Monthly Archives

April 2011

“Show me the money”……9 tips to profitable growth

By | Profit, Results

A few weeks ago in my blog Belief Critical to Business Success, I mentioned a business owner had asked for my advice on growing a business.  I met her on Friday and I was impressed. She has built a solid business foundation, identified a niche market, boasts a modern website, uses the latest technology and demonstrates a strong belief in what she does.  So what’s missing? I entered the conversation with no preconceived idea about what I was going to say or what magic advice I may have for her , but as we spoke, I found there were 2 key things she wanted to know – how to grow the business and deliver more profit?

I take it for granted that if you’re in business, you’re making a great income. I can’t quite believe the number of businesses that are running because the owner likes what they do, but they aren’t making any money. I can think of 5 women in business who I have met only over the past few months who without telling me exact numbers or figures, it is obvious that they aren’t making the money they would like to.

How does this happen? They have great ideas, they are passionate, they have great quality products/services – but they aren’t making the dream income that they thought owning their own business would bring. Or in some cases, their expectations are too low. One commented “I’ve only been in business 5 years so I know it takes time and I’ll get there”. Rubbish.  It isn’t the longer you are in business that the money and profits will magically appear just because your doors are open.

By talking to these women individually, it frustrates me that their great ideas and hard work are not being rewarded financially. How can they become more profitable and take their businesses to the next level of performance?

  1. Ask for the business – in my post why is confidence still an issue for women at work?  I express my frustration with women who self-doubt their ability in sales, meetings or negotiations. Being profitable means asking for the business and not just having a coffee, touching base or having a chat.  At the end of every meeting, be clear about asking for the order right now or in the future. Is there any reason Mr Client you wouldn’t give me your next opportunity? Confidence in asking for the business screams “expert” and belief in what you do.
  2. Take a risk – doing the same thing the same way is going to deliver the same result, so if your financial results aren’t what you want them to be, it means changing tact or trying something different.  This will inevatibly feel uncomfortable which is good! This means you are learning something new.  For me, at Entrée Recruitment  this has been promoting the temp and contract side of our business when I personally had a stronger tendency towards permanent recruitment. This change in focus was a huge driver in delivering greater profits.
  3. Build relationships – I often get asked how I win new clients and how I’ve cracked the corporate market? One step at a time, one client at a time. Having one solid relationship with a CEO is more beneficial that having five relationships with non-decision-makers.  Once you have an established relationship with someone who loves your service – duplication becomes easy through testimonials, referrals and targeting like-minded organisations and individuals (you do have to ask again remember)!
  4. Build a brand & profile – marketing in this day and age has never been easier with social media.  Your business needs to be in the press (ads & editorial), on the web, talked about through word of mouth and have a clear strategy on how you want to be perceived in the market.  Whenever I am going out to see a new business, I always Google them, look at their website and try and find out who the key people are.  What happens when you Google your name and your business? Be clear in your positioning and then tell the world!
  5. Discipline – making money in business means taking the right action every day and committing to your high pay-off activities. Highly profitable business owners don’t procrastinate and fill their day looking busy – they are disciplined to do the important things that will generate the biggest results. For me at Entrée Recruitment this is coaching my team and business development.  Ask yourself what are the top 5 activities that aren’t urgent and without them, your business will not grow – then do them consistently.
  6. Hire right & retain the best – the biggest cost in most businesses is staff.  Getting this wrong is going to cost you significantly in real dollars, leadership time, re-training, reputation, culture and delivery.  Getting it right is finding that sweet spot in business – leadership will feel ‘natural’, you stress levels float away and this empowerment brings you work/life balance, confidence and profit.
  7. Invest in your leadership skills – this was one of the biggest turning points in my “growth” journey at Entrée Recruitment.  I constantly invest in books, conferences, mentors and a business coach. Learning from others and being coached to greater individual performance has a direct impact on the bottom line.
  8. Be tight on costs – one of the PA’s at work jokes “here comes Nicole with her calculator!” as I approach my meetings.  As a rule of thumb, I focus on the top line as generating revenue is always going to result in greater profit, but I keep a very close eye on costs, don’t spend unnecessarily and always negotiate with suppliers.
  9. Love what you do – it’s virtually impossible to have financial success without a passion for your business. How can you convince people to spend money with you if you don’t ooze excitement for what you do? I don’t mean over the top bubbly gushing – I mean you are educating your clients every chance you get and presenting the value you can bring to their business.

In my first year of Entrée Recruitment, we generated $3 million in revenue with very low overheads and start-up costs.  This wasn’t by accident, it wasn’t luck and it wasn’t through an established client base. We simply did it better through discipline, relationships, top talent and through making mistakes.

Since I have been talking to these business owners – one has taken a risk and moved out of a home office leasing her first corporate space, one has started building on her relationships by asking a current CEO client for a referral and another has invested in her own development by engaging a business coach.  Financial results don’t just happen by being in business and doing the same stuff – moving forward always involves taking different action.

Become profitable, be disciplined and take action.

Who’s hot and who’s not…what the perfect resume won’t tell you

By | Recruitment


Interviewing, recruitment, hiring, finding the right candidate….it’s easy! It’s not rocket science. How hard can it be, get resumes, interview, have a chat, make an offer – done! If only this was true….

Last week I was doing the school drop off and was asked independently by two separate parents in business how to pick the right person at interview. How long have you got??? One was disillusioned by a highly talented person leaving to take a very similar role elsewhere with the only obvious added benefit seeming to be ‘working closer to home’.  The other was being challenged by picking an internal hire from 20 great resumes that all seemed to have the right technical experience.  Both were apprehensive due to incorrect hires in the past that initially looked right on paper. They were desperate for the secret ingredient, the right answer, the one thing that I could tell them that they didn’t know to ask at interview to get it right.

Subsequently, I was called to a meeting on Monday with a client who was completely frustrated and surprised when what they thought was a ‘perfect hire’, resigned after 2 months.  They too wanted to know where did they go wrong, when the resume appeared to be perfect?

First and foremost – recruiting people is not easy. Picking the right person is even harder.  We do it every day here at Entrée Recruitment and see, hear, talk and advise clients on how to do it better. It is an ongoing battle for most business owners – finding, recruiting and retaining the right people.

Here’s what all three situations had in common – you must look beyond what’s on paper and what’s technically being said at interview and hire for culture and motivational fit.

I agree that skills and experience are important.  They are necessary in the recruiting process, but what causes you headaches and performance issues goes well beyond being able to do the job, it’s a person’s ability to fit in and being in the role for the right reasons.

How do you determine this? It’s not fool proof, but here are some quick guidelines that I follow in a recruitment process to increase my odds:

  1. Technical skills & experience – is easy to assess from a resume, very factual, qualifications, systems experience etc. Some level of experience is still needed for most roles.
  2. Competencies –what are the competencies they need to do the job eg: teamwork, decision making, achievement drive. The key is that they must give a SPECIFIC example of a time when they have demonstrated this competency. This will usually occur in 3 parts (tell me about a time when…., what did you do and what was the outcome). If they don’t give a specific, they don’t have the competency. Don’t ignore this – even if the resume is fantastic – if they can’t answer these questions, they won’t be a high performer in the job.
  3. Motivation – this is often the trickiest part of the interview to assess. It involves asking questions around why they want the job, what is their perfect job, what other jobs have they applied for, why have they left previous jobs, what makes them stay with an employer, what makes them leave, who has been their favourite boss, who inspires them and why, where has been the best/worst culture they have worked in. Did I mention why they want this job? Not just any job. Why this job above others in the paper and on the net? And then tell me again why you want it – make sure they convince you.
  4. Warning signs – this is usually around behaviour during or post interview. For example, I had a candidate tell me they would call me Monday to confirm their interest in a job at Entrée, they called Tuesdayat 5pm. For me and my culture, this is a warning sign they wouldn’t fit in as one of our values is integrity – you do what you say you will do.
  5. Reasons for leaving – don’t ever accept the first reason.  I ask several times on the same job – tell me what were your reasons for leaving? What else contributed to you leaving? What other reasons were behind this decision? Probe, probe, probe and look for patterns of behaviour.

As I picked up my daughter from school yesterday, one of these parents thanked me, telling me how much easier her three interviews had been that day. Her change in questions towards motivation and culture opened up her thinking about what was being said at interview, if they would fit her team and it increased her confidence in making the right hire.

In my experience, motivation and cultural fit is more important than skills and experience.  The culture fit and motivation buys you loyalty, commitment and top performers who in the long term outshine the power CV with a technical answer for everything at interview.  Go with your gut – will you and your team enjoy working with this person every day of the week? And whatever you do – don’t “hope” that it will work out – it never does. Hope is not a recruitment strategy.

Can women successfully return to work after babies?

By | Leadership, Retention, Work Life Balance

What a week it has been watching the debate around working women, their choices and when they should return to work after having babies – all thanks to a glamorous Jackie O crossing the street while feeding her baby.

Not only as a working mother myself, but as Leader of an all-female team with more than half of them being career mums with children (the majority being 5 years or younger), I know it can work.

I have successfully retained high performing young women after they have had babies, successfully employed new returning to work mums part-time and have successfully integrated the two worlds myself.

Before the media blow up earlier this week, I often advise clients about how part-timers can actually work and how the business doesn’t need to fall in a heap if a key staff member takes time off for parental leave.  10 things I recommend to help it work:

  1. First reactions – I remember the first time one of my top Consultants told me she was pregnant.  She was so nervous and scared that I would be angry that she was going to be leaving the business when she was performing so well.  I was delighted for her and kept the conversation focussed on her and this exciting time in her life. There is plenty of time for the planning discussions around when, what, who and how at a later stage. Don’t take the shine off such a personal moment.
  2. No pressure – I don’t put pressure on any employee to return to work.  I have had some take 6, 9 or 12 months off for parental leave. Of course you need to know in advance to plan for their absence, but there has never been an expectation of it being sooner rather than later.
  3. Flexibility – the key to making it work! I have always given the returning to work mums the free reign to say what days/hours they want to work when they return. I then do my absolute best to accommodate them within a structure that also works for the business.
  4. Encouragement & empathy – if your baby is sick and you need to go home, go! Don’t sit at your desk feeling guilty. Remember Health 1st, Family 2nd, Work 3rd.
  5. Job ownership – each Consultant has had their clients managed while they are on parental leave.  This has given new/more junior Consultants the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility. The returning Consultant has then been given their clients back on their return – this was a big incentive for Consultants who had been with the business for many years and had built up many long standing relationships.
  6. Support systems – without question,  Consultants are given remote access, car parks, iPhones and admin support to assist if and when they are working from home.  This is essential for teamwork, flexibility and communication.
  7. Continuing reviews – regular one on one catch ups to honestly assess whether the arrangements are working for the individual and the business and whether they need to be re-negotiated or adjusted where necessary.
  8. Lead by example – by preaching work/life balance and flexibility as the Leader you need to ensure you are walking the talk. People will be guided by your behaviour and make their own assessment of what the ‘internal culture’ really is.
  9. Acknowledge FT employees – for part-timers to really be effective in an organisation and especially a small team, the glue that often holds it all together is the full-time employees. I have learnt it is critical to acknowledge their support and contribution.
  10. You can’t win them all – as much as you want all top performers to return to work after having children, it isn’t always the case. I have certainly lost a few along the way through their own decisions about it not working, deciding to give up work altogether or taking the opportunity to have a career change.  In these circumstances all you can do is give them the best offer you have available and then wish them well if it doesn’t fall your way.

All in all, these tips have been some of my most successful retention strategies over the years.  In making it easier for these women to return to work with part-time, flexibility and support, I have gained their commitment, loyalty and respect.

The business wins too – we have retained key clients who want to deal with the same faces every year, the profits have increased (as part-timers usually generate similar revenue to their full-time counterparts and in some cases – more), reduced costs in re-hiring and being able to give internal employees greater opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge.

So can working women successfully return to work after having babies? YES!  It’s a two-way street that requires a committed and realistic employee coupled with a flexible and understanding employer.

Can you make it work?

Belief Critical to Business Success

By | Results, Success

This week I had a new business owner track me down on Linkedin and ask if they could buy me a coffee to pick my brain about how I’ve “grown the business so successfully”. Apart from the fact that I’ve recently given up coffee (my adrenal glands are running over-time!) – I have agreed, because I know in my own experience learning from others can sometimes be the most inspiring way to take an idea or business to the next level.

This happened for me late 2001 when I was working at another recruitment firm where things were going really well from the outside.  I had a great team, a group of repeat-purchase clients and revenue targets were being overachieved.  However, on the inside, it was a different story.  We had a new CEO, who was less than inspiring and had zero recruitment experience, the culture was changing significantly, staff were being treated like second class citizens and I was becoming disengaged.

I was reading Richard Branson’s “Loosing my Virginity” autobiography at the time and I was inspired by his road to success and his theories about growing business. His beliefs included small is beautiful, look after staff first, clients second and shareholder interests last.  He stressed that your key asset is your people and you must give them every opportunity to work at their best.  As I looked around I could see that the opposite was happening in this national recruitment firm – it was very much about the share price, winning volume tenders, cutting costs and reaching the number one position in the market.

Coincidently, I was headhunted at the same time by well known Adelaide businessman, Mark Hender to join his consulting firm.  Although highly prestigious and reputable in the executive space, I was reluctant to move into a sole consulting role again since I was thriving in leading a team of people.  That is when he offered me the opportunity to set up a new business.  A very exciting proposition that I didn’t refuse.

There I was, all of 23 being offered the chance to develop something from inception, put in place everything I had learnt and make the people the focus instead of just the profits.

The recipe for success was clear.  I had something to believe in – a new business where people and quality were going to be the differentiator, I had someone who believed in me and was prepared to take the risk with me and finally I had the confidence and belief in myself to get it off the ground.

The results were generating revenues of $3 million in our first year of business and creating a new recruitment system where clients paid for part of our service upfront and where candidates were king – treated with honesty and respect and very much just as important as the paying client.

I celebrate my 10th year at Entrée Recruitment  this year and as I reflect on what I will say to this business owner over coffee next week – it is very clear that belief is a critical ingredient to business success. You need to believe in yourself, you need others who believe in you and finally you need a business idea that you believe in.