The Industry Leaders talks to Shona Hamilton-Higgins, the director of Lilac HR Ltd, about the lessons she learned in self-belief when independently setting up her own HR consultancy business.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
In 2018, I was burnt out, bored and disenchanted after eight years in corporate HR. I was ready for a new challenge, and so I decided to take on the ultimate test of running my own HR consultancy.
I set up Lilac HR in 2018, but I had a wedding to plan before I could leap into self-employment. So I took a fixed-term contract closer to home in order to build the business alongside my day job. In May 2020, mid-pandemic, my contract ended, and I jumped headfirst into self-employment!
What kind of work does your role involve?
My role as a HR consultant is to support my clients to develop high performing and engaged teams so that they can focus on building the business of their dreams, without the drama. I support my clients with everything from disciplinaries to recruitment strategies, performance management, employee engagement, and everything in between.
What gets you excited about your industry?
I love HR because it gives you an opportunity to have an impact on someone's life. When you think about the amount of time we spend at work, you want to ensure you're having the best possible time. HR allows me to help employers structure their business so that they can help their employees have the best time at work. I also love helping to develop employers. Not all business owners are born managers, so I love helping them to develop their skills and their confidence in people management.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My Granny always used to tell me, "You, my girl, can do anything you set your mind to”, and she's not wrong! — everything I have achieved over the last 12 months has been of my own making. I've not had the support of investors or lots of cash savings behind me; it's all been through my sheer grit and determination. Shifting your mindset to think, "why not me? why shouldn't I do this?", can be a real game-changer.
How do you support aspiring leaders in your field?
I love working with and supporting other leading businesswomen in HR. I have recently partnered with an HR professional who has launched an employee benefits platform. I have regular calls with other HR consultants to share ideas and frustrations about being an HR consultant. I firmly believe that we businesswomen need to find our tribe of like-minded people and lift each other up.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
I get regular newsletters and updates about what is happening in the employment scene, plus there's a lot in the general news at the moment about furlough and remote working. The best thing for me, though, is speaking to people. Hearing the struggles that employers are going through right now is the best way to have your ear to the ground. The media isn't always reflective of people's real issues.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
When I first became self-employed, I had just two clients on my books which was not enough to replace my corporate salary. We were still in the throes of the first lockdown, and I had no idea how to get the word out about my business.
So I joined a local networking group that had moved online, and I did every free social media marketing training course I could find. Slowly, the clients started coming in and, as the business grew, I reinvested in it.
I hired a graphic designer to rebrand my business to help with my online presence; I hired a business coach to help me with my marketing; I hired a virtual assistant to help me with admin in my business.
I now have over 40 clients on my books, and I have worked on 89 employee relations cases for those clients. I'm so proud of my achievements and so grateful to my supportive network of business besties!
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
After buying a new car, buying the dream house with land for the horses, and finally going on our honeymoon to the US, I would invest it in my business!
How do you define failure?
Failure is a state of mind. Just because something or someone hasn't worked out, doesn't mean it's a failure, it just means you need to do things differently next time. Often we feel like a failure if an employee resigns because we feel like we should have done more to try and keep them. The reality is that if everything in your business is aligned with your values and your goals, and someone still chooses to leave, they just weren't your dream employee.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
My one wish for the future of HR is to be considered by business owners to be as essential as accountants.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Every woman in business should listen to Chill & Prosper by Denise Duffield-Thomas, Tara Talks by Tara Punter and my podcast, How to HR!
I also love Stuff You Should Know for long drives.
How should people connect with you?