A month or so ago I wrote a blog called ‘Ten Tips for Start-ups’. It received strong feedback, so I forwarded it to a couple of recruitment start-ups, thinking that an adapted version could make a strong column for Recruiter.
Great, they said – except that very few of my tips were applicable in their world (as opposed to mine, which is PR). I stopped writing and started listening.
So – with thanks to Be Kaler at Futureheads (a digital media specialist now entering that crucial growth phase) and Teresa Batchelor at CC Blue Recruitment (a marketing and PR specialist still in its first year of trading) – here are my 10 tips for (recruitment) start-ups.
1. Cut the ties. Make it a clean break with your former employer – finalising any residual deals or contractual issues. This prevents them hounding you or tempting you back. Certainly, some bridge burning is vital if you’re to face forward, rather than back.
2. Get a spread of clients. While I was keen to target only large clients – mainly because they pay the bills and build the name – both recruiters warned against putting all your eggs in one basket. Recruitment is a fickle world, they said, making an over-reliance on a few large names a dangerous gambit. Better to work for clients across the spectrum – something that also makes you more attractive to candidates (who may be undecided about working for big or small enterprises). That said, credit check all your clients: the recruiters’ invoice is a classic non-payment for an ailing company.
3. Play it straight. Get the insurances in place in case things turn nasty. Also, employ an accountant so that your VAT and tax returns are above board from day one. And join industry bodies such as APSCo and REC (and abide by their rules). Finally on this, know employment law – it’s your area so your clients will expect you to understand the ins and outs. Rather than wing it – be the oracle.
4. Stick to what you know. Yes, be niche. Become a specialist in your sector – offering clients the wisdom of your knowledge. This means educating them regarding the trends (rather than them educating you), although this doesn’t mean being the central depository of industry gossip. For a PR firm, broadening out is vital due to conflicts of interest. For new recruitment companies, however, broadening may suggest you’ve yet to explore the potential depths of your own niche.
5. Understand your clients. Recent revelations from certain investment banks had workers famously calling clients ‘muppets’, suggesting they cared little about the nuances of their client’s business. Recruiters – especially start-ups – should do the opposite. Get under the skin of your clients by fully understanding their business model. And discriminate on their behalf in order to build a long-term relationship. This builds trust and helps facilitate those meaningful conversations that bring in business.
6. Get involved. Be Kaler at Futureheads calls this “pre-cruitment” – becoming involved in sector trade bodies that demonstrate your sector dedication and give you an inside-track on what’s happening. Hosting lunches is another strong tactic: getting industry specialists together – potentially offering the forum for rivals to meet and exchange views.
7. Be modest. Clients dislike bull. So while PR firms need to “fake it til they make it” (as I wrote), recruiters should do the opposite – not least because this is a sector with a reputation for blaggers (fair or not). Therefore, be understated. The key need with a recruiter is not to demonstrate some potentially-false presence but to be likeable. It’s an old-fashioned quality, but this is a very personal service that needs personable people.
8. Get a web presence. That said, don’t stint on the website. Make it attractive and compelling and easy to navigate. And make it fun. Also, focus on the team shots – because people will immediately want to know what you look like (so it’s here you’ll be making your first impression). Your website should also be current – including the latest vacancies and perhaps a sector newsfeed (to encourage visits) – and interactive: perhaps including a company blog (that updates the market on your successes and can spur Twitter comments to your audience). That said, avoid guff – stick to adding value.
9. Partner up. Recruitment is a lonely place for a one-person start-up. You’ll have gaps that’ll become exaggerated over time. So seek partners that fill those gaps. And together build a brand – preferably not one with your names in it (leave that to the egotists). Partnerships are not for everyone, but recruitment is one area where the whole can indeed become greater than the sum of the parts.
10. Get on the plane/train. No matter what the sector this one’s a must, it seems. Face-to-face meetings are vital. In fact, in recruitment – there’s no other way of doing business. That said, don’t stop at one visit – keep revisiting to gauge their future needs and to ensure they see you as the go-to recruiter. In fact, over communicate on everything: get in their Inbox so that they never forget you exist (it’s also better than pestering them with phone calls).
Robert Kelsey is the author of What’s Stopping You?, which is now in its second edition.