For me professionally, the last couple of years have been a real rollercoaster of a journey where I have endured a lot more "downs" than "ups". It’s a bit like my golf game where there are usually 95 terrible shots but that 1 good shot you hit on the round will get you back on the course for more punishment the following week; so my message would be to remain positive as your luck will eventually turn.
Setting up a business can be a fairly daunting experience. Having said that and coming out the other side (I hope) there are plenty of tougher life experiences people have to go through be it family issues, personal health or loss of a loved one, which sometimes go under the radar or behind closed doors. My advice to anyone thinking about it, just go for it as "there's no point dying wondering" and you will have certain windows in life where you have very little responsibility so don't let it pass you by.
So I guess I want to break it down into a few topics, which for me personally have been really important for Alchemy Search to make it over the one year mark:
For any start up business this is probably the most crucial area for survival. You really need to be all over your clients when it comes to payments and do whatever it takes to ensure that cash hits your account before payroll is due. As glamorous as running a business may sound the reality is before you have any form of "buffer" of cash in the bank, the last two weeks of every month you will spend endless hours chasing for payment from clients. I've had times where I have had to send screenshots of the corporate bank balance to clients to show them what the current bank balance is in a final effort to get the payment through.
When you have a lump of cash come through even if it's mid month just get your team’s salaries and rent paid; then the rest will sort itself out in my eyes. A mistake I made was not being more on top of cashflow from the outset of the business hence there's been a few tricky month ends. Hopefully as the business grows we will have a more stable cash position and some of my clients won't be receiving a screenshot of my cash at bank balance via WhatsApp at month end.
Don't be afraid to ask for outside help
This has been the greatest value add I have taken from going out alone. The reality is if you set up a business by yourself with no outside investment you have nobody to answer to. Although I will place a little caveat that I have a team of a women (for now) so I don't get my way all the time...... "Let them win the battles and you win the wars! "
I have went down two avenues on this matter, as I do feel that you need to be kept in line and held accountable for decisions. So I have engaged with some professional help from two advisors, one from a recruitment perspective and one from life perspective. I really have found that these two gentleman have told me "what I need to hear as opposed to what I want to hear". As without having them both as a sounding board I would never be breaking a 100 with my golf scorecard when it comes to Alchemy Search!
I have also connected with recruitment founders & leaders in Dubai and met with them to seek advice on how to best navigate around setting up a recruitment business.
I was pleasantly surprised about how open & helpful these guys have been. They've had a very mature way of looking at it, as some people may see you as competition but the right view is how we can make the industry better as whole, in particular, for clients & candidates. This point isn't just for the recruitment industry. In any walk of life I would suggest reaching out to your perceived "competitors" and build a relationship with them as in my opinion it can only help your business.
"A hole is better than an a**hole"
Without doubt one of my favorite quotes of all time when it comes to business. In a start-up the people you employ are the most important asset you have bar none. So I believe it's key to have good people in your business and even if you interview someone who could make you a killing revenue wise but they're not a good match for your team, then in the long run you're better off without them.
As they could be the reason why half your team resign a few months later. If you are less than 6 people as a business and a few people leave then you are massively exposed. However if the business is more settled with 10-15 people and you lose someone you can absorb that loss a lot easier. Only time will tell with Alchemy if we have any disruptive employees but thankfully I haven't been shown the gate yet....
Don't be afraid to say NO to a potential client
For the vast majority of recruiters we work on a contingent basis where we place the candidate and after they stay in that job for a few months we get paid. So up until that point you work for free effectively and given there are a lot more things that could go wrong in a process than right it makes it a high risk - high reward line of work.
What I have come to appreciate a lot more now is that if a client doesn't value or respect your service just walk away and find someone who does. As in any job you will encounter "time wasters" who will get you to do a lot of work, only at the end to tell you they don't actually need you. Some great advice I received was to rate your clients before engaging with them:
- Is the hiring manager someone you can trust
- Do they respect you and your offering
- Do you believe they will pay on time
- Is there a good company culture business based on your market knowledge of the company
If the answer to the majority of the above is "no" then save yourself an added headache down the line and walk away from the client. I would hold my hands up and admit I have wasted a lot of my team’s time in the first 6 months of the year only thinking of what a placement may look like on the board without thinking of how likely it would be to actually make the placement.
Stay positive & celebrate
In the first 12 months of any new venture you will encounter challenges that will have you waking up at 3am every night for months but as Rocky said "you need to keep moving forward". As if you start bringing negativity into the office your team will pick up on it and it may have detrimental effect on the business.
They may start looking elsewhere for new opportunities as the current role may be perceived to be very unstable. As a recruiter we hear these type of stories every week. So put a brave face and just accept that the book stops with you, as if your staff are consistently making errors it's more than likely down to the fact you haven't invested time to train them. This is an area I'm trying to improve month by month.
One big challenge with running a business is you can have tunnel vision and no reality or perception of what's happening around you. For me personally, this has been a big obstacle which I hope will get better. There have been times where I haven't really stopped to take stock of some of the achievements the team have made this year in particular around networking events we have hosted. It's very much been a case of "Ok that's done, lets move onto the next event" which will eventually end up in a burnout as I'm simply just chasing the next high without really celebrating what has been done. So this is a big thing I want to try to evolve in year 2 with my team.
Branding is an area we invest a lot of time in and of course we can get better at it but it does take time. As in my view "If people want to work you, they will. If people don't want to work you, they won't. But if people don't know about you, they'll never work with you."
That's why for any start up business try and partner with somebody who can really help you with growing your brand. Do events and bring your network together. Once you build up a decent brand all the attendees in the room will do your BD for you with the new contacts at the event.
Of course Alchemy's brand is far from perfect as we have made plenty of mistakes over the last 12 months with both clients & candidates but I would like to hope for the most part they are genuine mistakes that will hopefully not happen again.
Go it alone or Co-Found a business
Prior to setting up Alchemy Search, I was involved in another venture with a ex business partner which unfortunately didn't work out, where neither party was at total fault, it just simply didn't work out. It was like a messy divorce but in hindsight I'm glad I went through it as I learned an awful lot from it.
The key take away I had from it and the biggest advice I would say to anyone going into business with someone would be "Have you ever had a difficult conversation or fallout with your prospective business partner".
As I think without having experience of going through tough times with that person then it may create issues down the line with the partnership. There will always be different views or visions on the company direction and if you can't work through them as one then you'll eventually come to an impasse. I do think there's an awful lot of value in a partnership as it can be a really lonely place when you are by yourself but my negligence a couple of years back created this this outcome. So will soldier on!
If you have got down this far, I thank you for reading and hopefully some of my points can help on a potential entrepreneurial journey. To conclude, all of the above is just my opinion and I fully appreciate some people may disagree with my views which is all good.
Thank you for taking the time to read and looking forward to growing the Alchemy community in year 2 inshallah!