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The Resilient Recruiter

Dec 17, 2019

When setting up a recruitment business from scratch it's easy to get sidetracked with a thousand different things - and it seems there are also a thousand different ways to approach the business. Alex Elliot and Jonathan Coxon have very clear opinions about what works because they spearheaded the launch of Liquid Personnel in 2006 and sold it exactly 10 years later for a huge profit.

By the time the business was sold it was bringing in 100 million pounds in revenue, had 140 employees, and was the recipient of multiple awards. All this came from very humble beginnings - two gents working from a storage closet and with a capital investment of just 3000 pounds. 

In this conversation, you’ll hear Jonathan and Alex explain how and why they started the business and how a very clear set of common long-term goals enabled them to forge a partnership that created a stable foundation from which to launch. You’ll also hear about the huge financial mistakes they made, how they went about finding, hiring, and retaining quality team members, and more.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:35] The rapid growth of a recruitment agency
  • [3:15] The early days at Liquid Personnel - starting small and in cramped offices
  • [5:38] Shared goals and shared values make for a good partnership
  • [6:35] What the guys looked for in team members from the start
  • [10:50] The first 12 months in recruitment is about survival
  • [14:14] The unknown unknowns to be faced in starting from scratch
  • [17:39] Knowing when it was time to start hiring
  • [27:19] A hiring model that worked tremendously well
  • [37:26] The best avenues for finding good talent
  • [42:24] Taking on an entire rookie sales force
  • [44:09] What goes into exceptional training?
  • [51:36] When did Jonathan and Alex begin focusing on management?
  • [54:09] What it was like to sell the business and the amazing experience it was

Humble beginnings are often the basis for huge success

Business founders who have to scratch and scrape to build their business have much to share with those of us who are willing to listen and learn from their example. Alex and Jonathan began Liquid Personnel - a staffing agency focused on the Social Services industry in the UK - in a loaned storage closet at a family member’s business. The two of them shared one desk and spent the majority of their time hustling up leads and tracking down candidates on the phone. Within a year they were able to add their first team members and began a journey to scale that is extremely uncommon among recruitment firms.

As you listen you’ll get a feeling for the grit and determination of these two remarkable men and understand how their commitment to building, fostering, and equipping a team of extraordinary individuals made a massive difference in their ability to scale the business. Be sure you stick around to the very end to hear the next big venture Alex and Jonathan are planning. 

Don’t let what’s on paper obscure reality

“We were very good at making paper profits. We were too focused on paper profits and not focused on cash flow.” 

That’s what Alex Elliot said about their perspective during the early days of Liquid Personnel. This was in response to me asking him what he’d do differently if he could go back and do it all over again with the knowledge he has now. There’s a huge lesson here, so pay close attention.

Alex is saying that after setting up your recruitment business and getting things rolling, the numbers you see on paper can lead you to believe that your business is doing much better than it is. As he looks back, he realizes that their 10-year journey could likely have been made in seven years if they had focused on cash flow more than on the profits shown on paper. That switch in focus would have enabled them to generate the financial resources needed to add team members sooner, improve their training faster, and scale the company.

When hiring, don’t go with what’s acceptable, go with exceptional

One of the keys to the success of Liquid Personnel was its own personnel. Alex and Jonathan focused intensely on finding and hiring the right people - those with proven sales track records and specific qualities of greatness they had diligently identified beforehand.

When asked about their hiring philosophy, they say that every single person you hire should be raising the average on the sales floor. You should never let yourself accept “average” candidates as being good enough. Greatness begets greatness. 

To help you understand how they refined their ideal candidate profile, they offer these tips:

1 - Ask yourself, “What does ‘great’ look like in our business and industry niche?”

2 - What are the attributes of someone who is great in those ways?

3 - What does that kind of person bring to the table for our business in particular?

4 - What does that look like practically and how can we assess it during the hiring process?

Listen to hear how they used psychometric profiles, a lengthy interview process, and data to avoid “gut feel” decisions and get the right people on board.

Excellence comes from training in the fundamentals

Alex and Jonathan believe that the recruiting industry's typical approach to training is short-sighted. In their words, “If you stick someone in the classroom for 6 weeks then stick them on the sales floor thinking they are trained, you’re wrong.” Their experience demonstrates that the value of initial training pales in comparison to the value of ongoing, in-the-field training focused on equipping team members to succeed professionally and personally.

The areas of focus they maintained while growing Liquid Personnel were:

1- Incremental learning and development

They didn’t believe in “one time” or “one-size-fits-all” training. Each person was equipped on an as-needed, personalized basis.

2 - Giving people as many tools to be successful as possible while making it simple and concise

Convoluted, complicated training prohibits the development of skills that team members need to become successful quickly.

3 - Real-time induction training along with practical role-playing coaching

Alex and Jonathan made it their goal to link together theory and practice so that their team could see results faster and truly understand their jobs and the services they provide.

4 - Training and development throughout a person’s career

The Liquid Personnel training method included ongoing training in a variety of formats. On-demand topical videos enabled team members to hone specific skills as needed. Every advancement opportunity came with the training required to perform with excellence in the new role. And testing was used regularly to ensure the right people were in the right roles at the right times.

This episode is full of valuable insights from the rapid growth journey of one of the brightest spots in recent recruitment history. Join me as I walk through how Alex and Jonathan went about setting up a recruitment business that scaled massively in a very short amount of time.

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