Neil started working in digital recruitment in 2006, at a time when the market was exploding. But after four years of working for a recruitment consultancy, he began to crave more autonomy, so he left to set up his specialist, and rather unique, digital recruitment business.
It was due to a combination of things. I always thought I’d run my own business eventually. I like to have room to have ideas and have autonomy in my work. And I don’t think I’m very easy to manage! I found that I loved the digital market and, after four years of working in digital recruitment, I’d gained a strong understanding of the market and had built a respectable reputation too, so the time was right. But it was my friends and family who actually gave me the final shove.
This is a job-rich, candidate-poor marketplace and everyone in recruitment is trying to talk to the same people. We’ve always been heavily recommendation-based as a business and a very network-driven recruiter – we wanted a way to amplify our network and spread our brand organically, and also wanted to give something back and invest in the market.
So we decided to run half of our business on a not-for-profit basis. And we now carry out graduate recruitment for free.
This means we can invest in our marketplace by offering training to graduates and running webinars. It has also created an unrivalled network in this sector and means that we can talk to universities openly because there aren’t any commercial arrangements for them to be wary of.
Something else that’s unique about our business and something that I think we do well is to appear “small” and approachable. After all, recruitment is a people business. When we came up with the brand, we deliberately did the opposite of most of our competitors, which have corporate-looking websites, using stock images and family names for the company. We’ve kept our name and our branding simple, with the use of hand-drawings, and a chatty, familiar tone, to make it accessible.
Yes, we cut off a significant, revenue stream by electing to do graduate recruitment for free. But it’s paid off already by opening many doors to companies that might have been impenetrable. It also means we get access to graduates that other recruitment agencies don’t have, and it feels good to give something back.
It varies. I think work/life balance matches the stage that your business is at. When I first set up and it was just me it was much easier to keep on top of my bottom line. And I could come and go as I pleased. But as we have grown, work has become more structured and I need to be around more. That said, when I was employed, I never took more than a week off a year. But this year, I’ve had three holidays, so that can’t be bad. I don’t feel I’m missing out at all when I work long hours. I know I’ll get that time back in the future.
I’d like the company to be financially stable.
While I was employed I had a second job which provided the funding to start the business. I was really frugal during the first months after set up, and even though that was hard, I had faith that if I did what I’d always done then things would be OK in the end. Which they are.
But this year has been tough. We’ve been working very hard at getting the not-for-profit arm of the business off the ground. So next year, I’d like to work towards stability, perhaps move into our own offices, bring in more staff.