After 15 years of corporate experience, HR expert Laura Sihdu has set up her own business offering advice and support for SMEs in south east Wales.

Seeking a better work-life balance and greater job fulfilment, Mrs Sihdu has launched her company, The HR Dept Newport and Monmouth, from home in Chepstow.

Mrs Sihdu's previous career has seen her in senior HR positions for large corporate businesses in Bristol.

Now she is looking forward to developing a business of her own, and helping local small business owners to grow by offering the benefits of her many years of HR expertise.

She said: “I’m really excited about the potential for the company. It’s a big change for me but I’m already enjoying the improvement in my work-life balance. In some ways you’re working all the time but you’re master of your own destiny too, with responsibility for winning work as well as providing the HR services. So it’s a really refreshing.

“The people you’re dealing with all run and own their own businesses, so they really want to get on and succeed, which makes the work more rewarding.

“I’m looking to start off by targeting smaller businesses who can grow with me, then the plan is to aim for bigger retained clients towards the end of my first year.”

Mrs Sihdu’s passion for providing HR advice and support for small businesses stems from the effect of her work on her parents care home, which they ran for many years before selling recently.

“They employed 30 staff,” said Mrs Sihdu, “and the work I did for them made a huge difference to the way they ran their business.

“Seeing that impact – working with business owners to make a real difference to how their company operates – is incredibly rewarding and it’s the driving force behind my passion for making The HR Dept Newport and Monmouth work.”

Mrs Sihdu said she was encouraged by her first impressions of the SME community in Newport, Monmouth and the surrounding areas.

“The business environment here is friendly and positive,” she said. “There are lots of service sector businesses – hospitality, retail, accommodation and so on – and it’s a complete move away from the corporate style in Bristol. Even in Newport, people are a lot more down to earth and there’s a definite, albeit subtle, culture difference between England and Wales.”

But she had a concern about the impact of the forthcoming abolition of the tolls on the Severn Bridge.

“There’s been a lot of investment around here recently and it’s great to see developments like Friar’s Walk in Newport breathing life into the area.

“Removing the tolls on the Severn Bridge is great from an immediate cost point of view but I do worry about the impact it might have on retailers and business owners, as it’s going to be a lot easier for employees and consumers to head over to Bristol.

“I’d encourage business owners to start thinking about how they can retain their staff. Whether it’s salary benchmarking, keeping remuneration competitive, or using staff satisfaction surveys to find out what their employees like and don’t like about working, these are all important measures to prevent the loss of expertise from your business.

“The world of work is changing and even without an issue like the Severn Bridge tolls, it’s becoming harder to retain staff. So business owners in Newport, Monmouth and the surrounding area really do need to be aware of the challenge of keeping hold of their people after the end of 2018.”

The HR Dept is an international business, with a network of over 65 franchisees providing HR services in 90 territories in the UK, Ireland and Australia. Managing director Gemma Tumelty said: “It’s great to see someone of Laura’s calibre and experience offering HR services to SMEs in Newport, Monmouth and the surrounding areas. We wish here all the best operating the licence and are sure she will make it a great success.”