Emily Bater

Full-time teacher and freelance content writer

HR Dept Cardiff West founder Caryl Thomas: 'I'm not going to be changed or moulded'

Posted January 9th, 17:27

3 min read

Taking the plunge into self-employment is scary, and many people need to be pushed.

That push comes in many forms, but it’s usually a life-changing event – the birth of a child, an illness, a divorce. For Caryl Thomas, a few pushes all came at once.

The combination of relocating from Scotland to Wales to help care for her ill dad while looking after her young son and commuting to her job in the HR department of a London-based investment company meant something had to give.

“I still loved doing it but it was exhausting. I was working at a high management level and I loved it but they were asking me to take on more and more, which I couldn’t,” remembers Caryl.

After a decade working as a HR and employment law expert, Caryl found herself looking for work in Cardiff. After failing to find the right role, she decided to go it alone – but not entirely.

She joined The HR Dept, a UK-wide HR franchise which offers HR services to small and medium sized businesses that can’t afford or justify in-house HR staff.

The HR Dept network has 5,000 clients nationally. From “funeral directors to farmers”, their members can help anyone who employs staff, says Caryl.

“It’s a one stop shop. We call ourselves the HR Dept because effectively we can be HR Dept for our SME clients. If they need anything from us, we can provide that on a cost-effective basis.”

Not McDonald’s

Becoming part of a franchise can be a more stable – but still lucrative – way for aspiring small business owners to get started.

In 2015, the industry’s annual turnover was over £15bn and 600,000 people are employed by franchises, according to a survey by the British Franchise Association.

Being part of a franchise means small business owners can offer something extra to their clients, says Caryl.


“I realised what the HR Dept could offer me – the support and added-value benefits, like insurance which I wasn’t able to offer as a HR consultant. I was sold on that, and sold of the idea of support from an established network.

The HR Dept can provide software, time attendance systems, employment tribunal insurance, crisis communications, engagement services and health and safety.

“It’s a franchise but we’re all different. When people think franchise they think of McDonald’s- everything being the same. The advice is me, I’m me and I’m not going to be changed or moulded.”

Master of all trades

Going from a corporate career to self-employment meant switching mindsets, says Caryl.

“When you come from the corporate environment you are a technician at what you do, you know it inside out and back to front and it’s super easy to do.

A wall of tools

Using a hacksaw on your accounts probably isn’t the best idea

“Then you go to finding clients, while servicing the ones you’ve got. You’ve got to do your books, your accounting, you’ve got to know your numbers, figure out your costs. Your own marketing, PR, admin. You’ve got to be a master of everything.

“Making the switch from being a technician and somebody who’s an expert at what they do to somebody who runs a business and happens to be an expert at what they do, that has been the biggest mind switch that I’ve had to do.”

New city

Now a year into running her business, Caryl admits that it’s been harder than she anticipated.

“I thought it would be a lot easier than it is. I had no contacts in Cardiff, I don’t know anyone who has businesses. I didn’t come from a corporate career that allowed me to take a client book with me, so I’ve had to start completely and utterly from scratch.”

Networking has been invaluable in growing her business and gaining clients, says Caryl.

“Networking is the only way I’ve gotten people to like me, to buy from me, to trust me.

“Getting out there, speaking to people, telling people what I do, learning what they do and trying to help them. That’s how I’ve got clients.”

Emily Bater

Full-time teacher and freelance content writer

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