Meet the female business owners in Harrogate making waves in the world of research

When friends Jennifer Brennan and Clare Vokes decided to set up in business together it was something of a leap of faith.

“We went to PC World and bought a laptop each with our own money and went from there,” says Jennifer.

That was in 2019, and since then, despite having to contend with a global pandemic, they have seen their Harrogate-based research and evaluation agency, Harlow Consulting, flourish.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The company’s turnover reached £122,000 in the first year, and is predicted to top £700,000 at the end of this financial year.

Clare Vokes and  Jennifer Brennan of Harlow Consulting. Picture: Charlotte Nelson PhotographyClare Vokes and  Jennifer Brennan of Harlow Consulting. Picture: Charlotte Nelson Photography
Clare Vokes and Jennifer Brennan of Harlow Consulting. Picture: Charlotte Nelson Photography

The first researcher joined them in September 2020, and the business moved into its plush offices, a stone’s throw from RHS Harlow Carr, in 2021.

Clare and Jennifer previously worked together before setting up Harlow Consulting, and after turning 40 at a similar time they both felt ready for a new challenge. So they set about creating the kind of business they would want to work in – one that invests in people, and the planet, while delivering innovative work that makes research more widely accessible.

Their skills complement each other. Jennifer has a strategic focus and is happy analysing market trends, while Clare enjoys wading through piles of data and extracting the key information.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This yin and yang approach has certainly paid off, with Harlow Consulting’s revenue growth at over 200 per cent.

The pair now oversee a team of seven and have a diverse roster of clients that includes the NHS, Historic England and the Home Builders Federation.

From the outset the pair were determined to create a positive working environment for their team.

“We always said to ourselves that if somebody wakes up in the morning with that pit of dread in their stomach about coming to work, then we’ve failed,” says Jennifer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It is one thing to aspire to having a great working environment, it is another to put it into practice.

However, Jennifer and Clare have made it a pillar of their business ethos. For instance, each full-time staff member receives a wellbeing allowance.

“One person used their allowance for a foraging course and we’ve been out and done a pottery course. The idea is they spend it on activities or hobbies that aren’t to do with work,” says Clare.

On top of this employees get volunteering days and an extra Friday off each month for ten months of the year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Both women are from Yorkshire – Jennifer was born in Leeds while Clare comes from Harrogate – and they hope their success will encourage other people to set up their own business.

“In my experience, it can be harder sometimes for women to have the confidence to move forward, particularly if they’ve had children, and it can be harder to maintain that career trajectory if there’s been a break,” says Jennifer. “But I’d absolutely encourage other women to do what we’ve done because it means you can operate on your own terms. I’m not going to say you can have it all because it’s still hard work, but forging something that’s your own is really rewarding.”

They feel their success, apart from being good at what they do, is down to building strong relationships both with their employees and their clients.

“We work hard and we’re very determined, but I think a lot of it’s about relationships. That’s where it started from and that’s how it’s grown,” says Clare. “I’ve always left jobs for two reasons – because of the people, or because I was bored – and there’s certainly no boredom here.”