IN this week's SME Focus an entrepreneur who developed an interest for human relations in the armed forces says the Government needs to do more to help small businesses amid challenging times.

Name: Lorna Ashworth.

Age: 54.

What is your business called?

Ashworth Black Limited.

Where is it based?

Bo'ness, Central Scotland.

What services does it offer?

We deal with the management, operation and process of all aspects of pay and reward systems used to incentivise employees.

To whom does it sell?

The organisations range from small to large. Clients include David MacBrayne Ltd, Scottish Rugby, Accord Group, Dunedin Canmore Group and Benkert UK Ltd.

What is its turnover?

Around £175,000 per annum but, like any small business, we experience peaks and troughs.

How many employees?


When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

I have a degree in genetics and was working in the field but I realised that it wasn't what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.

When I was volunteering as a member of the Royal Naval Reserve I was selected and trained for an officer role, which meant I led a department. It was there that I took an interest in staff management, training and welfare. I realised that it was that line of work I enjoyed more than my day job at the time.

The hurdle I had to get over was that no one would take me on in an HR role without experience, so I left the Commonwealth Bureau for Animal Breeding and Genetics in 1987 and took a diploma in Personnel Management at Napier University and I haven't looked back!

I worked for 12 years in the industry before deciding to set up on my own.

Towards the end, I was working extremely long hours and working closely with London-based consultants. It was then that I identified a gap in the market for consultants in pay and rewards here in Scotland.

My husband, a GP, was in a fairly secure line of work, so we decided it was the right time and circumstances to take a calculated risk and set up the business.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I started my career working in animal breeding and genetics, writing for a scientific journal.

A colleague got me involved in the Royal Naval Reserve where I spent 20 years in office, holding a number of appointments including Head of Recruitment and New Entry Training for East of Scotland, Intelligence Officer – I can't say much more about that role – leaving as a lieutenant commander.

It was a fantastic training ground and I learned a huge amount about people.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

My initial outlay was low. I used personal savings to set up an office in my house. Knowledge was more important than finances to begin with.

What was your biggest break?

My toe, when I won the Scottish Tae Kwon-Do Championship in 1984!

Professionally, it was securing a two-year project to implement a pay and reward strategy for 2000 employees at Intelligent Finance in 2002. This led to a flurry of clients from across a broad spectrum including housing, manufacturing and transport.

What was your worst moment?

I am financially risk averse which, given I run a small company, means I always have a close eye on cash flow. There have been times in the past when things have been a little too close for comfort.

The recession is causing companies of all sizes to look at how they manage their resources more efficiently and we are no different.

From a business perspective, we are investing more time networking to meet new people from different sectors and embracing social media to spread the word.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love working with people.

What do you least enjoy?

Juggling! As managing director, I can be submitting a proposal to a client, speaking to the accountant about the ever-dreaded VAT return and dealing with suppliers.

At times it isn't easy, but I learned very quickly that you can't take your eye off the ball.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

I want to continue developing and growing the business, including increasing turnover and staff. At the same time, I don't want to lose any of the company's values.

What are your top priorities?

My priorities are to continue to:

(i) out-pace the recession;

(ii) grow, attract and retain good staff;

(iii) increase our profile; and

(iv) grow the business.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

The Government is doing little to incentivise small businesses to grow and expand. As a limited company, corporation tax is a big issue where a significant amount of the profit goes straight back out the door.

If the Government aligned it more with turnover, that would enable companies with a lower turnover to reinvest more of their profits to sustain and build the business.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

People matter. Relationships are vitally important and are the key element of working with and understanding clients, their issues and challenges.

How do you relax?

I enjoy ballroom and Latin American dancing. I have even created a small dance studio in my house!

I also like to get out into the garden and am the proud owner of a mini ride-on John Deer lawn mower. On a summer's night I can be found cutting the grass, enjoying a gin and tonic and singing along to my iPod.