Executive Director of GWG Recruitment, James Grierson has had a distinguished career in the recruiting and technology sector for nearly 30 years. Holding a number of senior technology & CIO positions prior to founding GWG, he has trodden a very different path than most start-up recruiters breaking out on their own (typically agency recruiters).
Recently celebrating the 10 year anniversary of GWG Recruitment, we speak to James in our latest Recruiter Spotlight.
What was the key catalyst that made you want to start your own agency, and why was a building contract book part of that decision?
Quite a few friends and colleagues said I was unwise to start ‘another’ recruitment agency, leaving behind a career I had spent so much sweat building, but the higher I progressed up that ladder the more I found corporate work overly political and uninspiring. I’m naturally quite a creative person that loves to build and innovate so the idea of any start-up excited me. Recruitment was picked from a shortlist of ideas because of the low barriers to entry and my strong network, which I could leverage to build a client base quickly. I had no agency experience, but I’d personally been a contractor many times and building a contracting book with a recurring revenue stream made perfect sense.
50% of small businesses fail in the first year. What issues did you face in your first 2 years of business?
I’d worked in sales early in my career, but I was terrible at selling my own services to my own network and whilst I’d also hired plenty of staff, I didn’t enjoy hands-on recruitment. So my first issue was finding people who were great at business development and recruitment. I partnered with two successful consultants to handle that side of the business, whilst I would run the commercials and marketing. One of those consultants remains my long-term business partner, Julie Gearie. Our second issue was we had a very strong start with permanent roles, but then one-quarter things went quiet. Without a solid contracting book, we endured the reality of cash flow problems.
How important is it to understand the cash-flow management of running an agency?
It’s hard to comprehend the amount of non-income generating time and money you’re forced to spend on administration and compliance simply to keep your business open. It’s critical to set yourself up in a position whereby you have predictable and reliable cash flow to pay salaries, fixed costs and of course taxation. There are not many second chances if you get this wrong and your employees trust you to have this covered.
What practical steps did you take to start your agency on the right foot and ensure you remain compliant?
We couldn’t afford to hire operational employees, so our strategy was to partner with good suppliers, and plug in the knowledge and capability where those gaps existed. We did our research and engaged with partners that were competent, compliant, yet flexible and able to grow with us. There’s a massive amount of legislation for small businesses and you can’t possibly know everything, therefore it’s essential you have suppliers in place that can be trusted.
What have you found to lead to more success, being client lead or candidate lead in the current market?
We did some lead generation research for our third-year conference and discovered that over 80% of our new business came from our candidates. The biggest complaint about recruitment agencies is that they don’t call back or candidates have a poor experience. As a non-recruiter, that was an easy way for us to beat the competition and seems to have worked particularly well in our region.
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently if you set up your business today?
Be more confident and committed. Early on, I always had a plan B to return to my job if the business didn’t succeed. This made me very conservative when it came to growth and risk. With the help of a coach, I realised that I needed to put all my ‘eggs into the GWG basket’ to make it sing. That advice was life-changing and looking back, I should have been more ambitious from day one.
Why did you choose to partner with Oncore for the contracting side of your business?
Following our first quiet quarter, we know growing our contracting book quickly was critical to survival. Delivering and scaling on-hire requires tonnes of capital for payroll and introduces a host of risk and compliance issues. We chose Oncore because of their people, track record, expertise and breadth of offerings including finance, insurance and payroll administration.
As agency founders, you can get caught up in doing everything yourself. How has technology and your use of vendors/partners helped you to focus on growing your agency?
It’s remarkably easy to get distracted with pet projects and I’ve learned the hard way to be self-critical about the value of my time which is an extremely limited resource. These days it’s all about working smarter, not harder and for us that means using technology and partners to get quality outcomes faster. You need great people, processes and systems to be competitive and you have no chance if you’re trying to do everything on your own.
What were the key short-term and long-term goals did you set for the business before you launched?
We set out to be a national provider specialising in the technology industry given that’s my background and comfort zone. Within the first year, some of our larger clients demanded we recruit across all types of sectors. So, we made the call to change our strategy, adding new consultants across many more industries over the last decade. Now we’re placing anything from Chief Executives to Experience Mining Operators in the same week. Our goal now is recreating what we have built in Newcastle in our new Sydney Office and then wherever we pick next.
What do you think sets GWG apart from your competitors and keeps your clients coming back?
I honestly believe we have an incredible team of people here and we’ve been meticulous in recruiting our consultants. Our people in leadership, consulting and support are passionate, knowledgeable and always professional. I’ve always held the belief that we don’t need to be different to succeed, just better. And I think our clients appreciate the experience they receive when they come to work with us – at least, that’s what we keep hearing!