Welcome to our Little Black Book, an inspirational series of business stories and insights from our brilliant members.

Ashley Lewer

Ashley Lewer on building a new path for construction firms

By Ashley Lewer

Founder, Hard Hats

Pioneering a new approach in helping the construction industry to use sub-contractors, Ashley Lewer has created Hard Hats to provide an alternative option for what can be a taxing area.

Here, the 33-year-old entrepreneur tells us how he has channelled his experience from building a top 5 payroll company, into showing the construction industry that there is an alternative compliant way to use long-term sub-contractors without having to lose control of their payroll.

Connect on LinkedIn

Tell us about the origins of the Hard Hats concept

Hard Hats allows construction companies to have ongoing self-employed labour and workforce whilst staying compliant with HMRC and without having to give up their payroll.

Payroll is quite a saturated market now, and very much a Marmite within the construction industry. Some firms don’t want the hassle of paying subbies each week and others don't want to lose the control.

Hard Hats offers an alternative for firms who to compliantly use self-employed sub-contractors on a long-term basis. We put a bespoke contract of service in place between firms and their sub-
contractors so that they don't need to change how they work.

Hard Hats is quite trailblazing, how important is it to you to be progressive?

The payroll industry can be quite unscrupulous at times, there's a lot of CIS and VAT fraud. I am a bit of a differentiator, I wanted to prove that there was a cleaner way of doing things and that is what drives me.

Self-employment is frowned upon within construction but there is a need for it, so long as it's done compliantly. Fundamentally, there is a need for contract labour within construction, it will always be there.

Do you want more articles like this in your inbox? If so then register below...

"Self-employment is frowned upon within construction but there is a need for it, so long as it's done compliantly. Fundamentally, there is a need for contract labour within construction, it will always be there."

What challenges have you encountered working with the construction industry?

Construction is 10 years behind everyone else, it’s quite prehistoric compared with other industries. One of the challenges is changing the culture and thinking to get clients to understand the value of a subscription-based service. Because nobody else does what we do it we’ve had a real tough time trying to get into the marketplace. There’s a preconception that we are a payroll company dressed up in slightly different way; because payroll has become a bit of a commodity now, so changing this perception is a challenge.

Do you have a proudest moment in your career so far?

We’ve recently come up against the biggest payroll company in the country, and won quite a nice sized deal. We created this business to compete against the payroll companies and the fact that we’re now doing that successfully is a proud moment.

Is there someone who inspires you?

Mike (Herberts) who I work with, brings out the best in me. There are a lot of gurus that you can follow and get some tips from but working closely with someone like Mike is inspiring. Although we work together, he’s my mentor; he brings out the best in me, and he challenges me every day to try and improve on what we’re doing.

As a business owner, how do you get headspace and perspective away from the company?

The Old Bond Store has provided us with a place to go and work on the creative things; the members are all quite entrepreneurial and because of that it spurs you on and you feed off of everyone else’s energy.

My wife and I have also got a place in Mallorca. When we get away there is when I switch off, I usually go once a month. I can stay in touch with the business from there as we’re predominantly online, so I can do it from anywhere in the world.

When you’re not around your normal environment you think of different things, so it helps you look at things from a different angle and with a different hat on.

"The Old Bond Store members are all quite entrepreneurial and because of that it spurs you on and you feed off of everyone else’s energy."

Founder, Hard Hats