The best startups notice a problem and find an innovative solution to it - like our StartUp of the Week, Premier Parents. Sacha Atherton is a mum who found that the options for part-time work in her area were lacking - so she decided to take matters into her own hands and help other parents find fulfilling, flexible work. We caught up with Sacha over a cuppa.

1. Explain your business in thirty seconds

In a nutshell, Premier Parents is a completely fresh approach to recruitment. I created it specifically for parents to help them find family-friendly employment with great employers. As a single mum myself, I know how difficult it is being a working parent. It’s even harder for unemployed parents trying to get back into work - harder than it should be. We support parents through the end-to-end employment journey, connecting them with forward-thinking employers that understand the clear benefits of being a supporter of working parents.

2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?

We are based in Nottingham, but operate UK-wide. Nottingham is a good location to create a blueprint for our nationwide offering going forward because there is such a need here. I know the city as I live here, and have worked across various industries here over the years. There are some great businesses in Nottingham and it’s a really innovative city. There seems to be new eateries and businesses launching all the time, and of course that also means more jobs. I also feel it’s the right size for me to make a real difference directly through meeting with the parents and employers. I actually drove across Nottingham today handing out special Premier Parents promo doughnuts and marketing material to employers - it’s nice to be able to give our campaigns that personal touch.

3. How did you come up with the idea?

In September last year my daughter started school, and my employer at the time wouldn’t allow me to reduce my hours - so I resigned. I was a skilled product and relationship manager with years of experience and I thought I would find a flexible role in the area quite easily, but I was wrong. There was nothing out there - there are hardly any part-time or flexible working roles available in the East Midlands, particularly in Nottingham. So I guess, through frustration, I decided to take matters into my own hands. A few weeks later, Premier Parents was born.

4. What’s the business model?

Core business is similar to that of typical recruitment agencies; we source and place candidates for an employer’s vacancy and get a fee for it, generally a percentage of the candidates annual salary. From my research and insight from other recruitment professionals, our fees are lower than the industry standard. I wanted to do that for a number of reasons, one of which is because I didn’t start this business to make money. Yes, I need to make a profit and make the business a success but that isn’t my primary goal, the parents are. Secondly, I don’t want fees to act as another barrier (excuse) preventing employers from giving our parents a chance to contribute to their business.

5. Who are your competitors?

Established recruitment agencies.

6. What’s unique about your business?

We have a few USPs. We are the first of our kind, certainly within this region. There is no other parent-specific recruitment agency or any other organisation that supports parents through the whole employment journey. Even if there was, our approach and strong partnerships with the DWP and various other organisations set us aside. Over the next few weeks, I will be launching a number of programmes: Premier Opportunities aims to deliver a more focused approach to the parents that have strong skillsets but have certain barriers preventing them from finding a job, whether it be personal circumstances, childcare or simply that they can’t find the right hours. Then we have the Premier Possibilities programme where I have partnered with various colleges across Nottingham to deliver parent-focused employability courses to upskill the parents that have been out of work for a while and help prepare them for the work place.

Finally, Driving Diversity is a really exciting programme where I have partnered with an employer in Derby to create chauffeuring and taxi jobs for women drivers, also reducing the amount of assaults on female passengers,

The other key USP is our candidates - we have a really exclusive talent pool. Currently, recruiters are all pulling from the same places, the same job boards, the same circles, they’re pretty much all fishing in the same pond. Employers aren’t reaching our candidates at the moment, whether unemployed or not, and they’re seriously missing out. Parents don’t apply for jobs with a lot of employers, particularly the big ones, either because they don’t see that business as a supporter of working parents or because they never see part- time vacancies available when they look.

Sacha and Jaya - Premier Parents

7.What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?

I was all ready to go when I applied for the loan with Start up loans, I had my business plan, candidate pool, and a load of great PR that I had managed to generate since the start of the year.

8. How have you used it to grow your business?

The one thing I was missing was the finances so the startup loan was invaluable to me. After all, I was just an unemployed Mum with a great idea when I decided to do this. In addition to the obvious start up costs (legal etc.), it’s allowed me to raise the profile of the business and start to establish Premier Parents as a professional, pioneering business to watch. 

9. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?

Alex Chisnall was my business advisor and was fantastic throughout. He was so impressed with the concept and the quality of my business plan that he agreed to fast track the application. With his knowledge of the panel and the process, he also gave me a few tips to enhance it and increase my chances of approval. He was extremely helpful, kept me up to date and most importantly, he was human! It was clear he wanted me to succeed and you don’t always get that.

10. Biggest achievement so far?

I think the big one overall is achieving everything I’ve done in the past 6 months on my own and setting a great example for my Daughter. I’ve managed to take an idea to market as a business owner for the first time, create some really strong partnerships, design and deliver marketing campaigns and high profile programmes and inspire people to make a change themselves. People contact me all the time thanking and praising me for my achievements and for showing them that with determination and self- belief, anything is possible. A friend of mine even quit her job after being unhappy for years! Hearing that makes all the hard work worth it and this is just the beginning. 

11. What’s next for your business?

The launch of the programmes, changing the lives of parents across the UK, getting more and more employers on board and having a successful first year of business. Once we start making enough profit, I can start to create employment opportunities myself and also look at ways in which we can help parents with other related challenges such as childcare.

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