Nicole Anderson worked in human resources at a national law firm, a Florida state prison and a national retailer, where she observed similar problems in the way the companies managed their employees.
“Management was not in touch with employees and there were a lot of bad things going on. I decided there must be a better way to do this,” said Anderson, 36, of suburban West Palm Beach. “I said, ‘I am going to have my own business, and I am going to teach people how to do better HR.’”
Having been a victim of sexual abuse as a child and young teen, Anderson was determined not to let her past ruin her life. She was motivated to do well and prove she could succeed in a career dedicated to helping improve companies and people’s lives. She’s also a single mother of Julia, 14, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in human resources management from American InterContinental University in 2008.
In 2017 she launched MEND HR Solutions, and in 2020 started MEND Recruiting. The six-employee firm is based in downtown West Palm Beach and has clients in eight states. It handles outsourced human resources for companies and landed its first contract with Panasonic in Atlanta in February 2018 to handle training and development.
“I reached out to people in my network of people I had worked with in the past,” she said. “The first year of business, 2018, was slow, but by 2019, things were starting to pick up, and the business grew by 350 percent,” she said. “We had projected to grow the business about 200 percent in 2020, based on what we did in 2019.”
The bottom-up approach
The acronym stands for Mentor, Educate, Nurture and Develop. The company handles all human resources matters except payroll. That includes employee training and development, organizational development and change, recruiting, policy procedures, day-to-day HR, employee relations, employee engagement and more.
MEND has 14 clients it works with continuously and has also handled short-term projects for 30 or 40 other companies.
In December, MEND secured a contract with Lion Country Safari to handle its human resources.
“We chose to work with MEND in order to have a high-level HR resource available to our management team and employees without incurring the cost of a full-time HR executive. The service and knowledge MEND has provided has been excellent,” said Lion Country Safari CEO Marc Unterhalter.
Anderson has observed that a major mistake companies make is not complying with laws, such as wage-hour rules, and not classifying employees correctly as either hourly or salaried. A common no-no is requiring employees to indicate they took a lunch hour when they did not.
“The second thing is employee relations, managers that should not be managers. They treat employees extremely badly. They were good at their job, but not good with people,” Anderson said. “I see a lot of that. I call them process managers instead of people managers.”
“We generally start from the bottom up. We start working with the employees and fixing those issues and processes and making that more effective. From there, if the business is still having problems, there is no one to blame but leadership because we work with the employees,” she said.
Pivoting in to recruiting
She plans to release a book she is writing this spring: HR Revolution: Putting the Human Back in Human Resources.
“When the pandemic hit, we immediately lost two of our biggest clients. They were in manufacturing. A lot of the Asian companies they get their products from closed down completely,” Anderson said.
“We had to pivot. We had to figure out something that would work for everyone, including getting new clients and revenue,” Anderson said.
After the pandemic cost her two of her biggest clients, Anderson pivoted, expanding her firm into the recruiting business, handling only high-level specialty positions. MEND charges a fee that is 15% of the recruited employee’s salary, while other firms charge 30 to 40 percent, Anderson said.
“We also launched a monthly subscription service for small businesses. They can get HR services for as little as $99 a month,” Anderson said. “For $99 a month, you get your handbook policy procedures, make sure you are in compliance federal and state-wise. You get up to five hours of HR support a month and you can join our webinars that we host, four per year, at $30 a seat.”
“We had projected to grow the business about 200 percent in 2020, based on what we did in 2019. We ended 20 percent up from the year before. It wasn’t where we wanted to be, but to achieve that during the pandemic was a lot of work,” Anderson said.
MEND offers a customized approach to hiring. Anderson was recently contacted by a company that needed an office manager and had someone ready to go and hired in five days.
“We search. I love LinkedIn. We post an ad on LinkedIn. We source through some of our résumé databases,” she said. “We do all the interviewing. They get them at the final stage, so they are not weeding through 50 applicants,” she said. “We handle all the upfront stuff. They are getting one, two or three candidates to choose from.”
Right now, the demand is for employees who can work remotely in positions such as sales, administration and accounting, Anderson said.
“Our main goal is to get people working and getting the right people in the right places,” she said.
The path to Anderson starting her own firm was not easy. Part of her motivation comes from growing up in what she calls a “working poor” family in Clewiston and moving to Moore Haven as a teenager.
“My parents had money to sometimes keep the lights on, but they didn’t have money for anything else. My mom was an LPN, and my dad was a correctional officer at Glades Correctional Institution in Belle Glade for 25 years. When I was 7, my mom got a job at the prison In Moore Haven as a nurse,” Anderson said.
Another catalyst was her experience being sexually abused by a close family friend from age 10 through her early teen years. Anderson kept her secret for years, but finally told a counselor at a Christian summer camp, and the counselor reported the abuse to authorities.
More turmoil ensued as people in the community criticized the family for speaking with authorities and asked why they didn’t handle it inside the church, where the abuser was an elder in charge of a youth program. Some cast aspersions on Anderson, saying she would never amount to anything.
The family decided to move from Clewiston to Moore Haven just 15 minutes away, thinking it would be best for Anderson.
“That only made my life worse, going to a new high school. I was an outcast. Word traveled. It wasn’t like we were 10,000 miles away,” Anderson recalls.
The abuser was eventually sentenced to seven and a half years in prison and seven and a half years of probation in a plea deal in another case where the abuse had gone on for seven years. Anderson retreated emotionally after learning her abuser had been sentenced to prison for a different abuse offense, making her feel like her ordeal didn’t matter.
“My whole teen years I was basically trying to prove people wrong, that I wasn’t going to be a drug addict or pregnant at 16 and drop out of high school. They were basically making it all my fault. I always felt like I had to prove something,” Anderson said.
Anderson graduated from Moore Haven High School with honors and was class president. She moved to Orlando to attend the International Academy of Design and Technology to major in interior design but began having panic and anxiety attacks.
“The first thing everybody did was say, ‘Here is some medication, and you will be fine,’” she said.
“The events leading up to the abuse, and thereafter essentially destroyed my family. There was a lot of pointing fingers and guilt. ‘It was your fault. It was his fault. We should have paid attention more,’” she said.
“I moved straight from the small town of Moore Haven to Orlando. For me it was mostly that I wanted to get away where nobody knew me,” Anderson said
Anderson was doing well in college, but she had a lot of emotional pain. She began drinking and driving, at times waking up in parking lots in her car. Her wakeup call came after a tow truck driver called to tow her car told her she was living dangerously.
Finding her path in HR
After her daughter was born in 2006, Anderson moved back home and got a job at the prison in Moore Haven as a floater in the business office.
“I landed in HR. I was there for a couple of weeks. I absolutely loved it,” Anderson said. “I was doing online courses to finish up my interior design degree. I decided to switch my major from interior design to human resource management.”
She began working for Babies R Us and Toys R Us in West Palm Beach as an HR supervisor and noticed the same issues she had seen at the prison.
“Management was completely out of touch with the employees,” she said.
She pushed herself to obtain more experience. Four years ago, she began working in HR at a national law firm that specialized in foreclosures and managed teams all over the country.
“They were keeping leaders in place who had been under investigation for discrimination. It was not something I wanted to be a part of,” she said.
The firm shrank from 250 employees to 30 when she was laid off. She had just taken out a loan to start her business, thinking she would have a job for at least one more year, but then had to use the money to pay living expenses.
“I was obviously freaking out,” Anderson recalls. “I had a decision to make, whether I was going to go back to work for somebody else, or if I was going to hit the ground running and dive right in and start my own business,” Anderson recalls. “I dove right into the world of business ownership and networking events. I landed my first contract in February of the following year, about three months in.”
She recommends that would-be business owners find a mentor, and advises that being an entrepreneur takes dedication.
“Be in it for the long haul. Don’t think it is something you are going to go into and make quick money,” she said. “Overall, it will take a lot of work, a lot of patience and getting wisdom and knowledge from as many people as you can.”
“I don’t take any of it for granted, for sure,” Anderson said.