Interview with Sophie Milliken, managing director of Smart Resourcing Solutions

When Sophie Milliken moved to the North East and became a mother she realised that the HR London-based job she loved wouldn’t work. So she started her own company, Smart Resourcing Solutions, instead.

What’s your career background?

I joined the graduate scheme at John Lewis after university and worked in a variety of branch management roles before specialising in HR. I then moved to the London head office to take up a secondment, working in the New Branch team designing training programmes.

I had the opportunity to complete my masters degree in HR management at the same time as taking up a new role leading graduate recruitment. This was my dream role as it gave me a lot of autonomy and I loved meeting other employers, universities and students.

I successfully introduced new schemes and was delighted to win a number of awards and massively increase the John Lewis ranking in the prestigious Times Top 100 employers.

I set up Smart Resourcing Solutions in 2013 as a way to keep working with the sector and people I enjoyed and to move back to the North East. Smart Resourcing Solutions provides consultancy support and assessment design and delivery to employers, universities and schools.

How did your career change after having children?

I wish I could say my career didn’t change after having my daughter, but sadly it had to. I couldn’t continue to commute from Newcastle to London so had to consider my options.

I would not have been able to earn the same salary or find a similar role in the North East in graduate recruitment and I knew this was the industry for me – so I created my own company!

I still travel a lot for work and spend time in London each month but it is more flexible than working for an employer, and I enjoy being able to finish early some days to collect my daughter from school. I make sure that any important events – school plays for example are in my diary so I can attend.

What’s your USP?

Our USP as a company is our award-recognised assessment simulation programme. We are the leading provider of large scale assessment simulations in the UK.

The simulations are embedded into curriculum as a wider employability module, giving students the opportunity to experience a realistic assessment centre and gain feedback from professional assessors on each of the exercises.

The materials are bespoke to each course and we run these in huge venues – mainly football stadiums which provides an exciting location for students and assessors alike. Our largest simulation is for 1,100 students and we are looking to roll the programmes out to accommodate around 3,000 students for several clients.

Who’s your target audience?

We work with employers to design assessment processes and materials as well as set up or refresh graduate, placement and apprenticeship schemes. We work with universities, colleges and schools on employability activities such as assessment simulations and we offer students one to one coaching.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

At just over four years old, we are starting to reap the rewards of word of mouth recommendations. We have gained some good exposure in the press with various awards and coverage of some of our projects. We also have a solid following on social media and have generated some great work through LinkedIn and Twitter in particular.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

We’ve tried so many different marketing ideas – trade shows, online directories, social media, brochures and are still figuring out what works best.

Social media has definitely created interest and I get a lot of contact through Twitter and LinkedIn using my own accounts. We are about to do our first company digital marketing campaign on LinkedIn and have high hopes this will yield results.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

My business partner deciding to leave felt like a big obstacle at the time. However, once I got my head around the idea, I realised it was a brilliant opportunity for me.

I had the benefit of putting the foundations into the business as a partnership but am now able to build growth in my own way. I’ve been sole director since the start of May and can firmly say I’m loving it and growth is looking exceptionally promising for the next year.

And your proudest moment so far?

The award recognition we’ve experienced this year has made me proud but I would probably say pitching on my own and being on the verge of securing two massive deals that will be business game changers tops that!

There is such a buzz from building a rapport with a client and coming out of a pitch with that dizzy feeling of excitement.

Why is work so important to you?

I honestly love working! Our customers have all been brilliant companies and individuals and the industry we operate in is known for being collaborative and interesting.

I gain a real sense of purpose from work and find it satisfying to complete each project knowing the team and I have delivered a great service to our clients.

Who inspires you?

I have an excellent network of business buddies who all inspire and encourage me. I also follow high profile business women for inspiration – Michelle Mone, Karren Brady and Carrie Green are all brilliant.

I was lucky enough to attend the first Female Entrepreneur Association business retreat in Palma in September and it was amazing to spend a few days with Carrie and 20 other business women from around the world. I came back with so many ideas.

How do you balance your business with your family?

In truth, I think we are all striving for that balance and it seems elusive. We just have to do the best we can and prioritise what is most important at that time.

I try to be efficient with my time. I’m an early riser and can work from home so find I am most productive before everyone wakes up. I can also log back on later in the evening if I need to.

I finish work early every Friday to do the school yard pick up and take time off during school holidays. Completing a weekly planner helps me to prioritise work tasks and keep on top of deadlines.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Just do it. Taking that first step is the start but don’t waste time procrastinating.
  2. Build your support network. Whether that be business buddies or outsourced help such as a cleaner or childminder to allow you to fully concentrate on your business.
  3. Find out what keeps you motivated and focused. For me I enjoy podcasts and business books and these help inspire me and make me more productive.

You can find out more about Smart Resourcing Solutions on their website.