When it comes to attaining that perfect “Work/Life Blend”, Robert Kenward has achieved everything he set out to accomplish.
Robert has worked within the recruitment and events sector for over 17 years and explored the world of hiring from all angles – namely as a candidate, a client and a recruiter.
This has helped him gain some much-needed perspective when evaluating how to solve hiring challenges and after becoming increasingly frustrated with the usual transactional, cookie cutter approach to recruitment led him to set up an independent recruitment consultancy specialising in senior placements within the Live Events, Experiential and Integrated Comms sector.
He helps companies attract and retain talent by matching people with people as well as skills with job descriptions and helps people find a role they never knew existed which is the right fit for them long term based on bespoke analysis.
He does this by practising his Fitability® model and having an in-depth understanding of the events industry, having worked at a senior level within a full-service live events agency, a market leading global experiential agency and a large-scale global travel, meetings and events business as well as 10 years previous direct recruiting experience.
We caught up with Robert to talk about his journey, and how he made it happen:
Why did you want to start your own recruitment business?
I was a recruiter for 9 years, before being an events professional (as a senior director) for 6 years. In that role, recruitment was a big part. In my experience, recruitment has a bit of a poor reputation – and 90% of it is fully justified, unfortunately. It’s not just the recruiter’s fault, it’s the whole process. I’ve always felt it’s the wrong way round: Recruiters look at their work from a fee perspective, whereas I look at it from the point of view that I get paid if I do my job really well. That’s why I offer my 6-month-100% rebate package – I only put candidates forward which I have spoken to, interviewed myself, and know would be a good fit for the role.
As a retained freelancer, I work on one or two roles and month on a retained basis, focussing on quality and quantity.
I did want to get back into recruitment because I loved it. I didn’t know how to do it, whilst offering something different and having a proper USP. I was 39, and my little boy had just been born, and I knew if I started in a new role I’d be there for at least 5 or 6 years. I wanted to move back to Brighton and spend more time with my family. Starting my own business all of a sudden seemed like the only option.
I didn’t start this business to be a millionaire, I don’t want to have staff. I want to do it for the next 15/20 years, maybe pass it on to my son, but the whole way through is doing things around my family and my life. If work needs to get done, it gets done, of course.
So, you went into business ownership hoping for a better work/life balance. Has it delivered on your hopes and dreams in that regard?
Yes – though I’m very careful how I answer questions like that because it can sound like I don’t do anything. When you think about it, the people I speak to – senior candidates – the usual approach to that is speaking to them when they’re on a break and throwing CVs out there. I like to speak for people properly, so a lot of the time I speak to people in the evenings and during the weekend. That’s not to say I’m not busy during the week, but when you’re an independent freelancer, you work on 1-2 roles a month, because of the salary and work involved.
It made me realise I don’t have to work 8AM-8PM, Monday-Friday anymore, which allows me time to spend with my wife and son. Do you know that “work smarter, not harder” saying? I found I didn’t need to work on a Monday. I log on toward the end of the day, to get a head start for Tuesday, but the rest of the day is spent with my son. I take him trampolining, kayaking, football and swimming. Kayaking has been a favourite over the last 6 months though – I’ve just bought a kayak! We sometimes go out on the sea, but there are a lot of non-tidal rivers in Sussex, as well as lots of disused quarries which have been turned into lakes. There are lots of places you can go kayaking where you don’t need to be an Olympic-grade kayaker!
The sector I specialise in is very creative, as such the people I work with have more exciting things to do than speak to a recruiter, so most Friday afternoons the family and I spend time together.
We’re expecting another baby next month, and because of the flexibility I’ve found since starting my business, I can be around to help and really enjoy those first few months.
I’ve built my reputation to work with clients I want to work with, and am able to focus on roles that fit my expertise – plus, I have Mondays, Friday afternoons, and mornings and evenings with my family. I’ve built my own reputation and the brand, so I’m now at a point where, because I’m working on a retained basis, I know where future business is coming from.
The better and smarter I work, the better my life is – and that’s amazing! I’m in control of what I do.
What would you say to someone who’s looking to start their own business?
If you’re a recruiter looking to start their own business – you have to be pragmatic. It’s not all hustle, you have to stay grounded while also being an entrepreneur. You have to look at it from a forecasting, profit/loss point of view. You may not make any placements in the first 6 months – aside from the occasional deal.
Essentially, if you boil it down, it’s about finding the right person for the role – nothing more. If you can do that with confidence, be somebody clients want to work with – rather than have to, you’re doing a good job, and you’ll be paid for doing a good job. I make sure that I add value and reduce stress for my clients, by providing a comprehensive service.
You’ve got to be able to stand in a room, with other recruiters, and have a good answer to the question, “What do you do differently from everyone else?”. If you can’t stand up and say something other than “I really understand my sector” or “I get to know my clients really well”, then you have to start thinking if you really have what it takes to be successful?
Think of the long-term, and don’t rush into making quick placements which may not do your reputation any good. That’s why I offer the 6-month-100% rebate, because I have to be absolutely sure and confident that I’m putting forward the right person for the role. I’ll have done an extensive search, through passive and active candidates, bespoke interview them for the specific role I’m working on, I will have scoured the Earth! That way, I know I’m genuinely recommending the best person for the job.
When you were just about jump into business ownership – did you have any fears?
At the point I started YouSAS, I had three options. Either I continued working in the events profession, I went back to recruitment as a consultant for an established firm, or I started my own business.
I wanted a change, which ruled out working more in events. I looked into working for a recruitment company, though I found that the reasons for me leaving the profession 6 years earlier were still present, if not more evident than before. This left starting my own recruitment business as the only credible option left on the table.
The fear I had was this: What if I do this, start my own business, and it fails. What if I’ve completely misread the landscape, and that the services I want to offer aren’t in sufficient demand to bring in the business I need.
My wife and I sat down and wrote down everything a recruiter should do. After writing everything down I thought, “If it’s that simple, why isn’t everyone else doing it?”. You start to think, “Well, I must have mucked up here – I’ve missed something!”. The greatest fear is feeling you’ve somehow missed something, that you’ve got it all wrong, and what you’d do if you fail?
Saying that I’ve been running YouSAS for three years now, and every time I explain what my business offers, and the way we work, potential clients have bitten my hand off to work with me. Particularly, the Fitability angle (which involves the rebate) –a bespoke search for specific roles.
I haven’t reinvented recruitment, I’ve just simplified it, and focussed on doing an exceptional job.
I’ve always said, “recruitment isn’t hard, it’s just hard work, and it’s easy for people to do it wrong.”