Of course I have no idea what you were doing back in early 2003?
For my part, I was sitting alone in my kitchen wondering why there was not a support company offering various recruitment services to start up a recruitment business.
To the gentle warbling of Girls Aloud, I was appalled to learn that petrol was heading for £1 per gallon partly as a result of our Prime Minister Tony Blair sanctioning the invasion of Iraq, to end Saddam Hussein’s rule of terror. Some footballer called Wayne Rooney was in his debut season and Brookside was being taken off the air by Channel 4.
I met up with an accountant (little fella in his late 20’s called Darren Hulbert) & a techy type with loads of weird ideas about web design and the like - Chris Ion. We thought that it would be a great idea to form a group which offered support services to Recruiters who wanted their own business, but none of us had any idea of what to call our new business or how much to charge Recruiters for our business launch process.
So, I hired a top notch marketing agency to help us out – the brief was to come up with a name and some subtle branding for our new support services group. Meanwhile Busted hit No 1 in the charts and the Cheeky Girls thrilled us all with their musical diversity. A glorious summer beckoned.
Determined to keep busy, Darren began to weave his numerical magic with the costs of providing a detailed launch for any recruitment business, which would literally offer a Recruiter everything that was needed to launch a new venture. I asked Darren to then give me the £ number he thought we would need to charge a motivated Recruiter for such a significant SSG investment.
In early July Darren came back with his suggestion about pricing and the marketing agency pitched their idea for a name.
Darren said we ought to launch the new businesses for nothing & the marketing guru suggested ‘Support Services Group’ as our new name… I knew at that exact moment with such innovation & talent at our disposal, we could not possibly fail…
3 Men and an Office
Day 1, Chris, Darren & I turn up for work. In those days we had a small office just off the high street in Chesham. It wasn’t pretty but start-ups rarely are. We got to work figuring out how to identify our target Recruiters. We thought we knew what launch facilities we would need to provide. Boy oh boy, looking back we knew nothing! This is a business which is all about experience, problem solving and personal relationships. It is not about providing a bunch of services to a few Recruiters.
We had our first real business break through when we finally managed to convince some important suppliers that it was OK for SSG to buy in bulk and then give away their product to ‘our guys’. They were suspicious! What were up to? Why would be doing that? But to be fair, this was a brand new concept and Job Boards like Total Jobs & REED & Job Site all took a gamble on us – which has worked out famously well. To see how those partnerships have developed, take a good look at the ‘SSG Partners’ section of this site.
Profit & Posh New Offices
We were growing, taking on more talent to support our Clients and making a few pounds profit. It was time to move office. After weeks of agonising over the cost, we finally moved in to our present building, Dower House in Berkhamsted. It was in fact Clare Armstrong who found the office for us when out walking with her son. She knew it was perfect for us – up market, spacious, friendly & with enough parking to welcome our visitors. Clare neglected to ask about the building being haunted… well, you don’t ask do you!
50 Business Launches
Massive milestone for SSG – 50 business launches. By now, we were flying and the concept of what we do was beginning to get some traction in the recruitment market place. We were all working like crazy men as the day to day demands of our business model became clear. This is not just about having the tools, talent & time available to support motivated Recruiters; it is more about understanding that things go wrong, that flexibility is more important than a contract and that nothing good comes easy. We needed to grow.
Team Growth & Expansion
Everything was running along very well. Our Client numbers were growing, ‘our guys’ were making good money (which means that SSG does well too) & we managed to recruit some key staff (who remain with us still today – including Gill Miles & Vikki Buckley). We signed a number of long term deals with the Job Boards, a training provider (Mike Walmlsey) & a couple of great Recruitment Software vendors. We knew that we needed to keep adding to our offering & we felt that it was time to invest & reinvest & learn & grow.… what could go wrong?
Lehman Brothers. Wall Street. Northern Rock. Grim pictures of worried Government staff. Melt down on the Stock Markets. Recruitment freezes. No Hire policies. Carnage.
Amazingly, ‘our guys’ rode out this wave of financial horror. With zero fixed costs, no real overheads and a personal drive to just keep making placements, our turnover (which is just a reflection of the turnover of our Clients) continued to grow. We were all cautious, we all worked a little harder and we all took nothing for granted. But it was clear – there is more security in running your own business than there ever will be working for someone else.
SSG Client Exit
This was the year of the SSG Client Exit! No, not SSG losing our clients but some of our Clients selling their fledgling business! Great news as 3 business owners realised their dreams of financial independence, proving that it is perfectly plausible to set up in a back bedroom and make your recruitment millions. SSG continued to grow as Client numbers increased and ‘profit per client’ also grew as the world became accustomed to recession. SSG were pushing for 100 business launches by the end of 2009 but we just missed out!
100 Business Launches
Milestones all the way throughout 2010. 100 Business launches, record turnover, record profits, staff expansion. It was all go with the economy enjoying historically low interest rates and our Clients making the most of all of the on-line tools available to them. Tax breaks helped many of ‘our guys’ take home increased drawings and our accounts team worked hard to manage the process. We introduced new accounting software – which was tremendously exciting if your name is Darren Hulbert and your job at SSG is Head of Accounts.
The numbers were getting big, including group turnover blasting through the £10,000,000 barrier. Another couple of our Clients sold up & confidence was growing. Our concept was firmly entrenched in the psyche of the recruitment World and we were ‘flattered’ to be the subject of so many attempts at imitation. What the ‘new breed’ of pretenders failed to realise is that the launch & support of start-ups is not something that can be done alongside an existing business – you have to dedicate your entire business to this task. It is immersive, challenging and very rewarding to help intelligent and driven Recruiters achieve something special.
Expanded Service Offering
A fresh blast of SSG initiatives to expand our offering saw the introduction of new internal Payroll facilities, an expansion of the Launch Team (now run by Laura Mould), the introduction of our own publication (The Dark Side) and the extension of our job board portfolio (now including the big boys like Total Jobs, REED, Job Site, CV Library, Simply Jobs, but also many niche portals such as Staff Nurse, Careers in Recruitment and Aviation Job Search (to name but a few)). Exciting times, but we recognised that the only way to keep ‘our guys’ winning was to keep improving.
Happy 10th Birthday!
Chris, Darren and I had to laugh! Where had the last 10 years gone? It seemed incredible that we had been at SSG blasting away for so long. It was with a great sense of pride (with a heavy dose of disbelief) that July came and went and no one had baked a cake, put up balloons or organised a party. The truth is that we were incredibly proud to have started something so new, so unusual and been so lucky to have worked with so many outstanding Recruiters and nice people. So there!
200 Business Launches
Early 2014 brought us the 200! It seems incredible that since 2003, a group of hard working support guys based in a little office in Hertfordshire had managed to help over 200 ambitious & determined Recruiters leave traditional employment & migrate to the world of business ownership. How many lessons, how many tears, tantrums, arguments, celebrations, meetings, new ideas, problems solved, coffees consumed, lunches eaten and waistlines expanded had there been? Who knows and who wants to know?!
The Future of SSG
OK, let’s be serious.
The future will only be RED (ball, nose, Sweep) if SSG remembers that the most important resource of our business is ‘our guys’. Our Clients and their success dictate what SSG needs to do and what SSG will become. Far from getting a little ahead of ourselves or a little too big for our ‘would be’ Corporate boots, we remain completely grounded in the practicalities of making sure ‘our guys’ prosper.
One of the great dangers of doing well in the relentless World of Recruitment is that it is easy to start to forget what it is that was fundamental to success in the first place. We all know that the most dangerous period after a great record breaking invoicing month is the very next 31 days. What do you do when you make a placement? – make another one.
So, whilst it is hugely important for SSG to exploit our position in the market and negotiate hard with job boards, software providers, banks, factoring outfits, training providers, vacancy aggregators and the like, we also recognise & embrace that we need to continue to respect all of the companies involved in allowing SSG to meet the needs of Recruiters who ‘bottom line’ just want to start their own business and then require a support mechanism around them so that they can make a placement. It is no surprise therefore that SSG too needs to just make another placement.
SSG will continue to work hard to provide the tools & services required by our target Recruiter market but we also have to be flexible and reflect the ever changing environment in which we all operate. Who ever imagined that digital would end print advertising or that LinkedIn would become the phenomena that it has or that the tax laws would endlessly change with the seasons? We need to be nimble, reactive and proactive, tirelessly considering what it is to be a Recruiter sitting alone in a back bedroom, living off baked beans and needing desperately to just make a placement.
Our pledge to ‘our guys’ is that we will remain grounded, grateful and thankful for what we have. It is brilliant to have the opportunity to work with the range and diversity of Recruiters that we do but we will continue to stick to our internal mantra of "It doesn’t really matter to SSG what our agreement with any Recruiter actually says – once we are in it, we are in it". We will do what needs to be done to allow our guys to make a placement.
At the risk of a lawsuit from a famous Space Ranger.... ‘To infinity & beyond!’