This Valentine’s Day, we sat down with Alison and Ian, our founders at Bespoke HR, to discuss their experience of running a business together whilst also being married.

Alison’s journey began in 2005 when she was unexpectedly made redundant on her first day back from maternity leave. Faced with the challenge of balancing career aspirations with family responsibilities, it seemed there were very few opportunities available. Identifying a gap in the market for affordable outsourced HR support for small businesses, Bespoke HR was born.

Fast forward to 2012, and Ian, previously managing his own software business, wanted a change. As fate would have it, he sold the stake in his business, and they made the pivotal decision to focus solely on Bespoke HR together.

Alison and Ian openly share that the early days were not without their challenges. Balancing strong personalities and differing approaches tested their patience. However, through dedication and compromise, they found their rhythm. They learned to appreciate each other’s strengths and assign responsibilities, whilst encouraging a culture of transparency and open communication.

One of the key lessons learned was the importance of defining roles and boundaries. Ian’s love for detail initially clashed with Alison’s approach, but they soon recognised the value in leveraging their differences.

Alison aptly sums up their journey, emphasising the value of mutual respect and understanding.

So, running a business with your partner. What do you think makes your partnerships successful?

Alison: We have very distinct roles within the business. Ian oversees finance, IT, all of our processes and marketing. This leaves me to focus on supporting and managing clients and our team of consultants.

Ian: I work closely with our marketing manager to generate leads, whilst Alison deals with new business pitches and enquiries which come in as a result. Of course, we work closely on strategy and long-term plans but separate our roles when it comes to the day-to-day operations.

How do you find working with your partner?

Alison: For the first 18 months, we had to work hard at finding our vibe and understanding who was responsible for what. At the start, Ian got involved in everything and it used to drive me crazy with his level of detail!

Ian: Likewise, I would get frustrated with Alison’s approach to certain tasks. We both have very strong personalities and we would be lying if we said everything fell into place immediately.

Alison: It took a lot of work and compromise to accept and understand where each of us starts and stops. However, it’s very rare that we lock horns now as we recognise where our skills lie and what we each bring to the table.

What advice would you give to others in this situation?

Ian: Neither of us are precious about our roles or titles and there’s no agenda. We have just found our groove, respect those boundaries and recognise what our differences mean for the business.

Alison: We also have two ‘bookends’: a business coach and our operations manager, Hannah. They help us with strategy and act as intermediaries or conduits.Hannah has become very skilled at understanding our personalities and adapts her working style to both of us so she can get what she needs from us. Our business coach helps us to channel our ideas and approaches and it’s so useful to have an outside perspective.

 

At Bespoke HR, we’re not just passionate about HR; we’re dedicated to fostering strong relationships – both with our clients and within our own team. Alison and Ian’sa journey embodies the values that now define Bespoke HR – transparency, pragmatism, responsiveness, knowledge sharing, and passion. For more information on how to work with us, please get in touch to arrange your free 15 minute call. 

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