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An interview with Mark Walker and Lyle Edwards, two of the Co-Founders at ECW Search

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

ECW Search is a brand-new recruitment business, recruiting across the Automotive and FMCG & Consumer markets.

So tell us more guys...

"There are thousands of recruitment businesses setting up every year in the UK, from memory it was just over 8,500 in 2020, so it's incredibly hard to stand out as a new player! However, the reason we started ECW is that, as co-founders, we all have a track record of high performance in our previous businesses and by coming together, we believe we offer our markets a formidable proposition."

"It's simple for us, there's nothing ground-breaking about what we do and how we do it I would challenge anyone to show me how they really "do things differently", Our value to our clients and candidates comes from how well networked and knowledgeable we are in our specific markets. The way each of us are respected for our 'partnership' approach with our clients is clear to see."

How and why did you start ECW Search...especially during a global pandemic?

"I think the single most important, and powerful answer to 'How' is the way we're funded. We have funded the set-up of ECW Search ourselves and have not taken on external investment.

That's not to say we won't look at this in the future as and when we explore growth options, but we all agreed that this strategy would give us a real edge. I think self-funding is underestimated and whilst it certainly carries more personal financial risk, I think for true entrepreneurs, it's that heightened level of risk that drives them, but in turn, gives them complete freedom and makes them want to continually push further in whatever they do.

This isn't just theoretical; this comes from my experience of using my own funds when I was in my early twenties to set up an estate agency & letting agency business. I used funds made from flipping property and grew it to a successful business with four offices in South Buckinghamshire.

The feeling I got knowing that every decision from negotiating office space, setting marketing budgets, scoping out which industry software to use, through to hiring & firing, had a direct impact on 'my' money. Nobody was standing beside me to bail me out if I made the wrong decision, so I had to learn quickly from my mistakes, and this helped me develop not only the business but myself.

Why we set up the business is not revolutionary, we have all been in the recruitment industry for many years in our particular markets (Automotive/FMCG & Consumer), each having previously built valuable networks and worked alongside each other for the past six years, so knew each other well, the good, the bad and sometimes definitely ugly!

We have all been on the start-up journey in recruitment, so we've already ridden that rollercoaster and survived, albeit as employees, not founders. Without blowing our own trumpets too much (!), each of us was instrumental in the growth of that business, which is why we're so confident we have what it takes to take this leap."

"It has always been my intention to go out and build a business, whether this was with investment backing or backing it myself. Fortunately doing this ourselves, with the option to take investment backing in the future is a fab place to be. Having worked alongside and seen my co-founders in action it was a no brainer going into business with them.

We each have our faults. Before we started, we made ourselves abundantly aware of those and I believe that honesty and recognition are exactly what we needed to take this leap. One of the biggest lessons in starting ECW was sitting down and being extremely honest about each other's strengths but also our weaknesses. This, in turn, allowed us to discover that we share similar views on our different marketplaces about how recruitment practice/process should be executed."

What challenges have you found setting up?

"MANY! As salespeople the administrative side of things is boring! Necessary though!

Things that we all took for granted previously, suddenly became our responsibility, from setting up Linkedin Recruiter Licences, registering for VAT, CRM implementation to various tech challenges (!). Paying out of your own pocket is scary, but I wouldn't have wanted to start any other way. It makes you grow up fast.

Not only this but because of the current COVID climate, working remotely from one another has been hard. You are effectively working alone; it is just fortunate we didn't sign off on the office space we had lined up!

My network has been overwhelmingly supportive, more so than I could ever have imagined. Coming into a business launch with roles ready to go and partnerships agreed is what every founder needs and wants. Getting to that place though is a nervous and initially lonely road. I want to express my gratitude to the people who are supporting us, they have been immense. You know who you are."

"The same as Lyle really, there's been quite a few! One of the main challenges was setting up our bank account, normally a relatively straight forward process…NOT during COVID!

This meant huge delays in being able to set up business bank accounts as face to face meetings with banks were limited, but another factor was the huge influx of business incorporations during the pandemic. Companies House reportedly saw double-digit growth in 2020. If you're trying to set up a business bank account currently and finding it challenging then I'd be happy to tell you how we set ours up in time for our launch…it's quite clever!

Setting up a business is like a massive jigsaw, there are so many pieces that need to be laid before you can place the next piece. It takes some serious organisational skills together with a huge amount of patience; don't begin to ask me about VAT registration, that was painful!

Again, I agree with Lyle when he talks about setting up the business 'virtually'. Not being able to sit around a table and thrash out plans face to face has been challenging, but I think this just puts us in an even better position when we all finally see the other side of this terrible pandemic."

Can you explain more about your Client Partnership Programme?

This is Lyle’s baby, so I’ll let him explain!

"CPP is a methodology which focuses on several problems 'hiring' businesses have with external recruitment partners and in turn those we face as 'recruiters' when hiring.

It doesn't involve pointless 'catch up calls with clients' or 'chewing the fat'. What it does crudely is it places our emphasis away from 'spot business' in one area of a client's business and only one/two disciplines ie. Sales & Marketing. The method behind it is to truly ensure we intricately understand the business and build longstanding networks to a position where we establish ourselves as a true partner to our clients and are the part of the talent solution.

CPP is a continuous partnership agreement that effectively builds relationships both ways. This method also lays us bare and allows us as a recruiting partner to show clients how and what we do. We share every candidate that applies, show you every process we undertake.

In return, our clients get to partner with a 'recruiter' that after initial set up can act as a talent team and even sit in-house if required. We don't need handholding, we are the experts in our markets and with the level of depth we interact with our clients, we will know what you need.

It also builds trust, something that in a market where talent is so difficult to retain, is pivotal.

We can pipeline more effectively for you and reduce time to hire and ultimately cost, of course getting clients the best talent available for their business.

The beauty is, it constantly changes, we can adapt it and offer bespoke solutions with minimal complication. One solution, for now, is not necessarily what you need in a week a month or three and it can be turned on and off as required."

How do you see ECW developing and/or the industry as a whole?

Firstly, we need to navigate our way through our first year as the COVID crisis continues to heavily impact many businesses. We’ll continue to deliver an exemplary service to our clients and candidates and invest even further in data and tech.

The industry has already changed, boutique recruitment businesses are popping up everywhere with ever slicker processes as tech and data advances, we need to be at the front of the market and our Client Partnership Programme will lead on that for ECW. However, experience has taught me that all the data in the world cannot make up for real life networking. It just needs to be done in a different, more time effective way.

"A global player with offices dotted around the world. To some that may sound farfetched and a pipe dream, but to us it's part of the plan…maybe I was 'on mute' when I discussed this with Lyle as he hasn't mentioned it!

We see no reason why we can't achieve this and a big part of this is about bringing on the right people. That's an easy thing to say, but the recruitment industry is one that attracts many and also spits out many. Some will say it is down to training and some are thrown in at the deep end and never given the required support. This will be the reason in many cases, however, I believe that for an industry whose sole focus is to hire people, it seems particularly poor at recruiting and retaining staff itself. Between us, we have seen many come and go in the past and know this is an area we need to focus on to hit our growth ambitions.

Our focus is very much on the partnerships we develop with our clients, if we're not spoken of in the same vein as their lawyers, then we have work to do!"


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