Harrisburg consultant grew business from years in corporate HR

Ioannis Pashakis//March 24, 2020

Harrisburg consultant grew business from years in corporate HR

Ioannis Pashakis//March 24, 2020

Karen Young, an HR consultant with over 25 years in the field, grew her small business HR consulting firm at a time where most businesses didn’t know they needed it. PHOTO/ IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Karen Young was a seasoned human resources expert with 20 years of corporate HR experience when she started her Harrisburg-based HR consulting firm.

Although Young’s work in HR prepared her for many of the questions her clients could throw her way, she had to find her footing with businesses quicker to seek HR help from attorneys, CPA’s or payroll companies rather than a firm only focused on human resources.

Young’s business, HR Resolutions, has now become a well-known source in the region for HR expertise. Young does frequent speaking engagements on the subject and is toting a recently published book on bringing HR to small businesses. But to get to that point, HR Resolutions had to start by combing newspaper classifieds for potential clients when it opened in 2005.

“The only people that were really doing HR for small businesses at that point were the payroll companies,” said Young. “I would look for the worst ads and job posts and call the company and say, ‘I do all of this HR stuff and I would love to have a conversation with you about your business.’”

Young got her start by working in the human resources departments of large businesses such as Harrisburg Paper Company and Graham Packaging.

After years of managing large numbers of employees for area businesses, Young and her husband had the financial stability to put two years aside to grow a concept she had for a small business HR consulting business.

Over the years, Young fielded countless HR related questions from former coworkers and realized that in the midstate, there were limited opportunities for small business owners to talk to someone with her kind of experience.

“I had this idea that small businesses don’t have HR but they still have problems,” she said. “I did some market research and just within the 17109 zip code, there were 1,700 small businesses in a five-mile radius.”

In her first two years, Young succeeded in netting a portfolio of businesses to consult for, but noted she made an early mistake: her biggest client made up 80% of her billing. When that client outgrew consulting and needed their own HR director, her business took its first major hit.

Young doubled down on HR Resolutions in 2007 with two major purchases—another consultant’s book of business, and a headquarters.

HR Resolutions continued to grow its portfolio in the coming years. Young said that in her early years, most of her preliminary conversations with clients involved explaining why a small business should have a consultant but as niche HR consulting became the norm, she didn’t need to explain the importance of small business HR anymore.

“I don’t get the odd look when I talk to people about it anymore,” she said. “We have an HR help desk and it’s the same as a computer help desk. You have a problem, you send an email and you get your problems done.”

Young suggests that businesses should look to employ one degreed HR professional for every 100 employees. Businesses with less than 70 workers should also hire HR talent, but Young said they may end up wearing other hats that could detract from their responsibilities in the HR department— something that consultants like HR Resolutions can help with.

In 2018, HR Resolutions moved out of its brick and mortar location in Harrisburg and Young and her employees started working remotely. The firm currently has two full-time and three part-time employees. Young’s husband also works for her but plans to retire by the end of the month.

HR Resolutions currently services about 40 to 45 clients a month—something that Young said is difficult since each client has their own benefit plans and handbooks.

“A lot of our work is issue based. They call us, we follow through and we don’t hear from them for three months,” she said. “We need to quickly be able to recall all of that so we are giving them information based on their procedures and practices and it’s tough.”

Young compared the handling of so many different procedures to playing in 45 different types of sand. One way that Young has been able to introduce her sandbox and how she feels that human resources should be looked at in the small business space has been the publication of her book “Stop Knocking on my Door.”

Young’s book outlines how to write job descriptions and handbooks, recruit and interview potential employees and elements of running a HR department like employee relations and benefits management.

The book is in its second edition and Young said she’s included new information on combating legislative changes and a case study from her experiences at HR Resolution.