's another thing that I think that we do so well in Companies House is that we're encouraged to look at ourselves because that is the only way that we're going to improve. And it's not it's not a destination, it’s continuing, you always get better. If you think, oh no, I'm there that then you're already wrong really because it's something that you've got continue to improve on forever.

 

MF: Yeah, it is. It's about challenging yourself and then, you know, maybe challenging other people as well then. I think that's one of our behaviours. We have got three behaviours which are, Adaptable, Bold and Curious. But one of those ones are you know about being Curious. It’s about challenging yourself and learning about yourself as well. But also, that bold side of, you know, not being afraid to challenge in a safe way and a professional way, but to challenge others as well. If you were maybe to see another potential unconscious biases happen, if you spot something that you thought could potentially be that or unacceptable behaviour. You know, and as an organisation, we are challenging ourselves. So, we've got a public target to increase applications from underrepresented groups, for example. You know, we know that it's important to us to make sure that we are getting new applications from different groups into the organisation to make sure that we can try and recruit those people into the organisation as well then. So, we challenged and made a public target of that to really set ourselves, you know, I suppose set ourselves apart a little bit. You know what we're not that diverse. If you were to look at it from the from the inside. However, we're aware of that. So, we're going to challenge ourselves to make sure we have great networks, we have an inclusive culture, we have an environment that is free from discrimination. People are aware of unconscious biases and people are aware of the benefits of having a diverse workforce. To make sure that we can bring you know, a whole diverse range of people into the organisation because that's only going to be good for us as a business.

 

MH: Definitely, hundred percent. So, for my last question. Please can you speak a little bit about how we've supported colleagues over the past six-seven months now during the coronavirus pandemic. I know accessibility for colleagues and customers has been a key priority for us all.

 

MF: Yeah, and it's really been that long six seven months. Yeah, we are losing track of time.  So, I suppose the situation has brought out the community spirit between our colleagues.  And I did have the support from the very top down and the organisation has been really amazing. You know, we've moved from having everybody working across our four offices with a smattering of flexible working for the majority of colleagues working at home and I suppose the collaboration that went on between colleagues to make this happen and to ensure that our people were first and foremost safe and well was fantastic to see. I know nobody could have really planned for this at all. You know, it's that the whole world went into lockdown overnight and for several months and the knock-on effects this is had is really unprecedented.

 

MH: Yeah

 

MF: It's really important that we you know; we kept our services opening for our customers as well. So, you know, we kept small teams of volunteer staff in our offices. Obviously ensuring that this was safe to do and we’re following the right protocols and guidelines so that we could still deal with keeping the registry up to date and some of our services, that we may be couldn't do digitally. It has been really important for us to ensure that we still stay connected. You know, our colleagues can still have that sense of belonging I talked about. And that's both in a professional work capacity and also in a personal capacity. We are real human at the end of the day. We need those connections. We need to talk. We need to collaborate and that then helps us I suppose enjoy our jobs and get that job satisfaction and enjoy the work that we do. And from someone that was shielding for five months, you know, that support was invaluable for me. I suppose in terms of, you asked about accessibility. I mean, accessibility has been a priority for us as an organisation. As with or without the pandemic. For our colleagues, it is about making sure that everyone has access to the same opportunities, the same benefits, regardless of their differences. And for our customers, it is about really understanding them. Ensuring that access to our service isn't a one shoe fits all approach and that we are able to maintain as was our services and still give great customer service.

 

MH: Wow. Thank you so much, Martin. That concludes my questions for today. So, thank you again so much for agreeing to come on and chatting. I've learnt so much and I'm pleased with the insight you've provided to our listeners. You've been a star. So, to all our listeners, don't forget to look out for our D&I posts on social media and help share our aspirations for an even more diverse future at Companies House. Goodbye. Bye Martin.

 

MF: Bye, thanks Meg.

John-Mark Frost: Director of Operations

John-Mark Frost: Director of Operations

August 20, 2020

John-Mark Frost chats about what he’s learnt about himself in a professional and personal capacity over recent months. Also, about how customers and colleagues have been kept safe, revised levels of service and the golden thread running through Companies House: diversity and inclusion.

 

Transcript

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to a brand-new episode of “Meet the team” from Companies House. Like many things big and small, this series has not been what we planned in January. In our first two episodes of “Meet the team” which I will link in the show notes of this episode, we recorded with Oceanne and Toby in our Cardiff office. But since then due to government guidelines following the coronavirus outbreak, I now find myself hosting this episode at home in my living room with my dog on my lap.  I'd like to welcome JM Frost who is the Director of Operations at Companies House. He is someone that as soon as we started this series, I knew I wanted a record with. That was then and this is now and after everything that's happened over the past few months and the work that we've done supporting our customers during this difficult time, I'm even more excited to introduce him. So welcome JM. How are you? 

 

John- Mark Frost: I'm good. Thank you Megan.

 

MH: How have you been finding this time? 

 

J-MF: Yeah, it's been interesting. So a mix of being in the office and working with colleagues there and the mix now obviously of working from home as well. And of course, I've got two reasonably young children. So being at home, there was always a reason I knew shouldn't be a teacher and this confirmed that I definitely chose the right vocation and choice of career. So, let's say yeah, we've all survived we've almost got to summer holidays, so all is good. 

 

MH: I think teachers have actually gained a lot of credit during this time. 

 

J-MF: Yes, teachers and hairdressers. 

 

MH: Yes, definitely. So my first question is what have we been doing at this time to support our customers?

 

J-MF: Yeah. So, lots and it's been really interesting to make sure that we've taken a lot of care to make sure that we had a balance between wanting to try and provide really high levels of customer service,maintain the sorts of service that we would provide during normal times as much as possible, with of course balancing that with keeping our colleagues safe. And so we were fortunate in some ways the majority of the services that our customers use are already online. So we've been able to keep them working, keep them going and support our customers through those online services, but we do have some particularly some of our more complex cases, complex case work. Where it was very much paper-based. So trying to maintain those services has been more challenging in terms of our customers often were at home. They weren't able to get out, weren't able to print or even if they were at home that the directors of the company they needed to sign things were at home somewhere else. So it was a real challenge, so it was looking for us to work with legal colleagues and policy colleagues to look at innovative ways that we could try and do it differently.

 

So what did the law require us to do in terms of the Companies Act and how could we try and support our customers to do some of that differently? So we've stood up new services, so we've got the emergency filing service where customers can go on and upload an electronic copy of a document and we focus that on the services that weren't already electronic and where customers couldn't already do things digitally. So we've done that. I mean even within a couple of weeks of lockdown we'd launched an extension service which in the first month or so had 90,000 companies applying for extensions and we were able to give extensions to those companies entirely digitally so they knew they had more time to be able to file their accounts with us and we form part of working with BEIS, our kind of partner and parent department and the Insolvency Service another partner organisation with BEIS another agency in government. We worked on the Corporate Governance and Insolvency Bill which went through and became an Act just earlier this month and so as part of that we were then able to look at that and make sure that we were supporting our customers giving them longer to file. Most companies now have another 3 months to be able to file their accounts longer on some of the confirmation statements and other things that they've done. So trying to do all we could whilst enabling our customers to do what they need to do to stay compliant with legislation.

 

MH: It's amazing and really things that in a normal world would take a long time to come to fruition just making company changing policies in weeks really.

 

J-MF: Absolutely I mean, normally the legislation would take months or years to go through the process and it was drafted within 3 or 4 weeks. Working really closely, collaboratively across government departments, working together across agencies, but also really listening to our customers. So what did they need? What do they need us to do what were some of the challenges that they were facing so that we could try and develop it and adapt it to kind of meet their needs. 

 

MH: Yeah brings me really nicely on to speak about how the colleagues have been kept safe at the same time because obviously to make all this happen there's the team's behind all the work that goes into it?

 

J-MF: Yeah, absolutely and it was a big challenge so as an organisation, you know we have great, fantastic digital services. Digital services both for our customers and for our colleagues, but we did tend to be quite office-based. So obviously our headquarters based in Cardiff and then offices, small office in London, Edinburgh and Belfast, but we did all tend to be in the office every day. And so suddenly we went into lockdown and the vast majority of colleagues between 90 and 95% of colleagues were almost immediately working from home and working from there like we are, from lounges, spare bedrooms, our kitchens, wherever we were, so that was great. So we were able to get people home at they were safe particularly those colleagues who maybe were vulnerable. If someone was in one of those vulnerable categories it was really important t to us to make sure people were safe. Then there are some things like I said that that needed to be done for us to keep the process running so to keep the Companies House information service and keep the register up to date we needed to do some stuff in the office. So in each of our offices in Edinburgh and Belfast and in Cardiff,  we've kept sort of skeleton staff in who are dealing with the post that arrives and then processing the really the kind of paper documents. They might be big documents or things that we couldn't do at that stage digitally, so yeah go do this first so it's really critical services and I will always be immensely grateful for those volunteers. 

 

So we did it on a volunteer basis of people saying, look people who are fit and healthy weren't in the vulnerable groups who volunteered to come into the office and run those services with me. I was there as well so for the first kind of 10 weeks I was in the office every day with them as a thank you to them. I wasn't as useful as a lot of them, but yeah, we managed to get through and managed to retain those services which you know are paramount to us maintaining that customer service. We weren't always quite as quick as we would normally be you know, there were some delays in the process, but we did manage to maintain those services to our customers.

 

MH:  Well understandably so and that's what I was going to ask as well, was what was the biggest challenge and how have our service levels been revised during this time? 

 

J-MF: Yeah. So I think that the biggest challenge was really finding out how critical our services are so, you know as our role as Companies House. We want to kind of drive confidence in the UK economy. We want to enable people to be able to look up the Companies House service. Look at the information about companies to make decisions. To know that information is up-to-date and is available there. I mean last year we had just over 9 billion searches of that information, a hugely searched piece of information and data source in government. To do that we needed to make sure that it was up to date and that the information was available. So that challenge of making sure we could do that in a timely way, that we could get the information in whether that be on paper, delivered by hand or trying to increase some of the digital elements and trying to make sure that our customers were aware of what they could do and encourage them actually in some cases. There was already a digital service so we could point our customers to look do that. That's the quickest way we will get it and of course getting so within the operational areas of Companies House is about 600 people who work in my area and so getting them home, where not all of them had kit initially, so getting that the kit the computers and such, so forth to then making sure they were safe and then changing our processes and adapting really quickly to get done what we needed to get done as quickly as we could. 

 

MH: Where there's a will there's a way.

 

J-MF: Absolutely, absolutely. 

 

MH: So my next sort of area I wanted to speak about with you is diversity and inclusion. It's really important to us all at Companies House. I know it's something you're quite heavily involved with and I was wondering if you could expand on that area?

 

J-MF: Yeah, absolutely. So yes, I think it's really important to all of us at Companies House as you said, and I'm really passionate about it for a whole host of reasons, but because as an organisation, we should reflect the citizens that we serve. We are only here to serve our customers and so we should be diverse in the way that we are made up so we can have those perspectives on a personal basis. So I'm the son of a single mother who was on benefits, so having that perspective, you know, some of my other colleagues maybe came from very different homes. Maybe there was plenty of money around and we all bring different perspectives. So we need to realise our customers will have those perspectives from different backgrounds. 

 

So my mum was an immigrant, she was from another country. I'm from a mixed heritage background so those perspectives that I bring I think hopefully will help me have the perspective with the range of our customers. So it's really important that we’re as diverse as the citizens out there that we serve but also that as an organisation, we're inclusive so we all have our own backgrounds whether that be background of race, culture, ethnicity, gender, the age that we are, our background whether we're Welsh speakers, whether we're not Welsh speakers, you know, LGBTQ perspective, you know all of those things. We will bring our own perspectives with us and our own mini-cultures and our ethnicity with us and it's really important that people can bring their whole selves to work. You know, we've got a really challenging role in Companies House. It's a role that we love. I'm really passionate about but as part of that we want people to focus on the role that they've got to play so they can flourish be the best that they can be in their role, not trying to hide something about themselves. So we want everybody to be bringing their whole selves to work so they can focus on doing the job that we want to do, to serve our customers to the best of their ability. So yeah, as I said, it's really important that we're both diverse and that we're a really inclusive and welcoming culture, something that you know, we're working on. I think we're doing it. We've made a lot of progress which is great. But there's always a lot further to go. 

 

MH: Yeah, it's one of those ever moving things, isn't it? You can't just say, oh we've done it now and we're diverse, we’re inclusive. It's ever moving.

 

J-MF: And I think COVID and the kind of situation has really helped because of course we've kept colleagues safe, as I talked about, physically safe from the virus and those sorts of things which is really important. But also it's about keeping people's well being safe and well and one of the various things we've done is around the networks that we have. So we've got a range of different networks, where that be the carers network, where that be the LGBTQ network or the faith network one of the ones that we’ve recently developed is the working parents network. So, you know to try and support people through this time. So different people created different resources and things so that people could then share with their children to keep them busy and support them because you know, it was really challenging being at home, lockdown for a number of months with the children there and as we mentioned at the beginning, you know, I'm definitely not a teacher so these resources were useful, so it's about being inclusive and considering people's well-being as well as their physical safety. 

 

MH: Yeah. I've been in Companies House I think coming up for 9 months and it’s something that honestly blew me away just the community. There’s space for everyone which is really lovely. My next question is what has this time taught you personally about yourself in a professional capacity?

 

J-MF: That’s a great question. I think it's amazing how both myself personally and as an organisation and kind of colleagues that I've worked with. It is amazing how resilient we can be, you know, it's you know, we always had plans for business continuity. What if there was a fire? What if there was a flood? What if the electricity went out? You know, these are sort of things you plan for and I'm not sure any of us had planned for a pandemic that meant that pretty much most of the world went into lockdown for 3 or 4 months. But it's amazing that we've coped. You know, we have been really resilient. I think collaboration has been the key. There's a phrase I think that, necessity is the mother of invention that actually when we need to it is amazing what we can do and I think I think that's true but also being in this it's really important with all of us working virtually and working in different locations to make sure that we remember that we're human that we do need to have a chat. That we do need to have to keep that human element of connection going. That's part of our kind of, our well-being and our safety as well so that we remember that we are people and that all of us need to connect on that level of working together not just of colleagues and getting work done. But we hopefully have to enjoy what we do and how we do it so that we can deliver more.

 

MH: Thanks, and maybe a bit profound but the same question but what have you learned about yourself in more of a non-professional capacity? We know you’re not a teacher.

 

J-MF: Yeah. I'm not a teacher and it was a good career choice. That's a really good one, I guess that I really love my family, but I didn't anticipate being locked in with them for 3 months, but don't tell them that I said that!

 

MH: Well, thank you so much JM. I'm at the end of my questions now. It's been an honour to chat to you. It's clear. You're so passionate about our customers and our business as a whole I knew it before, but I definitely know it now so thank you very much.

 

J-MF: Thank you very much for your time, bye-bye.

 

 

Meet the Team: Oceanne, interaction designer

Meet the Team: Oceanne, interaction designer

August 20, 2020

In the first episode of our new Meet the Team series, Meg speaks to Oceanne, about multiple uploads, new projects and cold January nights.

 

Transcript

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to Companies House Meet the Team podcast. My name’s Meg and I work in our external communications department, and I’ll be hosting this series. I’m here today with Oceanne.

Oceanne Esparcieux: Hi

MH: So hello Oceanne and welcome to our brand new series. Thank you so much for agreeing to be our debut guest. I feel so excited about this series and I’m really pleased to be sat here with you today. How are you?

OE: I’m very well thank you.

MH: Good, how’s January treating you so far?

OE: It’s pretty dark. I don’t think I’ve seen daylight for a few months but it’s treating me pretty well.

MH: I feel like we're coming out the other side. The weather looks nice for this weekend.

OE: Yeah, I'm hopeful that we’ll see some sunshine soon.

MH: So firstly can you just tell me your role title and how you fit into the wider team here at Companies House?

OE: I'm an interaction designer and I work within the product team which is situated in the digital department. And my job is to basically design the digital services that we have at Companies House. So everything is moving away from being paper-based and is hopefully going to be online within the next few years.

MH: That's fabulous. I think that's the way loads of places are trying to move.

OE: I hope so because I hate speaking to people on the phone and I hate filling out forms, so if I can do it online, it’s a bit better.

MH: It’s the future isn’t it?

OE: Yeah.

MH: So I've had this plan that we’re going to have these jokey opening questions to get us going at the start of every podcast, so obviously you’re the first. So I’m going to start with… cats or dogs?

OE: Dogs.

MH: Tea or coffee?

OE: Coffee.

MH: Introvert or extrovert?

OE: Introvert.

MH: Night owl or early bird?

OE: Night owl. I’ve got one for you.

MH: What?

OE: Starter or dessert.

MH: Both. Starter.

OE: Good shout.

MH: Okay, so, moving on. Back to work. Which piece of work are you really proud of?

OE: I haven't been at Companies House for very long, so I've not had a chance to work on many services. But I did develop a service for applying for an extension for your filing deadline. And within that service, which has passed assessments and you can now use it online if you need an extension. Within that service, we have file upload and it was a pattern that we didn’t actually have in government yet.

So I helped design it with my colleague, Ollie. So we helped build it and it's now available online. And it's not just a single file upload, you can upload multiple files. And it's going to be the standard across all of Companies House file uploads now.

MH: That's really rewarding isn’t it.

OE: Yep, definitely.

MH: So why do users need to upload files?

OE: If they are applying for an extension, they need to upload a file to provide evidence to the team within Companies House that will decide whether the extension will be granted. And at the moment when it’s paper-based or by email, 10% of all applications come with files attached. So we wanted to be able to give the user that same opportunity online as well.

And it makes them feel like their application is going to be considered slightly better because they’re actually providing evidence for their reason.

MH: Yeah, that's really interesting. It's not just a tick box, it's giving that evidence that people can see their reasonings behind.

OE: They’re not just saying they’re ill, they’re saying I was ill and here’s a doctor's note.

MH: Yeah, definitely. So why do stakeholders need the users to upload files?

OE: So it allows the team, the internal team more information, to be able to make that decision. So not taking everything on blind faith, they’re actually being able to dig in a bit deeper and make sure that they can verify things.

MH: So Oceanne, why do we need multiple file uploads?

OE: Good question. We currently allow multiple file uploads on our paper-based or email applications. And we find that 10% of all file uploads will have multiple file uploads. It allows the user to give extra evidence. So if they were ill and they have the doctor's note, maybe they're also in hospital and they have information about being in hospital as well, it just provides more information about the extension application they have.

We actually found that when we did the first release of the online service, that users were finding a way around it and creating zip files or pressing the back button to upload another file. So it just meant that it was a more elegant solution to those people that were able to find their way around.

MH: I think it's really important because I definitely know from services that I've used, quite often you have that one chance to upload one thing and it's choosing which one. It’s important to give all the evidence that you have.

OE: Definitely, and it's so much easier for the user, they don't have to think ‘oh, shall I create all of these documents into one PDF or?'

MH: And that just doesn’t work.

OE: That’s right, yeah.

MH: But hasn’t the government digital service got a design for that already?

OE: GDS which is the government digital service, currently has a design for single file uploads. But they didn't have one for multiple file uploads, and it was something that had been discussed across all of the departments, so HMRC, DVLA, ONS have all discussed how they could create multiple file uploads. And no one was able to do it.

And GDS are really good at having quite open discussions, so everyone went away and designed their own, tested it made sure it was accessible and that uses understood what they were doing.

But, no one was actually able to have a fool-proof, accessible, multiple file upload that users were able to use every single time.

So I think that's why I was so proud that using all of the information that I gathered from these other departments that had done the hard work, I was able to amalgamate it and actually make it work for us.

MH: That’s so amazing. And it’s really nice that we’re collaborating with the other government departments and creating really amazing things.

What file formats do you accept?

OE: We accept most file formats, so we expect people to upload PDFs or images, word documents and things like that. At the moment there’s a limited number of things we don't accept. We don't accept videos and stuff like that but we do accept zip files still, so people can put whatever they like in there.

But we can only accept files that are 4MB or smaller, which might limit people uploading videos and stuff like that. But we found that the videos that users had previously submitted weren’t really relevant to the case and didn’t really help the internal team make a decision on the application.

MH: So why don't you say that on the page when the user uploads? Why doesn't it say that?

OE: We felt that if we had information about all of the things you couldn't upload it would detract and it wouldn't be a very smooth service. And because we accept so many file formats, it's easier for us to allow the user to go about what they do and then stop them if they’re doing something wrong and tell them why rather than just having too many warnings and too much stuff to read.

MH: I think it’s way more progressive to have the things you can do, rather than the things you can’t.

OE: We haven't found that anyone hasn't been able to upload what they want.

MH: Yeah, that's great. What would you say the biggest challenge you're facing right now is?

OE: In my whole job right now?

MH: Yes.

OE: I'm currently working on a couple of different services and I'm struggling with one project at the moment, which I will keep secret for now. But it's making sure that the user fully understands what they’re signing up for basically. So making the service appealing but also communicating that it can have quite severe consequences if you don't do correctly.

Because either the user doesn't want to read that so they’ll ignore it or they might just miss how grave the situation would be if they do it wrong. So it’s quite a difficult balance.

MH: Sounds like quite an exciting project.

OE: Yes.

MH: Can you describe your role to me in 3 words?

OE: If I hyphenate words and count them as one. So, it’s definitely a creative role, and there is problem solving but I think the main part of my role is making sure that everything I do is user centred. Putting users first.

MH: Excellent. And if you were going to go and work in another part of Companies House, where would you choose and why?

OE: That’s a really hard question. I like to think that I’d put my degree to use.

MH: Which is? Can I ask?

OE: It's in Film Production. So maybe I’d work in comms.

MH: Come work with us!

OE: But realistically, I love a spreadsheet. So probably somewhere in HR?

MH: Oh, I hate a spreadsheet!

OE: They’re so cool.

MH: They’re so hard.

OE: Yeah so maybe somewhere in HR, I don’t know.

MH: Well thank you so much, that’s the end of our questions for today.

OE: Thank you Meg.

MH: You’ve been a fabulous guest. So thank you and goodbye.

OE: Thanks. Bye.

Community Interest Companies: online filing for accounts

Community Interest Companies: online filing for accounts

August 20, 2020

We spoke to Ceri Witchard, Regulator of Community Interest Companies, about the new online accounts filing service for CICs.

 

Transcript

Gary Townley: Hello and welcome to a Companies House podcast. Thank you for downloading, or listening to this wherever you are. My name is Gary Townley. I'm part of the communications team here at Companies House. For those of you that don't know, Companies House is the agency responsible for registering and dissolving companies, collecting company information and making that information available to the public. We are sponsored by BEIS, that is, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy. We have 4 offices based all around the country. So one in Belfast, one in Cardiff, one in London and the other one, which I'm trying to think of now I can't think of, but it’ll come to me in a bit.

 

So a slightly different podcast today, in that I'm joined by Ceri Whitchard, who’s the Regulator of Community Interest Companies. We're going to be talking this morning about account filing online, which is a new service that is being introduced fairly shortly, I believe, so hi Ceri, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what a community interest company is?

 

Ceri Witchard: Yeah. Hi Gary, and thanks for having me here today. So community interest companies, or CICs, are social enterprises. So they were created in 2005 to give people a way of running a business, where they can get paid and can pay their staff but with a community benefit at its heart. So they're not charities, they are businesses, but they're set up to benefit particular groups of people or something in their community. And essentially they’re ordinary companies. They have to comply with all of the company law rules as well as some extra requirements for being CICs. They can be limited by shares, or by guarantee, and we’ve even got some on the record that are PLCs.

 

My office is responsible for regulating them. We check that when they set up they are genuinely going to deliver a benefit for a company and just keep a bit of a track that's going well and if we do get any complaints, we don't get very many, we do investigate just to make sure that people are doing what they say they're doing.

 

GT: Okay that’s great. Just the last office is in Edinburgh for anyone who's interested in that. So where is the community interest regulator based?

 

CW: So we're based in Cardiff. We have a small office within the Companies House building in Cardiff, which is really good for us because we obviously work closely with the teams there, including developing online services.

 

GT: Okay, so very much like a normal limited company do CICS have to file accounts annually?

 

CW: They do and it's really important that they remember this. You must file your accounts, even if your dormant, the same as any other company. And if you're a CIC, because you've got this special regulation around you alongside your accounts, you have to file your community interest report and the fee of 15 pounds.

 

GT: Okay. So ordinary limited companies have been able to file online for quite a while now. So why has this been produced for CICs and why is it a good option?

 

CW: It’s a really good option for CICs and we've been trying for a while to make sure they can benefit from the same range of services that any other company can have. As I said for a community interest company, you have to have your extra report and pay the fees. So we had to make sure all of that worked well. One of the main benefits is, we see an awful lot of CICs, they file their accounts with Companies House and they forget to attach that benefit report or to attach the fee. They come in by post, they then get rejected. It takes time for them to then meet the requirement and then they're getting a late filing penalty which obviously we don't want it's distracting them, it's an annoyance and it means they're not delivering their benefit while they're sorting all that out. We can avoid all of that with an online service. It's a much better option for our companies.

 

GT: Yeah. The late filing penalty comes in almost immediately. So it's not optional.

 

CW: No it's not optional.

 

GT: Even if you’re a day late.

 

CW: A day late it kicks in and we do get people contact us but we don't have any powers to just say oh, well, you're a community interest company, don't worry about it. Unfortunately in law if you're late you're late and the penalty applies.

 

GT: Now does this mean that any CIC company can file?

 

CW: Most of them will be able to. In fact the vast majority. If you can file small accounts and most of our CICs are in that category, you'll be able to file online from now on. There are a couple of criteria for that. Your turn over being no more than 10.2 million and a balance sheet no more than 5.1 million, very precise figures there, and an average number of less than 50 employees and you only have to meet 2 of those criteria and then you can file online. The majority of our CICs can take the service up so we're hoping to get a really high up take.

 

GT: Okay. Can you do it yourself or would you need an accountant to do this?

 

CW: You can do it yourself. We've designed it with Companies House alongside all their other services. They've tested it with users to make sure it's easy, takes you step-by-step and as long as you've got your accounts ready to go, you'll be able to use this service.

 

GT: Okay, I think you mentioned a few of the benefits, but are there any other benefits to being able to file online?

 

CW: Yeah, I mean, it's quicker. You'll get a receipt immediately letting you know that they've arrived, you can do it 24 hours a day. A lot of companies, you know, they're busy all day doing their work and they actually want to file their accounts in the evening. It's there for you and you'll get something come straight back saying here it is. You can make your payment online so it’s easier to see where your money is going in and out. So it's just a much slicker system, much easier for people.

 

GT: And 24 hours a day.

 

CW: 24 hours.

 

GT: Absolutely. Now you said the majority of companies can do this online. Are there any exclusions?

 

CW: There are a few. So if you're one of those larger or medium-sized CICs and we have a few at the moment, you won't be able to use this service. There are some technical bits and pieces. The system will tell you if you can't do these things. You can't change the date of accounts that were made up to, that option won't be there. You can't include a balance sheet that includes a revaluation reserve or an intangible asset, but to be honest, these are small numbers of CICs that will apply for that sort of service and we are working with Companies House and we'll be plugging those gaps.

 

GT: So there are around 4.2 million companies on the actual Companies House register, how many of them would be CICS?

 

CW: So there are about 17,000 at the moment. It is growing. It's still a fairly small field in comparison with other entity types, but when they first set up we were only expecting to get sort of 200 or so a year. Now we'll get more than that every month applying. So there's a lot of interest in this area.

 

GT: Okay, so if I'm thinking of now filing my accounts online, what does the service look like? What does it consist of?

 

CW: So when you file online, you'll need to have your balance sheet. You can add notes and most importantly that community benefit report that you need to attach. And it will tell you to attach it. So there's no way you'll miss it. CICs always need to have that balance sheet. They always need to have their annual report. When you put it in, things that you do have to do for the CIC, you have to just outline what you've delivered for the benefit of your community. And that's a really important key feature. It's about the transparency to your stakeholders and the public that you're delivering what you say you will and for me and my office, it’s what we use to assess that you are performing in the way you've set up to perform. The other thing you need to tell us is the remuneration for your directors. That is an extra requirement for CICs. You don't have to for other companies, but either it has to be in your account or in that annual report. There's nothing wrong with paying directors. You're supposed to pay them but it does have to be reasonable to make sure that community benefit is there.

 

GT: Okay and this information is available to look at on the register?

 

CW: Yes, it will all go on the public register that's part of the transparency. It's important to remember that, so we do have people, make sure you don't put you know phone numbers or personal details of that sort because whatever you put in that report will go on register.

 

GT: Okay, so just to summarise that then, the online filing for CI accounts is going to be faster. It's going to reduce errors. I suppose it's the same as a normal company in that it won't let you go to the next page unless you fill certain fields in. Yep. So that's good that will lead to less rejections I suppose and also those late filing penalties that everybody doesn't want to pay will be lessened. So obviously it's going to be accessible at all times or 24 hours a day, depending on the system. Online payment, can you pay online?

 

CW: Yeah you can pay online. It’s a really slick end-to-end service and it really guides you through step-by-step.

 

GT: Okay, and it gets rid of that paper as well doesn't it? So saves the environment somewhat, for all those paper documents coming in. So it's streamlining the process. How can people get further information about how you use a service?

 

CW: So if you want to find out more there's plenty of information on our website. We're on the gov.uk website so if you search for CIC regulator, you'll find plenty of information on this. There's some blogs, some step through guides, and follow us on Twitter @CICregulator and my office here, you can always contact us if you really need some help but there's plenty of online guidance and the service really is so straightforward to use, just go and try it. If you have any feedback please do send it. We're always looking to improve.

 

GT: I visited the CIC regulator website. There's lots of case studies on there, lots of useful information. Again, you can visit our website www.gov.uk/companieshouse. Again, lots of information, blogs, podcasts and everything available for you to use there. So thank you very much Ceri for letting us know about this new service. Obviously people will use it from when it becomes available, I think it's next week. I hope everyone's found this useful. Thank you for listening and listen in again for future podcasts and also sign up to get regular updates from us. So thank you for listening.

#GetBizzy: Odyssey

#GetBizzy: Odyssey

August 20, 2020

We spoke to Dominic Bonaker, founder and CEO of Odyssey, about what inspired him to start his own company.

 

Transcript

Sara Jones: Hello, I'm Sara. I'm a Campaigns Manager at Companies House and with me today is Dominic Bonaker. He's the CEO of Odyssey, which is a web design agency in Cardiff. And we're going to be talking about young entrepreneurship and his company today for our new #GetBizzy campaign. So thank you for joining us.

 

Dominic Bonaker: Thank you for having me.

 

SJ: Let's just start by you telling me a little bit more about you and your company.

 

DB: Yeah, so, my name is Dominic. I'm 23 years old and I’m the founder and CEO of Odyssey.  As you said, we are a web agency based in Cardiff and we work with our clients to help them look better online. Whether that's a new website, whether it's a new shop and anything else on the web.

 

SJ: Okay. So what inspired you to actually start your company? Why did you decide to go off on your own?

 

DB: To be honest, I think it was because I couldn’t really work for anyone else. I was very kind of self-driven. I was very self-motivated and I didn't really like being told what to do a lot of the time. Especially when I knew that there was a better, or quicker, or faster or cheaper way of doing things. I felt that we were doing things because that's what we were told to do, and I didn’t like that.

 

So one thing that we try and incorporate into our business is that I don't think I'm any better than any of the employees. If they've got a great idea then they can bring it to me, and we can make it happen. We're not guided by these fixed guidelines at all.

 

SJ: Okay, and this isn't the first company that you've actually started is it? Tell me a little bit more about it?

 

DB: Okay, so, going back a little bit. So, the first company was set up in my first year of university and I thought ‘okay, I'm going to start a company and that's it, sorted, all done’.  That's not actually the case. There were certain requirements that I had to do as the director of the company, and I didn't really feel all that comfortable doing it back then. I had a lot of commitments with the university and some other things as well. So I just decided that I was going to close that company down and I was going to focus back on my studies a lot more.

 

In my final year of university, I knew that this was more what I wanted to do. I went to a few job interviews and didn't really like them. I didn't really like what they were trying to achieve and what they were trying to get out of me and that's not what I wanted to do. So I registered another company. I decided to call it Tech Tailors back then and that was the original company. Then as we grew we decided that we kind of outgrew that name. It was very much where we started so we decided to change it with Companies House.

 

So we're now called Odyssey. So we trade as Odyssey and Odyssey literally translates into journey. So it's all about that journey, from taking a client from nowhere to a beautiful website or improving their website or whatever that looks like to them.

 

SJ: Cool. Okay. So did you have any particular support from anyone? You know funders, investors, or maybe it was like an entrepreneurial body. Did you get any help?

 

DB: So I think when we first started out it was very much, we were very alone, because it was just me by myself starting out. I didn't really know what was out there in terms of other help or other organisations that were available. I did feel a little bit isolated in that respect. But then when it came to it, it was going online, googling, seeing what networking events were coming up, seeing what support there was out there and there's so much around that you just don't even see on a regular basis. And that was one thing that really did kind of boost the company. Just kind of going out there and just meeting new people, seeing what help we can receive and just going from there.

 

SJ: Okay, so obviously you're a limited company now. Is there a particular reason why you decided to register with Companies House as a limited company?

 

DB: So basically before I registered the company, I was doing a bit of freelancing here and there, doing the odd job for a friend or family member or whatever, and I didn't really like the lack of security, it seems. I don't know maybe that was just my personal preference, but it just felt that having a limited company there was more room for growth as an organisation. You can't be a sole trader with someone else. It doesn't quite work like that.

 

So we decided to register the company, we became a limited company and it means that we have a lot more security over what we can do now and what we are liable for. It also comes with a bunch of insurances that we can also implement as well.

 

SJ: And had you heard about Companies House before you became a business owner, or was it just when you started looking?

 

DB: I think it was pretty simultaneously. I knew a few people that ran their own businesses and I kind of asked the general questions about how did you get started? One of the bits of advice they said as well, if you want to be a registered company, you need to go to Companies House. There's a small fee to register your company and you're off to the races kind of thing. All the instructions are on there and it walked me through the process and that's exactly what I did.

 

SJ: Okay. So obviously you're a company director. That comes with certain responsibilities, like filing your accounts on time. So were you aware of all of that before you became a director or was that something that you've had to learn as you've gone?

 

DB: So I think you'll never stop learning these types of things because there's new, maybe there's a new regulation that comes out and you need to stay adapted to that. But when I was registering the company, I always made a note of what the requirement said from me. So if it said I need to submit my accounts on this day. I'll make a little reminder in my calendar and say okay my accounts need to be set up and ready for this day. It got to a point where I didn't want to do that anymore and I was fortunate enough, because we were earning enough money, that I could outsource that to an accountant. Now my accountant deals with my books. I get automatic emails when it says that things have been submitted or when things are due for submission and I just send all that stuff over to him. He deals with it. He lets me know it's all good and I'm happy.

 

SJ: That's amazing. So what would you say would be the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in setting up Odyssey?

 

DB: I think some of the biggest challenges, for any small business, is going to be your cash flow. You don't necessarily know when your next project is going to be. When you're a very small dot in a big big world, it becomes very hard and being able to manage that cash flow is quite difficult.

 

So us as a company, we've never gone after funding we've always been self-funded and we did that on purpose because that's how I like to grow businesses. I want to see money coming in and I want to see money going out and I want us to have more money in the account than we started with and that's how we've grown. We haven't gone in for investment because we don't think that we need it right now. I'll never say never, but for right now, I think that we're pretty good.

 

SJ: That's good. So is there anything in particular that you love about being your own boss? Is it, maybe, the work-life balance and all those kind of things?

 

DB: It's interesting you say work-life balance because that is, that was what I thought when I started out. I was like, I’ll have loads of time and I'll be with my friends and it's going to be great and it actually turns out that it was the opposite.

 

I find myself working more hours. My friends do a 9 to 5 job. They go in at 9, they finish at 5. And there's no homework or there's no ongoing things that they need to take home with them and they're done for the day. It's the complete opposite when you're running your own business. Last night, I went to bed at 5 o'clock and I was up at 9, to come in and to get the day going. Starting new projects and taking work home with me all comes with the territory of being your own boss.

 

But at the same time it comes with so much freedom. So if I want to finish for the day at 12 o'clock, I can do that. It's not a great idea because I've got things to do but it also allows me to have that freedom.

 

SJ: So what do you think has been a really important factor in maybe the success of Odyssey? Is there anything in particular that you can attribute that to?

 

DB: The biggest thing that I would say that has helped our success is the team and the environment that we put ourselves in constantly. We're always reaching up. We're always trying to find new mentors and to find advice from people that have been doing it for longer than us. I'm still quite young in terms of business and both personally. I'm only 23 years old and I've never worked in a formal big business before as a kind of full-time employee. I've always done part-time jobs here and there and I don't have that experience. So I need to get it somehow and that’s by surrounding myself with really good people, really helpful people that want us to develop and see you grow and just seeking out those people and taking their advice.

 

SJ: Amazing, so what's the most important lesson that you would say you've learnt in business so far?

 

DB: No one's going to do it for you. So you need to go out, you need to do it. You're the one that’s in charge of your own future. Your journey is all up to you and even if someone tells you no, that doesn't matter you can do it yourself. You can go out and you can make those things happen. The amount of nos that I've received from old teachers, from people that think you'll never do it, you're only 23, what do you know about business? And now we're a team of 4, we've got a lovely office in the centre of Cardiff and I'm showing all those people that we can do it and anyone can do it if they put their mind to it.

 

SJ: And do you see the business developing further in the future? You know, are you going to expand to new premises?

 

DB: Yeah, definitely, we’re looking to grow the team. We're always looking to find talented people that actually really care about other people. It’s weird that we kind of compare ourselves to, we're a customer service company that just happens to make websites because that's honestly how we treat people. We want people to feel comfortable when they work with us and to feel inspired that they can trust us. So finding a good team is always great, something that we definitely want to push more of.

 

We're also moving premises in the next 7 to 8 months as well. So that's going to be another chapter in our book. And yeah, that's the best thing about starting a business, is there’s always change and as long as you can adapt to it, you're fine.

 

SJ: Great. So before we finish up. What would be the one piece of advice that you would give to any young entrepreneur, who's looking to, maybe they've already got a business and they're looking to grow it, or perhaps they haven't even started their business yet, but they've got a really good idea. What would be the one piece of advice that you’d give them?

 

DB: I think honestly it's as simple as just go out and try something. Go out and see what you can do. See what you can achieve. There's businesses that have started off with the most crazy ideas, but they just work well. They've made millions and millions, if not billions of pounds. No one thought we needed another taxi company and then Uber came along and just kind of blew everyone out of the water.

 

There's so many different things you can do, so just do one and if you don't like it and if it doesn't work, you try something new. And if you don't like that, you try something new and you just keep going until you find something that you actually really care about and that you're really passionate about. The one that’s going to give you the best result, is the one that you care about the most.

 

SJ: Great. Well, thank you very much for your time today, I really appreciate it. And everybody listening at home, you can find more information about starting a business and the #GetBizzy campaign on the Companies House website, so that's gov.uk/companieshouse.

#GetBizzy: HR Sports Academy

#GetBizzy: HR Sports Academy

August 20, 2020

In our latest podcast, we find out more about how Mickela Hall-Ramsay started her community interest company (CIC) as a young entrepreneur.

 

Transcript

 

Sara Jones: Hi everyone. I'm Sara. I'm a Campaigns Manager at Companies House. Today I am joined by Mickela Hall-Ramsay who is the director of HR sports academy and today we’re going to be talking about her business as part of the #GetBizzy campaign.

 

So hi, Mickela, thank you for joining us today. And can you start by telling me a little bit about you and your company?

 

Mickela Hall-Ramsay: Yeah, as you said, my name is Mickela Hall Ramsey. I'm the founder and one of the company directors at HR Sports Academy.

 

I started up the business when I was 23 years old. So registered it as a CIC and have enjoyed the process ever so much, ever since. HR Sports Academy - we use sports to empower young people, we go into schools providing various different activities from running clubs, to after-school clubs, running P.E sessions, lunchtime sessions, literally everything throughout the whole day to really empower young people with skills which will allow them to develop and to just have fun and get fit, make new friends.

 

And then within the community as well, we do a number of activities. So we have a holiday camp which takes place during all school holidays. We have a youth club. We do competitive competitions, so we have teams that compete in leagues. We do tournaments, apprenticeships, traineeships, internships. It goes on and on, literally every and anything to support young people aged 3 up to the age of 23 years old.

 

SJ:  So there's lots of stuff going on. What made you want to start your company in the first place?

 

MHR: So, I've loved sports from a very young age. I was studying sports science at university and in 2007, my sister sadly passed away. She had Down’s syndrome and throughout her whole life, I noticed that there were limitations placed on what she would be able to do. And literally through the support of my family and my friends, she was able to literally just smash all of the goals and pretty much live a normal life. When she passed away, it was obviously hard for me but youth crime at the time was really really high. And even though I was dealing with this tremendous pain, I couldn't imagine what families were going through when their loved ones were still young and they had been murdered.

 

Sport had been a massive part of my life and it had always kept me. I felt safe. It developed a load of skills within me. It was just an amazing thing that provided me with so many benefits and I just wanted to provide the same benefits to young people who were recklessly losing their lives.

 

So in 2008 after finishing my undergrad I did a project which basically allowed me to set up a basketball camp for young people. It kind of just got them to mix with others within the borough from different schools and just create cohesion within Haringey and I absolutely fell in love with the idea of being my own boss. After finishing my masters and working for the council for a year, I decided to take the risk and set up my own organisation. My mum had previously set one up, a community interest company that is in memory of my sister, so I kind of like, got spurred on and the idea of knowing that it was possible through seeing her do it herself.

 

SJ: So your mum inspired you quite a lot then?

 

MHR: Yeah, definitely.

 

SJ: And did you get any advice from anyone or any organisations before you started?

 

MHR: Yes, so obviously my mum was definitely one of the people that helped me and provided me with advice since she had literally just done it. I also used Business Links. I know it's not around anymore, but Business Links was really really helpful in terms of providing me with the step by step guides. Where I needed to go, what I needed to do and that's kind of I suppose where I found out about Companies House as well.

 

SJ: And did you get any funding to help you get things off the ground?

 

MHR: So when I formally registered as a CIC that allowed me to then access funding. So I suppose that allowed me to buy the balls, get some uniform and just pay for the coaching fees and other expenditures that I needed to help set up sessions.

 

Once I did that, then I was able to charge parents and charge the schools as they knew exactly what we were providing and were satisfied with it and kind of like just had faith in what we would do and knew that it was of value.

 

So yeah, I definitely did have funding at the beginning to start up. It was a bit of my own capital as well. So I had saved up quite a bit before I left my job and used that to really invest into the business.

 

SJ: And is there a particular reason you decided to register as a community interest company over another type?

 

MHR: Yes. A community interest company definitely stood out to me because it allowed me to apply for grants and gain that financial support, but still have financial independence in terms of, not having too many rules, what I had to file or loopholes which I had to jump through or just policies that I had to follow in order to run the business or monitor the business. And that allowed me to just get things going a lot quicker and I suppose feel more confident in terms of actually running the business and not being scared that I'm not doing this correctly or oh my gosh, I haven't done this and somebody's going to be knocking on my door. So that's probably one of the definite reasons why.

 

SJ: And when it actually came to registering your business, how did you find the entire process with Companies House?

 

MHR: The process was pretty straightforward, and it's been 10 years now, almost 10 years since I've been a registered company and it feels like a long long time ago since I actually sat down and done it. But I remember doing it by paper. So I know now (because I was trying to help my friend and set up an organisation) going online and seeing that pretty much everything could be done online. I know that would make things a lot easier, but even when I had to file the paper forms, it was pretty straightforward. The information packs were pretty comprehensive. So yeah, I would say go for it. And because it wasn't that bad then, I can only imagine it's a lot easier now.

 

SJ: At what point did you start to see the business take off?

 

MHR: I would say, I started to see the business taking off when a lot more schools were requiring our services. So a lot of schools were referring us to other schools, and parents were in demand. So I was the only person at the beginning and doing after school clubs pretty much and there's only 5 days in a week. So there was only 5 after school clubs that I could actually do.

 

So, knowing that say, there were 10 clubs that we needed a week, I knew that I needed to get an employee to deliver the other sessions and it was only then when I realised that I was kind of onto a winner and that the business was taken off because we needed to deliver more sessions to actually fulfil the need of the community.

 

SJ: And were you aware of all of the responsibilities that you would have as a director before you registered with Companies House?

 

MHR: I would say no.

 

I kind of, I suppose, had an idea and it seemed to be really really good, especially based on all the research that I had completed and working in sports when I was younger as well. It just seemed like pretty straightforward and I didn't realise I had to do the accounts and file them and complete the confirmation statement in addition to the other daily tasks of just being a director. I suppose like payroll and then submitting stuff to HMRC, managing staff, sorting out the insurance, the list is endless. It just goes on and on and on.

 

SJ: What would you say some of the biggest challenges are that you’ve faced when you've been setting up your company?

 

MHR: One of the biggest challenges I face, I would say, is finding the right employees. At the moment I’d say it's amazing because we have a lot of young people who have come through our services. So whether they’ve been ex-participants, volunteers or done work experience with us or something. Then training them up and getting them qualified. Because they've been through the whole system, in terms of worked with us and know the benefit of our services, they basically provide that same opportunity to others and they know our culture and what is expected. So it just works perfectly.

 

Whereas when I first started the organisation, even though we would have good coaches, and these are open quotes, even though we would have good coaches, they did not necessarily deliver the sessions in the way what that we would like. And that wouldn't necessarily reflect the image that I wanted. Or if they did something that did not necessarily sit right with me it was because I suppose, I was young as well and I didn't know how to manage people. So definitely employing the right person and training them and managing them was the challenge that I had when I set up the business.

 

Funding would be the next. Money I suppose is something that everybody finds challenging, regardless of what business you run. For me it was a lot of time that I spent on applying for grants and because it was so competitive you didn't necessarily get anything, so it’d just seem like a waste of time. But not even just that. Simply not having work done and invoices not being paid on time really affected the business because when we didn't have any reserves or anything, when money was there, it was literally making sure that employees were paid and bills were paid. So for instance, our rent, venue higher, insurance etc. Just to make sure that those expenses were covered and then myself would be paid last or when the money was available just to ensure that we could continue and run as a functioning business.

 

SJ: So, October is Black History Month. Would you say that you've encountered any obstacles in business being a black female?

 

MHR: I wouldn't say I've encountered any obstacles but I predominantly work in Haringey, and the neighbouring boroughs that we also work in, I feel that they're diverse. So they're used to black business owners I’d say. And a lot of the work that I've done with organizations or schools or parents, I've kind of known them already. So a lot of the research that I did when I was at university was with these schools or with these organisations. So kind of gaining access and contracts was pretty easy simply because that relationship had already been built.

 

But I suppose, as I grow as a businesswoman and I'm going to more high-profile events and meeting more high-profile professionals, honestly, I would say it maybe, not even maybe, it's likely, very likely, to be a challenge that I might face. But at the moment, I've been very fortunate and I haven’t.

 

SJ: So obviously you have a community interest company. So how important has the community support been in the success of your company so far?

 

MHR: I would say that the community support has been everything. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing at the moment. Simply attending our sessions, again the referrals from the schools, the parents or even the children telling their friends, has really allowed us to be where we are and the success that we are today.

 

Also we've received a number of nominations and won a number of high-profile awards and that recognition and that support that they give us then allows us to go on further and reach other people. So if it wasn't for our community, I'd definitely say we wouldn't be where we are. And yeah, thanks, whoever's listening.

 

SJ: Do you have any particular role models who have inspired you in business?

 

MHR: So like I said my mum set up a community interest company in memory of my sister and she would definitely be my biggest inspiration. Just seeing her do it, seeing the process that she went through and then obviously her providing me with that support. I would say going to different events. I'm inspired daily by a number of business owners and individuals just because of what they've achieved and it also allows me to see where I can go as well.

 

Famous people, I don't necessarily think there's any one person that stands out probably apart from Oprah Winfrey. Simply because she's been through a lot of adversity just for the background that she grew up in and being one of the richest if not the richest black woman in business. So what she's achieved is definitely amazing and inspiring.

 

SJ: And what would you say is the best thing about being your own boss?

 

MHR: The best thing about being my own boss, I suppose, is just having that creativity and being able to get on with what you want to do. I love sports and I love coming up with different projects and delivering different events, especially for young people. So not having to go through a process of ‘I have to ask this person and then that person’ and for that idea to be shot down is amazing because it just allows me to get on with doing what I know I'm really really good at.

 

And another benefit of being my own boss is just having that flexibility to kind of still live my life. So if I needed to go to the doctors, not having to ask for somebody to get time off or knowing that I couldn't get time off and just not taking care of myself.

 

My brother recently had a baby as well. So little things like him being able to go to every single doctor's appointment and being with his partner and his daughter is valuable because if we weren't the company owners, he would have to again miss those milestones and I think it's very important to have that work-life balance. Being my own boss allows me to do that.

 

SJ: Do you think that there's been one particular factor that's been really important in the success of your company?

 

MHR: Definitely partnerships are important in with regards to my success and the business as a whole. I’d definitely say the partnership that I have with my brother. So we're both the company directors. We're both the company directors and his support is invaluable. So he's there to bounce ideas off. He's there to take stress away. He's literally my rock and having that support from him and our team is so important.

 

So I think definitely having a team behind you is key. I always say teamwork makes the dream work. And that's not just being a sporty person. I think it's really important to have somebody there to provide you with help when you need it. And even sometimes when you don't think you need it, just having that support there.

 

And partnerships with other organizations, so one of our biggest partnerships I would say is with Haringey council. Little things like being able to use their ‘Supported By’ logo is key because it allows us to get into places because we are seen as a trusted organisation.

 

SJ: And would you say that there's one particular lesson that you've learned in business that's really important?

 

MHR: I'll definitely say delegation is one of the lessons that I've learned. I like to take on everything and do everything myself because I think I can do it right and I'm not going to be wasting time having to show somebody to do this, etc, etc. But taking on everything can be detrimental especially if you're not necessarily that right person to do it or if your time could be spent better elsewhere. So I'll definitely say that's one of the key lessons that I've learned.

 

And also just asking for help. So not being afraid to seek guidance. I had a mentor when I first started the business and I recently had a mentor, I’ve pretty much had a mentor throughout the whole process. And again, it's just having that support. So yeah, I'll definitely say having that support is key and would be one of the lessons that I've learned.

 

SJ: What advice would you give to any other young entrepreneurs that are maybe just starting out, or those who are maybe thinking about starting a business. Is there one piece of advice that you'd pass on to them?

 

MHR: I would say make sure you research your business idea. If you can, get some experience in the actual field. I love sports so I've been playing it and I've been working in it, and I've researched it. So that has helped me to kind of like get a full rounded knowledge of what I was going to do and step into.

 

Working in retail also helps because I was able to learn valuable skills in terms of working in customer service. So I'll definitely say research and experience is key. And if I was to add in anything else it would be to basically dream big and really work hard. There's that saying about working smarter instead of working hard, but if you're able to combine the 2 then you'll reach where you're able to and it could literally be the stars.

 

SJ: So speaking of dreaming big, how do you see the business growing. Or going from here on out?

 

MHR: So from here, I would love to see us in a lot more boroughs. So Haringey is our main borough, and we do a lot of work here in terms of our reach into schools and within the community and I would love that to be replicated in other neighbouring boroughs.

 

We should have our own buildings soon. So that will be lovely and I think that will allow us to develop what we do. So we do an apprenticeship scheme and it will allow us to have more cohorts coming in and working with us as opposed to just having one or two a year. So that will be amazing.

 

SJ: For more information about the #GetBizzy campaign, or to find out more about transforming your young entrepreneurship dreams into a reality, visit the Companies House website at companieshouse.gov.uk and follow us on social media.

Case study: Hair Host

Case study: Hair Host

August 20, 2020

This podcast is part of a series of case studies in which we speak to small business owners. Find out about the challenges and advantages of owning your own business, and pick up some advice on how to get started.

Hair Host is a fast-growing salon based in Buckingham, near Milton Keynes. The salon was opened in September 2015 by Rebecca Blade with support from her parents, Julian and Janet Presant-Collins.

Read the full case study on our website » www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/hair-host-llp

 

Transcript

Jocelyn Keedwell: Hi, I'm Jocelyn and I am part of the communications team at Companies House. Today we're at Hair Host a salon in Buckingham as part of the latest small business case studies podcast series. Welcome, Julian and Rebecca. 
 
Julian: Thank you. 
 
JK: Thank you very much for having us here today, really appreciate your time. 
 
JK: So maybe you can tell me a bit about the company and the business? 
 
Rebecca: We're a growing Salon. We opened in 2015. There's eight of us now, and we want to build the business more, open more salons. So hopefully we'll do that soon. 
 
JK: So do you do it on your own?
 
R: So there's myself and then my two business partners who are also my mum and dad Janet and Julian. I do the day-to-day running in the salon and then they run more of the backstage kind of things like bookkeeping and marketing. 
 
JK: So do you need a lot of support Rebecca, not day-to-day, but maybe sort of behind the scenes? 
 
J: No, certainly not day-to-day. I mean, we're certainly not the hairdressers in the in the family. We leave that to Rebecca and she does a terrific job in the salon, but obviously what you don't realise sometimes when you start a business is you can open premises, employe people, get them doing stuff on a day-to-day basis, but then behind the scenes you do need to almost create a marketing engine to keep creating noise and keep encouraging customers to come back to us and encourage new customers to step across the threshold for the first time, so that's an ongoing thing and then just basic stuff; payroll, managing holidays and things like that, which my wife does. It all takes time. So I think, it's fair to say we're probably more involved than we expected to be, but we're enjoying the journey.
 
JK: You're talking about the journey. So how did the salon start? Why were you inspired to open a salon? Is it something you've always wanted?
 
R: I've always wanted my salon. I've always wanted to be a hairdresser since I was very young. Since starting hairdressing I thought that's what I want. I want my own business. 
 
JK: So you were really driven then you had that idea in your head.
 
R: Yeah from very early on. 
 
J: Well, let me tell you that her head teacher once accosted me as I turned up at school and said I've had Rebecca's class for the day and as a father you sort of go ‘’Oh what's happened?’’ And she said they were talking about careers, and she said Rebecca said she wants to be a hairdresser, but she doesn't just want to be a hairdresser. She wants to have her own salon, so she has been very driven since young age.
 
JK: That's great. So, do you have a really clear vision of what you want your salon to be like when you were thinking about it? 
 
R: Well a lot of clients find it very intimidating walking into a salon, you know? It's quite difficult for the first time especially. Some have told me that they've walked past wanting to go in and then not walked in and I don't want them to feel like that here. I want them to be able to walk in and feel welcome and that they can chat to anyone like they’re friends more than just clients and hopefully it's more of the living room feel rather than a salon feel.
 
JK: Brilliant. How did you start out? Was it registering as a limited company, was it finding premises or getting financial backing?
 
J: I think in terms of order of events, it's fair to say that we found these premises that were available, we talked about potentially supporting Rebecca with opening a salon business, but these premises were available and that really kick-started us into setting up Hair Host. It was important for us to get the right premises, and so we felt that unless we did something now we might lose this opportunity. Because of the businesses in the neighbourhood such as Waitrose it was important that we had that footfall and had that exposure really. Location was very important. Having got the premises then it actually moved quite quickly. We put together a business plan. We took the plan to NatWest and they were very willing to support us, which was great because we needed to spend quite a lot of money in turning what was an old card shop into a high-end salon. 
 
JK: So you registered with Companies House in March 2015. I think you're open about six months later in September. You’re an LLP so that's a kind of different type of limited company. Why did you go for that structure?
 
J: Yeah, we sat down with accountants, we use a London-based firm that specialise in small and medium enterprises and it was really on their advice when they spoke to us about who was going to be running the business on a day-to-day basis, who actually needed to draw an income from it. It quickly became apparent that the best route for that was going to be an LLP so although the three of us own it jointly, Rebecca has the flexibility of drawing from it and so an LLP allows us to allocate all the profits or some of the profits to support Rebecca's needs.
 
JK: So it worked best for you and the family?
 
J: It works better for us than a limited company might where you've got a fixed number of shares and then it becomes more complicated when you start to declare dividends as to who gets what. It was just that flexible structure that was important to us. Otherwise, we probably could have been a limited company, but it was easier and more flexible to be an LLP. 
 
JK: So obviously setting up the business is always a tough time, but what kind of challenges in particular did you guys face? Was it setting up in the community, making sure you built those relationships or maybe finding a work-life balance? I know it can sometimes be quite tricky with your own business. 
 
J: Well, Rebecca has got children.
 
R: Yeah. So I think trying to balance your work and life, kids, all their needs and then the salon needs as well. I think integrating into this community, everyone was really friendly, we've been quite lucky with how the other shops were with us starting.  
 
J: I think the biggest challenge for us was probably getting going and that's probably what any small business will tell you. When we opened the doors we generally didn't have any customers. It wasn't an existing salon business that we've taken over and we're trying to do something different. We literally didn't have any customers and so for the first few months,  I think it's fair to say it was a bit frightening because you never knew who was going to come through the door. It is kind of building your brand a bit and getting awareness out there. We had to work very hard to get established and start to get people across the threshold and enjoying the culture that we have here. 
 
JK: So obviously, you’ve become a really successful company over the four years. What do you think's been a really important success in that? What's the main factor to success?
 
R: Having a strong team is definitely the key to a lot of the success.  If they're on the same page with what we want for our business then it definitely helps for them to support us.
 
J: I think to add to that we do have a terrific team and it's fair to say we have hand-picked them as well in many respects. Some people have joined us through the usual routes for us putting an advert out and we've had quite a lot of success there. It's a very strong team but also, I think what we've tried to always create is a family/ caring culture here and so genuinely, my approach is that always the most important  person in the salon is the customer and then there's the rest of the team and then it's yourself and if people can remember that simple order, and I think they do, then it changes the whole culture and the way that you run things as a hairdressing business and I think our customers find that quite refreshing. They don't know the mantra but they do experience it, the client is the most important person at that time in the salon and then it's all about everyone else looking after each other before they worry about what they're doing. 
 
JK: Yeah, because you do spend a lot of time making sure your team is looked after staff are cared for? 
 
R: Yeah, absolutely we have health care benefits and things like that to make sure our team are happy and they feel like we care for them and then hopefully they care for the client a lot more because they feel cared for. 
 
J: I mean, I was always quite encouraged in the early days because what we wanted people to do is to be able to get up and enjoy the prospect of going into work and we did have a member of team who very much in the early days said she felt it was like coming in and spending time with friends rather than actually coming in to do a job so that’s very encouraging. We don’t get it right all the time, but most of the time I think we're doing the right thing.
 
JK: In terms of not always getting it right. What do you think has been an important lesson you've learned in setting up a company or you know, would you do anything differently? Perhaps you're happy with the way everything's gone.  Has it been an easy sailing or has it been a few challenges?
 
R: I wouldn’t say it’s been easy sailing. I don't think I personally would do anything differently the small challenges we've faced you can overcome and you learn from so everything is a lesson really.
 
J:  Yeah, I think so. I mean it's been quite interesting that there's been very, very few occasions when as partners of the business we've disagreed with either the strategy that we're following or how things are being done on a day-to-day basis, so that's been quite encouraging. I think I'd agree with Rebecca looking back there's been very little that we would necessarily change. From a business point of view, you might say there are occasions when we've probably been overstaffed, if we're really brutal, but that's something that we're prepared to in a sense and run with it because we think ultimately it is the right thing to do.
 
JK: What would you say is the best thing about being a small business owner? What are you really proud of?
 
R: Probably having built a brand that I believe in personally and also the flexibility of work-life balance.  Also how you want the brand to be that's the best thing.
 
JK: So it's develop the way that you want it and you’ve seen it grow and be more successful. 
 
R: Yeah. 
 
J: I mean, I think from my perspective, it’s very rewarding. We use social media a lot. We try and encourage customers to share with us their thoughts and experiences on visiting Hair Host and when we look at some of the reviews it's very rewarding that they genuinely seem to leave here having felt like they’ve had a really good time and received a really good service in the process. So I think that side of it says yeah, okay, we're doing the right thing. We've got thousands of customers now and we started off with none and nearly a hundred percent of the time, I think we do a terrific job.
 
JK: Fantastic, how do you see it developing in the future? Have you got any more plans or any more staff, anymore salons?
 
R: We would like to open another salon so we're looking slowly into that. Yeah using the staff we've got, theyre really quite experienced and homegrown so developing them further to then spread them across and then probably start apprenticeships in both salons. 
 
J: Yeah, it's nice we've had some young people come through, and in fact just this month one of our apprentices is qualified and came out the other end with a distinction, so that's a great endorsement that we are providing them with probably the best training that they can get and we do see that building the team allows us to naturally split the team almost across two salons without diluting the service offering and that's always important to us, if we do make that step into a second salon that the first one doesn't get affected in any way and customer still receive the best service.
 
JK: Brilliant. Well, it's a beautiful salon to visit and you guys have worked really hard and you've made it a great success here in Buckingham. Thank you ever so much for taking the time to talk to us today. We really appreciate it. 
 
J and R: Thank you.
 
JK: Thanks for listening. If you'd like to find out any more information about Companies House or anything we’ve spoken about today, there's loads of guidance and info on our website. Just go to www.gov.uk/companieshouse

 

 

Jocelyn Keedwell: Hi, I'm Jocelyn and I am part of the communications team at Companies House. Today we're at Hair Host a salon in Buckingham as part of the latest small business case studies podcast series. Welcome, Julian.

 

Julian: Thank you.

 

JK: Thank you very much for having us here today, really appreciate your time. So maybe you can tell me a bit about the company and the business?

 

Rebecca: We're a growing Salon. We opened in 2015. There's eight of us now, and we want to build the business more, open more salons. So hopefully we'll do that soon.

 

JK: So do you do  it on your own, is it just use a member?

 

R: So there's myself and then my two business partners who are also my mom and dad Janet and Julian. So I do the day-to-day running in the salon and then they run more of the  backstage kind of things like bookkeeping and marketing.

 

JK: So do you need a lot of support Rebecca, not day-to-day, but maybe sort of behind the scenes?

 

J: No , certainly not day-to-day. I mean, we're certainly not the hairdressers in the in the family. We leave that to Rebecca and she does a terrific job in the salon, but obviously what you don't realise sometimes when you start a business is you can open premises, employed people, get them doing stuff on a day-to-day basis, but then behind the scenes you do need to almost create like a marketing engine to keep creating noise and keep encouraging customers to come back to us and encourage new customers to step across the threshold for the first time, so that's an ongoing thing and then just, basic stuff; payroll, managing holidays and things like that, which my wife does. It all takes time. So I think, it's fair to say we're probably more involved than we expected to be, but we're enjoying the journey.

 

JK: You're talking about the journey. So how did the salon start? Why were you inspired to open a salon? Is it something you've always wanted?

 

R: I've always wanted my salon. I've always wanted to be a hairdresser since I was very young. Since starting hairdressing I thought that's what I want. I want my own business.

 

JK: So you were really driven then you had that idea in your head.

 

R: Yeah from very early on.

 

J: Well, let me tell you that her head teacher once accosted me as I turned up at school and said I've had Rebecca's class for the day and as a father you sort of go ‘’Oh what's happened?’’ And she said they were talking about careers, and she said Rebecca said she wants to be a hairdresser, but she doesn't just want to be a hairdresser. She wants to have her own salon so she has been very driven since young age.

 

JK: That's great. So, do you have a really clear vision of what you want your salon to be like when you were thinking about it?

 

R:Well from a lot of clients they find it very intimidating walking into a salon, you know? It's quite difficult for the first time especially. Some have told me that they've walked past wanting to go in and then not walked in and I don't want them to feel like that here. I want them to be able to walk in and feel welcome and that they can chat to anyone like with friends more than just clients and hopefully it's more of the living room feel rather than a salon feel.

 

JK: Brilliant. How did you start out? Was it registering as a limited company, was it finding premises or getting finance for backing?

 

J: I think in terms of order of events, it's fair to say that we found these premises that were available, we talked about potentially supporting Rebecca with opening a salon business, but these premises were available and that really kick-started us into setting up Hair Host. It was important for us to get the right premises, and so we felt that unless we did something now we might lose this opportunity. Because of the businesses in the neighbourhood such as Waitrose it was important that we had that footfall and  had that exposure really. Location was very important. Having got the premises then it actually moved quite quickly. We put together a business plan. We took the plan to NatWest and they were very willing to support us, which was great because we needed to spend quite a lot of money in turning what was an old card shop into a high-end salon.

 

JK: So you register with Companies House in March 2015. I think you're open about six months later in September. You’re an LLP so that's a kind of different type of limited company. Why did you go for that structure?

 

J: Yeah, we sat down with accountants and we use a London-based firm that specialise in small and medium enterprises and it was really on their advice when they spoke to us about who was going to be running the business on a day-to-day basis, who actually needed to draw an income from it. It quickly became apparent that the best route for that was going to be an LLP so that although the three of us own it jointly, Rebecca has the flexibility of drawing from it and so an LLP allows us to allocate all the profits or some of the profits to support Rebecca's needs.

 

JK: So it worked best for you and the family?

 

J: It work better for us than a limited company might where you've got a fixed number of shares and then it becomes more complicated when you start to declared dividends as to who gets what. It was just that that flexible structure that was important to us. Otherwise, we probably could have been a limited company, but it was easier and more flexible to be an LLP.

 

JK: So obviously setting up the business is always a tough time, but what kind of challenges in particular did you guys face? Was it setting up in the community, making sure you built those relationships or maybe finding a work-life balance? I know it can sometimes be quite tricky with your own business.

 

J: Well, Rebecca has got children.

 

R: Yeah. So I think trying to balance your work and life, kids, all their needs and then the salon needs as well. I think integrating into this community, everyone was really friendly, we've been quite lucky with how the other shops were with us starting. 

 

J: I think the biggest challenge for us was probably getting going and that's probably what any small business will tell you that. When we open the doors we generally didn't have any customers. It wasn't an existing salon business that we've taken over and we're trying to do something different. We literally didn't have any customers and so for the first few months,  I think it's fair to say it was a bit frightening because you never knew who was going to come through the door.

 

JK: It is kind of building your brand a bit and getting awareness out there.

 

J: We had to work very hard to get established and start to get people across the threshold and enjoying the culture that we have here.

 

JK: So obviously, you’ve become a really successful company over the four years. What do you think's been a really important success in that? What's the main factor to success?

 

R: Having a strong team is definitely the key to a lot of the success.  If they're on the same page with what we want for our business then it definitely helps for them to support us.

 

J: I think to add to that we do have a terrific team and it's fair to say we have hand-picked them as well in many respects. Some people have joined us through the usual routes for us putting an advert out and we've had quite a lot of success there. It's a very strong team but also, I think what we've tried to always create is a family/ caring culture here and so genuinely, my approach is that always the most important  person in the salon is the customer and then there's the rest of the team and then it's yourself and if people can remember that simple order, and I think they do, then it changes the whole culture and the way that you run things as a hairdressing business and I think our customers find that quite refreshing. They don't know the mantra but they do experience this, the client is the most important person at that time in the salon and then it's all about everyone else looking after each other before they worry about what they're doing.

 

JK: Yeah, because you do spend a lot of time making sure your team is looked after staff are cared for?

 

R: Yeah, absolutely we have that health care benefits and things like that to make sure our team are happy and they feel like we care for them and then hopefully they care for the client a lot more because they feel cared for.

 

J: I mean, I was always quite encouraged in the early days because what we wanted people to do is to be able to get up and enjoy the prospect of going into work and we did have a member of team who very much in the early days said she felt it was like coming in and spending time with friends rather than actually coming in to do a job so that’s very encouraging.  We don’t get it right all the time. But most of the time I think we're doing the right thing.

 

JK: In terms of not always getting it right. What do you think has been an important lesson you've learned in setting up a company or you know, would you do anything differently? Perhaps you're happy with the way everything's gone.  Has it been an easy sailing or has it been a few challenges?

 

R: I wouldn’t say it’s been easy sailing. I don't think I personally would do anything differently as such the small challenges we've faced you can overcome and you learn from so everything is a lesson really.

 

J:  Yeah, I think so. I mean it's been quite interesting that there's been very, very few occasions when as partners of the business we've disagreed with either the strategy that we're following or how things are being done on a day-to-day basis, so that's been quite encouraging. So I think, I'd agree with Rebecca looking back there's been very little that we would necessarily change. From a business point of view, you might say there are occasions when we've probably been overstaffed, if we're really brutal but that's something that we're prepared to in a sense resource and run with because we think ultimately it is the right thing to do.

 

JK: what would you say is the best thing about being a small business owner? What are you really proud of?

 

R: Probably having built a brand that I believe in personally and also the flexibility of work-life balance.  Also how you want the brand to be that's the best thing.

 

JK: So it's develop the way that you want it and you’ve seen it grow and be more successful.

 

R: Yeah.

 

J: I mean, I think from my perspective, it’s very rewarding. We use social media a lot. We try and encourage customers to share with us their thoughts and experiences on visiting Hair Host and when we look at some of the reviews it's very rewarding that they genuinely seem to leave here having felt like they’ve had a really good time and received a really good service in the process. So I think that side of it says yeah, okay, we're doing the right thing. We've got thousands of customers now and we started off with none and nearly a hundred percent of the time, I think we do a terrific job.

 

JK: Fantastic, how do you see it developing in the future? Have you got any more plans or any more sort of staff, anymore salons?

 

R: We would like to open another salon  so we're kind of looking slowly into that. Yeah using the staff we've got really quite experienced and homegrown so developing  them further to then spread them across and then probably start an apprenticeships in both salons.

 

J: Yeah, it's nice we've had some young people come through, and in fact just this month one of our apprentices is qualified and come out the other end with a distinction, so that's a great endorsement that here we actually are providing them with probably the best training that they can get and we do see building the team allows us to naturally split the team almost across two salons without diluting the service offering and that's always important to us, that you know, if we do make that step into a second salon that the first one doesn't get affected in any way and customer still receive the  best service.

 

JK: Brilliant. Well, it's a beautiful salon to visit and you guys worked really hard and you've made it a great success here in Buckingham. So thank you ever so much for taking the time to talk to us today. We really appreciate it.

 

J and R: Thank you.

 

JK: Thanks for listening. If you'd like to find out any more information about Companies House or anything we’ve spoken about today, there's loads of guidance and info on our website. Just go to www.gov.uk/companieshouse

 

 

 

 

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