Where to start with a recruitment business plan

You’ll be pleased to hear that in my experience a recruitment agency start up business plan need only contain a few essentials and really isn’t rocket science. You only need a basic plan to start, well thought through definitely, but not War and Peace.

A start up recruitment business plan doesn’t need to be super sophisticated. However what you do need is a well thought through plan so you can build solid foundations for growth, remove as much risk as possible and allow you, once you go live, to concentrate on the exciting bit, BILLING, rather than working things out as you go along. The planning now will make the real fun part of making money so much easier with fewer distractions, and allow you to really enjoy being your own boss and owning your own business. So spend that time now, trust me it’s a fabulous investment and you’ll be grateful for it when you make a flying start in your new recruitment agency. 

If you search on the web, you’ll find various contradictory ideas on what a business plan should contain, which can leave you worse-off than when you started, confused on which way is the best way. I hope in this series of blogs I can take some of that confusion away for you. I’ve been lucky enough to have hands on experience of building my first businesses from the ground up. Added to this, I improved my knowledge with additional learning gained at Cranfield Business School, which I applied to those early businesses and the many more recruitment businesses in different sectors I went on to set up, all of which are continuing successful companies. So with this experience, I’d like to think my ideas on recruitment agency business plans are worth considering (sorry if this sounds like I think I’m the Richard Branson of recruitment, it’s not meant to, but think it helps explaining my experience).

The common school of learning on business plans is to use the SWOT analysis, i.e. what will be the planned business’s:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

I don’t disagree that you could add this to your plan, and it’s handy to have in, but this series of blogs look at what I feel are specific and essential to a recruitment business plan (plus the bits you may not know if you’ve never set a business up before). Where to start.

To see if you do have the basics of a business in you, I advise firstly to look at the sales and cash flow forecast. If your business idea doesn’t pass this test, you need not waste your time any further – your business just won’t fly. So let’s start with the engine of the business, money in.

Your Sales Forecast

To allow you to write your cash flow forecast, you’ll need a well thought through sales forecast.

There’s lot to consider here, a lot more than first appears. You can’t just take what you bill now and assume you can simply replicate that without understanding where your current billings come from. So, below are ways to stress test where your current billings actually come from by looking at where you get both your vacancies and candidates.

Candidate Attraction

Needless to say finding good candidates is critical to your placements, so you need to make sure you have thought about where you will get them from. To help understand where you are currently successful, I suggest you look at your last six months’ billings and write next to each candidate placed where that candidate came from. Was it a headhunt call, a referral from previous candidates / clients, was the candidate off the business database, were they from a job board, social media, LinkedIn, Twitter etc? This is a real life study based on you, and how you are currently successful. It’s invaluable to understand what you will be able to easily reproduce when working for yourself e.g. headhunt calls, LinkedIn etc. and parts you may need to make up for e.g. candidates who came from a database search. So this will help you appreciate how easy or not candidate attraction will be for your sales forecast. It will also help get you thinking what you can do to make up for any tools you have now in the workplace but won’t have when you leave. Plus, if it’s job board centric then this is a cost you need to add to your cash flow plan. I’m not going to go into how to improve your candidate attraction here (that will be another blog) but if you’re currently very dependent on the company database, this should ring alarm bells and you need to think ahead and plan how to recruit successfully without it. And try applying these new techniques now whilst you’re still employed to perfect them so you can add their added sales value to your plan with confidence.

Client / Vacancy Attraction

At this stage it’s pertinent that I bring up the potential handicap that your current employment contract’s restrictive covenants may have on your planned client base. The current widely accepted covenant, i.e. what the courts see as ‘fair and reasonable’, is that you can be restricted from trading with any clients you’ve had ‘material dealings with’ over the last twelve months with your current employer, for the next six months once you leave (any more than this is seen as unreasonable).

Now this isn’t to say if it’s in your contract that means you’re definitely frozen out from this potentially lucrative group of businesses, there could be errors elsewhere in your contract that makes this void. So get it legally checked and from a commercial angle if you can. Law isn’t black and white and getting good commercial legal advice is hugely valuable which is why I use Barrister Greg Walsh of Greg Walsh Law for my Davidson Gray partner businesses. I see it as that valuable to get good quality advice. But if your current clients are off limits for the first six months, work this into your plan. Next, go back again over the last six months’ placements and mark where your clients/vacancies came from as you’ve done for your candidates. Do the clients come to you for you, or because of who you work for, are they from a PSL you won’t be on, were there any from a mailshot, new business cold call etc?  This will quickly show you where your current vacancies come from so you can write your sales forecast from a true picture of what you can and can’t replicate easily. Plus, if some methods you use now to gain clients are removed or won’t be as effective once you leave, you have time to plan new business development and marketing initiatives to replace this business. And as with the new candidate attraction strategies, see how they work where you are now, but maybe not too much, you don’t want too many new clients your covenants could restrict!

The sales forecast itself

Once you’ve considered the above, you will be able to see more clearly what tools and advantages you currently benefit from where you work. It should now be easier for you to write a realistic sales forecast. I find it helpful to write two sales forecasts, one you feel is realistically achievable and one that you feel is the absolute minimum you’ll achieve. The bare minimum one is important in your cash flow forecast. You don’t want to get five months in and run out of cash, so if you know the bare minimum you’ll achieve, you can see how much of a cash buffer you’ll need. The realistic forecast is the one you plan for with the activity you expect to hit, the KPIs you set yourself etc. Plus this can be your motivator, as you should be earning a lot more on this forecast than you currently are very, very quickly!

So simply start with month one, and take it through to month twelve. You can’t realistically predict year two in a start-up. You will learn a lot midway through year one and you can use this learning for year two’s forecast.

Once you’ve done your sales forecast, you can use this in your cash flow forecast. I will go into this in my next blog where I’ll explain how you can get a very good idea of how much it will cost to set up a recruitment business, running costs, and net profit month by month.

I hope you’ve found this second blog in the series helpful, and as always if you have any questions, feel free to contact me. You can find me on LinkedIn under my main business name of Davidson Gray.

Rhys Jones
Written by Rhys Jones Managing Director – Davidson Gray

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