VENTEUR spoke with Celia Balson, a seasoned human resources and recruiting expert who has worked with startups and notable organizations, including UniFirst Corporation, Cars.com, Interior Define, and AKG (Automotive Keys Group), throughout her 10+ years in the field. Balson's expertise lies in helping companies develop thoughtful and robust HR plans as those companies are engaged in significant periods of growth and transition.
After experiencing first-hand how often businesses place HR and recruiting as a secondary need versus a revenue-driving and profitable area of business, Balson founded Work Friendly in 2016, a female-founded, people-first consulting agency that partners with clients to recruit, retain, and engage the most critical aspect of their business, their people.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
I have learned that I am resilient. I can bounce back very quickly from setbacks. This is something that people had told me they observed about me based on my personal and family history. Still, I don't think I realized it until I experienced the humps you face and the need to overcome them as an entrepreneur.
I have always been a very empathetic and caring person. Still, I learned even more about myself through my entrepreneurial journey in the way that I have built and continue to support Work Friendly's team and clients.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? How did you overcome it?
The role of founder/CEO is often lonely, especially if you don't have an executive team to lean on. So many decisions are left for you to make independently, and not all decisions will be ones your team fully supports. There is also a lot of responsibility on a founder/CEO's shoulders that can feel overwhelming but needs to be kept private to portray confidence to the company.
When I started Work Friendly, I was a solopreneur and experienced loneliness. I leaned on my husband as a thought partner/advisor because he had started his own business and showed me how to do the same. As a result, I have completely overcome this feeling of loneliness.
What role has intuition played in your success as an entrepreneur, and why do you think this is the case?
Intuition has played a huge role in my career as a professional in my field and as a founder. It has helped me lead my team, know what should come next, and understand those I sell to, work with, and support. Work Friendly is a people operations consulting company, and intuition is everything when you are in the field of human resources and talent acquisition.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur? How did you overcome it?
I experienced self-esteem issues starting Work Friendly as a petite young woman with a high voice. I also didn't go to a brand name, top-tier college or grow up with family who could make connections for me.
As a result, confidence didn't come naturally to me as it did with other entrepreneurs. I needed a push from my partner and mentors I had worked with to take the leap and start Work Friendly.
While our business has been built on referrals, I experienced my fair share of 'no's,' especially when I was getting started and trying to prove my credibility and worth.
Confidence is a personality trait and skill that has taken me a while to develop, and there are still times when feelings of doubt creep into my mind as I make decisions. This is something that I am constantly working on overcoming.
What is the most unrelatable part of being an entrepreneur, and how does this impact your mental health?
The most unrelatable part of being an entrepreneur is the high expectations that are set on you as an individual. I often felt (and still sometimes feel) that people (mostly family and friends) had insanely high expectations of what success looked like for me as an entrepreneur.
For example, Work Friendly needed a specific size (number of employees, number of clients, revenue, etc.) to be considered an honest company.
There was even more pressure on me to be successful as a business owner than when I was an employee of another company. I wouldn't call it to doubt, but I had ten times more pressure to be successful, credible, and taken seriously.
What mistakes did you make early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid them?
Starting, I wanted my entire team to be involved in everything, including our growth strategy, operations, and financials, so that they would feel more connected with Work Friendly. I realized, however, too much involvement can overburden your team and distract them from what makes them successful and keeps them motivated.
Additionally, I learned that I should leave some responsibilities to experts rather than being too intricately involved in every part of the business. I found myself taking energy away from my success and putting them towards other business channels (finance, PR, marketing). I quickly learned that I should take my advice and hire experts like we recommend our clients do for fractional HR with Work Friendly.
What are some things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
The appreciation for people operations and having the right experts supporting your people and their needs. As an entrepreneur, you need to be able to hire, build and retain a team to support your ideas and your businesses.
Not all leaders or entrepreneurs are good people leaders.
Invest in People Leadership and People Operations from the beginning.
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
Even as someone who considers themselves an HR/people professional, building a solid team for myself has often felt like an insane obstacle to achieve. I have hired over 1,000 employees across the companies I have worked with over the last 10+ years, but it sometimes felt paralyzing to build my own team. To overcome this obstacle, I worked with a couple of key team members to develop a thoughtful hiring process that enabled us to hire the best possible candidates for our roles. This process involves multiple members of our team (4-5) and has proven successful. Additionally, because I have experienced this difficult task as a founder, I can better empathize with our clients and provide them with a higher level of service.
What three pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier?
1. Don't do it solo!
You do not need to do it alone!
2. Hire Experts!
From the beginning, hire fractional resources who are subject matter experts in areas you are not. Don't try to figure it all out on your own.
3. Take your time!
Take as much as you can and try your best not to let social pressures get the best of you. This will undoubtedly help your mental health and, in turn, allow you to build a long-lasting, sustainable business.