Story written by: Shelley Widhalm
Owning a small business means you have to draw on the resources around you to get moving—and Tami Parker of Loveland wants to make sure new business owners take off with key HR knowledge.
“My clients feel secure and safe knowing they don’t have to know everything about HR and they can call on my years of experience,” Parker said. “That’s one of the hidden worries and mental loads of a small business, (trying to) know what you don’t know.”
Parker started UNIcycle Business Consulting in 2017 as a full-service human resources department for small businesses—“if an HR department does it, so does UNIcycle,” she said. She chose a unicycle for her logo to represent how in business balance is key, it takes time and commitment to become proficient, and U n I, or you, the business owner, and Parker, the HR consultant, “partner together to take care of these things,” she said.
“Learning to ride, you need a helping hand,” Parker said.
Parker got that helping hand as a client of the Larimer Small Business Development Center on marketing and other aspects of owning and operating a small business, plus she is a consultant and instructor there.
“It felt so good to know I was talking to somebody who had done it for a long time,” Parker said. “Business reality versus theory is important to a small business owner.”
Parker, who worked in HR for 26 years before going on her own, started UNIcycle in 2017 at a friend’s suggestion. At that time, three of her friends who owned small businesses asked her for HR support and one of the friends asked her when she’d start charging her.
Parker spent the next eight months business planning and getting advice from the SBDC. She originally opened an office in Fort Collins but during the pandemic became a home-based business—she works with a staff of two. She primarily works remotely but will go on site, too, which allows her to be more active in the business and help employees feel comfortable reaching out to her.
Parker provides a long list of services, but does not do payroll, which isn’t a part of the typical HR department. She helps coordinate benefits, writes handbooks and job descriptions, does recruiting, helps with the hiring process from posting jobs to interviews, creates on-boarding and off-boarding programs, trains businesses on documentations, audits employee files, and conducts terminations and employee investigations.
“I view our work as protecting people every day,” Parker said. “Policy is good for employees and the business. It protects the longevity of the business and every job in the business.”
Parker also provides updates on the latest HR laws.
“My clients don’t have to keep up with that, because they know I will,” Parker said. “I inform them to help them through the process and stay on top of any changes.”
Parker works with 29 businesses, who solely hire W-2 employees and not 1099 contractors. She values their willingness to pay benefits and accept the tax burden instead of shifting it to the contractor.
“That’s the key thing about my clients, they want to do it right,” Parker said. “They want to have good talent that wants to go to work.”
Parker sets her business apart from the typical HR service that operates a database, which provides various HR tools for a monthly fee. She trains and mentors businesses on how to handle a number of HR situations, plus offers a monthly, year-long management boot camp for members or as a separate service.
“Here’s an outline of what you need to know about how to handle HR situations well and productively,” Parker said.
Parker aims to double her revenue in 2023, which she also did in 2022. When she started her business, she didn’t take out a living wage salary for three years, then saw a “terrible year” during the pandemic. But the next year in 2021, her business grew by 536%, she said.
“I’m really proud of the growth we’ve had since 2020,” Parker said. “I want to create more jobs and through our work make jobs more stable in our community, helping small businesses be good employers and help them compete with big employers.”
Before starting her business, Parker managed the front end team at Sutherlands Lumber, then worked in HR for three different companies, including the former Dedicated Hardware Group, BMC West and AAA. She is certified by the Employers Council and is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management. She also sits on several boards and is a volunteer, serving places like the Loveland Chamber of Commerce, Undestructable, the Division of Vocational Rehab and She Goes High, where she is the CFO.
Parker is like a large number of female business owners who bootstrap themselves, following a trend where women generally do not apply for or receive business loans. She did, however, get help from the SBDC, becoming a client in 2016. She initially got consulting to pick her business name, then took several marketing and social media classes. She also worked with a consultant on a proposition builder, which is similar to a business plan—it identifies the types of clients and a company’s value to those clients.
“It helps you clarify what you have to offer the market,” Parker said, adding that the SBDC “is the number one resource for a business owner to fill the gaps in owning a business.”
For the last 18 months, Parker’s provided HR consulting for the Larimer and East Colorado SBDC and teaches seminars and workshops on HR topics. She finds her involvement gives her an “emotional payday” as a way to contribute to her local community.
“I get to feel like I’m contributing and helping even though I’m not getting paid, supporting small businesses and helping them be good employers,” Parker said. “I get to feel like I’m contributing not just to my clients but to anybody who needs (help) through the SBDC.”
Parker pays herself almost the same as her employees for the sustainability of her business and to help with its growth potential, she said. She advises business owners to get started without first having to know everything and having it all figured out, remaining in analysis or planning paralysis—instead, they can work with the SBDC to start and grow their business, she said.
“It’s the number one resource for a business owner to fill the gaps of owning a business,” Parker said.