Episode #3: Profitable From Day One With Mark Conway

Thrive to Serve Episode 3 - Mark Conway
Thrive to Serve Podcast
Episode #3: Profitable From Day One With Mark Conway

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Running a profitable service business is not an easy task, running a profitable business from day one is close to impossible. No wonder 25% of startup businesses fail their first year (source). It’s not impossible, however.

Today’s guest, Mark Conway, started his executive search and recruiting business in 1999 and has been profitable ever since. Mark shares a great deal of insight and advice on running a profitable service business, including:

  • How to run a profitable business from day one
  • How to find and hire the right employees for your business
  • When you should hire contractors instead of employees
  • When to hire recruiting firm to find that key employee
  • How personal self-growth results in business growth
  • How to get referrals and repeat business from your clients

And so much more. It doesn’t matter if you’re considering starting your own service business or you’re already running one, Mark’s advice and story will be of value to you. I guarantee you’ll walk away with at least one gold nugget to apply in your life and business. I sure did.

Tune in to today’s episode with Mark, it’s time to thrive!

Mark’s Contact Information

Viktor Nagornyy: Welcome, Mark, to Thrive to Serve podcast. Thank you so much for taking a little bit of time from your busy day to sit down and chat with me about your business. How is everything going?

Mark Conway: Good, Viktor, thank you for taking time.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, my pleasure; to start things off, I just want to ask what did you do before starting a recruiting business?

Mark Conway: When I started in the executive search and recruiting business I was pretty young. I had gone to University of Kansas and finished at Loyola Chicago. After that I had a few sales and marketing positions within advertising and selling consulting services, and a few other positions. Then I answered an ad in a newspaper, back at that point, that was a long time ago, that’s what everybody did, to get into executive searching and staffing. I basically answered an ad, and that’s how I got into the business.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, that’s great, yeah, I remember the newspapers when people read them.

Mark Conway: It’s a lot different than it is now.

Viktor Nagornyy: No, absolutely, it’s black and white now from back in the days. How did you transition from working for someone to working for yourself?

Mark Conway: When I started I was fairly young. It was probably my first significant job because I was at that firm for roughly four years. It was very difficult for me to stick it out at that point. I was the top person in that firm. It was a 30-year-old-plus IT, consulting, and executive search firm, very toxic environment. My boss liked me because I was the top guy there, obviously, but he was a difficult guy to work for. We had significant turn-around there.

I knew pretty early on that it was going to be difficult, but like all things that you know are going to give you that type of experience that you need in your career, sometimes it’s worth it to stay and learn, and that’s what I did. After a period of four years, I took a long break and started a similar type of company, definitely not exact to what they were doing because at that point there were a lot of things that were changing in the industry.

At that company that I started in, we weren’t using email or data or other things the way that the firm that I started ran. We were very innovative at that point. I started in my own business after I took a break. I had a young kid at that time, my daughter, Mary, who’s now much older. I spent some time with her. We traveled a little bit, and then we started Ancilla in 1999

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s great. That’s always good to get the experience and then take that experience and work for yourself.

Mark Conway: Yeah, and it was great experience. It was the type of experience that was really good for somebody starting off because it was almost all sales related. I took that experience that I had, and I was able to be very successful early on with Ancilla, with some of those experiences that I learned in that company.

Viktor Nagornyy: Right, no, sales experience is definitely a major benefit for anybody getting into business for themselves.

Mark Conway: Absolutely, I think that that’s the number one reason why businesses fail because it’s hard for operators if they don’t have sales experience. It’s something that they could easily learn and pick up, but it’s very critical.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. What – just to make sure that everybody’s on the same page, what exactly do you do? Can you give us a brief elevator pitch?

Mark Conway: Sure, so the name of the firm that I run is called Ancilla Executive Search. The website is Ancillaco.com It’s a national executive search and staffing firm. We also operate niche job board sites. That business is jobsinlife.com. It’s all revolving around employment services, executive search and staffing, and then we have the niche job board piece with that. That’s basically what we do.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s great. Just – I know I’m curious, and I know our listeners will be curious, what does Ancilla mean?

Mark Conway: Ancilla basically means an aid to achieving something of difficulty, or a servant. It’s a Latin word, so the root of the word is basically servant. That was very important for me and my wife who was helping me start Ancilla at that point, to pick a name that meant something because that’s what the business is focused on. It’s a professional, B to B service, so we wanted to choose a word that meant something, and that’s what we chose.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, it definitely fits nicely within your niche. It takes a lot of time to find the right candidate and make sure that they’re the right fit as well.

Mark Conway: Yeah, it’s – finding the right people for an organization is the most important thing that they could do because you can’t grow as a company unless you have the right people in place.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, so if not many people familiar with what you do during – on your daily, day-to-day so-to-speak. Can you just give us a brief overview of what your typical day looks like? What are some of the things that you do?

Mark Conway: Absolutely, everything revolves around helping our clients, which are generally hiring managers, HR Departments, hiring groups. It all comes down to usually one or two people within an organization that have a specific niche need, vertical need. Then the second body of clientele that we have are the candidates, so helping them from a consulting standpoint on things like interview preparation, career growth.

The typical day revolves around helping clients to find the best possible talent for their specific need and helping candidates grow in their career. We work through specific methodologies to do that, running research teams, sourcing teams, sales and client teams, and executing their process. We – even though we have executive search firm and job boards, we run them the same way.

On the job board, the niche job board site, a company has a need that they’re trying to fill. Albeit it’s through generally a job posting, we take a more proactive approach than other job board sites, so we’re still involved in helping our clients using some of those same processes that we do in the high level, routine, executive search side.

Viktor Nagornyy: Okay, that’s great, absolutely, making sure you have processes is critical in a business.

Mark Conway: Absolutely.

Viktor Nagornyy: As a business owner, what keeps you up at night right now?

Mark Conway: Probably, just like you talked about, processes. How do we improve? How do we make things better? How do we help our clients which are hiring managers and candidates? For me, it’s mine own personal growth because service comes from how are you going to become better yourself and continue to grow?

As I mentioned, early on in my professional career I was very successful at a young age and probably plateaued at a certain point. As I got older, I learned that part of happiness is probably growth. I think that’s probably what keeps me up at night. How do I become a better person? How do I go about doing that? Usually it’s I set a daily plan, and how am I going to execute that plan tomorrow.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. That’s something that keeps me up at night as well. Working with the clients, just like you, in B to B space, personal self-growth is very important, critical. You don’t want to stagnate and get left behind.

Mark Conway: Yeah, I mean you can’t execute your business processes effectively if you’re not focused on your own personal growth and simple things like your level of energy and what book you’re reading this week, and the types of things that are going to help you as a person.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, I always try – I have a – my routine for – part of my routine for the personal self-growth, being in marketing there are so many changing things in marketing, not only technology-wise, but also different practices and activities that we do. You have to stay up to date. My job is to know pretty much everything to make sure that when the clients come to me I’m able to help them in the best way possible so they don’t have to do that.

My routine is in the morning, when I commute to my office, I try to catch up on some of the latest blog posts in the marketing, in the business industries. At night, when I commute back home, I actually read a book. I try to mix it up so there’s some fresh stuff that’s up to date coming into my head so-to-speak. At night, I just relax, read a book, and I get home. It’s critical to make sure that you’re always working on yourself.

Mark Conway: Absolutely, and it’s amazing how quickly things have changed in every industry that you’re really – if you’re going to be a happy person, really I believe that you have to do that to grow. You have to continue to do things like reading and other activities that aren’t going to help you grow as a person.

We always advise our candidates, because we work with very high level candidates, C-level executives, and high level software engineers, for example, that you always have to continually grow, and you always have to stay abreast of what’s going on in your industry. It’s those people that are the most successful, that they commit to life-long learning in their specific niche so they can really rise to the top or maintain that level.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, so what – if you could fix one thing in your business right now, what would that be?

Mark Conway: The relationship that we have, and why I contacted you initially is because we needed, definitely, help on the marketing side of things. My background is sales and research and sourcing and executive search services. Where we were probably weak, and where we are weak right now are marketing techniques and a marketing plan, which you helped us with, Viktor.

That’s an area that historically we haven’t had to be that involved in because we’ve done very well with referrals, and we have a good track record which we continue. In order to really grow and explode, we need to do a lot more on the marketing side. It just goes back to if you’re not growing, you’re probably stagnating. That’s an area that I believe is really going to help us going forward is a stronger marketing plan, a stronger execution of the marketing side.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s great. Working on the marketing is definitely something that every business owner should be able to keep in mind and try to work on. I know I work with a lot of small businesses, and marketing always gets left behind. There’s just not enough time, not enough resources, not enough knowledge about the marketing, but it’s one of the most critical things to a business. It’s a lifeline. If you’re not feeding your business leads to be able to sell to them, you have nothing else to do.

Mark Conway: Yeah, and that was very true with us, historically. We were – we had an excellent sales process and referral process and everything, but weak on the marketing side, and that makes a huge difference.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, so it’s something good to keep in mind as you work on it. What are some of the new things that you’re working on right now? I know we talked about job boards and some of the things that you were working on. Can you just mention some of the things that you’re working on right now?

Mark Conway: What our firm is working on right now is really launching some of the niche job board sites that we’re working on, and there’s many of them. We have 30 to 50 of them that we’re going to be launching in the next year. Those are just specific niches. For instance, some of the niche’s that we have are on the finance side, jobs for quantitative training professionals. On the IT side, we have jobs in storage for data storage professionals, and several others. I won’t go through them all.

We’re working on specific niches because that’s really how we could serve our candidates and hiring managers the best is development of a strong niche community where we could give back to the candidates in the form of education, and helping them to keep abreast of that specific niche, and then the hiring managers, to helping them to find the top people in that niche. We’re working on those niche job board sites.

It’s kind of an entry level product for us. We’ve had a lot of clients in the past that haven’t wanted to go forward with very expensive executive search fees, that are very worth it, by the way, when you’re finding top people for your vertical. You really need those people to run your company, and it makes a huge difference if you hire a B or C candidate.

Spending whatever that money is is worth it, but this is a good entry for people that want to attract candidates in a specific niche and don’t want to use the full executive search service. We’re focusing on watching those niche sites initially, and that’s just a tremendous amount of work for us.

Viktor Nagornyy: No, that sounds like a really good project, having the niche job boards. It will definitely be very good for clients that can’t afford executive recruiters, and also gives them access to good, quality candidates, as well as for candidates, giving them access to very specific jobs.

Mark Conway: Yeah, one of the products that we’re offering across the board on all our niche sites, it’s called Platinum Search. What we do is we put together a very specialized target list for them in a specific niche. Then we walk them through a process where they will fill out an intake form.

We’re basically putting together the same type of target lists that we do for a lot of our top clients, and then contacting those candidates for them. It’s through the niche job boards, and we’re excited about that because we see that as a way, like you said, somebody that doesn’t have the budget could move forward with that and sometimes achieve comparable initial results on the sourcing side as they would with executive search services.

Viktor Nagornyy: Right, well in a way you’re killing two birds with one stone with job boards. One, you’re able to cater to the clients who can’t afford a full-blown executive search service, but you’re also reaching out – using it as a marketing tool to be able to reach clients that are somewhere in the middle or are ready for executive search services to be able to bring them in to do the research for them to find their candidates. You kill two birds with one stone in that way.

Mark Conway: Absolutely, and that just grew out of a need from what the hiring managers were looking for, and of course being able to provide more value to them and more value to the niche candidates that we’re working with.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, you’re a perfect example how listening to your clients’ needs helped you figure out what – another way to help them, monetize it, and be able to grow your business.

Mark Conway: Yeah, so we’re excited about that.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, so right now we are reaching our thrive round, as I like to call it. The following questions will be – the idea behind that is to tap into your experience over the last 15 to 20 years working, running a thriving service business to try to learn a little bit of information to help other service businesses grow their business. My first question is, what do you think is the number one thing a professional service provider needs to know?

Mark Conway: The number one thing is it’s all about service, and it’s all about walking in the shoes of your client and figuring out exactly what they need, and figuring out exactly how you’re going to help them and provide value. If you do that, the revenue will grow naturally out of that.

As we were talking about before, don’t stagnate. Don’t rest on your laurels; keep on growing. In fact, you need to in this business climate, the way that technology is compounding at such a rapid pace right now. Also you’re going to be a happier person if you make a commitment to grow and you make a commitment to yourself on a daily basis.

The number one thing a professional service provider needs to know is that they should focus on how they’re going to help people, how they’re going to help their clients.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, absolutely!  

Mark Conway: Figure out ways to do that.

Viktor Nagornyy: I couldn’t agree with that more. It’s something I believe. One of the reasons I love working with service businesses, and I am in the service business, is because I get to work with people. I get to help them, and I get to work with my clients, to be able to help them help their clients. That’s one of the benefits of being in the service business, is that you’re working with people and you’re helping people. We need to keep that mind. That way you’ll always grow your business.

Mark Conway: Absolutely. We talked about this before. When I was initially doing research, and when we initially doing research to find some marketing help, I looked at your profiles in detail and it was evident to me that you were that type of person. That’s why we reached out to you. That comes across loud and clear. If somebody is in need of marketing help, I would tell them to do some research and look into your background a little bit.

What impressed me about you is you just seemed like the type of guy that you really had a genuine interest in helping people.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why I always tell my clients when I work with them is that your business is my business. I don’t want to be just another contractor that you hire or anything like that; I want to be a business partner in away, to be able to help you grow your business. That way I’m able to help you and help you help your clients as well.

Mark Conway: Yes.

Viktor Nagornyy: When we go back to the early days, when you were just getting started, were there any mistakes you made that now if you look back and think to yourself what was I thinking about when you did that?

Mark Conway: Yes, doesn’t everybody want to go back and make changes. My story is that I started off in a similar industry when I was in my early 20s. Now I’m closing in on my mid-40s so I’ve had 20-plus years of experience in the industry. I was very successful very quickly because I made a commitment to be the best. In fact when I interviewed with my boss, I told him that I was going to be the best employee in his company, and he was running a 30-year old company. I was a young kid, and when you’re young sometimes you believe things and I believed that

I went on to be the best employee that he had. I broke all the records, yearly revenue records and monthly records, and a lot of good things came from that. I was able to do that for a few years and started my own firm, which was a similar type of firm. Did very well initially because I applied a lot of those same principles and success I learned to that. I think what happened, Viktor that along the way probably stagnated a little bit too much. I would tell people going forward to make sure that you don’t rest on your laurels, if you’ve had some level of success.

It really doesn’t matter because in order to continue to be successful, it’s not about what you did yesterday, it’s about what you’re going to do today and how you’re going to execute your plan. As we talked about before, that really brings a lot of peace and happiness in somebody’s life, that they’re continually growing. That’s probably my regret being younger, is that when I was younger I probably rested on my laurels too much, stagnated, and realized that wasn’t making me happy.

It’s like you’ve heard of very successful people, much more successful than me that have got to a certain level where they could retire. They have everything that they need, but what do they do after that. They generally go on to some type of other endeavour because they realize that they need to continually grow. That’s what I would have changed.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely. Become complacent and stagnating, it’s an important thing to keep in mind. That’s where the personal self-growth comes into play. It helps you keep growing. That you don’t become stagnant. You don’t become complacent.

Mark Conway: Yes, absolutely.

Viktor Nagornyy: Okay that’s great. What’s the best thing you’ve done to get clients?

Mark Conway: The best thing we’ve done to get clients is obviously our sales approach that we take. We have many processes that we actually use to get clients. I think what probably sets us apart is we’ve been very good at keeping clients. We’ve had some same clients that we’ve had when we started in business in 1999. Our reputation that we’ve had in serving clients, we generally always beat our competition out. Something that we’ve heard throughout the year is that we excel far greater than our competition. That’s probably the best thing, it’s just we’ve maintained a high level of quality in doing the job right.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s great to hear because keeping the clients and getting the repeat business is so much more important than getting new leads and new clients. The repeat clients always buy more and you don’t have to keep selling to them; you’ve already sold to them. That’s one of the thing that I actually noticed that a lot of small businesses try to focus on. They always want more leads, want more leads.

I ask them, what are you doing with your existing clients? Just cricket noise; there’s nothing. That’s really good to hear because that’s a very important thing for any business to do, is to focus on existing clients.

Mark Conway: Absolutely. When you understand what their needs are, generally you can help them out and that will lead into more revenue and more additional products for your organization too. It only takes a few clients to really grow your business.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely. Client expectations are important when you start working with them in the service business. Do you have any tips on how to set client expectations when you begin to work with them?

Mark Conway: When I think about setting client expectations, I have a few kids and one of my kids, I was a football coach for many years and I always think about the parent meetings. There’s a lot of anxieties with moms, especially parents in general, about is my kid going to get hurt. Is practice going to be hurting and those types of things? What a good coach will do, a good football coach, he’ll go in with a methodology initially and will cover all those things upfront so that they can expectations with the parents.

It’s the same thing with business, with clients. You need to walk in and you need to have a methodology in place on how you’re going to set expectations so that there’s no confusion. To answer your question, quite simply it’s just putting together a client expectation methodology upfront that you follow and that you educate the clients initially on how the process will go and what they should expect.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s a great analogy. You also touched back on what we initially discussed about having businesses processes and systems in place.

Mark Conway: Yeah.

Viktor Nagornyy: Okay that’s great. As a service provider, what’s the most challenging thing to you while working with clients?

Mark Conway: Sometimes you’ll get that process upfront. You’ll set expectations and the goalposts will move sometimes. There’s a lot of moving parts in searching and placing a top professional. Because there’s so many moving parts, there’s a lot of things that could go wrong. I think that’s part of any business, and you need to have a plan for that. You need to have a change management plan. That’s probably one of the most challenging things, just a proper change management plan put in place.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, absolutely. That’s a really good point. When things get difficult, how do you deal with difficult conversations that you have to have with clients?

Mark Conway: I think with difficult conversations, a lot of that is customer service. Do you really care about the person that you’re working with, and do you care about what they’re outcome is? If you sincerely do, generally that will handle most of that difficult conversation upfront. Another method to deal with difficult conversations is that why would you argue? What does arguing do? Generally, a good strategy is more along the lines of agreement and trying to get behind whatever the true issue is and objective is. Just helping that individual out the best you can.

Now there’s also a percentage of clients that aren’t going to be happy no matter what. You need to be aware of that too.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, absolutely. I’m one of those persons who hates to argue, and I’m very hard to get to that point of arguing. I think that’s why my wife loves me because she can argue all she wants but I’m not going to argue back. I try to keep everything diplomatic and calm and have a conversation. When you have a conversation, you’re exploring different opportunities, different things, and you actually get somewhere instead of just arguing back and forth.

Mark Conway: I just had my 20th-year wedding anniversary a few days and it’s taken me a long time to realize that arguments generally don’t get you anywhere and there’s better ways to deal with things. Again, it’s focusing on somebody else’s needs and what’s the solution and how you’re going to accomplish that.

Viktor Nagornyy: Yeah absolutely. Congratulations on the anniversary!  I still have about 19 years to go to reach that point.

Mark Conway: Thanks, Viktor.

Viktor Nagornyy: No problem. Speaking of difficult conversations, have you ever had to fire a client?

Mark Conway: Yeah, absolutely. I think anybody that has been in business for a while understands that at some point you probably need to release what does Jack Walsh say, “The bottom 10% of your clients if you’re really going to grow.”  I have had to do that before. I don’t think I’ve done that as much as other companies because I think that a lot of times the best relationships that I’ve had have been very difficult clients and I’ve learned to overcome whatever the issues were.

At the same time, you have to be smart, and you’ve got to be able to calculate where your time is going. You have to manage your time, and if you have a client that’s really consuming a great deal of time and you’re not getting anywhere, you have to be aware of that.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, absolutely. You have to find that balance. It has to be a win-win situation for both parties.

Mark Conway: Yeah, yeah. We’ve had to let go of clients that we’ve been with for a while. As far as what happens, you wish them the best and you just move on. You go to the next person on your list; that’s the way you have to think about business. At the same time, you really try to serve the clients that you have now as best as you can.

Viktor Nagornyy: Right, no, absolutely. I’m just curious, if somebody decides to hire an executive search firm, what’s the one thing they should not do to get fired?

Mark Conway: Repeat that one more time, Viktor, if somebody hires an executive search firm —

Viktor Nagornyy: For example, if I want to hire a CTO for my business, and I come to you to get help to find the right candidate. What’s one thing I should not do for you to fire me? What’s the one big thing that would make you think, okay you know what? This is a client not worth working with.

Mark Conway: If somebody is going to hire a C-level executive, generally most of the time they have a true need. We wouldn’t work with somebody that doesn’t have a true need. That’s number one. Number two is are they going to be able to provide true growth opportunities for that candidate? If somebody is going out and they’re trying to find top people, they need to create a situation where somebody is really going to be able to grow in their organization. Sometimes growth is not always revenue growth.

Sometimes somebody could join a company that doesn’t have necessarily the greatest revenue growth but they have a tremendous opportunity for experience there, and later down the line they’re able to contribute a lot. Maybe a company that doesn’t care about people, a client that doesn’t care about people, they just have their own interests in the forefront. We have to weed out those companies that are like that.

I think people are getting smarter now as technology progresses. I think things are opening up and people understand a little bit more how other companies are successful, so there’s really not as much of that as they’re used to be.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely. That’s something that I hadn’t considered is the growth opportunity for the candidate. Everybody wants to, oh I want to get a job; I don’t want to be unemployed. There’s also that other part is there growth for me there. That’s definitely good to keep in mind.

Mark Conway: If anybody is going to go look for a job, a career, they should not take it just based upon compensation. They should really look at what type of experience am I going to get. How is this opportunity going to help me grow? What is my resume going to look like two, three, five years from now based on that. That’s much more important than am I going to make another 5, 10k here at this specific job. You’re positioning yourself for much greater compensation in the future, and you always have to pick a job based on opportunity and how it’s going to help you grow.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely. What’s interesting, our business audience, they do hire employees as well. I think a key takeaway from this is that if you want to hire the right candidate, you should not only sell them the job itself but also the growth opportunity that comes with that job. That way you’re getting an employee who not only wants a paycheck but also is looking to be a part of a team.

Mark Conway: Yeah, you really hit the nail on the head. That’s the most important thing. If somebody listening to this is focused on hiring the best people, they need to create the right environment for that. It could be a very small company or it could be a very large company; it really doesn’t matter, just creating an environment of growth. Again, that doesn’t necessarily have to be always revenue growth but an environment of professional growth, industry growth. Those types of things are very important.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely. We briefly talked about repeat clients as well as referrals. Do you have any tips for getting existing clients to refer to you or is there anything that you’ve done that’s worked well?

Mark Conway: Most important thing is to ask. Most people don’t ask. It’s important how you present the questions. You want to put somebody in a good state, “John we’ve done an excellent job for you and what can we do to make it better, and thank you. One of the things that can help us significantly is if you refer us, and how can we help you going forward.” You have to create some reciprocity there. You’ve got to make them feel good and create some reciprocity.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s a really good tip. I agree with you 100% that you have to ask. You can’t get referrals if you don’t ask. That tip about creating reciprocity and putting them in a good state of mind, I’ll take that.

Mark Conway: Here’s another trick. If somebody wants to get referred to somebody else, to train and reach out to somebody else, don’t just get on introduction; get multiple introductions. Maybe get multiple people to send that individual on the same day an email saying this is a good guy, and most of the time, you’re going to get that person. It’s a good tip for somebody who’s trying to get any type of client. There’s a lot of tools out there, obviously, LinkedIn and other tools that you can see how you’re connected to that person, and those types of things, so you can get multiple introductions.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, thanks for the tip.

Mark Conway: Sure.

Viktor Nagornyy: I’m not familiar with executive recruiting industry. Can you briefly talk about – how do you usually price the services? If I were to hire an executive recruiting firm, what should I expect in terms of the cost? Is it some sort of commission, or is there a flat fee?

Mark Conway: Executive search and staffing is a multi-billion dollar business. There’s a lot of publicly traded companies that are listed. To answer your question, Viktor, it’s really everything under the sun. There’s flat fees. There’s upfront fees, upfront retainers. There’s a percentage that’s due when the individual starts, so all of those ways. Typically, most firms will charge a percentage of the first year compensation or starting salary. On the low end, it’s going to be maybe 15 to 20%, so 15 would be extremely low. 20 would be pretty low.

Maybe, the standard would be more like 25. These are for very important searches, so somebody that’s going to make a significant impact in your company, maybe somebody that’s close to the money. They’re going to be providing revenue in some way for the company, or they’re going be a top technical person for the company. The high level on that fee structure could go up to 30%, 35, even 40%, on starting salary. Maybe those are for individuals that are sea-level execs or top execs in a company.

There’s many different types of companies out there, and executive search and staffing, and many different ways that they bill. The most effective partners to work with the company are the ones that are really going to be committed and generally exclusive to their need. A lot of times, it’s done on a percentage of their starting salary.

Viktor Nagornyy: Okay, that’s great. That’s good to know. Over the past few years, I’ve seen some of the start-ups and some other businesses – you’ve probably seen them; they do the referrals. They pay you a bonus if you refer a candidate that they higher. Let’s say, we’ll give you $10,000 if you refer a candidate that we hire for a specific position. Do those actually work?

Mark Conway: Absolutely, a lot of things work. I guess an easy way to think about it is that your tapping into somebody’s circle of influence. If you’re providing a referral, you’re going to tap into say Viktor’s circle, your social network. I don’t know how many people are on your social network, but if I said, “Viktor, I need a marketing person, can I pay you a fee?” You might know some good marketing people, and that might be valuable.

I would say if a company is looking for a person, this is the order in which they should hire; they should try to, initially, tap into their own employees’ circle of influence, so an employer referral program. There’s a lot of ways to do that. Then, they want to make sure that they’re doing a thorough job; they would want to hire a good executive search firm that has a very extensive circle of influence. They’re not only using theirs, but they could retain a higher firm that’s going to go out into the marketplace and find those candidates in many, many circles that are the best fit for the position, which is probably always worth it.

Sometimes, you think you’re hiring good people, but you’re not hiring the best. Specifically for critical needs, it’s good to know how a professional could go out and actually target an individual, maybe at a competitor, or within a specific niche and interest, that the potential candidate could come and apply for the position. Does that answer your question?

Viktor Nagornyy: No, absolutely. I was always curious if it actually worked. It’s good to get paid the $10,000, even when you refer someone they hire. As a business owner, I was curious if it actually works. It’s a good marketing tactic, but did it really work on the back end? You answered my question that it does work because you tap into the social communities of the people who do decide to refer candidates.

Mark Conway: Yep, and usually a good strategy is if you want to find a good person, go to other people. Generally, good people know other good people.

Viktor Nagornyy: Absolutely, no; that’s a great tip. While we’re on the topic of hiring and employees, I know that now you have employees, but if you got back to the beginning, at what point did you realize that you needed to hire additional help?

Mark Conway: We’ve always used help, and a lot of the help that we use are contractors. A lot of them are very smart contractors out there, that are very good on the research side. You can’t grow unless you have people helping you. Early on, we hired people right away because we realized in order to serve our clients the best and do the best job that we can, we needed small specialized teams for our research task for example. Pretty early on, we realized that.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s great. Do you have any tips for a small business that is at that point? They’re just maybe one person or maybe two people, partners, that they are at the point where they need help. Do you have any tips to help them hire that first employee?

Mark Conway: The first employee or the first individual for specific task because if it’s for a specific task, what you should do is you should define the task. You may find that you might not need a full-time employee for that job. If you determine that you need a full-time employee, it goes back to defining the opportunity that you’re going to be able to offer a full-time person. How are we going to grow as an organization? Somebody’s going to want to go to work for you if they know you have a vision, if they know that you’re going somewhere even if you’re a very small company.

You have to make sure that your vision is defined, that you’re able to offer that employee a true opportunity, that they’re going to be able to grow. You have to put yourself in their shoes. They’re looking at your organization. They’re looking at many others. Even when a market is bad, a really good candidate is going to be difficult to hire because everybody wants to hire them.

You have to put yourself in their shoes and figure out have we created a good environment for this person. Then, you need to sell the opportunity to them, and make them work. Communicate effectively on how is it going to help them in their career, maybe reading their resume more thoroughly, and putting yourself in their shoes in determining how they’re going to be able to grow in that organization.

At the same time, that person is there to do a job. You want to make sure that they fit in well, that they have the right attitude that you need, and that they’re going to come in and be customer service focused. By customer service focused, I mean helping you, as the manager, and the company, and also the clients, and come in there, work hard, and do the job right. They need the right attitude.

Viktor Nagornyy: No, that’s great. Your answer was better than my question. What I’m curious about is if you are at that point where you need help, can you give us a little bit of tips on – how do you define if it’s something that you would need a full-time employee, or part-time employee, or you could hire a contractor to do it?

Mark Conway: What does it take to get the job done? You’ve got to define exactly what the job does. Don’t focus on the type of person you would like to hire. Focus on the skills that you need and the track record that you need to get the job done. A lot of people go off track and they say, “We want to hire this person, or that type of person,” because maybe they’ve read something, or they’ve seen something; don’t think about that. Think about what skills are needed and what track record is needed to actually get the job done. Once you determine that, it will be easy to figure out if you need a part-time or full-time person.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s a great tip. What’s funny I just recently, a few days ago, I watched Moneyball. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie.

Mark Conway: Oh, yeah; It’s very relevant to executive search.

Viktor Nagornyy: No, absolutely. It was a great movie. It really touches on what you mentioned of focusing not specifically on the person but on their track record. Not looking just what they do outside work but actually what do they do on the field? Do they deliver those runs that’s required in baseball.

Mark Conway: It’s a perfect example because in that movie, they had a really smart technical guide that put together a system on how are we going to – what are some metrics that are going to be implemented and used, so we can determine who the best candidates are for the position? A position at that point was pro baseball players, so what metrics are we going to use to find those individuals, and what track record do they need to fit into that? That was a much smarter, methodical way to go about finding top people than what everybody else was doing.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s great. I’m curious. If you narrow down your search to two candidates for a position, and on paper they’re very similar, do you have one tip that helps you figure out exactly which candidate might be the right one that you would recommend if they are on paper the same? There are things that are not on paper that you look for.

Mark Conway: You want to figure out if their personality and their attitude is going to fit within the culture of the company. Paper is great, but you can only figure out if somebody’s going to fit by bringing them in and spending some time with them. There’s definitely ways that you could go about figuring out if somebody has the right type of attitude that they need to fulfill the position, Sometimes, people use behavioral questions, and there’s all different types of questions that you could use. Generally, what I like to do is focus on their track record and how they went about achieving those things. Maybe how they dealt with difficulties that came up while they were achieving whatever they achieved in that track record of success, so focusing on their personality, and their attitude, and how they’re going to fit in.

Viktor Nagornyy: No, that’s a great tip. Absolutely, looking at their track record is critical and figuring out how they got there. It’s not only about the destination, but what was the journey for them to reach that goal or that achievement?

Mark Conway: Yes.

Viktor Nagornyy: Great, so where do you see professional services industry heading in the future, maybe more specifically executive recruiting? I like to ask this question to just see what your predictions might be. There’s artificial intelligence, everything heading online, and everything is done by computers. Where do you see your industry going?

Mark Conway: It’s funny because it’s going to be a lot of the same, but it’s also changing quite a bit. From the standpoint of it being the same, it’s always going to be a personal connection, a hiring manager connecting with the candidate, and that will never change. However, the tools that are going to go about accomplishing that change quite a bit. We’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry with social media, with LinkedIn, and all these big data tools that are coming up now.

A lot of them work in kind of the same way, and it’s pretty simple. They find the right people for the job and connect them with the hiring manager. Those tools are going to continue to change, and what we try to do is we try to stay abreast of the top tools, and we try to utilize them better than our competition. I think that good advice for any other company is that they need to stay abreast to what the top tools are available within their specific niche, and we need to utilize them better than our competition, so they could provide the highest level of service to their clients.

Viktor Nagornyy: No, absolutely. That’s a great tip, staying abreast of the technology. That’s one of the things I try to do for my clients because I get a ton of questions from clients always asking about this new website that just showed up and another tool that showed up in their inbox saying that – you get overwhelmed. Understanding what might be the right tool for you for your industry is critical.

Mark Conway: Yeah, and also understanding what’s never going to change in your specific industry, what the basic principles are that are never going to change. Sometimes when you start to look at a lot of tools, the most important priority, which are the basic principles, get clouded over.

Viktor Nagornyy: No, that’s a good point. One of my last questions is what’s your number one advice, a small gold nugget that somebody can take away from our conversation today to help them grow their business?

Mark Conway: You always have to grow. Just like we were talking about before, make a commitment to maybe try to read a book a week or a book every other week in your specific niche. What would happen to you if you did make a commitment to immerse yourself in some of the top niche knowledge out there in your industry? Pretty easy to do; go on Amazon or whatever, get the book on Kindle, and then get the audible that goes with it, and study it. At the end of the year, you’ll be far ahead of the vast majority of people in your industry. I think making a commitment to have your goals crystallized, and your learning plan crystallized, and if you do that, you’re going to be in a really good position a year from now.

Viktor Nagornyy: That’s a great tip. One thing that I learned and I keep in mind is that even if you grow 1% everyday, at the end of 30 days, that’s 30% that you grew. A lot of people don’t realize that those small incremental changes, growth that you do, reading, learning things, adds up quickly.

Mark Conway: Yes, and in the history of our firm, we’ve placed a lot of top level people, a lot of sea-level executives, a lot of industry leaders. Most of them, a vast majority of them, have a commitment to learning and growing. They read a lot, they study a lot, and they’re just better by having that type of philosophy.

Viktor Nagornyy: No, absolutely. That’s great to keep in mind. My last question is how can people get in touch with you if they have questions or want to get your help hiring someone?

Mark Conway: Our website is ancillaco.com. If they just get on Google, and they type in Ancilla Corporation, our website is ancillaco.com. Then, our Niche Job would say is jobsinlife.com. That’s the best way to get a hold of us. We’re on social media. Go directly to our websites; our contact information is there.

Viktor Nagornyy: Okay, that’s great. I’ll make that I include the contact information in the show notes. If you’re looking to get in-touch with Mark, visit their website, and make sure to check the show notes at projectarmy.net/show. Not a problem, thank you so much for taking a little bit of your time today to have a conversation with me about your business and what you do. I really appreciate it, Mark.

Mark Conway: Thank you, Viktor. I really appreciate it too.

Viktor Nagornyy: Okay, not a problem.


Viktor Nagornyy

Viktor Nagornyy

As an inbound marketer, Viktor loves working with small businesses. He has created the Inbound Method strategy framework for creating an effective inbound marketing strategy. As a Business Guardian he works directly with businesses giving them practical, focused and actionable marketing advice.

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