HR Hislop Electrical Contracting: Navigating unprecedented challenges and coming out bigger & stronger

- Rachel Spratling

HR Hislop is a full service electrical contractor. They are able to help domestic customers with the smallest of jobs, sub contract for larger scale building firms and take on complex commercial work.

Founded in early 2009 by Harry Hislop, the company has seen significant growth. From making its first hire in 2011, to taking on five or six new team members each year.

A year or two before the pandemic, Harry decided to work with a business coach to develop structure and processes and further improve performance. He chose Chalkhill Blue’s Rachel Spratling.

It proved an inspired choice. For when coronavirus struck and the lockdown was announced, with Rachel’s help the company has leapt forward, taking every challenge in its stride and putting itself in a strong position for further growth.

How HR Hislop benefited from help from Chalkhill Blue:

  • Established robust KPIs & monitoring processes across the organisation.
  • Helped understand cash requirements and devised strategies to boost cash
    flow, including sourcing growth funding.
  • Provided an expert & independent sounding board during periods of
    complexity and challenge.
  • Helped formulate people strategy and deal with unprecedented challenges
    during the pandemic.
  • Helped build the right growth mindset across the leadership team.
    Helped implement more effective comms & marketing campaigns.

Choosing a coach:

Harry explains: “I had worked with a business coach previously and was aware of the advantages. In 2018, I decided I wanted to tap into coaching again. I had met Rachel through business networking and was intrigued by the Chalkhill Blue approach: with Rachel, Chris and Simon practising what they were preaching, demonstrably applying the advice they give to others to their own business.

It was also attractive that they had a bigger team, with a broader skillset to offer
clients like me.”

Laying the foundations:

Harry continues: “We were already enjoying good growth, 20% to 30% a year, but as the business became more complex, I wanted to put structure around everything we did.

With Rachel’s input we started to refine our processes. Across the board, she helped us establish much clearer KPIs to monitor the changes and growth: Everything from leads to conversion rates and job profits. During this time we broke the £1 million turnover ceiling for the first time.

As I will detail later on, having these reporting systems set up and becoming confident in interpreting what they were telling us was invaluable during the pandemic.”

The early challenges of COVID:

Harry explains what it was like to be a business owner managing about 20 staff when the lockdown was announced: “Just like everyone, I was worried. We all stayed at home of course that first day. There was massive uncertainty. For me, I saw everything through the prism of my team.

Having that established coaching relationship with Rachel was invaluable. She was my sounding board, and we quickly started talking through the options available. We soon developed a defining goal, which was to ensure that no one should be made redundant due to COVID.

That was a powerful North Star principle to follow.

Rachel counselled that we had to be very proactive in going out and securing funding to shore up cashflow. According to our bank manager we were one of the first businesses in the country to secure a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBILS), and straight away this gave us breathing space.

It meant for our five office staff and two electricians we were able to bypass furlough and keep them employed to carry on with marketing, thinking up new ideas. It developed a positive mindset.

We had previously worked on 90-day business plans with Rachel, but with so much uncertainty we switched these to three-week plans to gain focus.”

Finding our feet:

Continuing to work closely with Rachel, comms were identified as another key piece of the jigsaw. Harry observes: “With some staff working, some on furlough and everyone experiencing lockdown through their own circumstances, we started producing a weekly staff newsletter, which shared key information and
kept everyone informed. We supplemented these with group Zoom calls for further connection.

Once we had found our feet, my biggest ongoing challenge for a while became HR. We had outsourced HR for the legal side of things but in terms of the people management, Rachel was a huge help.

I’d feel like I was spinning all these plates, putting the team first, and staff would come to me with what I perceived to be quite trivial problems. I’m sure they weren’t trivial to them, and having Rachel there to talk to before responding helped me manage this situation in the best way.”

Rediscovering growth:

With the company’s operations consolidated, it was time to bounce back: “Month by month” Harry says, “companies in the construction industry increasingly realised that they could operate as long as they were COVID secure. So as demand from this channel started to pick up, we incrementally took our electricians off furlough. By August, the whole team was back working.

With Rachel I was answering the question: ‘What do we need to do to win the next set of work?’ We had to keep our team busy, and also help our contractor customers who may be struggling more than us.

The CBILS loan was a great help here too. It allowed us to temporarily be more flexible on margin just to keep the work going. We were successfully retaining and even broadening our customer base.

On Rachel’s advice, I took on a digital marketing apprentice. We began sending out a monthly newsletter to existing customers, which generated business as people realised they could safely have trades working in their homes. We were active on social media, used direct mail to connect with builders and even invested some of the cash from the CBILS loan to launch a new website.

Rachel was always there, beating the drum: ‘Use the time you have to concentrate on building the systems to grow’. This was a moment when all the KPIs and reporting we had introduced when first working with her really came into their own.

We were able to use the data to show that the future was getting brighter. We believed in the numbers because we had been using them for two years. April and May of 2020 were the lowest point and from there we could see the gaps, see the growth.

Rather than losing people, we expanded the team by five apprentices and three electricians and as I speak have 24 people in total.”

Looking back with pride:

After such a disruptive time, HR Hislop are well positioned to accelerate their growth. Harry reflects: “I am immensely proud to be coming out of the COVID crisis in the position we are in and thank Rachel and Chalkhill Blue for the advice and support provided. We managed to maintain turnover at £1.2 million despite a terrible second quarter at the start of the lockdown, and the team grew significantly, smashing our goal of zero COVID redundancies. I am confident we will return to 30% growth next year; and actually, if the brakes come off properly, with the team we’ve got, we can aim for double that and reach £2 million turnover.”

Quickfire Q&A

What’s your number one top for working with a business coach?
Harry: I’m a fan of the saying “You don’t know what you don’t know”. There is a huge opportunity to be taught, so go into the coaching process with your mind open.

Has there been one thing that’s stood out for you when working with Chalkhill Blue?
Harry: Everything is so connected. Good practices is one area permeate through the business. Measuring KPIs were introduced to improve performance, but the data they provided was reassuring during the dark days. The CBILS loan aided cashflow at first, but then allowed us to have a growth mindset and invest in marketing.

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