Nicola Alexander, Bethan Customs Consultancy
Nicola Alexander, founder and MD of Bethan Customs Consultancy

When I founded Bethan Customs Consultancy from my spare room, little could I have imagined that just 6 years later we would be where we are now. Our team of 8 fabulous people is based in contemporary offices in Oldmeldrum, complete with breathtaking views across the slopes of Bennachie. Working with clients spanning a variety of sectors across the UK, we’re a busy, thriving community of customs professionals.

But the ‘journey’ (as they say in reality TV) from spare room to successful business hasn’t been easy – there has been some seriously hard graft going on behind the scenes. I have always been really driven and ambitious, and I’ve always wanted to set up my own consultancy business with my team’s wellbeing and customer service at the core of everything we do.

Maintaining these high standards doesn’t happen by magic! Fortunately, I’ve always worked hard to achieve my goals, and I’m certainly not afraid of getting stuck in to get the job done to the best of my ability.

Having said that, there is of course an element of flexibility. I’m fortunate in being able to work around my kids’ needs and schedules – they always come first.

ISO Accreditation

Bethan’s recent ISO accreditation is proof of our ongoing drive to make the business as successful and streamlined as possible. Of course we have always maintained an extremely high standard of service for our clients, but this ISO certification offers both our current and potential future clients the reassurance that we operate to a consistently high standard of procedures that have been independently audited and scrutinised.

Although we are a small business, we have worked hard to achieve and maintain this accreditation, which places us on a par with any other ISO 9001: 2015 accredited company, regardless of size. I’m extremely proud of my team - each and every staff member works diligently to maintain these standards, managing all processes and systems to ensure that our customers’ objectives are met.

Challenges? What Challenges?!

But hard work, drive, tenacity and commitment are only part of the story – there are a myriad of other external factors which business owners must tackle in order to maintain their market position, such as, oh I don’t know, navigating our way through a global pandemic! In common with most other businesses, we had to pivot our operations to adapt to the new working from home arrangements.

Fortunately we were already set up to work remotely, as some of our team members worked in-house for clients. I’m extremely grateful to our IT support company, Aberdeen-based ITWorx, who so efficiently set up our systems to accommodate this. Thanks to their expertise we had access to everything we would have had in the office, meaning we didn’t experience any issues in the transition to working from home.

The most significant change for us was moving from face-to-face training, to online training, and this is something that will now remain as part of our service offering. Not only has it broadened our geographical reach, but it also suits many of our clients.

Having said that, I am really glad to be back in the office with the team – nothing beats having a chat over a cup of tea, and that extends to our clients too, as the world adapts to a new ‘normality’. I think online meetings will remain, but sometimes it’s so worthwhile to meet in person – it’s how we truly establish relationships (and of course there’s usually biscuits involved! 😊)

Another challenge we encounter is finding the right people for the job. Given the very niche nature of customs consultancy, it can be particularly tricky for us to recruit people with the right skillset. We’re a very close-knit team so it’s important to find new members of staff that gel with us, and demonstrate our core values of honesty and transparency, whilst also enjoying a bit of banter. After all, #customsiscool! 😉

We’ve recently employed three new members of staff, and I’m really excited about what they’re bringing to the team – lots of fresh ideas and new concepts. We have re-structured the business and the team with Elaine heading up the Customs Team, Aby managing the office facility and Stuart managing his key accounts and our HSEQ. The aim here is to allow me the opportunity to grow, develop and diversify my business.

Bethan now has contracts with in excess of 50 clients, each and every one receiving a service that’s tailored to their needs, however large or small they may be. The first contract I ever signed was really exciting, but having said that, every single contract means just as much. The fact that people are believing in me, and believing in the team, is something I’ll always appreciate.

I am so proud of my team. I’m also determined that they have a good work/life balance, which is why we set up contracts at an initial stage to suit family life. I’m so grateful for the support of my team – they believe 100% in Bethan and are totally invested in the company. I’m adamant that Bethan shouldn’t be ‘the Nicola show’ – on the contrary, we’re greater than the sum of our parts I believe. It’s a very democratic business - I want to hear their thoughts and ideas; I want them to voice their opinions, and even to question how we do things. It’s all part and parcel of the drive towards continuous improvement. I love it when everyone has an input into who we are and where we’re going!

Onwards and Upwards!

It’s been a pivotal year for us here at Bethan. We had two main goals, both of which I’m delighted that we achieved: our gorgeous new branding and website, courtesy of 42Studio and Bold St Media, and our ISO accreditation. 💥It seems symbolic that we’ve just ordered some stunning signage with our new branding for the office – it feels like we’re real now!

When I think back over the last 6 years, and look forward to what lies ahead, my overwhelming emotion is one of gratitude. I am so thankful for my amazing team, as well as the extended support network of ITWorx, Stellar Reid business support, and Bold St Media – they enable us to do what we love! At the risk of this turning into an Oscars acceptance speech, I am so grateful for my children and my wider family - above all else Bethan is a family business (the clue is in the name - if you know, you know!) Here’s to the next 6 years! 🥂

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