Today I am going to talk about a subject that has been close to my heart over a number of years, recruitment. If you’ve read my “About” page, you’ll know it’s a business that provided me with some notable highs and lows. It’s quite an incestuous business so I was surprised that, many years later, I came across two people who I would have expected to know…but didn’t.
And, interestingly enough, they come from exactly the same market that I worked for many years. City IT recruitment.
It was a market I supplied for many years very successfully, as did Douglas Bates and Chris Mason of Intelligent People. Now, I got out of the market because I came to hate what it stood for and I knew I was “burnt out”. However, there were fundamental changes happening in the City market that were making it more difficult to do business.
The Intelligent People Story
Doug takes up the story.
“You’ll know yourself Dave, that HR departments were becoming “all powerful” in the City. This was quickly followed by the birth of the RPO model (Recruitment Process Outsourcing), and all of a sudden you could be “removed” from a supply situation just for talking to a line manager”.
Indeed, I remember this situation well. A good recruiter will always need a dialogue with the hiring manager, otherwise he or she is unable to provide exactly the right skills / soft skills set. If you don’t have a full briefing how can you possibly find the right person.
A Game Of Chance
Chris continues “It was rapidly becoming a game of chance, there was no skill, no relationship building and no contact with ultimate decision makers. We could see it in our figures. Our CV send to interview ratio quadrupled as more and more RPO companies took position in our client”.
Unlike myself, Doug and Chris decided recruitment was where they wanted to be, but knew they couldn;t survive as a boutique agency supplying IT to the City despite their considerable knowledge. Indeed, they very much backed up my own thoughts when Doug commented…
“It was like the RPO companies actually wanted to “dumb down” recruitment”.
They did just that, making it very difficult and far less profitable to supply into the Banks, unless you were the RPO company running the account!
So, ten years ago, they undertook a massive market assessment, looking for some specific traits.
Chris takes up the story. “IT to the City was becoming less and less worthwhile, so we knew we needed to change. We had some specifics we wanted in our new market. They were as follows:- The market needed to be growing, we wanted something with at least a technical bias, that had good salaries in order to maintain fee levels and finally we wanted a market where we knew decision maker contact would be allowed in most instances”.
“The search was detailed”, Doug recounts, “We left no stone unturned. However, the direct dealing with line management and a market growing into the future were the key factors”.
“Indeed”, added Chris, “in the end we came up with Digital Marketing, which at the time was in its infancy. If you go back ten years the Internet and Online Marketing were embryonic”.
Wow, that was a brave decision – going in to a market that was not anywhere near fully formed!
“Yes, it was somewhat” Chris nods. “We made a slow transition away from our IT clients. Indeed, in some cases we got referred through to the Digital Marketing teams which gave us a slight advantage. However, looking back, it was definitely a gamble to a large degree. We really didn’t know the market and we also didn’t have any idea that it would develop to be the huge market that it now is”.
Massive Change In Ten Years
Working in Digital Marketing myself I can confirm that in the last ten years there has been massive change and advancement in the market. Driven by technology we have seen huge strides in the way search algorithms work, massive improvements in eCommerce software and also an incredible increase in the sophistication of PPC platforms. All major components of digital marketing.
“The one thing making the chnage at that time did give us was an open market. I think we were really the first truly digital headhunter recruitment agency”, Doug says with some pride.
“But, being an early adopter has given us a depth of experience in being a Digital Recruitment Agency that few can match. Chris and I have been working this market for ten years and we now have an intimate knowledge of the roles and how it all works. We have an extensive, historic database that is the envy of the market and we have managed some of our client’s careers for that ten years” says Doug.
“Indeed, and most of our team have worked in the Digital markets as well, so we do offer an unparalleled level of digital marketing experience”, concludes Chris.
It’s great to see people make a decision like this and make it work. It was a bold leap, but it has allowed Intelligent People to build a dominant position by being one of the first major players in the market.
Today I want to take a slightly different direction with my post. I’m talking to Michelle Wiggett of Michelle Wiggett Photography a professional photographer from St Albans in Hertfordshire U.K.
As it’s a little different today, here she is, welcome Michelle.
Thanks Dave, I realy appreciate the offer of having some “space” on this amazing site. I got to know Dave about 3 years ago and the reason I am here is that Dave helped me with some aspects of my marketing, particularly my online marketing. So, I appreciate his help and this opportunity.
What Dave wanted me to do was talk about the investment a small business owner makes in their own business. So, I thought about this. I’ve always loved photography and my first invtesment was a 6 month semi-residential course to learn how to take my hobby to the professional level. Not only was I taught the most advanced photographic techniques, but I also learned how to do the business side of professional photography.
Outside of that, my investement is all in equipment, so taking a slightly different tack, this is what’s in my bag of photographic tricks!
As a photographer, there are a number of things that you must think about when creating every image – composition, eye path, lighting, colour, editing – but one basic fact remains, you have to use the best equipment you can afford. Whilst it’s not all about the equipment, having a broad collection of professional essentials always helps, so what’s in my bag at the moment?
So, here are the seven photography essentials that I take with me to every shoot and event, come rain or shine!
Two Nikon D800 Bodies
Nikon is a well-known brand in the professional and amateur photography world, and what it offers both parties is superior image quality with every click. With 36.3 megapixels, the Nikon D800 doesn’t miss a single detail, and is the ideal body for shooting wedding, commercial and landscape photography. It’s particularly good for child photography if they’re moving about a lot!
But why carry two camera bodies I hear you ask? It’s important to always be prepared, after all who knows what could happen. Generally I have each camera set with different views to ensure I can capture images accurately as well as have a backup camera in tow.
50mm Nikkor Lens
The 50mm Nikkor lens offers a range of picture angles when fixed to a selection of camera bodies. Its design differs from previous Nikkor lens meaning I can harness high performance as well as produce the creative natural-looking blurs that many photographers and clients alike love.
24-70mm Nikkor Lens
Offering a wider zoom range, the 24-70mm Nikkor lens provides a lens for many occasions. Despite its range, the Nikkor lens is lightweight and uses a Silent Wave Motor for superfast autofocus.
70-200mm Nikkor Lens
Again this lens uses a Silent Wave Motor to make autofocus smooth and quiet. It also has three focus modes to make shooting from a distant quick and easy.
105mm Nikkor Lens
It’s always important to carry a selection of lenses and the 105mm Nikkor lens is designed for close-up and macro photography to make it extra versatile.
Two Nikon SB910 Speed Lights
Lighting is critical to the final picture quality and having two speed lights handy is a great way to ensure unparalleled performance in a range of lighting conditions. This particular model uses intelligent through-the-lens metering to operate wirelessly and on camera.
Holdfast Money Maker camera strap
My kit wouldn’t be complete without my leather camera strap. The Holdfast Money Maker strap ensures multiple cameras can be secured, meaning all that’s left to do is take aim!
Michelle does wedding photography in St Albans and the surrounding area of Hertfordshire and in to London. She is also on Facebook where you can find her at the following link. Do go and give her a like, say dave sent you
I am a great believer that if you do something you love, you’ll do it better. In fact, when you are doing something you really like to do, you can often be found in “the zone”, just loving every second and being totally obvlious of time and your surroundings. Now, what if you could do something you absolutely loved for work?
Can You Love Your Work?
I’ve often heard it said in positive mental attitude circles, if you do truly enjoy what you do, the money will follow. Now, personally I’ve never witnessed it that way around. I have come to love what I’ve been doing and consequently earned a lot of money. I can certainly understand that. I can also totally pace with the idea that you will work better, harder and more effectively if you are enjoying your work.
So, after having said all of that…I am in absolute awe of people who manage to achieve this. I reckon this is as near to heaven on earth as you can get if you are in the situation of needing to earn to live. In wrote about my background in the “About Us” section of the site. And, during my time as a recruiter I often heard figures banded around about the percentage of the workforce that actually do enjoy their jobs. This figured ranged anywhere from 6-7% down to a miserable 1%, depending on where the research was based.
Those figures make horrible reading.
Pet Sitting As A Business
However, on a far more positive note, today I am looking at a business borne out of a love for animals. Well, more specifically pets. Through one of my business contacts (I Guy I knew from school quite amazingly), I was introduced to Peter and Julie Maxted who run Pets, Homes and Gardens. PHG (as they are known) is a pet sitting business that franchises out their operation.
Peter and Julie run an area around Horsham (in the U.K) and having honed the business down to the “n’th” degree, they looked at how they wanted to expand. It was my friend from school, David, who is a business process expert that cameup with the idea 0f turning the business into a franchised model.
Systems Make For Success
So, he helped “systemise” the business and the PHG pet care franchise opportunity was born.
Peter takes up the story, “we were just not business people”, he recalls. “We met David totally by chance and got talkingand I guess he was really the driving force initially. Indeed to prove it was going to work, his wife, Mel, became our first franchisee”.
By now, of course, I was intrigued by the story. They used Mel’s franchise (which was geographically “next door” to their own) to iron out the “rough spots” and to install all the proper systems. Then they had to look at the pricing model.
Getting The Pricing Right
Over to David, “Being brutal about it”, he smiles, “we knew people who would be interested in running a pet sitting/day care business wouldn’t have a whole load of money to put up front. So, we had to be very clever about how we set the fee structure”.
What they came up with is quite unique in the pet sitting franchise world. There are a few model, some in the pet sitting arena, some in dog walking and some in day care. There were twocommon factors.
Firstly, they all charged a high up front fee, running into many thousands of pounds. And, secondly, the on-going support was not wonderful.
So, they all agreed the initial fee would be small (£495) and to ensure they provided suprb support to their franchisees, they would only charge subsequent fees once profits were achieved. The fees then being charged on profits each month. Add to that each month, each franchisee gets £50 worth of online advertising paid for all included, and all of a sudden you have one very attractive offering.
A Good Year!
Indeed, the number of PHG franchises has doubled in 2014. That has to be the acid test of an excellent offering.
Final word from Peter, “we are so proud of what we have achieved”, he beams at me “we have given a lot of frustrated people a way to earn a damn goodliving doing something they truly love and that is an amazing feeling. We have become firm friends with nearly all of our franchisees and it really is like one big happy family”.
For my money, this is one of my favourite business stories. Peter, Julie and David are good people, salt of the earth, and they love helping others. But the trick is they all enjoy it and because of that every franchisee is a success in his or her own right and PHG is now making a rather nice profit to boot. What better business model is there to work to? I certainly can’t think of one.
In keeping with the whole ethos of S-Dev, today I’m going to take a look at a business that took an existing idea and added their own unique twist. That twist, whilst not being unique in other areas of the world is certainly unque in the U.K where the business is based. So, I guess the lesson here is have a look at how the business you are in is conducted in other countries. Look for ideas to bring to your home market. This one is quite a simple idea, but in this case it has been turned in to a multi-million pound business.
Hassle Free Boilers
The business is hassle free boilers based out of Gloucestershire in England. They started life as Ecovision in 2006 providing heat pump and biomass boilers across the U.K. They branched out in 2009 founding Hassle Free Boilers under the guidance of CEO Peter Randall. Hassle Free Boilers are in the home boiler and heating business providing combi boilers, heat only boilers and system boilers to homes throughout the United Kingdom.
In the U.K the heating and boiler indutry is dominated by the ex nationalised behemoth British Gas. They not only provide gas, but also boiler installation and servicing. They have diversified in recent years to add other home services as well. The market was deregulated in the 1980’s under the Thatcher government and other large corporations have been muscling in on gas supply and service contracts.
There is also a thriving secondary market where small independent heating engineers offer local services on a “one-off” or emergency basis for people who tend to have older boilers that are not covered by a service contract.
Boiler Industry in the U.K
Let’s first look at how the wider market works. In the U.K, the likes of British Gas and Scottish Power will provide you with a boiler service contract, and they also offer boiler installation. So, in essence a pretty vanilla service offering. You need a new boiler, you contact your supplier, they send a survey team round, assess your property and make a proposal for a new boiler installation and subsequent service contract.
The new boiler can cost anywhere up to £3,500 and installation between £1,000 – £2,500. So, it’s a big outlay. Your service contract is generally around £15/month.
So, what is the twist that Hassle Free Boilers offer?
I talked in the introduction about looking to how these things work in different countries, so before launching the company, Ecovision scoured the world looking for a different perspective on this business model. They landed in Canada and saw something different. The researched in detail and decided it was something that was different enough to the existing U.K model to offer them a truly unique selling point, a differentiator.
You see, in Canada, most supply companies offer an all encompassing contract that covers everything in one (reasonably low) monthly payment. So, there are no up-front charges for the boiler or installation, these costs are absorbed into the monthly service contract price.
Up Front Outlay Avoided
So, effectively, that huge outlay up front is negated, it’s almost like getting a free boiler!
Yes, of course the monthly charge is higher, but as a customer you are not out of pocket to the tune of £5,000 up front, and the real kicker is that Hassle Free Boilers provide your gas at prices 40% below most of the mainstream suppliers.
So, why is the monthly cost so low (circa £36 the Canadian average is £31-£44)?
Well, clearly as they are buying a huge number of boilers (they have a sole supply deal with Vaillant), that reduces the cost of the boiler itself. The gas price is low again becuase of the bulk buying power.
The last word from Peter Randall, “yes, we have a great system set up that provides outstanding economies of scale, but, we pass most of these cost savings on to our customers. This makes a hassle free boiler one of the cheapest ways to heat your home and water. Add to this cost advantage our superb supply agreement with the gas wholesalers, and we deliver an unbeatable advantage to the consumer”.
Indeed, it’s true, the cost advantages are clear for all to see using this business model. And, it is no surprise that business is booming at Hassle Free Boilers, check out their website and see if you qualify for their service. http://HassleFreeBoilers.com
Here’s a bit more information about Hassle Free Boilers
For information on other unique business ideas, click here
If you read the About S-Dev page on the site, you will know one of “my things”, is that I like buisnesses that are either unusual, against all odds or borne out of adversity. Today, I am going to talk about a business that probably just about qualifies for all three categories.
To be honest it’s one of those things that you don’t think about, or indeed would probably never know about until it happens to you. And, it’s also one of those things that, when you do hear something about it, you think “oh, that will never happen to me”.
Facts and Figures
I am talking about premature babies. Now, before I got involved in this business I had no idea that circa 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. I was actually staggered when I read that figure, but the fact is 1 in 10 babies are pre term to some degree. That means there is a huge market for premature baby clothes, but more of that in a minute.
It is reported that the numbers are on the increase too. The probably causes are thought to be mothers leaving it later to have children and the increase in the use of fertility drugs which tends to lead to multiple births more often. There is a much higher tendancy to pre-term birth when multiples are involved apparently.
So, back to the “that will never happen to me” part!
This was Ngaire Cockerill three and a half years ago. It was her first baby and everything seemed to be going along fine. All the pre-natal checks and scans were looking good, she felt good, and planning for a normal term birth were well under way. The nursery was almost ready and a whole host of clothes and accessroies had been purchased, now all they had to do was wait.
Rushed Into Hospital
Then all of a sudden, without any warning the wait was over, cut short by 8 weeks and Ngaire was rushed into hospital. Clarke duly arrived, in a bit of a rush and two months early.
Personally I cannot imagine the shock of that situation, but in talking to Ngaire it was clearly a very emotional time for her and her husband. She still looks visibly upset when she talks about it.
But, once the shock has subsided, she was left with having to deal with the situation.
A Stressful Situation
“The SCBU staff were amazing”, she recalls, “and they did everything they possibly could to help us. But, there was Clarke, in an incubator with PICC lines everywhere and we couldn;t even have proper cuddles. It was hugely stressful”.
Thankfully Clarke was never in danger, but, it was the difficulty in finidng very small baby clothes that drove Ngaire to start Dinki Dreams – her premature baby clothing website.
“It was just one more thing we had to deal with”, she remembers. “If it wasn’t bad enough anyway, I sent hubby off to get stuff from home and he came back with clothes, but of course they were for 7-8lb babies, Clarke was under 4lb! So, I went shopping and found I couldn’t get more than one or two babygro’s at any one store. Then I tried online and hit the same problem. There was just nowhere with a good supply”.
And, in that instant the idea hit her. She needed to put together a range of specialist pre-term and small baby clothing to at least take one of the pains away from suddenly becoming the parents of a premature baby.
Help From Dad
“Dad is an experienced business man, he’d run his own show all of his life. So I talked to him about the idea and he loved it. With his help I put a plan together and within two months I had a French designer and a quality manufacturer in the U.K on board. Three months later I had the first samples through and a website being built. I was on a mission.” she laughed.
Fast-forward to late 2014 and Dinki Dreams at the Premature Baby Boutique is now the premier online store for this type of baby clothing. It is thriving business and one that is going from strength to stregnth. I for one am delighted about that and every time I see Ngaire I just see that absolute burn in her eyes. That desire to provide quality products, at good prices and to save people time and trouble.
Gaps in the Market
You see, it was her desire that came out of that adverse situation that has been on of the major contributing factors to the success of Dinki Dreams. She saw a situation that was tough for people and she did something to address that out of her own adversity. I just love stories like this and it also demonstrates that there are still huge gaps in many markets.
Gaps that are there to be exploited if you have the right view of the situation and the drive and enthusiasm to “make something happen”.