The Last Word May/June 2022: Alan Furley

Why quality over quantity wins the day.

If you’d told me a few years ago that at one stage in my recruitment business journey I’d be turning business away on purpose, I would have been calling security to have you removed.

However, time – and specifically, the recent period we’ve lived through – has been both a great leveller and a strict teacher.

Maybe this ‘getting a bit older’ stage of life also means that increased wisdom comes with more frequent aches and pains.

But it is true that an outcome of studying how and why we do business has resulted in us standing firm. If business comes to us that does not have a shared commitment, we now make the decision to stand aside.

The impact this has made on not just our business but also the way we feel cannot be underestimated – and it is clear this is also a product of how we have changed as people.

Because it’s based on a partnership, with a two-way commitment, business comes back to us”

It makes it easier to do these things when I look at the companies we are working with.

Undoubtedly SMEs are the engine room of the UK economy and, having focused our efforts on the start-up and scale-up market, we’ve learned a lot about acting on our values.

And it has affected the way we view the team and, for example, what metrics like ‘headcount’ really mean. We’ve learned that headcount is not growth in itself – just as immediate promises of cash in the bank aren’t always going to positively play out at year-end.

This focus has meant we’ve done a lot of deep work and potentially have been quite inward looking – though I have presumed the whole recruitment industry was doing the same thing.

That was until I spoke with a woman as a potential client and she was shocked when I explained our fee structure, which sometimes means we’re offering advice for free. Sometimes we also reduce our fee per hire if we’re retained, or even move away from a transactional ‘fee per’ model altogether to an annual commitment.

The interaction did make me momentarily worry we were undercutting ourselves and question what else was going on out in the market.

But when I looked across our customer base, I realised that the power of long-term thinking is paying off. Because it’s based on a partnership, with a two-way commitment, business comes back to us. I think a big part of that is why would they talk to anyone else? Assuming you’re able to deliver what you say you can, of course.

This may seem like common sense – and I certainly don’t feel we ever ripped people off – but it’s been a powerful reflection about what growth really is and how to achieve it.

It’s also led us to establish new values and mission, which resulted in a full rebrand (ISL Talent if you’re interested!).

Looking back on the 17 years we have been in business and the last time ISL’s identity was reviewed, it was essentially mates in a pub that created the brand, logo and some core beliefs.

Now, we enter this next phase and look ahead to creating a business that, when the time is right, we would love to pass ownership of to our team.

And while that may be some time away, it is good to know that future comes from making quality-based decisions today – and being proud of our business throughout the journey, not just at the end.

Alan Furley is director at ISL Talent

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