From starting out in the commercial cleaning industry, to overseeing the day-to-day operations of Natural HR. Our co-founder and COO, Sarah Dowzell recently caught up with WeAreTheCity to take part in the inspirational female entrepreneur series.
If you missed the original article, you can catch up below:
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role
As co-founder and COO of Natural HR, my day-to-day role sees me overseeing operations within our 50-person business, as well as juggling my other full-time job as a wife and mum!
I first became an employer in the commercial cleaning industry at the age of 21, which ended up laying the foundations for what became Natural HR — more on that later. I hold a first-class honours degree in business studies and associate CIPD membership, and am incredibly passionate about HR and entrepreneurship.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not at all. I had a vision for how I wanted my career to pan out, but I didn’t know the detail of how I’d get from A to B – nor that I’d end up in HR software. When I was younger, I loved watching TV shows such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice and I wanted to be ‘living’ the business dream. A ‘future life’ started to form in my mind — university, marriage, children, business — but how I got here wasn’t the most conventional of routes.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Oh yes, plenty! When I was at university, I read the book ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, which takes you through the journey from self-employment to business ownership – something which I (wrongly) thought I needed to do for my own growth. What I wish I’d realised sooner, is that I wanted something that was truly mine.
I was 21 when I bought my first company, a very small cleaning firm. One of the biggest challenges with that business was the sheer amount of paperwork I’d receive each week, which led to my husband, Jason (Natural co-founder) – who worked in tech – developing a digital tool for me to manage this wealth of data. It was so good, that we decided to put it online as a free resource to help similar businesses, and Natural HR – although in a very different guise – was born.
In hindsight, we should have made the software into a business when we first created it, but with that comes other challenges, which include spending too long chasing investment, and not finding the right hires – but these things are, often, par for the course.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Staying true to my original goals and remaining focused on the ‘long game’ without giving up or looking for a quick fix when things got tough.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
While it’s not something I’ve done before, I’m incredibly passionate about supporting young female entrepreneurs as they embark on their own business journey. I’m actively looking to become more involved in mentorship, so if anyone reading this has any opportunities, please let me know!
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for gender parity, what would it be?
Affordable childcare that works for parents, particularly working mothers and childcare providers. I firmly believe that we need to support women who choose to return to the workplace after having a child, enabling them to continue to progress in their own careers. After all, there’s very little point in pushing for more women in the boardroom, if we aren’t utilising their talent or maintaining their employment.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
To get started earlier. I thought you needed to do the usual thing of going to university and being self-employed if you wanted to start in business. But, from a chance meeting with Jason on Plenty of Fish, a seed of an idea has blossomed into a successful partnership, strong marriage with two children, and an HR Software company that has 250 customers – supported by £1.6m in investment and 50 colleagues.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is the same as it’s always been, really – to continue developing Natural HR. I’m really proud of our product and service, and we are continually refining what we offer, in order to remain a disruptor within the HR software space.