How do you end up starting your own business?

I have been asked on a number of occasions how I ended up launching my own recruitment business in the middle of the biggest recession the world has seen in 30 years!

At the time, I was just coming up to ten years working for the largest construction and civil engineering specialist recruitment company in the UK, Hill McGlynn (HMG). Not to blow my own trumpet, I’d done pretty well there.

Like many people in the early days of recruitment, I fell into the job with no idea whatsoever of what a recruiter actually did. I joined HMG in 2000 as a lowly graduate trainee in the Southampton based international team and very rapidly realised I had found the perfect job for me – a challenging mix of sales and problem solving.

In my first full year in recruitment, I managed to bill about £230,000 and was 3rd biggest biller out of 130 perm recruiters – the two chaps that beat me had both been doing the job for 10 years, so a pretty good start. In 2002, I was leading a small team and then in 2003, was asked to take responsibility for the UK search team as well as the international team.

After much nagging of my old MD, the truly fabulous Stephen Hill, I convinced him to open a Dubai office in 2005 and then I opened a few more international offices for the company around the world, also joining the main board during this period.

In 2009, it emerged that Randstad was buying out the parent company of HMG and consequently, my role as a UK based International Director didn’t exist in this new global structure. So, I was offered the role of Head of Engineering with a nice little guarantee for 2 years as I got the business going.

So, here I was, in 2009, a big financial crisis hitting the world, lots of redundancies going on, tough old economic market and I start to wonder what life looks like outside of HMG. Stephen said to me shortly before he died that at some point in my career, I would have to choose to either climb the corporate ladder or to have a go setting up my own business and this had stuck in my head. With the change to my role, if I was ever going to start my own company, then this was as good a time as ever.

I should add that my wife and I had just exchanged on a 4 bedroom family home and were planning on starting a family, so going through my mind was the insanity of leaving a stable, well paid job in a large company and having a go on my own with no protection, no hiding place and no safety net.

As you can clearly see, I did it. My wife, Karen, was fully supportive and knew I had a pioneering spirit. My friends and family encouraged me and ultimately, I believed in myself that I could succeed. It was pretty nerve wracking – I had been slightly removed from day-to-day delivery of work winning and assignment delivery for a few years, so my first question to myself was “could I even bill still?”

Well, the resounding answer was YES! In 2010, our first full year of trading, I personally billed over £320k of perm deals and followed that in 2011 with £375k!

I was absolutely right to take the plunge and have a go on my own. Since I made that decision, I have had more autonomy, more freedom, more control over my life, as well as earned more money.

Would I do it again – well yes, actually – I have just launched Sunblink as a brand-new company when the easy and safe option would have been to remain purely running The Highfield Company!

So my advice? Back yourself and go for it. No one else is going to do it for you. You won’t regret it.

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