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The 4 Biggest Challenges To Starting Your Own Search Firm

Christian Spletzer - August 2, 2018

Whether you’re leaving a larger firm with an existing team or opening up a one-man shop, starting your own search firm is a challenging and multifaceted experience. It’s exciting, no doubt—but the decision to branch out on your own is not one you should take lightly. It necessitates forethought. The experience is something like skydiving: before you take the leap, you should take precautions to ensure you have a cushion to soften the landing and a parachute to help you on the way down.Here are the main challenges you’ll face, and what steps you should take to tackle them along the way.

Challenge 1: Deciding whether it’s worth doing

The first thing any aspiring search entrepreneur should do is reflect. Ask yourself, is starting your own firm what you really want to do? And, moreover, will it be worth the effort?

Your answer to those questions will depend on a number of factors. At your current firm, is there opportunity for more ownership or advancement that you haven’t yet explored? If not—if you’ve been actively denied equity, say—do you have the skills, experience, and persistence to make it on your own?

Moreover, do you have the confidence? There will be times throughout your journey where it will be tested, no doubt. There will be clients who prove unreasonable and deals that fall through.  There will be risk incurred.

If you’re ready for that, and if you feel restricted in your current position, then starting your own firm might be the right—and even best—choice for you.

Challenge 2: Finding your first client

If you do start your own firm, one critical step you cannot take lightly is finding—and satisfying—your first client.

Many successful founders make sure they have that first client in the wings before they make the jump. Those who don’t, often find themselves in trouble. Clients will not track you down on their own—that’s just not how the business works.

Finding and doing a great job for an initial client amounts to creating a foundation atop which you can build the rest of your firm. It’s your first step toward cultivating a reliable reputation. And in this business, reputation is crucial.

But because your reputation as a recruiter is so important, one thing you should definitely not do—despite how important your first client remains—is steal clients from your current boss.

As a recruiter, especially in the early days of your business, your reputation is going to be what lands you your next client—and then the next one after that. A client who is satisfied with the work you did for them will tell their network. If you have a reputation as being sneaky, however, that will poison your efforts before you even get started.

And, for goodness sake, don’t take contact data. Not only is it wrong and potentially illegal, it’s just plain dumb. Data is cheap and easy to get. Good search work—the part you have to do—is the hard part. Don’t let the fear of change mess with your moral compass. Just do the right thing and it will work out.

Challenge 3: You have to figure out how you’re going to work operationally

Once your firm is close to up and running—you’ve landed a client, for example—the next important thing is adjusting your work style so you operate efficiently.

One way to do that is by using a technology platform that can help serve as a framework for your business. Some allow you to enter, track, and later interact with data pertaining to sourced candidates and prospective clients in a way that’s actionable and transparent. And that type of technology is critical for any young firm, as it helps ensure you work operationally and with purpose, as opposed to haphazardly.

Many people, especially when they’re starting out, don’t like entering data. They’d rather jam data in a closet so it’s out of the way. But this is a bad practice.

Instead, partner with technology that makes data entry less daunting.

Clockwork, for example, is an online platform designed in such a way that you can organize your data project by project, so you capture the work you do while you do it.  And, it’s easy to access later when you need to—like, say, when you’re conducting a search for a CFO and want to utilize the data you possess regarding other CFOs you’ve placed in the past. The platform is clean, transparent, and manageable.

Whichever platform you choose, just know you need one.

Such foundational technology is a requisite for any business, but in search, it’s perhaps more critical. Sure, you’ll need things like a website. But more importantly, getting started, you’ll need digital infrastructure to help keep you organized and focused.

Challenge 4: Staying focused on your goal

Finally, as you proceed through the initial phases of your journey starting a search firm, it’s crucial that you stay focused on a larger goal.

On Day One, look yourself in the mirror and determine what it is you want to do, and then drive toward accomplishing that goal. Considerations, complications, and unforeseen challenges will pop up along the way—and they’ll threaten to distract you. Furthermore, temptations to invest in superfluous, shiny things will reach for you from the sidelines.

Don’t succumb to them.

The moment you get frustrated or begin pursuing projects or endeavors that don’t get you closer to your goal, that’s when you stop conducting your business operationally—and that’s when your business will begin to fail.

At the end of the day, if you’re properly inspired by a goal and vision, you’ll know at the very least that you’re making the right decision. From there, the challenge is making the right investments—like in sound foundational software—and staying focused enough on your goal to resist unnecessary distractions.

If you do that, then your long, exciting—sometimes stressful—leap from the cliff into the unknown will end in a way you want it to—or at least it won’t end abruptly due to factors that were in your control.

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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