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Rachel Atkinson of Red Feather Consulting

We sat down with Rachel to talk about her business, Red Feather Consulting. Providing a different spin on the usual HR consulting business. Rachel is passionate about supporting charities and purpose-led organisations.

3 min read

Thanks for sitting down with us today Rachel, could you tell us a bit about your business?

If you were to buy me off the shelf you’d call me an 'HR Consultant' but I consider the term HR old fashioned. I prefer to call myself a People Choreographer, I’m all about people my main passion is supporting charities and organisations that are purpose-led or non-profit. I want to support courageous leaders who go above and beyond and help them work on turning their vision into reality through their people.  

I’ve worked in this industry for about 20 years, half of it in ‘big corporates’ and the other half I’ve spent working with charities. Red Feather came about from a series of events. I lost my father in February 2019 and then my Uncle prior to the country going into lockdown and it was one of those moments where I said to myself – ‘well I’ve always wanted to start my own business, if I don’t do it now I never will’. 

I handed my notice in – much to my directors surprise and left my job in September 2020. The reason it’s called Red Feather Consulting is because I was looking for a name that wasn’t too naff and traditional. I thought of my father who always wore a red feather in his hat. And after looking up what it means, I found out that a red feather is actually a signal of strength, courage and stability. Which really resonated with me. 

Rachel and her father, Brian Connell.

So much of what I do and my values are because of my dad, he was a really inclusive person who loved people. 

How did you go about launching your business?

After leaving my busy HR role, I took some time for myself to plan. Then, through word of mouth, I got my first client in December. From then on I’ve gained about three or four clients, I’m keeping my feet on the ground and carrying on but so far, so good!

During my planning time, I wanted to keep busy so I kept my hat in the ring by doing a bit of pro-bono work for a charity who was looking for some support. They have now evolved into a paid client as they got the funding they needed which is wonderful for both of us. 

Who are the type of clients you work with?

At the moment I’m working with organisations who are either right at the start of their journey or looking to shake up what they’re doing. Typically it’s people who are quite purpose-led with a social drive. 

As an example, one of my customers runs a care home for kids with severe autism or learning difficulties. They have one home at the moment but they’re looking to grow so I’m helping them with their people strategy, recruitment strategy and attracting the right talent to make sure they embed their ideal culture from the start. 

Other clients are new grass-roots organisations or those who want to move away from the traditional. Another potential client I’m looking at working with has decided that they’re going to move to an entirely remote workforce and they want to match the rest of their values around that to be truly future focused. 

It’s important to me that the clients I work with closely align to my own personal values. This allows me to be my authentic self and means my clients can be confident they are getting the best service they possibly can from me. 

Is there anyone else involved with the business with you? 

My dogs act as joint ‘Head of Motivation’ while I’m working, which is a lot of fun. My daughter is on the payroll to do my social media and help with the accounting admin and make sure all my receipts are where they should be. 

I’m always open to collaborating with others and in the past I have brought people in during busy periods when I needed a bit of extra support. Mainly it’s just me. 

Joint heads of motivation

What have you found to be the biggest barriers to starting your business?

Probably having to build relationships via Zoom or virtual meetings. On one hand this has been a blessing as it means I'm not geographically limited. But on the other hand, as a people person, I like to meet contacts face to face to find out more about what they’re doing. 

Have you celebrated any great successes?

I received my first testimonial for my business from my initial pro-bono client I mentioned earlier and they wrote up a lovely message. As a CIC (Community Interest Company) they’re a black feminist organisation who support women who have been victims of sexual violence. It stands for so many things that I stand for and I was able to share it on LinkedIn. 

I had a moment of disbelief and pride thinking ‘who would have thought six months ago I’d have left my job and achieved all this’.

What are you doing to market your business? 

I network a lot, I enjoy chatting and meeting new people. I’ve joined a few networks and presented to a number of them. I often use LinkedIn as a way to get my business out there. 

Much to my daughters horror, I am in the process of setting up my own YouTube channel where I’ll be doing one-to-one interviews with people. I might then extract the audio and turn it into a podcast. I can’t imagine I’ll be a huge influencer but it’s another tool I can make use of, so why not?

Rachel at home

How do you find the Mettle app to work with?

I found out about Mettle from my accountant and since joining it’s been so easy to use, I’m always amazed by technology and the integration capabilities between software.

I keep my Mettle card with me and enjoy using the app for things like putting money aside for corporation tax which has been so helpful.

How has the pandemic affected your business? 

I knew what I was getting into, I’ve seen many other people and organisations struggling to adapt but as I started this business in the middle of the pandemic I was prepared for what would come. 

Currently I don’t foresee companies making any big changes to their workforce, at least not until the furlough ends, which of course affects my business due to the work I do. 

I like to look at strategic change and a lot of businesses are taking it a month at a time and aren’t planning too far ahead. But in general, it’s been a positive change as I’ve had a couple of clients and kept on rolling. 

I don’t say that lightly either as I unfortunately lost my uncle to Covid, he was one of the first 400 people to die in the UK, it was a massive shock. It hasn’t been a good thing but as a positive person I have to look at things in a different way to keep going. 

What's your vision for the future of Red Feather Consulting?

I would love for Red Feather to have a handful of purpose-led clients that return regularly. My ideal clients are passionate about creating the right culture and are trying to be ready not only for the 21st Century but for the 22nd Century. 

I’m super passionate about young people in business as well. 

Over the next couple of years I’d love to encourage and support young entrepreneurs or help organisations work at including and recruiting these young people into suitable roles.  Diversity and inclusion are so important. 

Ultimately I want to help people find the job that they’re passionate about – whether it’s paid or volunteering. I also want Red Feather to make a difference to the world in terms of the climate and achieving sustainability.

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