006: Brad Semotiuk – Preserving your Brand Identity & Fueling Growth while Building an Offshore Resourcing Company

Why is it important to trust the right people as an entrepreneur in the staffing and recruitment business? David discusses the importance of taking risks, outsourcing, and valuing people in the staffing business with CEO Brad Semotiuk of Pure Staffing Solutions.

A special thanks to Staffing Future for sponsoring this episode! If you’re interested in growing your staffing business through technology and innovation strategy, set up a consultation today!

You always need good people to power your business.

 Show Notes:

  • How Brad “fell into” the recruitment and staffing business  (1:56) 

  • How helping a friend with his recruitment business led to a promotion (2:41) 

  • Why marketing just wasn’t for Brad (4:17) 

  • Brad describes a “typical client” in his staffing business (5:18) 

  • How Brad managed his order fill issues (5:55)

  • How Brad learned to see failure as an opportunity in his business (6:43) 

  • How Brad faced logistic challenges with outsourcing in India (7:30) 

  • The importance of having a team leader that you can trust with your outsourced staff (9:03) 

  • How Brad delegates so that his personal time is less impacted with offshore logistics (11:12)

  • How will AI impact the future of offshore recruiting? (13:17) 

  • The ways that Brad motivates his staff both on the mainland and in India both financially and otherwise (14:22)

  • Strategies for creating a positive culture in a staffing and recruitment business (16:34) 

  • What are the important qualities Brad looks for when hiring staff? (19:00) 

  • The personnel structure of Brad’s staffing business (19:53)

  • How does Brad solve problems and issues in his staffing business? (21:44) 

  • The biggest problem that Brad has faced recently as a CEO (24:05) 

  • Why completely outsourcing your company is a bad idea (24:52) 

  • How does Brad achieve a work-life balance as a CEO (25:33) 

  • The two personal characteristics that Brad feels you need to have as a CEO of a business (28:28) 

  • Why it’s important to realize that everybody won’t always be happy (29:12) 

  • An accomplishment that Brad is most proud of as a CEO in his staffing company (30:01) 

  • What success looks like a year or two from now for Brad’s staffing company (32:22) 

  • The Quick Fire Round 

    • Brad’s best skill as CEO of his company? (33:22) 

    • Brad’s worst skill as a CEO? (34:03) 

    • Brad’s favorite book (34:35) 

    • Something that frustrates Brad about clients (35:37) 

    • Something people don’t know about Brad (37:52) 

    • If Brad wasn’t in the recruitment and staffing business, what would he do? (40:22)

Additional Resources:

If you are interested in listening to more recruitment business stories or wish to share your recruitment business journey, subscribe for free to The JourneyUp in your favorite app and listen to other informative and inspirational episodes! Feel free to contact me, David Alonso, with questions and comments.

Episode transcript

David Alonso:  Hey everybody, this is David Alonso! On this episode of The Journey Up, I met with Brad, who is the CEO of Pure Staffing Solutions. Brad is a really impressive guy. What I like about him is just how open he was throughout. You move him, listen to him about how he's opened his team. I kind of get a sense that that's how he's built really good business, you know, for a while. Sticking with his core values along the way. He works hard, has a lot of patience, and that's why he's been successful over a long period of time, and he seems to treat people the right way along the way. And that's what a good CEO does. For me, it's about how you make your money versus how much, and Brad really does seem to have this nailed.

David Alonso:  It's pretty interesting because he talks about having some really tough decisions to make, big resourcing issues that he couldn't deal with the U.S. Team. So he built out an offshore company of his own, and you can hear about how he did it. He really breaks it down, you know what he did and look. He had a problem, the same positive to make that change with future. That's what being a CEO is all about, taking risks and having the guts to make tough decisions along the way. Now, if you missed any of the previous episodes, please do subscribe in the normal podcast channels and you can also head up to Instagram to find them at the dot journey dot up. And if you have a good CEO that you work for and you think would be great for the show, please DM me there. So for now it's over to Brad to hear about his journey up.

David Alonso:  Hi Brad, welcome to The JourneyUP podcast. It's great to have you.

Brad Semotiuk: Thanks dude. Great chat to with you.

David Alonso:  Great. So I'd love to start this off and kick this off just by hearing a little bit about your journey up and how you founded Pure Staffing Solutions.

Brad Semotiuk:  Getting into the head hunting business and recruiting business.

Brad Semotiuk:  It's not really one of those companies that you you wake up one day and it's like, oh man, I really want to get into recruiting. I think that's the way to go. It's one of those businesses that you fall into. I mean, that's exactly what happened to me. When I graduated university I actually went out, I was working in marketing for a big insurance company, and then I left that job and I was supposed to actually become a stockbroker. And that was back in the days of 1999 when the tech bubble was going crazy. I had a job as a broker lined up with Merrill Lynch, but they said I wasn't gonna start for three months. I went off and traveled through Southeast Asia with a friend, came back and then that job kind of just fell to pieces.

Brad Semotiuk: So after that I did a little bit of day trading, on my own for a probably what a year or so. And then, at the time I had a friend who was working in the recruiting business and, and I saw the potential that his company had and what I decided to do was I actually took the owner of that company out for lunch and I kinda said, hey, like I understand this is your company, this is what you do, this is what you can do to take it from A to B or C then to D. And I kind of laid a roadmap out for him. And really the next day I got a call back from him and I was hired as their managing director, running a employment agency where little to no experience there. And that was really an interesting time in the business as well.

Brad Semotiuk: I kind of went in and was giving that company an online presence. It was kind of the days when email was just starting and, and employment agencies were transitioning from fax to digital resumes. So it was really an exciting time to get into the business. I worked there for a year and a bit and then I figured it was, it was time to go out and the, and I guess as you say, build a better mouse trap. I love the business and, and saw the opportunities that it presented and went out and started my own thing at that time. And that was, that was 15 years ago. So, uh, things have been changing since, since day one to where we are now. But yeah, I mean it's been an awesome journey.

David Alonso:  So your whole career has been in recruitment, not one job outside of it?

Brad Semotiuk:   Well, I had the job in marketing for an insurance company but my heart really wasn't in that job. It was just kind of one of those things where you apply to whatever after university. And that's kind of what happened to feel my one year off and take my time. But in hindsight, it was a great opportunity because I got to work for a big company, huge company where you actually get to see all the policy and all the red tape and all of the BS that I absolutely do not want to ever have at my company. I didn't like having to wear a suit to work every day. I didn't like having to shave everyday, it was just one of those things that was great experience in hindsight, but really it wasn't the job for me.

David Alonso: Congratulations on 15 years. So that's actually a hell of an achievement, that's fantastic. Let's talk about Pure Staffing. What's a typical customer for you?

Brad Semotiuk:   So we we're a full service agency and we work really only in Canada. We work with primarily manufacturing clients, work with the automotive, food, pharmaceutical, oil and gas engineering, utilities. Those are kind of our end, our end users of our services and our bread and butter for, for candidates that we supply are skilled trades, really a lot of skilled trades. Then we do engineering and operations, though types of positions as well.

David Alonso:  Fantastic. I noticed in 2017, you started an off shore company based in India. What was the reason behind this? Can you give us idea of what led to this, and your thoughts behind the whole process?

Brad Semotiuk: Yes. We really needed support, one of the big issues that we're facing right now is that we just don't have enough firepower to fill the orders that were given from our clients. We pride ourselves on providing fast results for our clients and always finding that our time to fill wasn't where I wanted, where I wanted it to be. So we really need to add firepower to our recruiting team to be able to source better candidates quicker for it. So I saw that as a way to, to quickly scale their business. About a year and a half ago we actually tried outsourcing through another agency that was over in India and we tried, we took on three recruiters at that time and really we failed miserably with it. We didn't get any results whatsoever. We wasted a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of effort and really failed. But we kind of put our heads together after that we saw that failures and opportunity, we figured out what we did wrong and we knew how to improve it and we went ahead and we actually started our own outsourcing company over in India. Yeah, about a year ago. And that kind of solved all the, all the problems that we were facing and addressed all the issues. And we've had incredible successes with it right now and it's been, it's been absolutely fantastic for us.

David Alonso: That's good. Congratulations. And what was the logistics side of it? Of actually going out there setting up. What kind of challenges was tell me a little bit about that.

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah, well the key was getting the right person in place to kind of be our lead on the ground there.

David Alonso:   How did you go about that? Did you pay a fee for that or did you do your own recruiting? And I say that just because obviously if that's in the U.S. you do your own recruiting, but in India, how did you find that person?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah. You know what, we had a couple of our employees here in Toronto that had done similar work with offshore agencies back in India when they were living in India and they had contacts. So it came down to the true recruiting way of, we just network the network network until we found the right person. I mean, we interviewed a ton of people before we found the right person. And then when we got that, we've got that right person in there. We jumped all over them and they'd been building our team very quickly for us. And they've done a great job.

David Alonso:   I mean, it sounds like you've kind of not looked back since you, you did this, um, you also mentioned like time to fill and that was the bit that you was trying to improve. Give us an idea of like the impact of that sales-force or percentages have gone up by, you know, tell me like a little bit more detail...

Brad Semotiuk: So it's been unbelievable. Our recruiting team has almost tripled in size since we started since we started using it. We just have so more eyes and so much more coverage on every single order they were able to present that many more candidates who are to our clients.

David Alonso:   So you've gone out there, you set the team. I presume you've done many visits back and forth. What about like the company culture, you know, what has it kind of affected that in your Canada office? What's the culture like in India? You trying to kind of mirror the two? How does, how does it kind of affect company culture?

Brad Semotiuk:   Yeah. You know what, I, I'm absolutely not trying to mirror the two cultures or Indian culture versus the culture that we have here. Uh, it's, it's very different. I mean, you look at their history, you look at our history, you look at the hand that we're dealt with and you look at the hand, they're dealt with very different culture. So I'm not trying to, I'm not trying to put our culture into that office. Obviously I don't want them to have the same values that we have as, as, as, as an employer. And that they pretty much run with it on their own. We give our operations manager in there kind of full autonomy to, to run his team. I mean, obviously if we, if we think that anything needs drastic changes, then we'll, we'll address it. But he knows his people, he knows his culture and we trust him to lead and guide the way that we want it to be, to be led over there. Over here, I mean, our, our culture is the same. The one thing that it, that it has done, uh, is that I, I could say it's probably led to some more friendly competition, uh, as well. But I mean I think that's quite natural between all within all employment agencies. I mean now where it used to be just competition between our office where people would be trying to fill similar roles, um, with each other. Now it's kind of led some competition between the two offices to fill roles.

David Alonso:    Great. And you obviously you track time to fill across both areas. Is there one in particular who's leading at the moment?

Brad Semotiuk:  In terms of positions that we're filling right now? Absolutely. Yeah. So I mean, are the skilled trades, it has been unbelievable. I mean, we've been able to fill so many more skilled trades positions at a much greater pace than we were before or right now in our market they are, they are worth their weight in gold right now. It's, it's really, really difficult to find qualified straight, skilled trades people right now.

David Alonso:  Wow, that's incredible. How has it impacted your actual day to day work yourself? How much involvement do you have to have with the offshore team? I know you've got someone in place there. Just give us an idea of how your personal days actually impacted. Has it freed you up more or where are you at with that?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah. You know what, we've got a couple managers in our office here in Toronto who kind of act as the point of contact and who do more. So take more of a leadership initiative with those teams. One of our managers, actually both of them have gone over to India within the last year. One spent a few weeks over there training. The other spent two and a half months to train. So they're taking more of an active role than I am. I'm just kind of overseeing both operations and then doing more of the more of the strategy work for both of our teams. Now that our Indian team has a year under their belt. I mean it just gets so much easier. We have so many more people in there who are experienced, they know the Canadian culture and they know how our business works and they're able to provide support for their colleagues over there.

Brad Semotiuk:   Whereas for the first few months, I mean we had to be completely hands on. It's the same thing with hiring a recruiter here. You hire a recruiter here, you don't expect instant results from them. But really the sweet spot of a recruiter that I, that I see usually comes at year one when they're you want in a business that's kind of when they start to get it, that's when you can read a resume quickly. That's when you can determine if, if somebody on the other line is feeding you complete BS. So usually around year one is when you kind of realize that the fruits of your labor, of, of all the training that goes into getting that person up to speed. And that's what we're seeing with that office right now. Now they are kind of, they're firing on all cylinders and some of the numbers that they're putting up are incredible.

David Alonso:   And I presume this is had a positive impact on you guys in the, in Canada being able to go out and actually pick up new business because you've got a much stronger resourcing team.

Brad Semotiuk:  Oh, for sure. Adding these pieces allowed us to go out and pick up some, some big clients. Absolutely. And it's really freed up people's time.

Brad Semotiuk:   So we hear it all. We know everything about AI now is, is in our daily lives, uh, how we hear that the recruitment market is going to be impacted in the next one, two to five years. How would you kind of feel and what's your viewpoint on AI and how is it going to actually affect the future of offshore recruiting?

Brad Semotiuk:  You know what I mean? You hear that there's always something different every year that's going to impact the recruiting industry and it's going to kill the business. I think that our business is always going to need good people working there. Really, at the end of the day, it's going to be the people it's not going to be the AI. Sure the AI, is going to offer you all kinds of tools to help you work more efficiently, more effectively. But at the end of the day, it's still going to need good people to, to power your business. When I first started, I mean it was going to be, the Internet was gonna was gonna kill the recruiting business. So the job boards Monster was going to kill the, the job the recruiting business. And there's always something that's going to be there. But I, as far as I can see and, and in my, in my opinion, I mean I think we'll always need good people in. We're always going to be a, it's always going to be going on strong.

David Alonso: So we spoke a little bit about culture. Let's kind of flip it and just talk about, you know, how you motivate your staff at Pure Staffing. So from a sales perspective, is there a way that you motivate your teams differently between India and the US. I presume there's obviously different scales of commission and so forth, but is everything you do to motivate Purely financial or does like, you know, are you actually working on different sort of culture related topics that you can bring into your daily daily work and so forth, you know, do incentives that have, or any schemes that you have for your teams help with motivation?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah, I mean, sure. We've got he re, we've got a good, we've got a good commission a really good commission structure in here as well. I mean, on top of the base salary, it's kind of interesting. When we first started our business, we had everybody on, on straight commission. Um, when they work, and our businesses is kind of evolved. We've kind of found out that that wouldn't work for us. Um, so we Kinda, we had to do, we went in and we had to offer salaries, to everybody plus a commission on top of that, you just felt that you had, you had more control. So we motivate with a decent commission offering. We also motivate with a good culture in our office in terms of, uh, I mean family priorities. If you've got to take your kid to pick up your kid from daycare early, that's not an issue.

Brad Semotiuk:  You've got to come in late because your, your child has a medical appointment or, or you need to take your spouse to the, to a doctor's appointment, that's no problem. You need to get out to your kid's sporting events, take a take your day off. A lot of our also a lot of our, a good portion of our employees here, uh, in Toronto weren't necessarily born in Toronto, so they've got family back in other, other countries. They want to take four weeks or five weeks and go home to visit their family. It's kind of, it's different things like that that I feel helped motivate the team as well. Uh, along with a very, we've got a very supportive and a very, uh, I guess you could say casual atmosphere as well. I mean, you're my summer retired flipflops... T-shirt. You just want to, I just want everybody to feel comfortable when they, when they walk into the office and I want everybody to get along well with all their team here.

Brad Semotiuk:  And I feel that we've done a really good job at doing that. We also do monthly incentives if our team hits different sales targets then we'll go out and we'll do, we'll celebrate the victories with our team. Most recently we went and played Bingo with everybody and we will, we've done barbecues at my house, we gone out for meals. So there's all different kinds of things like that that are, they, they're, it's rewarding, but at the same time you build your team and it's a team building exercise.

David Alonso: I mean they can pretty much pick up and go anywhere within a day or two. So it's gotta be the right environment for them to be successful for sure and for them to come into work,

Brad Semotiuk:  At the end of the day. I mean, you treat people the way that you want to be treated yourself.

Brad Semotiuk: Before we hear more, we're going to take a quick break as I'd like to introduce you to consultancy business called Staffing Future. This company, advises staff and firms and covers a wide range from technology and innovation to process and team planning. If you don't know these guys, check them out today.

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David Alonso:   So what do you actually look for from these guys that you're internally hiring for the US in particular. What characteristics are you looking for? What is the typical person who works and is successful in your company? What do they look like?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah. You know what? We, I look for grinders uh we look for grinders. We look for hard workers. We don't need that person who finished top of their class and, and won all these different scholarships and was absolutely amazing. I just want someone who's going to kind of put their nose to the grindstone and not be scared to pick up the telephone, not be scared to face rejection. Somebody who's going to work hard day in and day out. The analogy that I like to use in terms of hiring is that I'm in Toronto. I'm a Canadian, right? I'll use a hockey analogy. We don't need to hire that first line center. I mean at third or fourth line grinder. It's really what we want and from my experience in this business, those are the people that are, those are the people that succeed the people that the people that work hard and kind of and eat what they kill.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Well, being a Brit, I kind of don't really get that analogy, but I certainly can pick up on the uh, the reasoning behind that one. What about actually someone's going to come in and do new business. So you know, you can be a grinder, you can be great a resourcing and lets, when you look at these people, how much of an expectation that they're actually going to bring in new business? I mean, does everyone have to bring a new business or have you got that broken out into account managers versus new business salespeople? Just give us a little bit of an idea about how you kind of structure it there.

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah, so we've, we've kind of have a couple of different layers. We've got Pure recruiters, so all they're doing are sourcing candidates. We've got Pure account managers, so all they're doing are liaising with our clients and managing the accounts and doing sales. Then we've got people who are working somewhat of a 360 desk who are managing accounts and recruiting. But typically the way we hire is that we hire, we hire people as straight recruiters, they learn the business and then when they're ready to make a jump, then we can move them into an account management type of role and then into a team lead type role. So there is kind of a direction and there is a career path for you when you do come into the company. I mean some people, some people realize that they never want to get into account management, they don't like the sales side of things. So they'll do well enough on the recruiting side and they'll stay in the recruiting side the whole time.

David Alonso:  Okay, that makes sense. And so, I mean, you've been doing this now for 15 years. You've had your fair share of uh success. From what I can see. And no doubt there's been some difficult times along the way how the kind of problems get solved genuinely within the company also, how does it work? At what point do people bring things to you? Are you actively involved in everything.. Can you manage to kind of delegate a little bit so you don't have to be involved in everything. Where, where are you at and how are kind of problem solved within business?

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah. You know, early on, early on I was actively involved in any and all of the decisions that were made. But I realize that, I mean, if you really want to grow your business, you need to trust the people that you bring on board and you need to trust them to make the big decisions within the company. So they're more, lately as we've grown and as we've seen a huge company growth, there's been a lot more delegating, um, and a lot more, I shouldn't say delegating, a lot more trust of, of people just to do their jobs. And I and I mean the people that we have on our team. If you're on our team, I, I trust you and I trust the decisions that you make and I trust that you would make a decision that, that I feel and not just me, that the rest of the team would, would respect and want you to make as well.

David Alonso: I'm presuming presumably a lot of that is actually you letting go and saying, Hey, Mr Client, I've got this person they're going to look after you on a day to day basis. I mean, presumably a lot of is with you having to give up some of that ownership over a client as well. You can't manage every single relationship. Right?

Brad Semotiuk: Of course. I mean it's like, it's like any entrepreneur out there, right? Like, I mean you get a little scared at first when you lose that control. Most entrepreneurs out there I could say, are control freaks, I would absolutely have seen myself that way a long time ago. But I think that over the years I've mellowed out. I've mellowed out and I mean, and thankfully, I mean we've put the right people in the bottom. You're a company. We've got that. I've surrounded myself with some of the top people that I feel that are in the, in the recruiting business right now. And I mean there are people who have made great decisions since day one of being with our company and they continue to make great decisions and, and as long as they do, I mean, they're going to be empowered with these decisions and, and help and help grow and help fuel what we need to get bigger and stronger and better and faster and higher and all those good things.

David Alonso: Let's talk about some of the problems you face, your seen, you know, you've definitely been through recessions and so forth as well and you'd come out the other side and hopefully we're not going to go into one or two shorter notes anyway, but tell us a little bit about some of the stuff that you have faced in the past. I mean it's a really important piece to come over as CEO and to actually get through give us an idea of sort of things you have had to deal with.

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah, I mean really like from a company side, the biggest problem that we had recently was not being able to fill the orders that were given. I mean it's, it's not a bad problem to have, but from the outside looking in, it is a bad problem to have because if you're not filling and I mean someone else is going to be filling and when someone else is filling this job, it's quite easy for them to say goodbye to you. So that was one of the big problems that we had lately was with not being able to fill and to give coverage to, to the orders that we had. And I mean, and we address that, we address that by starting up our onshore or offshore company. So I wouldn't say that is one of the biggest, uh, issues that we've faced recently.

David Alonso:  Not being able to deliver to your client is, is always number one, is there an argument to say, you know, let's go 100% resource in the India and not have it in house.

Brad Semotiuk:  no, you always need to, you always need to have somebody in house somebody to have a say. That's not, not a way we're looking. You've got to kind of be able to touch and feel your candidates, get out and your clients and get out and meet your clients for lunch or drop by their plant, their facilities, their manufacturing plants. Take them to baseball games or give them tickets to basketball games. You know, those kinds of things. You really have to be local to uh, to connect with your, with your clients. I feel, um, so no, that's not, that's not what we haven't played at all.

David Alonso:   Okay. And you alluded earlier to your dress code, flip flops, shorts on certain days, that type of stuff. So you strike me as someone who is finding the right balance between working hard, being successful time in the family. So how'd you kind of make sure you do have that work life balance? Is it certain time that they stopped working, switch on the phone? You're probably a bit more of a bad situation now when you first start it or they self to do that. So do you have any rules that you kind of abide by to give yourself that freedom to be with the kids and so forth?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah, in all honesty, since since day one, I never, I didn't put in insane hours like here though, you hear those stories about people sweating the 15 16 hour workdays. I never, I never did that. I mean we took advantage and I worked hard during the hours that I was in the office and still work hard with the hours that I'm in the office. But in terms of work life balance, it's insane. I have a seven year old boy and a nine year old boy. We're both like competitive sports and I coached both of them. They both like competitive baseball and they both like competitive hockey. Right, right. So I am, I'm leaving the office in good time every day because I'm going straight to the hockey rink. Like today's a, today's a perfect example is both of my kids have hockey games. I have two different arenas.

Brad Semotiuk:   So it's a divide and conquer. My wife will take one boy and I'll take the other boy I'm leaving work and then we meet back at the home and slap together a quick dinner before we go to bed. It's, but it really, I'm with those sports and kids sports these days is just gotten absolutely ridiculous. I would say that I'm looking at probably six days a week where I'm either at a baseball diamond or at a hockey rink right now, so, and really, and really let me readdress it earlier. That's kind of the corporate culture that, that we want. I mean, I want people to have a good work life balance as well. I don't want people to only be dedicated to their job. I mean, you need to be in order to succeed in anything. I feel that you've gotta be well-rounded. I mean, I think that kind of helps to it.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Great. But it sounds like you've got a Friday night free and a Sunday free, and that's probably about it, but I'm sure you wouldn't, I'm sure you wouldn't have it any other way.

Brad Semotiuk:  Exactly. I love it. I absolutely, I absolutely love it. I would not want in any other way.

David Alonso:  So work-life balance is obviously something you've kind of managed to get hold of that. With that, I would definitely say that's a real sort of personal strength that you've got. What else do you, would you use to it? You know, there's a lot of, there's a lot of people out there, influencers who, uh, you know, trying to start their own businesses up, that type of stuff. They want to be a CEO. The trying to figure out how to start a business. What personal characteristics do you think you need to actually be in business for 15 years? A long time, right? Especially in one business, you don't really well to it. So what sort of personal characteristics do you need?

Brad Semotiuk:   I think you need patients, number one. I think you need to realize that Rome wasn't built in a day. I don't think you should ever try and rush things. Most important. Don't, don't rush important decisions. Don't rush those important decisions that you know, real impact your business big time. For example, don't rush at key hire. Don't brush a huge technology decision that you need to make. You really need to show patients, show patients on that side. You need to have integrity. I think you'll always, you always need to operate integrity. If you don't have integrity, uh, you shouldn't be in business,

David Alonso:   so I'll make you money. It's kind of how, how you make your money.

Brad Semotiuk:   Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Once again, it kind of goes back to that adage of you treat people the way that you want to do that. You want to be treated yourself. I think you need to realize that you're not going to make everybody happy all the time and you're going to, and you need to accept that. So you need to be accepting. At first I wanted to make everybody happy. I want to call that everything to bend over to make everybody happy. Then you realize that that's just not sustainable. That sometimes you need to, sometimes you need to say no. Sometimes you need to take a couple of liner and a tough stance on things and sometimes you just need to say goodbye. Sometimes you need to say goodbye to your own internal staff. Sometimes you need to say goodbye to your current clients who you're working with.

David Alonso:   Correct. Yeah. And you know you've won many awards, right? So as a company, what are you most proud of over the last sort of 15 years?

Brad Semotiuk:   You know what I'm probably most proud of in terms of awards, I'm probably most proud of our community service awards. We won that twice. Uh, and that was through ACSESS, which is basically the Canadian Staffing association. And we won that because of all the work that we did by giving back to the community. That's kind of what we show from, from above and what we kind of expect of our, of our employees here.

David Alonso:    Describe ... can you give us some examples, sort of things that you've done?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah, well, a perfect example is my, my coaching, my volunteer coaching of all my kids. Although my good sports teams really, like if I looked, if I looked at how much time that that takes up during a week, I mean it was, it's probably, it's probably 50 to 60% of the time that I spend it at work as well. It's just, it's just an incredible amount of time that that goes into, into volunteering for, for kids sports. And, uh, and I've also, I've taken on roles of, uh, at one point I was a convener of a, it's called the tidbit soccer program here. Uh, I did that for two years where the biggest, it's Toronto's biggest micro soccer program. So for kids age four to six, there were a thousand kids that were in this program. I had 300 volunteer coaches and I had 12 conveners that I was responsible for for those, for those two years. In all honesty, I know you'll probably hate hearing this being from the UK, but I mean I don't even like I just kind of all just kinda fell into one of those volunteer job.

David Alonso:  Is that, is that one of the National Team's struggling? Is that what we signed? Right,

Brad Semotiuk:  exactly. Why exactly are you looking at it as going to be hosting the World Cup? So we'll get a team through. Right,

David Alonso:   right. Yeah, absolutely.

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah. One of those things where I kind of, I grew up with some awesome like volunteer coaches and everything that they really had a big impact on my life and my father was a big sports coach and heavily involved in athletics as well. And I mean, it's a chance to make a difference in other people's lives. And so, I mean that's what I, that's where I spent a lot of time and give back a lot of my time with the community on that side.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Congratulations. Are those similar thing and I know a lot of those parents really do value that putting the time in and um, being with those kiddies. So that's really, really great of you to do that. Congratulations on that. Um, the company, obviously the date thing successful, the next sort of 12, 24 monthd from a structure perspective, the offshore team, what's success gonna look like for you? What, what are you sort of first kind of goals and ambitions? Where would you like to be in say 24 months with the business?

Brad Semotiuk:  Oh, we're going to be, we are, we're kind of, we're growing like crazy in terms of staff number right now just with our, with our offshore team, it's so much easier for us to scale our business. We don't need to worry about adding more real estate and more infrastructure here with our, with our current office, we've got enough space or we're, we're able to quickly add to our team and that, and I mean if, if you look at our, our growth curve over the last year, um, I think that we're going to follow it and we're just going to keep getting bigger and we're just going to keep adding numbers, um, adding numbers to our recruiting team.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Fantastic. We've definitely seen the model definitely seems to be working for you guys. Congratulations. Okay, well let's, uh, let's finish up on a little quick fire round. I get, uh, get to know Brad the man a little bit more. What would you say your team would say is your best skill?

Brad Semotiuk:   Ooh, my best skill. Um, at the time, that's a tough question and I think that I'm approachable. I'm, I'm easy going, uh, but only to a certain point. And if that, if that could be a best skill then

Brad Semotiuk: and patience, right. I think patients by the sounds of it as well

Brad Semotiuk:   and I am patient. I'm accepting. Yeah,

Brad Semotiuk:  that's fine. I think you need to have a lot of that in recruitment. How about one of your worst, uh, skills or characteristics or they say on Brad's a nightmare on this particular point?

Brad Semotiuk:   I'd probably just say I'm someone stubborn and if you ask me if you asked my wife as well, I'm sure she would, she would be one of the persons to agree to that as well. If when I get something on my mind, I kind of get tunnel vision on it regardless of how good of an idea it really is or, or isn't. I'm sort of somewhat stubborn at times.

David Alonso:  Well, to see are you going to make the decision? Sometimes you've done it, a lot of people around you to kind of, sometimes I find smaller that often you've got to go for it. Until you see it be successful. Sometimes fail. What about motivation? Where's your go to favorite books, video, podcasts, anything particular you're reading at the moment?

Brad Semotiuk: yeah. You know what my, my go-to favorite motivation, what would be The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho ... absolutely incredible. Read, uh, about kind of, you know, go into your dreams. Um, I picked that book up actually when I was over in Southeast Asia, like 18 or so years ago. Somebody passed it onto me and I, and I couldn't put it down. I finished it in, I finished it in one day and now I pass that along to all kinds of different people to read. Just a fantastic read and other go-to motivation for me is on my desk. I've got pictures of my family and pictures of my kids and that it really, I mean, I, if I'm, if I'm, if I could feel myself kind of getting somewhat distracted, I'll take a look at them. And I mean, really that's why we do these jobs, right? We do our jobs for our families, for our kids and uh, so we'll take a look at them and that helps motivate me as well.

David Alonso:   I agree with that completely. What about your clients? What is something that frustrates you about them?

Brad Semotiuk: Ooh, that's an easy one. Um, when we get ghosted, went home. Yeah. Like, no, we need this. We need this quick, quick, quick, quick like this and send them off all kinds of candidates to them. And then just crickets, absolute silence on that end. And they just, and they just kind of disappear from us. So that's probably the most frustrating thing to work with in a client is there's one that has awful communication.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Yeah. Tough. Right. But also, I mean in today's labor market, right? I mean with candidates being so hard to kind of move out and actually place, I mean, you, you'd expect the clients to be more quick off the mark. You'd expect them to be more available to hear some feedback about what they need to do, but certain clients just, um, they still stuck in their ways. Right. They're not, they're not able to hire those people because they're not moving quick enough. Never understood that. And to be fair, that's still, that was my issue back 15 years ago when I think of recruitment. So it doesn't sound like that's kind of changed too much over the years as well.

Brad Semotiuk: No, and I don't, I don't think that'll ever change David. It's always gonna I'll always be, there will always be the case. And then, and in fairness, I mean we just, we never know the true story of what's happening with our clients at that time. Because it could be something bigger behind the scenes that's leading to the silence but, but yeah, but I mean if that's the case, just communicate, communicate with us. I mean the same with it. Same with candidates. I mean, that's the most frustrating thing too, is when candidates bails on interviews and, and don't tell us like, we don't care if you're not interested in a job, you're not, you're not hurting me. Let me know. Let us know that you're not interested, interested in this job. We won't go ahead and waste our time and our client's time setting these interviews up that year that you're going to bail on. Just just be honest and be forthright and be forthright with us from the beginning. It's that, that's another big issue that I have a tough time with and frustrates me.

David Alonso:  Well, human nature, I'm afraid, I guess on that one. Um, you're, you're, you're very open guidance, really clear tell us something that not many people kind of know about you.

Brad Semotiuk:  Ah, hey. Um,

David Alonso:   you can, you can pass on any of these, right?

Brad Semotiuk:  No, I don't. I don't know. I don't feel the need to pass it. Actually. I really liked it instead of like this question, this, this allows me to kind of talk about some of the completely obscure things that no one would know about me. A couple years ago I ran a sub 25 k on the treadmill. It was, yeah, I was sitting, I go to the gym, me and our recruiting manager here, we go to the gym almost every day at lunch. And one day we were talking just, I don't know, just being guys talking to each other about how fast we think we are and, and, and is it possible to run like at this kind of speed. So we looked it up and we looked at what the pace was on the treadmill that you had to run to, to get to get a sub 20 minute 5k. And I trained a couple of days for it and then I was like, I don't need to ttrain any longer. I just went for it and uh, did it that day and then like, and my body just fell apart.

David Alonso:  I was going to say the afternoon wasn't very productive by the sounds of it.

Brad Semotiuk:  Oh my gosh. Oh that afternoon wasn't productive. And then I, I couldn't walk for like two weeks. My Achilles were gone, my knees were gone, my hips were gone. I was not made to go at that speed, but it was one of those little like challenges that I had and the goal then myself, so, so I did it there. Um, yeah, that's, yeah. Oh, exactly. And it's, it's the one time story, right? And now this is my, this is my opportunity to tell that story. So it was worth it. I like, I like collecting art. I like art. I've got some Group of seven original pieces that I've picked up over the years and most recently I've bought myself a, a new DJ controller tractor. The Tracktor S8 like a big pimped out DJ controller cause I figured that like I'm ..... I just want a new hobby of something. I love music. So I've got this, I got this DJ controller that I'm kind of a, that I'm kind of teaching myself how to use, just waiting for a big blowout party with, with all my friends then, or blow the doors off at some point.

David Alonso: Got an excuse to throw one. And certainly actually the whole podcast because it could have been just about your, uh, things that, you know, not many people know about you. So there's definitely a lot to uncover about Brad here, but we'll move on to the next one. What about, um, recruitment? You've been in it all your life, right? So, um, if you weren't doing recruitment, do you have any idea what you would've liked to have done?

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah, I probably see myself in a, in like they're in the real estate business or in some kind of finance, finance, investment type business as an entrepreneur. And I'm a risk, I'm a risk taker. So I see myself in some kind of risk taking venture with real estate investing or, and financial investing of, of some sort or I mean the look at the opposite end of the, of the spectrum. I could see myself doing something completely different like running a B and on an island or running a five inch off somewhere on an island. I don't know.

David Alonso:  Back to the shorts and the, um, and the a deck shoes, the flip flops. It's definitely something where the background, there's no doubt about it. Yep. Exactly. Well, Brad, you've been amazing. Thank you so much for your time today. It's been a real pleasure to, to get you, get to know you more and really welcome your openness, um, and your awesome advice. Thank you very much for being on the show. Yeah. My pleasure, David. Great talking to you. Thanks so much. You're welcome. Thanks very much.


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005: Louis Song— Scaling your Recruitment Business to Success

Are you struggling with scale? Louis Song, the co-founder of Proven Recruiting shares how to successfully scale your staffing business as well as how he and his partner created sustainable business growth with a positive culture by making strategic investments.

Thank you to CloudCall for sponsoring this episode! Integrate your telephony communications and streamline your recruitment business with CloudCall

 Show Notes:

  • How fear prompted Louis to start his Proven Recruiting business. (1:05)

  • What does Jujitsu have to do with it? (2:01)

  • How can you scale your business in order to make it successful? (3:31)

  • Why is it important to have a solid system of management and leaders in place in order to successfully scale your business? (4:30)

  • What are small steps to growing your business that competitors often overlook? (6:39) 

  • Louis discusses specific training techniques he uses in his business and how he learns from his clients. (6:55)

    • Louis offers his approach to the challenge of staff “buy in.”

  • Why is it important to be “people-centered” rather than “profit-centered” while running a recruitment business? (9:18)

  • What does “culture” mean to Louis and how can you create a motivated culture in your business? (12:54)

  • Location and scaling your recruiting business and how location can impact success. (14:22)

  • Branding, cold calls, and social media? Louis discusses what his approach is. (15:50)

  • Personal characteristics that Louis believes all aspiring CEOs of recruiting businesses should have. (17:50)

  • Why a good business partner can help your business grow. (18:35)

  • What are some challenges Louis faced while running his recruitment business and how did he overcome them? (19:23)

  • How does Louis define success? (22:33)

  • Louis offers advice to his younger self and others starting a business. (23:14)

Additional Resources:

If you are interested in listening to more recruitment business stories or wish to share your recruitment business journey, subscribe for free to The JourneyUp in your favorite app and listen to other informative and inspirational episodes! Feel free to contact me, David Alonso, with questions and comments.

Episode transcript

David Alonso:  Hey everybody, this is David Alonso. And on this episode of The Journey Up, I met with Louis Song, who is the Co-Founder of Proven Recruiting. I had a great time doing this podcast where not only did Louis walking into his business, but he also introduced me to another passion of his: Jujitsu. Now this video podcast is also available on Instagram at the JourneyUP. Now what struck me about Louis throughout was his openness. He really spoke about his business life passionately. He also spoke about the good times, but as importantly also spoke about the bad times of being a CEO, which I really appreciated. There's also some really great advice along the way that he gives about how to build the right type of culture in your business and some tips and tricks along the way. The audio for this podcast isn't the best for the first minute or so, so please bear with it. And let's now head over to hear more about the JourneyUP with Louis Song. Tell me about how you started the business.

Louis Song:  You know, when I think about the business, I think a lot of people think that there was like some grand idea or in some pretty business plan that we put together. But, you know, ultimately, uh, I think it was honestly my fear. You know, fear of what my life will turn out to be like stayed in the corporate environment and answering to The Man and saying, "yes sir, yes sir" and continuing that path. And there was one day where I saw one of the corporate vice presidents and he was just the beaten down guy. He just wasn't happy and he just constantly was just saying yes to everything and I saw my future and I thought, Ooh Shit, I don't want to be this guy. And ultimately that was part of the reason why I started to create something where I liked going to work.

Louis Song:  I liked being able to wake up and live with my decision and and being in the corporate environment, it just, I couldn't do that. And so, you know, frankly, it's part of the reason my starting to do to do Jujitsu is because, there was a point in time when I was actually doing stand up Kung Fu and that kind of stuff and I was driving by primal Jujitsu when it was back on there in Mira Mesa and I kept seeing the sign like I wonder what would happen if I got to the ground or somebody tackled me and on top of me afraid and, and you know, a lot of my things in life, my success in life, my journey in life, it's really been about being afraid of something and said, "you know what, I don't want to be afraid of let me attack.

David Alonso: So, it looks like we are getting ready, to get some guys to come in ...do you want to get warmed up?

Louis Song:   Yeah, I'm looking forward to you rolling with us.

David Alonso:  I'm not sure about that. Alright, let's do it.

David Alonso:  So we are now back from the Jujitsu Academy we are at the office of Proven Recruiting, I'm here with Louis. Thank you so much. That was a real experience to say the least.

Louis Song:  Glad you made it.

David Alonso: I've never felt that sort of pain. So, I'm feeling more comfortable about where we are today. So, I see your office and there's some really excited guys in the office. One of the things that I've really have sort of noticed in the staffing space is that so many of these firms, they just can't over like the five or 10 employees. So you guys are scaled. I mean, what makes a difference when somebody can scale to, you know, to 50 to a 100 to even 250 people. So how does that work and what advice can you give to these people?

Louis Song:  I'll tell you when we get to the 200 but you know, just getting even the 50 I think it's sometimes a miracle, but I think the early on idea was that Ingram and I weren't going to be doing the business itself where we weren't going to be doing the business of recruiting and account management and sales. You took the first 18 months of actually not getting paid, not paying ourselves. And we invested that into hiring people to do the recruiting, to do the sales, to do the account management. You know, for, for those guys out there that are still working a desk, if they can't get off the desk, I don't see how they're ever going to grow the business. And that's, that's the biggest challenge that I see.

David Alonso:  So, you've done this completely organically, no VC, no investment money,

Louis Song:  No, just me and Ingram.

David Alonso: Incredible, incredible. And you know, your growth here. So at what point do you think like guys like yourself need to be surrounded with people who've got more experience? Right? You know, obviously when you start an off, you'd probably bring in a senior recruiter or some grads, when do you need to put in that management structure to help you scale?

Louis Song:  We actually grew really quickly for our first six years and grew to almost $20 million nine offices, including one in, I think your hometown, London, and Washington DC as well. And it ultimately came crashing down back to two offices because we didn't have the management in place. It was just me in Ingram and then everyone else. And so from those lessons we hired some other people. We put some managers and directors in place and that's allowed us to grow sustainably. Uh, and, and now we've got a leadership track for it for our junior people. And I think that's when you've got to start looking at if you really want to grow sustainably, you gotta have other people leading as well. And that was the mistake that we made in the first time.

David Alonso:  Okay. That makes complete sense. Okay, so you've got a quote where you mentioned to me before, you know, it's not the big movements that you do in life, it's all the little small steps that you take to get there. Can you kind of elaborate on what your, what your, what you meant by that? I thought was fascinating.

Louis Song:  Well, you know, just like we were at Jujitsu earlier today, and I think I was sitting on top of your chest at some point.

David Alonso:  I remember that.

Louis Song:  And you know, there's, there's little things that you can do, maybe not to move your opponents, move your competitors, but little things where you move your body and move your, your elbows and the way you breathe. And I think there's little things that you do every day in business and, and, and it's how you treat people. What's the trading that you do? It's, you know, the types of customers that you go after. It's the type of industries that you, you're, you're into. And all those things make a little bit of difference instead of like, okay, we're gonna make this big grand thing to open a brand new office. Or are those things, you know, but are you doing the little things in terms of training? Are you doing a little things in terms of returning phone calls and, and all the things that happen on a day by day basis that honestly a lot of times are invisible to your competitors, to everyone else.

David Alonso:  Yeah. I mean, one of the things that's really impressed me, Oh, you know, speaking off camera is that the amount of effort and time you put into a training plan for your guys? You know, I think that's the thing that really sets you aside. Can you give us some ideas, you know, just share a little bit about what you do on a daily, weekly basis for these guys as far as development. Let's talk about that first.

Louis Song:  Yeah. Um, you know, it's, it's probably one of the things that that does set us apart when people ask us what's, what's different, what's better about Proven Recruiting? And I would tell you that almost every single day that there's training going on, we don't do one on Mondays because that's the start of the week. And so we have our first job order meaning for every single team. But on Tuesdays we have sales training at eight o'clock, on Wednesdays we do next level exchange training where people watch videos the night before and then we discuss them at eight o'clock on Thursdays we do roleplays. So we role play every situation from tell me what's different about Proven Recruiting, the candidate declines an offer and picks the counter offer. How do we deal with that situation? We role play it through that . On Friday we have probably one of the more unique things, which is a book club and we're currently reading The Culture Code, previous books that included Grit, Take the Stairs by Rory Dayton as well as um, Start with Why by Simon Sinek. So there's a lot of different things that we cover and that's just the little bit of the training that we do. There are lunch and learns that we do every other week, uh, covering finance and accounting and then technology subjects. And then we also do offsite training at UCSE connect as well. Um, so that's just a, a little bit of the stuff that we do.

David Alonso:  Do you do anything to kind of prepare your guys for like actually dealing with clients? I mean, there's obviously role pays that you do. Do you have any sort of engagement with clients that come?

Louis Song:  Sure, Last week for example, we had the head of talent acquisition. Come in from Shipt who's one of our biggest clients right now. She came in and did training with us from eight o'clock until nine 30 last Tuesday. And basically she acted as if, and she was, she is a customer and we had four or five different groups come in and basically go through the process of doing a client meeting and Ingrid, myself and some of the other leaders and directors, we sat back and we watched how these guys prepared what they said, how they structured the meeting with the follow-up was, and from that we learned that there's a lot of stuff that we're not doing right and, and that's on, that's on me and Ingram, that's, that's on us for not doing the right training for not setting the right expectations on how we should be conducting our client meetings. And so, you know, that kind of stuff is stuff that we do on our, on a regular consistent basis for our, some of our lunch and learns. For example, we've had clients come in to teach us about their company, their technology, and then it gets our recruiters bought into how to recruit for them as well.

David Alonso:  And do you feel like, you know, you obviously got all this development for these, for your staff, you know, is this a hundred percent buy in, you know, did you find that some people just, you know, the book club ...they might not be so keen or do you feel that when you're hiring these guys, you're, you're, you're, you're hiring a certain type of personality to fit the business?

Louis Song:  You know, um, it's a hard one because not everyone's going to buy in the same way. I think there's, my wife and I actually were talking about this last night because one of her friends is having issues with keeping staff in this millennial era. Okay. And the challenge I think is you've got to be able to connect what we do at an individual level with the employee. Why are they here? One of the, one of the first questions I ask in the first five minutes of our onboarding session is what are you going to do with the cash? Okay. You know, you're not, is it, is it to help your mom? Is it to, you know, go back to school? Is it the pay off student debts? Is it the pay off your credit card is to save money to buy a house because ultimately I can show you the, the activity that you do is connected directly to how you're going to ultimately buy a house, pay off, pay off student loans, whatever it might be. Maybe it's to help animals in the world, right?

David Alonso: But why did you do that though? Do you get a sense that, you know, these guys are coming in, they want it, they want to learn hundred grand, right? Everyone thinks is easy, but are they really willing to actually realize what they've got?

Louis Song: It's not about, in my mind, it's not about the hundred grand. It's what you do with a hundred grand. What's the significance of that money? Everybody wants to do something with the money. And so some people maybe want, they want just a big $100,000 in their checking account. But others, I think there's, there's something that people want to do with it and I need to know what that they know because when it gets hard, when they're sitting here going, this job sucks. I hate doing this. You know, I don't love recruiting. And I think that's something that most people get wrong is I don't love recruiting. I love what recruiting has done for me. I love what it's provided to me, but I don't love recruiting. People kind of suck sometimes and you know, lying, cheating, stealing, whatever, you know. But that's humanity. And so you got to remember what these kids are here for, what our employees are here for. And it's not to make us richer. It's to help them to achieve whatever goals they have in their lives. The flip side of that is I do also think that, you know, we have to connect it to a higher purpose, purpose beyond profit. And so you know, we get an opportunity in the recruiting business to help people every single day with a new job and you know whether that job is a better commute or more money or better software, a better culture. We get to do that and sometimes we forget because it's all about closing the deal and making money.

David Alonso:                    Before we hear more from him to this song. We're going to take a quick minute break as I'd like to introduce you to a telephony player in the staffing recruiting sector: Cloud Call. If you don't know these guys, check them out today.

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David Alonso:  So let's talk about the team. Okay, let's talk about two things. Let's talk about what you feel culture is. Okay. What makes a culture, I can see the guys and they are all committed. So you know, everyone bands the word culture around. So it, so what does that mean to you? And also, um, you know, when you, when you are recruiting these people, you know, what are the main characters that you look for?

Louis Song:  I'll refer back to the book club that we just, we recently talked about and currently rereading culture code. And one of the fundamental things that talks about in terms of culture is the culture of safety. And you know, whether you call it safety or trust, but I think that's the foundation that you've got to start with and trusting your employees, trusting your people to do the right things. And if, and if they don't have that trust in us, they don't go out and be creative. They don't go out and challenge the status quo. And I think that's honestly a fundamental difference between us and let's say the larger company, maybe not the guys downstairs or somewhere else. I'm sorry, the second part of your question was, I mean, how'd you kind of sell your vision to these guys? Well, I honestly don't sell the vision as much as it is.

Louis Song:  I asked them about what they want to achieve. I go back to, you know, I, I, I talked to them about what do they want to achieve, what is the thing that they want to do with their careers? And then we talk about how what we do can help them achieve their goals within the context of their lives. And so it goes back to them as opposed to, well, can you help us make us a $30 million company here? Can you help us do $6 million and, you know, eat it. And it's like they don't care. Employees don't care about how much the company makes unless, unless they're owners.

David Alonso: So, so you've got guys in Dallas, La and here. So is there any difference between like hiring or, you know, growth plans just because of the types of people that you can attract and what's the labor market like in San Diego versus Dallas?

Louis Song:  You know, I'm in San Diego, the, it's, it's a, it's a, an amazing place to live, but you know, we're, we're really with only two fortune 500 companies here in San Diego with Qualcomm and, and Sempra. And so beyond that, there's, you know, some great companies here, but they're not the fortune 500 and so there's a limited number of amount of opportunity from a business standpoint. Whereas in Dallas, you've got at least 50 fortune 500 companies and you've got a lot of opportunity to, you know, and, and there's a lot of competition, but there's a lot of corporate headquarters there. And so there's a lot more opportunity from a business standpoint to go after those companies. And so in, in Dallas you've got, you know, from a tax standpoint, from a business friendly state, you know, there's, it's a great place to work and to do business, but it was also 108 degrees that last week.

David Alonso:  That's right. So it's pretty hot here today.

Louis Song:  It's hot here, but you know what? We can, we can drive five minutes ...10 minutes from now and get to the ocean. You can drive for, I dunno, 10 hours and not get to the ocean when you're in Dallas. So, you know, there's tradeoffs. And so, you know, you've got one of the hottest markets in Dallas, whereas in la you've got a very different market where our other offices where there's, it's very disjointed because of the fact that there's so much traffic and people aren't, you know, you could be five minutes away but an hour away. And so you can't work the same way you do as in San Diego as you do in Dallas. And people are much more, uh, sensitive to commute in, in, in LA than they are here in San Diego or Dallas.

David Alonso:  Okay. I get it. So let's, let's switch gears a little bit. I'm, I'm curious to ask a couple of questions just around, you know, how your sales guys actually ramp up or you know, if you're looking to scale a recruitment business or you're looking at taking like SDRs and hitting the phone and cold calls, is that even work nowadays or you know, how much of an impact do you think social media branding, creating content, how far does that get you to the next stage of the business cycle?

Louis Song:  Well, again, I mean we're, we're, we're going to be basically about 20 million this year, 50 employees, nearly 200 consultants. You know, our, our goal is to get to, let's call it 200 people over the next three to five years in terms of core employees, 500 consultants out over the next three to five years.

David Alonso:  And do you see that growth mainly in the Dallas area. Where do you think, you know,

Louis Song:  I think this, most of it's going to be in Dallas and Los Angeles. San Diego is the core of the business right now. It's 80% of the business, let's say, you know, 18 out of the 20 million right now, or maybe not that high, but it's still a significant part of the business. But the growth really is in those other cities rather than in San Diego. And, and honestly, it's about the people. If we can get the right person and people, number one, we need the right leadership in scene in LA and in Dallas. Once we have that, we can fill in with the others, but we've got to have the right leadership from a management standpoint and then the right leadership from a sales standpoint to get the right clients on board. I think it all goes from there.

David Alonso:  So today it was a great learning curve. Right? I saw you in your real place at home. I can see how passionate you are. One of the things I do think you've got is longevity, right? To be a black belt is obviously a huge commitment to get there. But you know, our fascinates want to ask, you know, to become a CEO and to stay in this business for so long. Right. It's a tough, it's a tough job. A lot of downsides to that as you grow. But What do you think the main characteristics, if someone wanted to start staffing firm tomorrow or any business, what do you think the core values they need to have, give them some tips and tricks about what they need to get there.

Louis Song: I mean, number one, I think, you know, I've had people ask about getting into a business that they know nothing about. I think that's one of the biggest mistakes of like going to start a Subway restaurant when you've never worked at a Subway restaurant. Um, I worked at another firm, K Force for 11 years before starting this firm and I met my business partner there and I worked with him for 10 years before we started and came off on our own. And you know, I think that was true of the most important things that I could've done is learn the business. Number two, get the right business partner. I think without either one of those two things I would have failed miserably on my own.

David Alonso:  Interesting. So, you think always have a partner. So if you, if you had another business, would you do it alone or would you know always want to partner?

Louis Song: I always want a partner. I mean, you know, there are times when when Ingram, and I disagree, I think shit, I could've done this on my own, but then there are others when I'm like thank God and most of the time it's thank God I've got a business partner and I think it's like a marriage. You know, it's like raising ... raising kids, right? Sometimes you're like, I can't stand the way my spouse is. But other times like thank God I've got this partner with me because they're pushing me and holding me up when times are tough.

David Alonso:  And on that note I can see, you know, super successful right now. I can see that, you know, this place is buzzing when I walked through the door and see how passionate people are. You know, you mentioned before that you had nine offices, I think one in London. So you know, it hasn't always been perfect or I can see there's been some issues. Do you happen to share some of those sort of darker times and some of the stuff that you really had to dig deep to...?

Louis Song:  Sure. I mean, you know, those other offices there were opened by a number of, those were open by friends, former coworkers at K Force. And you know, unfortunately we had to make some really hard decisions to close some of those offices or almost all of those offices because the cash wasn't coming in the door. And then it became,

David Alonso:  ….and is that billings or is that just typically bad debt? I mean, is it cash? Is Cash for walls? What was the reason for that,

Louis Song: I mean it was, it was a combination of, you know, one client went south and another company wasn't paying on time and then all of a sudden we're losing $100,000 a month. And you know, again, it's just me and Ingram. So we're having the float at now we're all of a sudden having to go to our own home equity lines of credit were writing a hundred thousand dollar check at $200,000 check. And we're looking at our, oh my God, we're now squeezing tight. Like, oh, we're going to make this tough, you know, and we're gonna have to, we're closing offices, we're having to lay people off. And that was no fun at all.

David Alonso:  Um, when they see success, they think it's easy. Right. It's really tough times. That obviously happened through those times.

Louis Song:  Yeah. And you know, I, I wish it had been different. I wish, you know, I blame myself... Ourselves for not being ready to have as many offices as we did. We didn't have the processes in place, we didn't have the systems in place, you know, to be able to open up those offices. And frankly, I didn't have the commitment in place. I had two young kids, I wanted to be home. I didn't want to go travel to each of those offices to be there to supervise and to see how things were going. And so, so things went awry and we weren't there.

David Alonso:  Even more reasons to have good people around you.

Louis Song:  Yeah.

David Alonso: And what's your viewpoint on like, you know, a grown up business with big logos versus you know, less clients, bigger logos versus loads of SMB clients that you know, you can kind of depend on for regular business? I mean, I think ultimately kind of both for, I mean, what would be your ideal?

Louis Song:  For us it's, it's a little bit of both. Yeah. I think the, the big companies can provide a lot of revenue, but you know, we've got a situation now where one of our, our biggest client actually from a revenue standpoint is late by three weeks. Okay. And so are our AR with them, our accounts receivable with them has ballooned from $300,000 to over half a million dollars. And so they tell, they're telling us they're going to pay us on the 31st but you know what? We're sweating, we're sweating because it's what if, what did they decide? Because their fiscal year ends at the end of July. Okay. So you guys might be able to figure out who it is yet, but what did they decide? You know what, we're going to wait another three weeks and we're going to add another hundred 50,000 and all of a sudden becomes closer to $700,000. Our line of credit is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million. And then that's for all of our clients. And so, you know, it's like, oh my God, what do we do? We're going to have to tap our line of credit again. And that's, that's, you know, that's makes my stomach churn.

David Alonso:  Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks for sharing that. It's amazing. So, you know, I'm always keen to kind of understand like the man behind the business and so forth, but you know, when people say what success looks like, is it, you know, is it just great revenue? Is it a mixture of personal life balance? You know, if you're going to sort of fast for the next two years, you know, what is success actually to you? What does it mean?

Louis Song:  You know, that's always, I think an individual question. Um, you know, some people define success by financial wealth. Um, you know, I, I personally think it's I'm able to do what I want to do when I want to do it. And you know, both as a company and as an individual, I don't have any debt and you know, I can focus on helping, you know, the way that I like to put it is elevate life through meaningful work. And I can help people every day, both internally in the next eternally elevate life through meaningful work. And it's a core part of how I define success. Helping everyone else get better.

David Alonso:  And if you could look back now, you know, a younger Louis, right? Start in his career, what would you tell him?

Louis Song:  Breathe. Yeah. Dude.

David Alonso: Do Jujitsu 10 years earlier?

Louis Song:  No, I think about this question to before and I'm, my biggest advice to my younger self would be breathe and relax. Don't be so hard on yourself. Keep working as hard as you're working. Keep doing what you're doing. But breathe, relax. Don't, don't be so anxiety ridden and worried about what the future's going to hold. Keep working your ass off. Keep learning, keep trying, keep making the and keep doing it. But relax and knowing that it's going to be okay.

David Alonso:  Well, Louis, look, thank you so much for today. It's been a real pleasure to get to know you more as a man of your next book we write tomorrow. Um, I've really enjoyed getting to know you. Show me the a Jujitsu Academy. It was amazing. Thank you so much. I really appreciate everything you've done to that. Thank you.

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004: Tom Erb – How to Expand your Sales Team while Amplifying your Sales Pipeline with Scalable Processes

Is it time to turbo charge your sales? Along with being the CEO of Tallann Resourcing, Tom Erb is an influential leader in the recruitment industry. He has a podcast of his own, 20 years of experience in this field, and a published book called Winning the Staffing Sales Game. This podcast focuses heavily on how to sell in the recruitment space, how to motivate your team, and what metrics you should be looking to track in your business.

Short transcript

David Alonso:  There's obviously a difficulty for the people trying to get new business, maybe it's just me, but I'm enjoying the fact that when I get a good phone call, I want to listen. It's something interesting there's a hook there, and most of the people that I come across, they're just too scared to actually have those tough conversations with prospects nowadays, because they already feel that it's going to fail before they start. How do you do you motivate people, coach them around these pieces?

Tom Erb: Well, and to your point, it's getting harder and harder to get somebody live on the phone. It's not uncommon for me to talk to somebody, or coach a sales rep where we actually see the numbers where they're having a 30 to 1 ratio or higher. So, there's a lot of failure that's going into that.

So, part of what the process does, is we try and reach out to them ahead of time and try to catch their attention so we can bring that ratio back down to a more manageable number. The biggest reason is, is because they don't know what to say, and they're not calling with a purpose.

When they don't call you back, which nobody calls you back, you're disappointed. You feel like there's been failure there, and so, I've actually talked to many sales people who have told me that's what their voicemail or that's what their message is.

When we can create messaging that is compelling and that is different than every other staffing company out there and that resonates with prospects, then they're going to have more success, but they're also going to have a lot more confidence going into it, which just has a snowball effect of having more success. So, it just kind of builds on it.

David Alonso:  What about the owners of staffing companies? We all want rockstar recruiters who are going to bring in tons of new business, and hit their targets. How do we kind of get the balance between setting an ambitious targets, but not kind of creating these unmotivated teams or people when they don't hit those targets? So, where's the balance? We all need to hit our targets, we all need to make money, but at what point do we say, "That's too high." Where do you kind of sit as far as when you're consulting your clients on target setting.

Tom Erb: Yeah, it's actually pretty easy. It's have two targets. You should have a quota target, that in our industry typically is gross margin dollars on new business, and that quota target should be a reasonable goal that provides the return on investment that you're looking for out of that position.

David Alonso: So, apart from maybe not moving too soon, and passing over, what are the common mistakes would you say? It sounds harsh, but what are the common mistakes that CEOs make when they're trying to grow their business. Is there any sort of things that you come across all the time with CEOs?

Tom Erb:  Yeah, a couple things. One is not delegating, is trying to do everything on their own. We see that over and over again, and the other is not having a sales process or even, I wouldn't even just leave it with sales, but I would say processes and accountability and metrics in general both on the sales and the recruiting side. It's starting to track performance.

The second piece is the metrics, and then I probably would add in a third to this, because it's really important is, most of us don't spend enough time and effort in hiring the right internal people, and so as the owner of the company, that should be a big part of their responsibility is not just going out and running a craigslist ad and seeing who unemployed is going to show up, but really going through the process of saying, "Who is it that I want in this position? Who's going to help me really propel my company? What is it that I really need them to do?"

David Alonso:  You've been in the business for 20 years, right? So, there obviously challenges in staffing. What do you think kind of the biggest challenges to today's CEOs and this market? What are they really facing? What are the challenges now or maybe in the next year or so?

Tom Erb:  Well, without a doubt it's the talent pool. The talent pool is the number one biggest issue and you see that if you take a look at the quarterly earnings reports of the publicly traded companies. They're all saying, "Well, we grew by 4%, but we could've grown a lot more if we had the people."

David Alonso: The smallest staffing firm may feel they can't compete with bigger one, with brand, with resources. What do they need to do to attract these people? Is it us humans? Is that the only real changeable thing that people need to focus on? That they're different. They're the ones that work involving the actual company and brand itself. How do they get those candidates to work for them?

Tom Erb:  Yeah, I think it can be a combination of both. You've got to have a candidate value prop, just the same as we were talking about, the sales value prop, we have to have a candidate value prop. What is it that's going to attract people to us? If we're talking about contract staffing, which in staffing, that's most of what we have, then they're going to be our employee. They're going to go in one of our clients.

David Alonso:  So, how important is social and the impact of that on the actual staffing to be able to attract the candidates through the door?

Tom Erb:  I think it's absolutely critical. It's such an important piece, and I'll tell you we have actually proof that it's an important piece because when we go out and we teach people how to proactively recruit or to use our sales process to go out and sell, what we see in both cases are that they're Linkedin profiles spike, of the sales rep or the recruiter.

So, you're getting vetted on social media. You're getting vetted out on the website. If we think about the way that people buy now, people buy through proof. We have more proof than ever before. We have more ways to research things, and that's how we all buy. You're going to buy a new TV. What do you do? You go to consumer reports online. You go to the Amazon reviews. You go and you ask your friends out on Facebook, "Hey, does every bought this TV before?"

It's the same exact thing from sales, and it's the same thing for recruiting as well. Now, if we're trying to recruit people, they're going checking out your Linkedin profile. They're checking out your Facebook page. They're checking out your Linkedin page, your website, Glass Door, Google Reviews, everything, they're going everywhere. So, it is ... it's more critical now than ever.


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.