Introduction

The UK’s recruitment industry is booming and by the end of 2020, it’s estimated there will be more than 40,000 recruitment companies battling it out for a piece of the action – making it one of the most competitive industries around.

So, what makes a successful recruitment agency? Staying nimble and ahead of the competition is key to long term growth, and that means investing in the right systems, attracting the right talent and always being on top of your game.

To help you, in this guide we’ve provided you with all the tools you need to grow a strong and successful agency. You’ll find advice on everything from carving out your niche, to creating a workplace culture that attracts the best people, along with expert tips on growing a business that’s there for the long haul.

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Creating a value proposition

Defining a unique value proposition (VP) is crucial for any recruitment agency. It’s the thing that sets you apart from everyone else in your industry and which will ultimately inspire clients to trust you with their business.

Start by asking yourself (ideally with your target audience and target customers in mind) – what is it specifically that makes your recruitment agency different from all the others out there? For example:

  • What benefits will clients get from working with your agency?
  • What’s it like to work with you?
  • What do you deliver that makes your services valuable?
  • How do you solve your customer’s pain points?
  • In what ways are you different from your competitors?

Once you have the answers to these core questions, you’ll have a much better understanding of what sets your agency apart. This is your value proposition. In a nutshell, it’s the unique competitive edge you have over other recruitment agencies operating in your niche sector or catchment.

How to create an agency value proposition

Now market it

Getting your VP across to customers will help you stand out from the crowd. It’s not enough to make sweeping generalisations. You need to capture attention and convert trust quickly, with specific reasons why a client should choose you above your competitors.

Your value proposition should be consistent and appear across all the channels you use to market your agency – from your website to social media, printed materials to credentials documents and sales pitches. Every touchpoint (any time someone comes into contact with you and your company) should match up. For example, there’s no point saying one of your strengths is communication if you never answer the phone or take ages to respond to emails.

Your VP should also form the basis of any communications your company issues, such as press announcements. The more you can promote your value proposition – and demonstrate it – the stronger your business will be.

Cash flow and financial Health

Staying on top of the financial health of your business is crucial. Cash flow problems is one of the most common reasons businesses fail. You need to have a handle on the numbers and to make sure you’re planning and spending wisely.

There are many considerations to be made when it comes to managing your agency’s accounts and finances. Staying compliant and within the law is one of them! Having a plan for managing payroll and expenses while you’re waiting for customer invoices to be paid, is another. And of course, there’s credit control and making sure you’re getting invoices paid on time – a huge issue, particularly for many smaller businesses.

Whether you opt for an all-in-one back office solution, or an invoice factoring deal from a bank or lender, you need to ensure you find the best fit option for you. Always enter into any deal with your eyes wide open. Remember to think beyond the headline figures and to consider all those hidden costs too – such as your time, extra administration, onboarding, training, repayment terms and how well systems will integrate.

Overall, it’s important to have a full picture of your business’ financial health at all times, to forecast well and avoid running up debts or missing scheduled payments.

Your recruitment agency dashboards

Recruitment agency dashboards are a fantastic resource for pulling together and assessing the key information you need to make informed decisions that will benefit your growing agency. They allow you to monitor your business’ health and can show you precisely how well you are performing at any given time.

What’s more, dashboards don’t just benefit a recruitment agency at director-level. All levels of employee can benefit from having access to bespoke dashboards that show them the relevant information for their job role.

For Directors

Dashboards allow you to manage your business’ finances, operations and overall performance.

For Managers

Dashboards can provide insights into employee productivity and performance, such as monitoring consultants targets.

For Consultants

Dashboards can be used to track the status of candidate placements and performance against targets.

Great dashboards should be your go-to tool, sitting at the heart of your recruitment agency. They should provide you with a way to see the ‘big picture’, giving you an accurate snapshot of your business at any given time.

Your recruitment agency dashboard needs to be fit for purpose, easy to use and understand, flexible to the needs of your individual business and able to track the required metrics over time.

Growing your team

Finding the right candidates

Finding and hiring the right people for your agency is key for long term growth, but it remains an ongoing challenge for many recruitment businesses. Here are some pointers that could soon have top talent knocking on your door.

Create a positive place to work

The number one thing you can do to help you attract and retain top talent, is to make your company a great place to work. Your agency needs to be attractive to those looking in from the outside and that comes down to culture and leadership. It’s not something you can fake, you need to lead by example and demonstrate your values every day. For more tips on this, jump to ‘Fostering a positive workplace culture’.

Turn your employees, clients and candidates into ambassadors

Existing employees, along with the candidates and clients you are working with, are among your greatest assets when it comes to recruitment. They can help spread the word that you are a great employer, encouraging others to join you. Just make sure you are living up to the hype and delivering the great culture and high standards you promise.

Grab attention through storytelling

Communicate relevant information that will help grab the attention of top quality potential employees. For example, talk about your culture and values, share information about existing employees, their progression and successes, and paint a picture of what it’s really like to work for you. The more authentic and people-focused you are, the more success you’re likely to have.

Retaining top talent

Hiring people is an investment – it takes time, money and effort – and their performance will ultimately be reflected in your business’ bottom line.

As the boss, it’s important you foster strong and positive working relationships with your employees, to ensure your recruitment agency is an environment where people feel invigorated and enthusiastic. You want your team members to feel they belong and are part of something special; to know what the company’s goals are and how their role fits within that.

Regular Performance Development Reviews (PDRs) are one way to show your employees you listen to and value their input.

5 tips for conducting positive employee PDRs:

  1. Be human
    Remember to connect with your employees on a personal level and take an interest in their wellbeing. Ask them how they feel and listen to their answer.
  2. Consider performance against role matrix
    Ask employees to rate their performance against the matrix of the role and openly discuss strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement.
  3. Set SMART goals
    Goal setting gives employees structure and something tangible to aim for whilst also stretching their comfort zones. Be sure to always agree a new set of professional development goals with every PDR session. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.
  4. Lend support
    It’s important employees feel heard and supported. Use PDRs as a chance to find out if there’s anything they need or want to better perform in their role.
  5. Establish clear actions
    Every PDR should end in both parties being clear on next steps. Before wrapping up, ensure you both understand what’s expected and by when.

Investing regularly in your employees and demonstrating their value will help to keep your team feeling energised, happy and loyal. The top performing companies have no problem hanging on to their workforce, so be sure to offer opportunities for career development through training initiatives and mentoring. The more you put into your employees the more you’ll get out of them.

TOP TIP: A 360-degree survey is great if you want to gain extra insights into employee performance. The survey solicits feedback from managers, peers and through self-assessment, to gain a well-rounded overview of an employee’s contribution and how co-workers regard them. 

Fostering a positive workplace culture

Workplace culture matters

If an employee loves where they work they’ll perform to their best ability and never want to leave. That’s the strength that a nurturing and positive workplace culture brings.

After all, recruitment is a people-centric business and your employee’s ability to build relationships is key. Creating a recruitment company that people feel proud to work for will be hugely valuable on many levels – and nothing screams ‘fantastic company’ louder than motivated and happy team members!

In fact, a toxic workplace environment is now cited as the top reason employees leave their job, so a positive workplace culture isn’t just good for client acquisition, it can aid employee engagement and employee retention too. Not to mention, if your top recruiters jump ship you risk your clients choosing to follow them.

Create a positive culture

Creating a positive workplace environment is all about attitude and inclination. If you want your recruitment agency to be a great place to work, show you care.

  • Stay true to your values – communicate them and bring them to life in your business every day
  • Celebrate success – show employees their contribution is recognised
  • Have a structured onboarding and induction process to welcome new starters
  • Operate a rewards scheme to motivate employees and incentivise results
  • Invest in employee development and conduct regular PDRs
  • Support flexible working to help employees manage their work/life balance
  • Interact with your employees and organise social activities
  • Create a comfortable physical working environment that exceeds expectation
  • Give people the tools they need to do a good job

Lead by example

At the heart of every successful organisation are great leaders. Leaders who are always role modelling best practice, leading by example and supporting their team to deliver. It’s important that you set the tone you want employees to follow and are seen living and breathing your company values every single day.

As well as investing in your culture and the skills of your team, an important part of being the boss is finding time to enhance your own development and stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends and innovations. Identify any areas where your experience/knowledge is lacking and do something about it.

Maintaining a work/life balance

One area that is easy to overlook when you’re the boss of an ambitious and growing recruitment agency, is your own mental health as founder. As the boss, it’s easy to feel like the fate of the company rests solely on your shoulders. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day but push yourself too hard and you’re liable to burn out. And that won’t help anyone!

Keeping a healthy work/life balance is vital as a business leader and is also key for helping you generate new ideas and stay alert. It can affect your mood, health and demeanour – all things which in turn can impact on your employees and their performance. As difficult as it can be to switch off from work, it’s important that you take time out for yourself too:

  • Set yourself strict working hours – and make sure you stick to them
  • Take time to reflect – space and distance can result in a fresh perspective
  • Prioritise your time – delegate tasks/clients to other team members
  • Take regular breaks – step away from the screen and leave the office at lunch
  • Stay healthy – exercise is key to avoiding long-term health problems
  • Indulge your passions – make time for something you love (other than work)
  • Turn-off technology – have some downtime from emails and social media

Top tips for boosting productivity

Finding ways to run your recruitment agency more effectively will go a long way towards helping you achieve long-term growth. We know that culture is key to boosting productivity among employees, but efficiency also extends to the systems and processes your business uses.

Foster an environment where people are free to challenge ways of working. This will help you identify where operational changes may need to be made. Encourage your employees to feedback on the systems they use day-to-day – as the ones interacting with these processes, their insight will be invaluable.

Do

Encourage everyone in your business to question processes and make sure you listen when employees reach out to you with their feedback.

Don't

Assume you personally hold all the knowledge or all the accountability. Improving productivity will benefit everyone who works in your business and is an area where all employees can contribute.

Do

Take time to get to know the processes in your business. Understanding the intricacies of the systems your employees work with is the first step towards implementing more productive solutions.

Don't

Ignore new technology on the market. Advancements in AI and Machine Learning are producing new and better ways of working all the time.

Do

Create guidelines and templates for the processes your business uses. These can be a great on-boarding tool for new starters and help to up-skill existing employees.

Don't

Feel you need to handle all your operations in-house. Automating services or outsourcing core business functions makes financial sense for many agencies.

A framework for the future

With a great team in place, strong systems and processes and a clear value proposition that’s helping you carve out your niche, you will be in a great position moving forwards. So, what next?

Goal setting and business planning are an integral part of growing a sustainable business. Even if your recruitment agency has achieved profitability, you still need to set regular goals – and to regularly review your progress – to ensure your business stays on track.

Authored by Bill Sharpe, ‘Three Horizons: Patterning of Hope’, is a fantastic framework that divides business growth into three distinctive phases – or as Bill puts it – Horizons.

The key to achieving long-term business growth, according to this framework, is to always maintain a consistent balance between the present and your future ambitions. Spend too much of your efforts focussing on the future and you’ll fail to fulfil all the needs of the present. Conversely, pool all your resources into the present, and you’ll quickly stagnate, allowing your forward-thinking competitors to steal market share from you.

Horizon 1 – 70%

Horizon 1 is the everyday activity you undertake to keep your business ticking over. 70% of your resources should be spent on here on all the daily tasks and actions required to sustain your business operations.

Horizon 2 – 20%

Horizon 2 is the bridge – it balances responding to the actions required in Horizon 1, with anticipating the needs of Horizon 3. It is here that your business should begin to build on its successful foundations and work hard to achieve the medium-term goals that will move you towards your greater goals.

Horizon 3 – 10%

Horizon 3 focuses on the future and what you need to stay commercially relevant. It’s concerned with the wider direction the industry is taking and ensures you’re adapting your offer accordingly. 10% of your resource should be spent on Horizon 3.

 

When setting goals across a short-, medium- and long-term framework, it’s useful to start with your vision (where you want your business to be in 3, 5 or 10 years’ time) and paint the picture of what that would actually look like – headcount, turnover, services, systems etc.

This gives you end-goals and measures that you can work back from and build into incremental goals, such as quick short-term wins and weightier medium-term projects.

Whatever your goals, it’s important take your people on the journey with you. Share your business plans and goals, get the team involved and motivated to support you in achieving long-term business growth.

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