When lockdown was announced on March 23rd, the nation was not prepared. It came suddenly and without much warning, the UK faced near-total shutdown. Businesses shuttered, employees set up makeshift home offices, the world went online. We knew little about Coronavirus, people were scared, we were feeling around in the dark. This time round we understand the virus a little better, we are far more prepared, we have done it before and can replicate what worked for us during the previous lockdown. It comes as many businesses are already struggling so we must do what we can to pivot and push what we know works.
We recently hosted two Talent Matters webinars featuring industry guests who chatted about what they did to not only survive but grow during the pandemic and what they learnt from the first lockdown. Ashby Jenkins, the founder of Ashby Jenkins Recruitment, discussed how her not-for-profit sector recruitment agency pivoted quickly right from the very beginning. Richard Williams, Global Head of Marketing for tech recruiters Austin Fraser and their life science arm Austin Vita, shared why his team pushed through with their marketing when the recruitment industry slowed down.
We share their top tips to help your recruitment business through lockdown v2.0, from taking the time to nurture client and candidate relationships, to finding your USP (and marketing it), to broadening your client portfolio and diversifying what you offer. And whatever you do, hold your prices!
Do the right thing by your candidates and clients
The overriding message from both Ashby and Richard was to invest time in both your clients and your candidates. Helping candidates and clients alike wherever possible should be part of an agency’s DNA but is even more crucial during a crisis. Not only is this the right thing to do, it will ultimately have positive ramifications for your brand. The simple act of offering to chat with no agenda – a crisis is not a time to sell – will be remembered long after the pandemic is over. Both clients and candidates will return to those recruiters that went the extra mile for them at a time when other agencies might batten down the hatches.
Get to really know your clients and their business
The burn and churn model of recruitment is dead. Ashby advises instead to view your agency as a recruitment partner rather than simply a supplier. Invest time in your clients, get to know them and their business needs, their forecasts for the future and that investment will pay off. You need to add value to your role as a recruiter so that you’re not seen as a CV pusher. Having meaningful conversations about the state of the sector you recruit for with those working in it will also give you a better understanding of where to pivot if necessary. Show humility, leave your ego at the door and ask for advice as well as giving it.
Nurture candidate relationships
Make the most of any extra time you may have if business slows once more by investing it into building relationships and adding to your talent pool. Richard advises that as well as getting closer to clients and understanding their business, it is important to build a micro-community of specialist candidates. That way, you can ensure you have access to talent that you know don’t simply tick a few boxes but will be a true asset to the client in a specific role. Know your candidates inside out and you will be able to make the right match every time. Ashby also laboured the value of word-of-mouth advertising from candidates. Social media is full of the experiences many candidates are having right now with recruiters effectively ghosting them. A five-minute telephone call to update your candidates and talk through options could be enough for them to post on LinkedIn about the great experience they’ve had with you. They may even share that with an organisation they’re interviewing with and you could net another client.
Find your ‘why’ and help your consultants to stand out
Recruitment is a highly saturated market, which is why Richard insists that to be able to stand out you must pinpoint what makes your agency unique, why clients and candidates should come to you above all your competitors. “Marketing offers the differentiation, the story.” Publicise that, push it out, ensure everyone across the company is on board with it and then work to deliver it. Recruiters are some of the best marketers out there so give your consultants a way to increase exposure by providing them with editable assets and ideas for content creation and they will use that to stand out and reach both candidates and clients. Communicate your core values and live by them.
Broaden your client portfolio
If you normally work with just one size of business, a limited role type, or a particular area of your sector, consider diversifying your client portfolio to open up the jobs available to you. Structure your marketing around your newly diverse client range, segment your database into different types of organisations, and monitor the job boards to see what kinds of organisation in your sector are still hiring. If you usually work with large organisations who currently have a hiring freeze you may find that smaller companies are still recruiting.
Diversify your product
Consider offering webinars or training if jobs are still slow in your sector. As well as generating publicity and strengthening your brand, you will be able to build up a fantastic database of both candidates and potential clients. Once your workflow is up again simply pivot back but be ready to turn to alternative avenues again if the situation changes. To survive and grow you’ll have to be prepared to constantly adapt.
View everyone in your team as a salesperson
Pre-Covid your team may have been split into different roles, with some focusing on billing, some marketing and some client development. Right now, in order to help the business survive, everyone has to sell and see themselves in that role. It’s vital to make that messaging clear to your entire team so you’re all on the same page and fighting together.
Hold your prices
Lowering your rates doesn’t just devalue your service but that of everyone in the industry. The more agencies that advertise a price cut, the more likely a price war will start and that isn’t good for anyone. It could also signal to clients that you are struggling and starting to get desperate. Value your service and hold firm on rates.