The perks: Working as a Solo Recruiter offers a good amount of attractive perks: low overhead, lots of freedom, ability to choose where you work, no employee hassles, no dress code, no boss and full fees. These and many other perks entice a significant number of people in our business to fly solo or, at least, to daydream about it. I have spoken to a good number of owners with a staff of recruiters who have talked about how easy and apparently less stressful going on their own would be. Not having to deal with employee issues, hiring headaches and training new recruiters seems like a much easier path. In many ways this is true but it is only true for a small group of very independent mavericks who tend to thrive on their own.
The pitfalls: Along with a good number of perks, going solo has an equal amount of possible pitfalls: no steady paycheck, limitless distractions, possible isolation, taxes, administrative tasks, start up costs, lack of feedback and lack of support. Many people who excel as individual recruiters in an office foolishly believe that they can go on their own and have the same workload but gain the benefit of keeping 100% of the fees. This is partially correct but it is also true that in addition to your regular workday as a recruiter, you will have many other tasks to handle as well. Bookkeeping, supply purchasing, technical support, billing, administrative tasks, emptying the trashcan are all now in your hands. There is a big difference between being a big biller in an office with administrative support and doing the same thing on your own. To be a successful solo operator you must view yourself as a business owner, not simply a recruiter. To do otherwise is the kiss of death.
Are you a Solo-preneur? In my work as a coach, I speak with many Firm Owners and Solo operators and my experience has been that most people who go solo tend to fall into one of two groups. The largest group of those who try it tend to fail within about 12 months. The main reason seems to be that they feel isolated and are not self motivated and disciplined enough to take consistent action on the critical aspects of their work. Often times, the business aspects of being a one man show; building a website, getting the proper insurance, handling taxes etc. are more work than what they were expecting. They end up spending less and less time on the phone and more time handling minor business details that may be more urgent but less important.
The second group, however, seems to thrive on its own and would not trade their new business for the world. This group tends to be focused, independent, non-conformist, self-motivated, disciplined and they love being a free agent. The same pitfalls exist for this group but they see them as a challenge that is worth overcoming for the benefit of being their own boss. Many people in this group will keep working this way for the long term. The pride of charting your own course is a major perk for this group.
Thriving as a Solo-Preneur:
Strategy Vs Tactics: As a solo operator you have two important functions: hands-on moneymaker and CEO. The hands-on part is the tactics of what you do (recruiting, marketing calls, follow up etc.). The strategic work of your business is the broad planning and development work (mission statement development, new markets to explore, tax planning, marketing strategy, etc.) that is critical if you want to have a strong business. This balance is not easy to achieve and scheduling time for both is probably the best approach. For example you may schedule your normal recruiting duties from 8:30am till 3:00pm, then from 3-4:30 you handle the strategic and operational tasks (mailings, sending invoices etc.) and do your planning from 4:30-5:30pm. Even better would be to hire a part time researcher or assistant to do many of the routine tasks for you.
Guard your golden hours: Golden hours are the prime calling hours in your day. Generally, this is the morning hours when you are fresh and have a planner full of calls to make. As a solo operator, your number one ally (or enemy) is time. You must guard your golden hours ruthlessly and create an environment that is as free from distractions as possible so that you can bang out a good amount of calls before 12:00pm. The only way to do this successfully is if you have planned your calls out the night before and execute the plan at the scheduled time. You have heard of the phrase, “eat the crust first” well in this case the crust is generally marketing calls, so do these first and then you can relax a bit knowing you have gotten a strong start to your day. Do your industry reading and web research at the very end of the day.
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Watch your attitude: You may have heard of the book, “You Can’t Afford The Luxury Of A Negative Thought” but that phrase is doubly important if you are working on your own. In my work with Solo Recruiters, I find that they are often feeling guilty and stressed about how much they are not doing on a daily basis. These feelings tend to have a paralyzing effect on them and eventually they end up procrastinating or avoiding important tasks. So… lighten up a bit. If you are banging your head against the wall, take a break and go for a drive or take a walk but do something to interrupt the negative spiraling.
Realize that you don’t have to always do “your best.” If you did your best every day that would mean that you were making more calls today than ever before and you would have to do even more tomorrow. You don’t have to make your “best” sourcing call ever, just make the call. Better to keep an even keel and do consistently good work than to get stressed and hung up on always doing your “best.”
It’s not always easy to stay motivated, so give yourself little rewards to keep fresh. If you generally go to Starbucks right before work, change this around and say that you can go to Starbucks after you complete your 20th phone call. Set activity goals for the week and if you hit them by Friday at noon, take a half of a day off and go to the beach.
Don’t be such a loner: Isolation is a major obstacle to working solo, so you must premeditate how you are going to overcome this. One obvious idea is to get connected with other recruiting firms or solo operators who want to do split business. Join a split network if it has members who serve your same client base. You can also get involved with some of the local or national recruiter associations to get support and feedback from your peers. Meet with your clients and take them to lunch. If you are not in an office that is conducive to meeting with candidates, take a half of a day to schedule 30-minute mini interviews with several of them at a local coffee shop. Hire a professional business coach if you need more support than you are getting from other sources. If you go this route, make sure that you hire someone who understands the recruiting industry.
Become a Guru: One powerful way to create a thriving solo practice (or any recruiting desk for that matter) is to become the expert in a narrow niche about which you feel passionate. By doing this, you go from a “sideshow-one man band-generalist” to a “competitive boutique niche specialist.” Specialists are more likely to secure retainers and negotiate higher fees as well. You can choose a niche based on Industry or the specific position title, but it must be fairly narrow in order for you to become the expert. For instance “IT” is a broad category, “Software developers” is narrower and “Java Developers” is very narrow. The main point is to pick something that has a promising future and by which you are actually excited. You will do much more work and do it better when it is something you really enjoy. You could become the expert in recruiting “Senior Managers for Amusement Parks” or “Executive Directors for Non Profit Companies.” Your marketing efforts then take on a new level of enthusiasm because you are talking to people in an area where you feel competent and interested. This expresses who you are as a person and this congruence is felt by your prospect. You’ll probably make more placements and definitely have more fun doing it. Mark Twain said it this way, “The law of work does seem utterly unfair – but there it is, nothing can change it, the higher the payment in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall be his pay in money also.”
Keep your overhead costs low: This point is extremely important and there are many good ways to do this while at the same time having a “Big Company” presence and aura. Having a first rate website is a one-time cost that will give you credibility with clients and candidates. If you are going to stay small, then rent an executive suite that has a professional ambience. Don’t get into long term leases or commitments that you cannot get out of quickly. Think scalability. Can you increase or decrease this service easily when the market shifts? Don’t skimp on marketing materials or necessary technology but do your homework and, when in doubt, wait. Be pro-active and create financial reserves for the lean times.
Hire a researcher: OK, so this isn’t exactly a “Solo” idea but it is an excellent path for many micro operators and has several benefits. First of all, it allows you to focus your work on “money activities” and to funnel the lower level tasks to your researcher. You have probably heard of the 80/20 rule, which says 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. With a researcher you can focus on the 20% and virtually nothing else. Well-trained Researchers can do a large variety of tasks including: reference checks, sourcing calls, Internet research, recruiting and candidate development. This also cuts down on the isolation factor for you, the owner. Researchers can start out as part time and be paid a modest hourly rate plus bonus potential. If you intend to be a big biller without hiring recruiters, the best bet is to hire one or more researchers who can support you in accomplishing more