003: Kelly Robinson – How to Maintain Happy Employees and Build the Right Company Culture whilst Scaling for Exit

Kelly has a spent the last 25 years in the recruitment and recruitment-technology space during which time, he has grown, integrated, bought, and sold businesses in both the UK and US. He founded Broadbean Inc. which he sold to DMGT in 2008; launched in the US 2009 and lead the strategic acquisition by CareerBuilder in 2014. He is the current CEO of RedDot Media and Co- Founder of Content App.

If you are looking for advice regarding when to sell your business, when to hire the right management, and how to define company culture, this is the episode for you. Kelly is an extremely intelligent entrepreneur with years of experience in being a business owner. A great listen.

Short transcript

David Alonso: I have spoken to previous employees of yours who were very complementary and enjoyed working for you.  What do you think makes a great CEO?

Kelly Robinson: I think there are 3 things that you should focus on as a CEO. The first thing is that you are in charge of creating growth. With creating growth comes opportunities and with that comes people development. The second thing is that you need to be focused on clearing roadblocks. When you’re running your business, your job is to see where the difficulties are and fix them for the people around you. The third thing, you are the champion for the vision of the company culture. You are the person that makes sure that it aligns with the values of the organization.

David Alonso: How would you define company culture and how important is the CEO in creating that culture?

Kelly Robinson: I think culture is something that develops. You start off and say, “we want this to be a great place for people to work.” As a CEO, you have probably done all of these jobs before. You’ve done Sales, you’ve done marketing. You need to remember what it was like to do these jobs and listen to the people doing them and help them clear their roadblocks.

People buy into the vision of the organization. You spend more time in the workplace than you do at home. You spend so much time with the people you work with, your organization will start to feel like a family. Culture develops from the amount of time you spend together.

I don’t think you should hire for the culture because if you do that you wont have diversity. You want different opinions, different backgrounds, different ideas. That’s how your company will grow.

David Alonso: How successful can a CEO be on their own without putting management into place?

Kelly Robinson: As I mentioned before, the role of a CEO is to create growth. When you are trying to create growth, the first thing you are going to put in is Sales. With Sales comes revenue and with revenue comes the opportunity to hire people. You want to put in the right kind of people as soon as you can but there is a balance.

David Alonso: How do you view giving equity to senior management when scaling a business to exit?

Kelly Robinson: Equity is a great thing. I would be interested in seeing the statistics on people who had a small amount of equity in small startup businesses to see if it went anywhere. Only a small proportion of businesses actually get sold. You need to look at your company and see ‘what is the likelihood of you exiting.’ Then you should think what would benefit the people working there more? Should you give them some form of incentive base pay? Sometimes benefits and bonuses are more interesting to people.

David Alonso: Free content marketing plays a big part in raising awareness nowadays. Do you think that content works to win new business? Does emailing and cold calling still work?

Kelly Robinson: I think content plays a vital part in building a sales process. Cold calling is dead. When is the last time you answered a call from someone you didn’t know? For some people it still works. I think email marketing still works. I mean I click on some emails but I also have plenty of software that filters it out. You are never going to get the open rates that you saw 10 years ago. It still works if you hit the right people.

For me, the idea of content is social selling. Most people post on social media very enthusiastically for 2 weeks and then stop because there is no instant gratification. Or all they do is flood the market with sales messages. This is just noise and people just tune them out. For me, social selling is a mix. Offer interesting content, nothing is going to be that you create your self. You need to be regular with it. You need to be posting something everyday or at least a couple times a week. Once you start to produce regular content, this will start to give you a voice or a brand.

David Alonso: When should the founder take that first step back from selling and work on the business?

Kelly Robinson: I think as soon as possible. If you are going to create growth you are going to need to be working on the business. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to sell because even when you stop selling you are still going to be working on client relationships. I had no ego about being the best sales guy or best marketeer I simply wanted to grow the team. You can’t take on bigger projects without more people.

David Alonso: Very few people get the opportunity to sell and exit, can you give us a sense of what an exit really looks like and what you need to be prepared for?

Kelly Robinson: We were never ready to sell. The deal ended up working out well and that’s what funded us to get to the US. We literally couldn’t agree on a price. We said no within 3 minutes of the first offer.

From my point of view, it is massively time consuming. We decided that my business partner would not get involved because it is endless requests for data and information. My advice is to have a partner or have someone handle that because you don’t want to neglect your business in case the sale doesn’t go through.




002: Angela Middleton - How to Crush it with your Personal & Company Brand and Why Diversification is Key

Do you ever see those people that “do it all” and you wonder how the heck they have the time?

Angela Middleton is one of those people. Angela is a graduate of the University of West London, where she achieved an honors degree in Business Studies and also a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10k Small Business Program. Angela is the owner of Middleton Murray, an apprenticeship training provider and Apprenticeship Levy consultancy that takes a holistic view of the job market to maximize the chance that the right candidate gets placed with the right employer.

Angela has an extreme passion for health and fitness, theater, fashion, reading and mindfulness. She is a firm believer that success starts with your own mind and body. This podcast explores the importance of personal branding, issues with growing a company, finding the time for life outside of work, and advice on investment vs. organic growth. Angela is the definition of a bad a** in the workforce.

Short Transcript

David Alonso: You have done a great job with Middleton Murray, growing the business to over 100 employees and growing revenue. Tell us about the some of the big issues that come with growth and how you deal with decision making at Middleton Murray.

Angela Middleton: Primarily dealing with people and cash. I’ve never had issues with clients, I love the client side. My first difficulty was having to fire someone due to lack of performance. That was very early on and they were such a lovely person but they just couldn’t get the results. After firing her, I literally went home and cried about it because I loved her so much as a person.

Another issue was when the recession happened. I remember feeling so upset that I had to let go of so many people. The worst part was that I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone about how stressed I was about money. From that I learned that there’s no point on acting like everything is okay and that its okay to tell people. I learned that if you tell people they will either really dig in to help you or they will jump and leave.

David Alonso: You are one of the few people I know who have managed to continue to grow your staffing business yet start other ventures. At what point in your growth at MM did you need to put in the management structure to help grow and free up some of your time.

Angela Middleton: I think the fact that I didn’t come from a recruitment background helped a lot in this respect. I’ve never seen Middleton Murray as myself, I’ve seen it as one of the companies I owned and kept it as a separate thing. I always wanted to build something separate to me, that could run without me. Once you have that mindset, you can figure out who can do the jobs for you. You just need Finances, Operations, and Delivery. Those are the three main things you need.

David Alonso: Let’s talk about brand. We have seen your company and personal brand skyrocket over the years. What was the mental change that you thought you need to do something different to get not only the company name out there but get you out there also.

Angela Middleton: I spent a lot of time, money, and effort on learning. Part of that is personal development. As long as I can keep my body healthy and fit, I could keep developing my mind. The only way you can achieve what you want is to get attention. You need a very clear brand so people know what you stand for. It needs to be congruent with your values. My brand launched once I started using Instagram. I promised myself if I was going to use it I wanted it to be me and not a fantasy of a perfect life.

The thing about a personal brand, no matter what you do with your business, you always have your personal brand and its always going to be valued. You have to have a very clear audience.

David Alonso: Parent, business owner, speaker, author, mentor and you have successful a fitness programmed called Your Body Means Business. I am exhausted thinking about it so where do you find the time. Help us understand how you manage all this?

Angela Middleton: First, think of what you really want. Give yourself a flavor of it, then you’ll want it even more. For me, I wanted to improve mentally. The way to do that was to get a physically fit as I possibly could.

David Alonso:  What do you think are the most important qualities to be a CEO.

Angela Middleton: One, a clear vision of where you want to take the business. Everyone looks to you as what to do.

Two, when things are not going how you want them to, you need to be vocal as to what’s happening and how you’re doing about it. Constant communication is key.

David Alonso:  How do you view taking investment v organic growth and what is your advice as to when you should take it.

Angela Middleton: I think that it is frustrating when you’re growing organically, and everyone is growing faster than you. If you take investment and you take too much, then you aren’t in charge anymore. Cash is always tight. Nothing happens overnight, things take time. If you keep pushing and focusing you will grow. Unless you really have to, I wouldn’t take investment.







001: David Searns speaks of All Things Marketing – All the Things you NEED to Know to Successfully Market your Staffing Business

Released December 17th 2018

Is your recruitment firm lacking when it comes to differentiating itself among your competitors? Are your social posts boring?

When it comes to marketing a staffing firm, few people know the industry like David. David has a degree in Information Systems from Clarkson University, an MBA from The Wharton School, and more than 20 years of marketing and consulting experience in the staffing industry. He is the CEO of Haley Marketing, the largest marketing firm in the world, dedicated to servicing the staffing and recruiting industry.

This podcast dives deep into the recruitment marketing space. David explains the importance of branding, the 4 pillars of recruitment marketing, why cold calling is NOT dead, and shares advice on how to stand out among other recruiters. His knowledge of marketing in the staffing industry is second to none.

Short Transcript

David Alonso: What is your advice to any CEO struggling to get exposure for their business. With such a good economy right now and the difficulties attracting talent. How do they get ahead and get those candidates first and attract them on a regular basis?

David Searns: There is no silver bullet that is going to kill all woes. One of the things we are recommending people to do is to think about your recruitment marketing through 4 pillars.

The first pillar is your career site. Is my career site designed to attract people? Is it designed to optimize conversions? We find that a lot of ATS’ will be the job application being used on a recruiting firm’s website. They may lose up to 90% of candidates at the bottom of the funnel when those people were trying to apply.

The second pillar is optimizing job advertising. A lot of our clients have accounts with the big name job boards but they are not thinking about the most strategic ways to advertise their jobs. A lot of the budget goes to the job they could’ve easily filled where little of the budget goes to the jobs that really need help. Every one of our clients need to look at ways to implement tools to more strategically control spending to attract people.

The third pillar is social media. How do I do social recruiting? Not just to sell jobs. What is the emotionally journey the candidate goes on when thinking about employment? That is the emotional journey you should engage with on social media to bring them to your website.

The final pillar is the employment brand. The recruitment brand is weak. I have to get people aware of my company and trust me.

David Alonso: Any CEO who has been in business for 10 years would have built their businesses on the back of cold calling and emailing. Do you think that these channels are finished, should we give it up and put all our efforts into social?

David Searns: Sales people forever put in process to build report and to get people to trust you. Social media is just another step in that process. Instead of doing it one to one, I’m doing it one to many and making my brand more visible. I am doing the same thing I can do in a sales call but at the top of the funnel. Usually when you put it in the perspective of this is no different from how you sold, just different in the channel you are engaging in, they usually get it. Every time you are talking to someone think about how many times you want to check your phone to see your email or see the latest social media update. If you are not on these sites how are you going to connect with people.

Cold Calling isn’t dead at all. The art of cold calling needs to be integrated within other things you are doing. You really want to show that you understand the business you are calling on. You don’t want a highly skilled sales professional to spend 90% of their workday leaving voicemail messages.

David Alonso: When I look at Linkedin it can be boring with so much noise. A lot with of my feed is dominated by recruiters posting bland jobs. What advice can you give our listeners to differentiate their posts and push out more varied content?

David Searns: As a recruiter, you want a perfect ratio of interesting content to job postings and you want this ratio to be about 5-1. You want anyone who sees your name to associate you with that value of content. It becomes bland when its boring stock photo. I like to watch what everyone is doing and see who’s doing it a little differently. That subject line or header is the first thing people see. What makes your post more important that other ones?

David Alonso: Should companies be producing different content for different platforms? What type of content works and how much content should we be producing each week?

David Searns: I don’t think you really need different content as long as it is the same audience you are trying to reach. The content you share should be geared towards the audience more than the platform. The selection of platform should be based on the audience and the goals you have.

David Alonso: Are CEO's reluctant to be the face of their company on social media. Is it dangerous for CEOS not to be involved and let the recruiters seemingly steal the limelight? How important is the CEOs personal brand for their growth and does it matter?

David Searns: You just hit home. A much as I have always loved to write content, it is so different making yourself as the entire brand. A personal brand at the end of the day isn’t worth as much as the company brand. As a CEO you want to be involved with being part of that voice but you don’t want to be the entire voice.

David Alonso: If a client gave you an unlimited digital marketing budget to work with. Which channels by percentage would you split it by and why?

David Searns: When we teach people marketing, we talk about a pyramid. The very bottom of your pyramid are your company’s core values, something that marketing really doesn’t drive, but is the foundation for everything you do. The very top of the pyramid are you sales people and your recruiters doing there every day activity. In the middle, there are three steps. Step number 1, is to determine your companies messaging. What do you want to be known for? What segment of the market are you working with? Who is your ideal candidate? On top of that is the materials that you use to convey your messaging to your clients and candidates. The last layer has two parts. One half is integrated direct marketing for the sales people. This Is the first place I would invest in to make my sales people more productive so they have to make fewer cold calls. The other half of that is content and inbound marketing. Most staffing companies are doing a lot of inbound recruiting and less direct marketing. I want to invest my money in ways to get my business found ex: producing content and sharing content (organic or paid advertising to get it in front of the right people.)

David Alonso: You have worked with so many CEOS over the years. How patient do they need to be see a return with Digital marketing.  Tell me about typical frustrations they have along the way and how do you manage it?

David Searns:  Some results are easy to measure and others aren’t. I can immediately see a spike in traffic to our website. If you are looking to be the top of search results, that is going to take months. We like to look at the short term wins. “Are we getting like?” “Are we getting click throughs?’

We also want to set up goals in Google Analytics. “Are we getting people to the jobs? Are we getting them to the thank you page?” You can see how people got through the funnel. Typically, within 3 months you have enough data to adjust the strategy.

David Alonso: Being a successful CEO of over 25 years, what are the top 3 tips you would give to a start up CEO?

David Searns: My first tip is positioning. The most classic mistake is trying to be all things to all people.

My second tip is to build that messaging and make sure everybody in the business knows it. Everybody from the front line staff to the back of the house to all understand the messaging so we can build a brand that is credible.

My third tip is to build a marketing plan that is very strategic. Don’t just try things to see if they will stick.