Wednesday, 21 April 2021
ISOBEL HARRIS is the owner of Isobel Harris Business Support, which she runs from her home in Henley. Born in Oxford, she was only three months old when her family moved to Henley and she has remained ever since. She lives with her husband Simon, who is an IT consultant, and their children Oliver and Charlotte. Isobel recently dusted down her cello, which she’d not played for more than 25 years, and is now an enthusiastic member of the Henley Youthful Orchestra. She is the business manager for the Henley Business Partnership.
Describe your business
I provide support for different businesses in terms of client management and project management, helping them to function more efficiently and grow.
How many people does it employ?
I don’t have any employees but do have three people who I trust and can call upon when needed.
What did you do before you started this business?
I worked for Oracle, where I developed my IT skills, and then had several other jobs with smaller companies as a project manager and trainer. Simon and I married in 2002 and when we started our family I took a break from working. When Oliver was about four I helped Angela Botha set up her new physiotherapy clinic Physiolistic and worked part-time as practice manager so I could fit it around the children. After four great years it had become a substantial enterprise with 22 staff and needed an administration team and I only wanted to work regular hours so with reluctance I left. I regretted it almost immediately but pulled myself together and realised that I’d actually helped create business processes. That made me realise I could set up on my own and help other people run their businesses.
When did you start your business?
Four years ago, with one client.
What was your objective?
To work for myself so I gave myself six months to prove that I could.
Who or what influenced you?
My parents instilled in me a good work ethic and I’ve learned from other people.
What would you do differently if you could start again?
I wouldn’t change a thing.
What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on your business?
Like many people, I found the first three months incredibly tough. I spent most of my time either networking or helping people without charging them. I knew that eventually things would pick up. Last summer, things really changed and I’ve been very busy ever since. The pandemic has taught people that they can work from home.
How is your business doing?
It’s doing very well and I’m enjoying it. I’m sad that many other people have not been so fortunate.
How do you market your business/service?
Word of mouth and networking. Henley is small enough for a good business owner to become quite well known.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
Flexibility and only answering to yourself. Not having to ask your boss if you can take an hour or two off.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
The constant fear of work drying up and having to keep the pipeline going. That’s what spurs me into action.
Where is your business headed?
I’m about to start looking for a couple of additional associates in order to expand.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
That my reputation is key — it’s the foundation on which I build my support network and client base.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Work out what you want to do, make sure it’s viable and then go for it.
What’s the secret of your success?
Having the courage to go for it.
What three qualities are most important to success?
Courage, organisation and tenacity.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
It’s not really a mistake but I’ve learned that if a client needs a different type of resource, it’s okay to recommend someone else for them to work with.
How organised are you?
Very. I couldn’t do my job otherwise.
How do you dress for work each day?
When working at home I can wear whatever I like but when meeting clients, even on Zoom, it’s important to present yourself professionally.
What can’t you do without every day?
My family and my phone.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
A quick bite at home.
Do you continue to study?
Yes, but not formally. I need to keep up to date with new apps and software systems.
What do you read?
Mainly novels and thrillers but at the moment I’m reading House of Music: Raising the Kanneh-Masons. I read the Henley Standard every week.
How are you planning for retirement?
There are places we’d love to travel to before we get too old to be able to enjoy it.
05 April 2021
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