Centric HR, founded by Sandra Berns in 2016, decided to invest extra resource in helping small firms who otherwise faced “extortionate” fees for basic guidance during the pandemic.
Sandra was talking about her experiences in the latest podcast in a series called ‘Aston means business: SMEs building resilience to COVID-19 challenges’ presented by journalist Steve Dyson.
She said it was her attendance on Aston University's Small Business Growth programme that proved pivotal, saying she was persuaded that she needed to invest in the company in order for it to grow.
Sandra recalled how the start of the first national lockdown was a “scary time”, particularly as a £20,000-a-month NHS contract for Centric HR stopped at the same time the company had recruited a highly paid member of staff.
Sandra said: “When the pandemic came along, it was almost like it opened up opportunities and we started to see other income streams that we hadn't seen before.
“We decided we're going to help people through this, we're going to take the knowledge and specialist information we have, we're going to research it and become experts in this field.”
She explained that this included learning all about what back in the spring was the government's new furlough scheme and then giving out this advice via free webinars that attracted up to 50 SME owners at a time.
“We realised there were other SMEs out there on the point of closing their doors or having cash-flow problems who were getting charged extortionate amounts for real basic advice.
“We would send them out free stuff, such as templates and the webinar presentation, and also offered a discounted consultation [paid by the] hour or even minutes.
“That cemented many longer-term relationships where people have come back to us and said ‘we’ve gotten through this, now we’d like you to help with redundancies, business recovery plans, recruitment, or restructuring the team’.
“It got people through that really challenging time and they are coming back to us for growth opportunities post-pandemic.”
Sandra said that Centric HR’s success was partly down to advice she had herself received from Mark Hart, the Professor of Small Business Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School, who told her she must invest if she wanted to grow.
Prof Hart was also interviewed for the podcast and said that although COVID-19 was a “really rough ride” for businesses it was still crucial that they invested for the future – and this did not always have to be in hard cash.He explained that the way Sandra had initially invested time and knowledge free of charge to businesses that desperately needed HR advice was “really very sensible”, as it resulted in those same businesses returning to pay for more services.
Sandra added that Centric’s future growth plans now included being a provider for the government's new Kickstart programme, aimed at helping young people get onto the career ladder.