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Interview with Nigel O’Donoghue
Who are you and what do you do?I’m the Chief Commercial Officer and co-founder of Nigel Frank International, a specialist Microsoft technology recruitment firm. We help businesses find and hire tech professionals who work with Microsoft products like Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Dynamics. After graduating from Edinburgh University with an honours degree in Business and Accounting, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Bank of Scotland, where I gained over twelve years’ experience within the Bank of Scotland’s Treasury Services division. Then in late 2006 I co-founded Nigel Frank International in Newcastle as the Chief Financial Officer building the business and the strategy with the CEO. The business has grown dramatically around the world and had 2 private equity transactions with the latest one being with TPG in Apr-16. I took on the role of CCO in 2017 to help the business become customer-centric, and ensure our long-term goals are matched with a great customer experience. My focus is on the client management—I’m always looking to make sure we’re delivering the best service to our enterprise clients. Globally, I’m in charge of making sure our customer, candidate, and client feedback is improving day in, day out, feeding back to our sales leaders to ensure our services are being delivered at the standard we expect, and our reputation is where we want it to be.
“It’s an important thing and it’s not down to luck” Nigel O’Donoghue
What’s the story behind your success?We launched Nigel Frank in 2006, starting out with just three members of staff in a small office in Newcastle upon Tyne. We always knew we wanted to set up a niche IT firm, but we didn’t know what technology or what market we were going to focus on. The first two years were really a sort of discovery mission where we were doing certain types of recruitment and looking for a market to specialise in. Once we eventually did a deal in Microsoft Dynamics, we recognised that it was exactly the kind of thing we’d been looking for. The reason that we wanted to specialise is that we wanted to build a brand that was associated with something, and that people could trust, and rely on to fulfil very specific needs. There are a lot of generalist recruitment agencies out there, and what you tend to find is that the level of service that’s on offer for people with very specific technical skills isn’t sufficient. If you’re speaking to someone who has ten years of niche development experience, they ideally want to speak to somebody who understands in detail what they’ve done and what their experience is. Once we’d decided to concentrate on Microsoft Dynamics, the business really took off. Over the next few years, we launched several new brands focusing on other niche tech products like Salesforce, and NetSuite. Today, Frank Recruitment Group, operates nine brands and employs 2,000 people in 19 locations across Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia. The company is continuing to grow at rapid speed, with new locations and markets being targeted all the time.
What’s been your life’s biggest lesson so far?The importance of finding your USP: unique selling point. What makes Nigel Frank unique is two-fold: yes, we recruit for a very niche set of skills, but more importantly, we do it very well. We’re not the only company recruiting in these ecosystems, but we are able to offer a higher level of service than anyone else. That’s our USP. Specialist knowledge and outstanding service. Once we’d worked out that model and saw the kind of success we were achieving with it, we were able to duplicate that model in other niches. That doesn’t just apply to companies either. It’s an important message when it comes to personal development and branding too. If you can work out what skills, knowledge, or experience you alone can offer, you’re in a fantastic position to pitch your value to a potential employer or investor.
What advice would you give to your younger self?Always push to do one better. I look back on our journey and I think we were very lucky in terms of the time we started, and the way things worked out, but there are key underlying factors that helped us succeed. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just have to do it better. Recruitment has been around in the UK for a long time, we’ve got a lot of really good companies and it’s very competitive. All we did was try and do it slightly differently. It was all about being able to provide the candidate and the client with a superior level of service. Anyone who’s dreaming of setting up a business has to look at their potential market and think about how that market really wants to be serviced. Think about where you fit into that: can you provide that service in a way that others aren’t? A more efficient way? A cheaper way? A friendlier way? A way that makes customers feel engaged and like they’re getting more value?
Tell us three advice tips a startup should know?Do your research. If you’ve got an idea for a new business, or you can see an opening in the market, you need to know what’s out there, what’s already available, and how it’s being delivered before you can create your unique proposition. What you absolutely shouldn’t do is try and make your mark in an area where there’s already a big name doing things well! Find a niche where you can create a name for yourself quickly and easily. Find what makes you different and lean in. Everybody now is looking for the extras that you can provide. You can’t underestimate the impact that has on your brand and the overall impression that people have of you, and the stickiness that your brand then starts to have. It’s an important thing and it’s not down to luck—we tried very, very hard to make sure we were standing out from the competition and doing things differently. At the end of the day, we’re a recruitment company, but we’re doing things differently. If you can dominate a market or deliver such a level of service that others can’t compete with, then they’ll have to go off and find something else to do. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. One of the best tips I could give to those setting up their own business is to take all the help you can get. Financing from local investment schemes really helped us start things on the right foot. We needed a strong web presence to grow our brand, and we didn’t have the capital to be able to build an impressive, functional website at that time. So, we started looking into local business grants. You might hear about other businesses being given funding and assume it’s not for you, but there are so many grants and schemes out there, it’s worth looking into. You never know what’s on the table until you ask, and if it’s used wisely, even a small amount of cash can make all the difference when you’re starting out.’
What three tools makes your business run better?We’ve recently invested several million pounds in a new CRM system, which has been crucial to our growth and ability to deliver even better service. Having a centralised solution through which everyone can access the information they need in real time is essential. Given that we have so many employees spread across so many different time zones, email is a useful tool too, as old fashioned as that may sound now. You can’t beat Outlook calendar for mapping out your time and planning your workload. Our marketing department are long-time users of project management and collaboration tools like Wrike and Basecamp. Again, when you’re working on multiple projects at once for teams based across the world, having a platform that tracks your work and keeps everyone on the same page is vital.
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