Exactly a quarter of a century ago I started Euro Projects Recruitment, thank you to all who have shared your messages of congratulations, the team and I are very grateful for all your support.
With 25 years under our belt, here are our top 25 lessons learned in that time (they’re not in any particular order but I’ve tried to remember them as they happened).
1. The darkest hour is the hour before dawn…
Six months into starting the business and having burned all my cash and available overdraft on the business I was about to give up. Thankfully a friend took me to the pub and got me to persevere. Within a month or so I’d recovered my losses and some momentum for the future. (thank you Dave!)
2. You only get out what you put in…
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the longer and harder you work at something the more likely you are to succeed. Perhaps on reflection you should be careful what you choose to work long and hard at, which brings me to number 3..
3. Choose a career that suits your personality…
At school I was constantly in trouble for talking, and my early career in engineering didn’t favour this either. Having stumbled into setting up a recruitment business my previously greatest weakness became my greatest strength, except I now prefer to call it communicating! On the subject of strengths and weaknesses..
4. Hire your biggest weakness…
Most small business owners try and recruit a clone of themselves, you’ll never find them and if you do, you’ll probably fall out very quickly. My personal breakthrough came when I recruited someone to do all the jobs I hated or was useless at. For me this revolved around admin, systems, finance and anything requiring detail and concentration. The best part about this was that the lady I hired loved doing the things I hated and hated doing the things I loved, a perfect match and nearly 20 on she is still the bedrock of our business (Thank you Wendy!)
5. There are no shortcuts to success…
I spent many years feeling like I was working harder than the returns showed, I always gave great service and looked after my clients but felt my competitors were earning far more. Over the years it became apparent that I didn’t have these competitors any more, but I still had all my clients and a few of theirs. A sustainable business is a marathon not a sprint.
6. Always treat others as you would wish to be treated…
This was drilled into me as a child and forms the basis of our service. By empathising with both our clients and candidates, and understand what is important to them, we can tailor every interaction to help them as we would wish to be helped ourselves.
7. The best talent comes from within..
Over the years I have been blessed with working with some amazing colleagues and I am privileged that the best of these have remained with the business for many years, in some cases 20+ years. Growing our own talent has meant we have developed people to operate to our own values and standards and by recruiting graduate and apprentice trainees, we have provided opportunities to people to develop their careers as the business has grown.
(Thank you Pete, Joe, Danny, Matt, Eddie & Luke)
8. Do the right thing, even when it costs you short term
We have always prided ourselves in putting the customer first and doing the right thing, even when it may not be in our immediate financial interest to do so. We have however consistently benefited in the long term with this philosophy and have not only maintained but grown our business as a result.
9. Communicate, communicate, then communicate some more
I could just as easily have said collaborate but the key is to maintain two-way communication with everyone essential to the success of your business all the time and when you have a message, don’t share it once and expect everyone to know it, build it into everything you say and do until it becomes embedded.
10. Your brand is your attitude, not your logo or name
With a name like Euro Projects, the Brexit debate caused us to consider a rebrand, so we asked our customers what they thought (our name by the way is a throwback to working on collaborative engineering research projects, from which we span off our recruitment business). The response we received was incredible, no one really cared what we were called, only that we should continue to offer the same levels of friendly service and keep doing what we were doing.
11. Look after your people and they will look after you
As my early career felt like a lesson in how not to be managed, I have always attempted to treat everyone equally and with the utmost respect. It seems like a fundamental principal to leading and managing others but often seems lacking. By treating people in this way, they in turn can focus on doing what is right for the customer and feel safe and confident to do so.
12. Good leaders are human
I used to think I needed to have all the answers and quickly found out that I didn’t. Owning up to this with grace and allowing others to make suggestions (often with amazing results thank you Ian!) not allowed me to share the burden of responsibility for a growing business but also gave me the two heads are better than one perspective I would otherwise have lacked if I’d let my ego run the business. I have since learned that vulnerability and openness are two of the most important qualities a mature leader can display.
13. Know when to let go
There’s a saying that what got you here won’t get you there and as this business grew it was important to know which responsibilities to keep and which to hand over. In the past 25 years I have gone from being self-employed and doing everything to feeling like was carrying too much of the burden to becoming an owner-manager and towards what I eventually aspire to which is an owner-investor. Whenever I have passed on responsibilities, I have always found that doing so created so much energy for both me and the person taking them on and rather than my worries ‘that no one can do it like I do’ coming true, such opportunities have progressed things well beyond my own thinking.
14. Serve don’t sell
We have always relied on our service and reputation to keep our clients and win referral business and I am extremely proud that we have maintained some of clients for the entirety of our 25 years in business. When Covid hit in 2020, our ethos to serve not sell was never more important to us and from this we created a weekly (now monthly) mastermind club called the Euro Projects Business Leaders Zoom Call, on which we share the latest information on what changes will impact our clients and provided an opportunity to collaborate and network during some of the darkest days in business and personally many of us had ever witnessed.
15. You survive recessions by what you do for your customers in the boom times
Having experienced three major downturns in the past 25 years and the unprecedented climate caused by the pandemic, we were blessed by enough current business from existing clients to weather the storm and it was extremely humbling and heart-warming to see so many clients, who were struggling themselves to continue working with us and keeping us active on their behalf. I can only say that the way we treated our customers during better times was repaid to us when things were against us.
16. Give back, the more personal the more it matters
I feel incredibly blessed that I found someone who mentored me and gave me opportunities when I was still in my early twenties (thank you John), it has made me want to do the same for others and I’m proud of the young people our business has taken on through apprenticeships, internships, work placements and our graduate training programme. Many are still with us in the business, and some have gone on to exceptional things in all sorts of sectors and organisations. We feel it is important that we support the local community by employing local people of all ages and that we recognise the difference we can make to the industries we serve and the global community through charitable events and fund raising. What I have learned is that the more we give, the more we seem to receive back.
17. Don’t spend pounds to save pennies
Productivity is essential to all businesses and keeping a tight rein on overheads can be the difference between success and failure. We have always looked for ways to make our service better and since the pandemic we have particularly focussed on technology as an enabler to offer a better, faster service and provide greater choice to our customers. Choosing the right ways to invest in the future of the business is therefore essential to the survival of any business and we look for ways we can make the biggest impact with our investment. This may not always be a direct financial return on investment but most likely ways to be able to offer our customers the best choice in the shortest time.
18. Don’t marry your mistakes
On the subject of investment, however, don’t be frightened to make small trial investments before going all in to test a theory and when we do invest in something new, if it isn’t working then our moto is to fail fast and move on, not everything turns out as expected and more often than not a bad idea only gets worse the longer it’s given.
19. Always maintain your values
The most important thing I feel we have is our set of well-defined values and a shared common purpose. Once established it made leadership very easy, as all decisions revert to whether something supports our values and purpose or moves us further away from them. If everyone understands them it also allows everyone in the business to be a confident leader and make decisions as and when they are needed without recourse or worry.
20. Never stop learning
A great saying is that if you can’t change the person, then change the person! Ten years ago, I decided to either change or be changed and embarked on a programme of self-development (Thank you Cranfield University and Vistage), I think most people enjoy being developed but as business owners we often overlook our own training and development needs. Finding like-minded people with whom to share ideas and learn from international experts fundamentally changed our business.
21. Build a team who agree with your values but challenge your opinions
I mentioned before that matching culture and values is imperative to a successful team and always match values and culture as well as skills and experience for the roles we are recruiting for on behalf of our clients. It is also important however that an environment of respectful challenge is developed and nurtured as without this there can be no spark to improve, change and innovate and worse a leader who everyone agrees with has no second opinion to prevent a bad decision.
22. Involve as many people as possible
The best businesses we have worked with over the years all seem to have one thing in common and that is leaders who listen, or better still see everyone in the business regardless of pay grade or title as a leader in their field. By involving the experts within your business to create new ways of doing things and to share ideas has not only produced some of our best results but has dramatically increased engagement and reduced staff turnover.
23. Never forget those people who helped you get to where you are now
Gratitude is so important to a healthy mindset and when you appreciate those people who have supported you in any way over the years you get to enjoy the experience of their support a second time. There are too many people we owe 25 years in business to who can be mentioned here but we would like to make a point of thanking you now and will be reaching out in person too.
24. Avoid legal battles
In 25 years of business, it’s not all been plain sailing and conflict of any kind can be a distracting and destructive force. There have been occasions when a principal has been upheld, intellectual property protected, and payment secured but these have been thankfully rare and a pragmatic approach has always served us much better.
25. Enjoy what you’ve achieved
It’s too easy to be caught up in the moment to truly reflect and enjoy what it means to have been in business for 25 years and whilst I look forward to the business continuing for another 25 years and having a part to play in this, I am also eager to reflect on the collective and individual achievements our business and our people have made during this time, the people we have helped, the careers enhanced and the companies we have enabled to grow with the people we have found for them. As someone who once had a job I described as “soul destroying”, I know the impact we can have by matching the right person to the right employer and in doing so we aren’t simply making placements, but changing lives and possibly even saving some souls along the way.