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Resources to help take your Retained Search firm to the next level of success.

Stage 1: Find Work

Christian Spletzer - February 12, 2019

This article is the second of a 12-article series about The Eight Stages of Successful Retained Search. By reading the entire series, you and your search team will learn the overall retained search process, how each role is connected and dependent on the others, and how to most effectively proceed from the first stage to the last.

The first and most stressful stage in the retained search process occurs before the project even begins: finding work. For new or small firms, finding the work can be especially challenging. Clients don’t come wandering into your office looking for recruiting services. They will not magically appear in your LinkedIn inbox. For bigger or more experienced firms, we’ve seen that new business development often remains one of the biggest areas of concern, focus, and stress for firm owners and partners.

No matter the size or experience of your firm, there are certain foundational aspects you need to have in place. And there are more strategic, philosophical principles you’ll need to have internalized, too.

Here are the most critical best practices for finding work. With them, you can approach this stage of the process with the right mindset and strategy.

Be honest.

You must always be very careful about what you promise your potential clients. This principle is especially true for young firms finding their first clients because you’re essentially starting from scratch—you have no track record to reference and no reputation to rely on.

You should feel confident selling potential clients on your prior recruiting experience. And you should feel confident marketing your process and methodology for completing search projects.

Ultimately, it boils down to being honest. Be confident in that honesty. Articulate what you believe to be unique and valuable about your firm. But don’t over-promise. If you do, you’ll almost always under-deliver, tarnish your firm’s reputation and make finding new work harder.

Take a targeted approach.

Too often search firms will place a candidate at a company and then spam their entire contact database, shouting, “Hey! We placed a candidate at this company. We can help you, too!”.

The problem with this strategy is that for the vast majority of people on your marketing list the information is irrelevant. What does it matter to a CEO of a San Francisco tech company in need of a VP of sales that you’ve placed a VP of finance at a manufacturing plant in Ohio?

Instead, focus your outreach on relevant companies (in the above example, manufacturing companies). You should already know what those relevant companies are; most likely, you’ve researched them for candidates from your previous manufacturing searches. Reach out to the decision makers there. If you’re working with their competitors, chances are they’ll take a good look at whatever marketing announcement you send them.

Pursue clients based on your specialty.

As you build a track record and a reputation as a quality search firm—you should always leverage your experience and specialization when marketing yourself to new clients. If you’ve had success placing clients in a specific industry, position, or field, double down on that. Focus your search on potential clients operating in that space or who have relationships with the companies you’ve already worked with.

Of course, the ability to pick and choose between clients is something of a luxury, usually only afforded to firms who’ve established themselves in the industry. Sometimes, you won’t have that luxury. Sometimes, you’ll just need to take the work—any port in a storm, as they say. But following the entire process laid out in The Eight Stages of Successful Retained Search, you’ll be able to close projects more successfully and quickly and start getting the luxury of choice.

For those newer firms, once you start building a reputation for yourself, consider: what does my firm like to do? What do we do best? Where are we seeing the most success? Then, use that awareness to inform your outreach by targeting those prospects and networking in the space you want to be in.

If a client isn’t a good fit, don’t partner with them.

Happy clients are an incredible asset. In many ways, they’re the best marketing tool you can have in business development. After all, the search industry is about relationships. You should prioritize building positive ones.

Why, exactly? Because at the same time, there are very real opportunity costs associated with doing work you’re not excited about, or working with a client who isn’t the right fit. There are costs in the extended amount of time it might take to collaborate with an uncooperative client, for example. But more importantly, there’s the cost of potentially providing a bad experience for a client who might tell their friends not to work with you moving forward.

Ideally, every project you complete should produce a happy, referenceable client. In this way, the clients you work with become your long-term partners. That means you should be appraising potential clients as if they are, in fact, potential partners. Choose wisely.

Use software to keep track of past projects and to utilize resources and contacts.

This reason, as it happens, is a big reason why we built Clockwork Recruiting. Clockwork exists in large part to help recruiters show value to their clients by making their credibility, methodology, resources, and process totally transparent. But we also help recruiters stay organized in a way that helps them utilize the resources, contacts, and general information they’ve generated from past searches.

When you complete a project in Clockwork, for example you place that VP of Finance at that manufacturing company in Ohio, you in effect build out a list of that company’s competitors or relevant counterparts that is saved in the application. Then, when you go to complete your next project, you can easily access that information to assess every company on that list, cross-reference it, and further target your client outreach for the next potential project.

Appreciate the importance of this stage.

At the end of the day, you must lend credence to this fact: your ability to find new work directly correlates to the growth—or even survival—of your firm.

For those firms just starting out, we recognize it’s not easy. But if you work hard at it and employ the best practices laid out in The Eight Stages of Retained Search, you’ll gain the reputation required to be more selective with the companies you partner with.

It’s a matter of putting in the work and adopting the appropriate mindset. If you do that work, finding clients will become second nature. At that point, you’ll be able to start building momentum that will ultimately allow your firm to grow and thrive.


To learn how The 8 Stages of Successful Retained Search are incorporated and supported in Clockwork, read our support documentation. To see it in action, view this playlist of videos.

Previous article 
The Eight Stages of Successful Retained Search (an introduction)
Next article 
Stage 2: Win Work

Topics: The Eight Stages of Successful Retained Search

Christian Spletzer

Christian Spletzer

After years of working as an executive recruiter, Christian Spletzer founded Clockwork to improve how search firms and clients work together on retained search projects. He designed Clockwork to help recruiters demonstrate their consultative value to their clients at every stage of each project.

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