Nicola Morris co-founded Stomor – a civil engineering consultancy – in early 2008, and has been providing advice to a variety of clients ever since.

Developers, Architects, Planners and Local Authorities look to Stomor for site feasibility advice, technical investigations and detailed infrastructure design for construction.

They also offer a professional consultancy service to help clients find solutions for development on problematic sites.

As Nicola has been shortlisted for our SME Business of the Year (Emerging) Award and our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Business of the Year Award (London and The South) we asked her a few questions about her business success so far.

Forward Ladies: How did you come up with the idea for your business?

NM: I’d worked in a consultancy for 5 years during my undergraduate studies, and for the following 6 years after graduating. I’d tried to negotiate a succession plan with my employer at that time, but as this was unsuccessful, I approached a colleague with a proposal to set up our own business.

Forward Ladies: What were some of the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

NM: At the time Stomor was set up, we’d secured some residential design work but then the economic crisis pulled the plug on developments across the UK.

Knowing we could no longer rely on this type of work, we noticed that local authorities needed to increase school provision to meet a rising demand for primary school places. We jumped in, and  were able to monopolise on the provision of planning services for school expansions.

We also offered pre-purchase advice to clients who were looking to buy new sites while land values were low, which led to further design work as the economy improved.

Forward Ladies: How did you fund your business?

NM: As a service based business, the initial outlay required was only for hardware and software.  A relatively small initial investment was privately funded by one of the directors, which was paid back within the first year.

Forward Ladies: What is your top tip for growing your business?

NM: Focus on quality and not quantity.

Stomor has been able to secure work consistently throughout its life by providing a high quality service. Occasionally we have lost tenders to other consultants who have offered lower prices, but the work has returned to us at a later date as we have been able to deliver a far higher standard of advice and design work.

Forward Ladies: Why would you recommend that people build their network and find the support they need to start and grow their business?

NM: The most valuable asset to a business is reputation.

Stomor has thrived on recommendations from suppliers, clients, members of our design teams, and contacts we’ve met at networking events.

It’s essential that people know what you do and know that you’re good at it!

Forward Ladies: How do you maintain a work/life balance?

NM: As a business owner, I often have to make sacrifices to ensure that the company delivers its promises to clients.

However, I’m also able to make decisions about workloads and can manage demands on myself and my staff, by being open and honest with clients about our resources and capacity to undertake work.

I ensure that everybody within the organisation is comfortable with their workload and encourage everyone to work together to meet deadlines on specific projects rather than overload any one person.

Forward Ladies: How has mentorship made a difference in your business?

NM: Throughout the lifetime of the business I’ve accepted that my expertise is in engineering, and have embraced mentorship from a wide range of people skilled in other areas. This has really helped the business to grow.

I’ve also mentored as many young people as possible, providing work experience opportunities, employment, training and helping them work towards professional qualifications.

I’ve been heavily involved with local schools, offering careers advice and mentoring to local pupils. I also attend careers events on a regular basis, which has led to some new client relationships with like minded companies.

Forward Ladies: Thank you Nicola, it’s been great hearing about your experiences!

Would you like your business and hard work to be recognised, just like Nicola’s has been? Then apply for one of our prestigious National Women in Business awards, so we can celebrate your success and inspire other women to do the same. There’s nothing we love more than promoting incredible women in business!