Shannon Swift | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Shannon Swift


Swift HR professionals offer hands-on, practical experience in a number of areas focused on helping clients do everything rated to human resources, from designing and implementing the correct infrastructure to advising management on difficult issues.

The Mistake:

I didn’t plan for an actual business. I didn’t think I was going to grow the company. When I started, I thought it would be just me, working as part of the executive team with a few cool companies and the smart people who work there.

The thing I wish I would’ve known then that I know now was that I was actually going to end up with a business, and that I had a plan to start it and scale it. Six months into it, I had outgrown me, so I approached someone who had worked with me at another firm. She joined me. And then, a few months later, we added another team member.

In year one, the business also was defined by our first client. A colleague had just been appointed CEO of this company. He called me and said, “I don’t see any sign of HR. Can you come help me out?” He said it would work well if I could give him every Monday, and then I’d be available via email and phone throughout the week. For that, he’d pay me a monthly retainer.

That became my business model. Another early client helped shape our first products with HR-in-a-Box,  the HR services you need before you launch an on-site presence. Businesses that need this service are just too small, or it’s just too soon to hire an in-house HR executive.

After the first 15 months in business, we had created two business lines. We were still a fairly small team and not thinking about growing. We grew with client needs, launching SwiftLeadership and SwiftTalent.

I needed to get out of the business, and begin working on it instead of in it.

The Lesson:

It took some convincing, but I needed to get out of the business, and begin working on it instead of in it. We had accumulated an amazing team and amazing clients, and I hung on way too long.

I was still recruiting, selling and servicing. I even did all of my own bookkeeping for the first 10 years. I thought I was doing great. I’m right-brain and left-brain skilled. I can work with people and invoices. But then members of an entrepreneurial board I serve on told me that I was not to return the following month until I had a bookkeeper. At about the same time, colleagues also were encouraging me to focus.

So I let go of the task of bookkeeping, and the next month, our revenue went up. It improved our bottom line. I’m embarrassed how long it took for me to have this realization. We started in 2004, and I stepped back from the day-to-day duties in 2010. My team really needed me to focus on getting business for them, networking, speaking – all things I love to do.

I think it comes down to focus. Just like every startup I’ve ever worked with, in the beginning, one person, or maybe a handful of people, wear many hats. As you start to scale, you have the opportunity to give those hats to others. Those hats even fit them better and look better on them.

In January, we brought in a president who’s owning our business line, and we launched SwiftHR in Portland last month. We celebrated our 13th anniversary last week.

I don’t like to dwell on it too much, but if I’d known how things would go, I’d have set the business up differently and gotten here faster. I would’ve saved myself a bit of sanity. But I’m continuing my evolution and exploring tasks only I should be doing, versus doing everything. And that seems to be working pretty well.

Follow Swift HR Solutions on Twitter at: @SwiftHR

Pictured: Shannon Swift. | Photo courtesy of Shannon Swift.

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