Interview – Adam Butler
Adam is the founder of Adam Butler Consultancy, specialising in Executive Search, SME Recruitment and Database Recruitment. Adam knows exactly what you need in order to find the right people and how to get them to join your team.
Transcript (Click To Open)
Pieter: Hi there and welcome to this week’s episode of the Build A Better Business podcast. My guest today is Adam Butler. Adam is the managing director of Adam Butler Consultancy, a recruitment, resourcing and executive search business, and he’s also the author of Hiring a Superstar: The ULTIMATE Talent Finders Toolkit. I give you Adam Butler.
Well, Adam, thank you for joining me. How are you doing?
Adam: I’m great, Pieter, yes, very well indeed. How are you?
Pieter: I’m very, very well, thank you. It is now a very nice sunny day out there. Half an hour ago it was a monsoon. We’ll see what it is in another half an hour. It’s going to look like that today.
Adam: Exactly, sun shines on the righteous they say, so I’m sure you’ll be all right.
Pieter: Oh, yeah, I’d better go and stand outside now then. So, what I like to do with the podcast and these episodes is it’s really just to give people ideas, maybe some inspiration, to help them to build a better business. Lots of people talk an awful lot about how you grow a business and how big your business needs to be or marketing or anything like that. But it’s seldom that people actually sit down and take stock and actually say, “Well, this is a good business I’m building,” and I don’t mean that from the perspective of is it good for the world, but a bit like what Mike Michalowicz talked about is is the business healthy and is it a business that helps to keep you healthy?
So, maybe just tell people a bit more about what you do and perhaps where you fit into helping some of the listeners perhaps building a better business for them.
Adam: Yeah, definitely. My business celebrated 10 years in October last year which I couldn’t believe. It’s gone really quickly and it’s been a blast riding the highs and hitting the deck on a number of occasions as well, so 10 years was a real milestone.
We’re a recruitment business as well you know, Pieter. That splits into three main categories. We have an executive search side to the business. That’s where we really help businesses of any size, but to really hire the key people that might not otherwise be looking in the job market and we go out and we headhunt those people using any of the techniques or information at our disposal via our own networks or the internet.
Secondly and probably where you and I met originally, is where we help SMEs, so fast growing, usually quite innovative businesses who don’t want to spend huge sums of money on resourcing but do want a good supported service. So typically what we’ll do is we’ll run a campaign for them on the internet using job boards or CV databases to help them find people and we become their outsourced in-house team as it were.
And then thirdly we have a traditional database recruitment side to the business whereby we operate in some quite tight niche vertical sectors. Before, and I don’t know if you knew this Pieter, but before I took that leap and started on my own, I worked for a couple of banks and finance companies and built up a good network of contacts within those industries, so with the database that I’ve built up over the years we support finance companies, car finance companies, manufacturers with their own finance divisions or indeed banks. So hopefully that gives you and the listeners a flavour of what it is that the imaginatively named Adam Butler Consultancy can do.
Pieter: No, I like that. I had no idea that you had a previous life in banking and that side of things. So, how does the process normally work because us in our business at the moment, we don’t actually employ anyone and we’re a small team and we’re quite happy with that, and in the past I’ve employed people but I suspect … It’s quite interesting, I remember I used your services once and you did manage to find me the best employee I ever had, and if I compare the value of additional sleep and less stress and just general support within the business that I got from that one employee compared to the fee that I might have paid you for the service at the time, my return on investment was rather enormous.
Adam: That’s good to hear.
Pieter: No, it really was, but it’s quite interesting for me because I think especially perhaps maybe more so in the SME sector, people’s perception of a recruitment agency and why they should or shouldn’t use someone like you and how it benefits the business I think is generally, I’d say, probably ill-informed ’cause I think us small business owners, we suffer from the superhero syndrome and therefore I will do everything including be my own HR office, my own recruitment company. I just think what you guys do, you probably add more value to more people than they necessarily realise.
Adam: Yeah, and I love recruitment because I really love people. If there’s a driver for me, a motivator … If someone said “What do you think you’re quite good at? What would you score yourself a 9 or a 10 out of 10 for? And other people, you know, you can’t be everything to everyone, other people might disagree, but it’s a people business and I really get people and I’ve built my business around that factor. But actually, as well as being a people business, it’s very much a process business and I know that you’re very much about the automation and the process, and actually when you break recruitment down, regardless of the size of the business, it is a process, and the difference in the services that we offer are dependent on how much of that process the client wants us to take over for them.
So, for example, at the backend of last year we placed a CEO into a South East based 25 million pound profit business and that was a significant five-figure sum. It was actually the largest fee my business has ever generated on a [inaudible 00:06:36], and it was the high-end of the five-figure sums. But we undertook, rather, every process including mapping the market and speaking to people that wouldn’t have been looking at job boards necessarily, and we psychometric test them and we built the role profile from the ground up and understood the culture and we took it down to every last little piece of detail, including evidence and reference checking and literally all they had to do was sign the contract at the end and agree they were going to employ that person.
It’s very process-driven, but I think you have to match in that ability to understand and communicate with people and have a desire to get under the skin of an organisation to understand what this word culture is banded around so much these days, but culture’s always been there and it’s our job to understand what the purpose of that organisation is beyond just providing warrantees or CRM system support or what’s driving the individuals within the business to do what they do and then how do we match someone that not only has the technical competence, but also the personal softer edges that are going to mean they get that message and can cake it out to the market? It’s like inviting someone into your family. Would you do that, Pieter?
Pieter: It’s quite interesting you put it that way because, and I’ve been to this before, but we quietly attended a webinar that a client of ours hosted for his client, so we were just observers and didn’t take part. And he actually at the one point in the webinar, it’s in the financial industry, and they were talking about taking on clients, long-term based clients, and he was coaching his customers to keep in mind that when you take on a client, you’re not taking on a client. The question isn’t do I want the business or not? The question really is do I want this person in my life?
It’s very much the same when you take on staff and team members because the truth of the matter is you spend, for the majority of us, you spend more hours with your work colleagues than you do with your immediate family. For me it’s literally I sit and speak to my colleagues on video conference from eight in the morning till six at night and they are in my house. I mean, I go and make a cup of tea and I can still hear their voices upstairs.
So it is, you do bring people into your life and I think people sometimes overlook that when they go through the recruitment process and I was going to stop you earlier. You say recruitment is a process. I think more accurately recruitment should be a process but in the majority of cases I suspect it’s “Oh, we need someone. Oh, you can breathe. Come on. Come on down.”
Adam: Yeah, well, and do you know what, Pieter? It’s good that we agree, of course. It is a process and I’ve run a few courses on recruitment for SMEs, I’ve run a few courses on how building a world class culture can make the difference in your organisation and why it’s so important. But actually, the first personal development book I ever read was Stephen Covey, 7 Habits Highly Successful People. Brilliant book. If anyone hasn’t read it go and get a copy. It could change your life, it might not, but it’s good.
Anyway, the version I read had some footnotes at the back and there was a Q&A with him and he was asked a question: if he had his time over, what would he do more of? And he replied with he would do more strategic recruiting, and by that he meant … he went on to explain actually. I didn’t interpret it. Luckily it was there in black and white for me. He said, if you recruit via a process and strategically that is not in the heat of the moment, so you think ahead about how you want to build your family, it will yield enormous, his words, enormous long-term dividends. I remember those words as clearly today as the day I first read them. Strategic recruitment versus just reactive, done correctly, not based on the pressures of the moment, will yield enormous long-term dividends.
And so that process and thinking strategically I think is just so critical to any business and whether that’s a business that wants to start outsourcing tasks, go find the right partner. I mean, it’s like, yeah, I could marry. I could get married. I mean, we could all get married. I’m fortunate that I am very happily married, supported and I’m lucky in that regard, but anyone of us could just go out and go, “Hey, let’s get married,” for whatever reason for just company or …
Actually, when you approach it with the right values you tend to find people that match the values of the individual that they tend to spend the rest of their lives with when there’s a real connection there, their time invested into that process via the right dating routes, it’s along time ago for me of course, but that’s where the real partnership and the magic happens.
Pieter: For me the dating group was I ran the local pub.
Adam: Yeah, that’s right. Exactly right. So, again, horses for courses. But that’s what gets me excited and I think helping people to make those potentially life-changing decisions of I’m going to bring this person in and this person is going to either free me up to do more of what I’m brilliant at or free me up to spend more of the time doing what I love, there’s no better job in the world as far as I’m concerned, ’cause enormous long-term dividends, as Covey said, what I’m in business for, personally, for the right reasons and to help my clients get that same thing.
And it is a process. It is a process we follow and we say, “Do you want this much or do you want that much?” Or, “I think you should have this. What do you think?” We tailor it bespoke and whether it’s me doing it or anyone else doing their own recruitment, follow a process, understand do I want this person in my life? That’s step one. Step two: what can they do? What do they tell me they can do? And step three, where’s the evidence to support this decision? It’s quite simple when you break it down.
I was reading an article by someone that we both know earlier today who was saying business can be as simple or as difficult as you want it to be. But actually, when you break it down, there’s some constituent parts, stack them all up, do it consistently and persistently and then judge the results at the end and tweak where appropriate.
Pieter: I think that probably applies to so much in business, not just the recruitment side. I mean, if you are doing it strategically rather than reactively, there are few things in business really that should be done reactively. I mean, it’s interesting, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Kolbe Test.
Adam: Not particularly.
Pieter: I highly recommend it. Go and do it. Just search the Kolbe A Index and you’ll find the right … it’s Kolbe with a K … you’ll find the right thing, but it scores you on four key metrics and how you deal with problem solving and how you approach tasks and things, and it’s quite interesting for us because there’s three of us in the company and all three of us took this test and we score between the three of us very highly on three out of the four metrics that it gives you, and the one metric we all score well below average. So, immediately the thing that I thought is well if we are going to hire someone to actually join the business full-time, that is the position we need to fill. We need someone with those strengths. Rather than hire because we need a particular task completed, we need to find a person who can fill that gap for us and then the appropriate work will flow rather than hire for the task or for a set of tasks and then we still leave ourselves short on something that is clearly needing some support.
Adam: Yeah, exactly. I think when you break business down, there’s a few boxes, aren’t there? And as solo entrepreneurs when we start out, we have to fill all those boxes and the boxes to me have always been sales, marketing, operational, like technician stuff, and finance. So generate some leads, close them, do the thing, collect the cash. Sometimes it’s slightly different orders but any business in the world is like that, isn’t it?
Pieter: Yeah, is it. I really like the story that a mutual friend of ours, Martin Norbury, that he tells that when he set up his business he happened to have additional desk space, so he would actually, depending on which of those boxes he was busy with, because he was on his own, he would actually sit at a different desk and pretend to be, “Now I am in finance and I’m doing finance. Now I am in operations and I’m doing operations,” just so that your mind can compartmentalise rather than it being this big amorphous thing that you have to … I mean, it’s a bit like trying to carefully roll a soap bubble down the hill. It sometimes feel like that and if you can just put it in these boxes and actually observe it in those boxes, like you say, business is actually quite simple.
Adam: That’s it, and that’s where I always start with the client to say, “Okay, well you’ve told me you want X. Tell me more about that. You tell me you want a sales person. Tell me more about that. Tell me about your business. Let’s have a good chat.” And sometimes, and I won’t do it to be deliberately obtuse, far be it from me, but sometimes it turns out that’s not what they need. Our strapline is thinking differently about recruitment and sometimes that can mean thinking challenging your thinking about recruitment, because it’s about tailoring the right service but understanding the business enough to say, “Well, hold it a sec. You say you need a sale guy ’cause you want more sales. Okay, well, what are you doing to fill the funnel to give that person some leads?” “If they’re good enough they’ll go and find their own leads.” “Okay, well, so you need someone with a set of leads already.” So we look at it and, “That person’s going to cost you. Well, the market average might be,” again, I’m pulling numbers out the sky, “but 50 grand to find someone that’s got that ready made client base ’cause you’re going to also have to pay him a premium to drag them away. “I don’t want to pay £50,000 Adam. That’s well out of the budget.”
Well, there’s two things there. One, if you pay them 50 grand and they were right, what would they return you? If that figure’s £250,000 now we need to work out, well, how do we go and find the 50, and actually it’s not 50, it’s 50 divided by 12, probably times 6, ’cause it’s actually a three to six month risk that you’ve got. So that’s that thing. Or secondly, well, what you really need to start with perhaps is let’s sharpen the marketing, let’s fill the funnel so that you can’t cope and then bring a sales person in with a defined process who could follow up those leads.
But it always comes back to those boxes. I mean, the technical ting, the technicians box, the operational thing, is often quite complicated, depending on what the business produces, but it’s asking around those things and it’s saying, “Okay, here’s the chart with nothing in it. Let’s fill in what you’ve got now on the organisational chart, let’s look where you are now as a business financially, let’s look where you want to be and then let’s fill in the gaps and then let’s paint by numbers and expect life to throw us a curve ball from time to time because it does and it would be no fun if it didn’t.
Pieter: Yeah. And it’s also I think that approach, not necessarily just for what you do but what any service provider, because the customer doesn’t necessarily always know what they need. They know what the symptoms are but they don’t necessarily know what the solution is to that and it would be wrong to say, “Okay, well, you’ve come asking us to recruit a sales person. We’re not going to ask any other questions, we’ll just recruit a sales person, and there you go.” That wouldn’t be the right thing to do either. It’s quite interesting when you actually start digging around in a business and seeing what it actually needs rather than the reactive on the face of it responses.
Adam: Yeah, that’s right. Once you lift the bonnet and get into the engine and start looking around, it’s like my car doesn’t work. My car won’t get me anywhere. Okay, let’s have a look under the bonnet. Oh, hold it a sec, you haven’t got an engine in here. You go, “Yeah, I thought my legs were getting a bit tired.”
Pieter: Yeah, it doesn’t matter how much fuel you put in the back, there’s nothing to feed it.
Adam: That’s right.
Pieter: How do you deal with all that in your business? How do you make sure you keep building a better business and that things improve on a continuing basis?
Adam: Really good question ’cause, do you know what? I do find it’s a lot easier to talk to other people about their business than sometimes it is to look introspectively at your own. But I do follow the same principles and those principles are I’m not going to have any work if I don’t continue to market, and actually the marketing isn’t always about finding me a steady stream of new customers, although I do like a steady stream of new customers because that’s interesting, often it’s about capitalising on the opportunity within existing customers, so it’s about delivering. For me, understanding the customer experience is a marketing exercise, of course it is. It’s a great opportunity to build relationships ’cause that’s actually where the real magic happens. When you’ve got common ground beyond the day-to-day of the work conversation that you have, that’s where your customers start to keep ringing you back saying, “Oh, I just want to run this by you.” The ‘I just want to run this by you call’ is the best call because it means someone trusts your opinion. They think of you as the expert for that thing.
Pieter: In that position you’ve become an advisor rather than just a service provider.
Adam: Bingo. Exactly right and for the right reasons and that usually happens in my experience because you have given freely and willingly of your knowledge. I mean, it’s the reason, and this does relate to the question that you’ve asked, it’s not just me trying to plug my book, but it’s the reason I wrote my book.
Pieter: No, plug away, plug away.
Adam: Yeah. And it was, it was because people would ask me these questions. I was running the training courses … I mean, the training courses were never in of themselves going to make me super rich, they were value-adds really and I thought, “Well, I could just write all this in a book and then if someone asks me the question I can answer it for them but I could also say, “Oh, by the way, I’ve written all this down. I’ll send you a copy,” or, even better, “You can go and get it from Amazon,” whichever way round.
So, yeah, we sat down with some of my team, planned out, well, what would that look like and then of course they locked me away in a room for I think it was about eight weeks, many more rations, get that written, and so that allows us to position ourselves, that allows me and anyone else associated with me and the business to position ourselves, as you quite rightly say, as advisors. Who better to ask than the person that wrote the book on it? Whether people like the book or not is down to them, but the key philosophy within it is just that.
I’m an ideas guy, Pieter. I’m happiest when I’m coming up with fresh ideas, an innovator, a starter. But actually what I realised over the last, probably over the last three years but really started doing something about it over the last two, and we’ve got it to a pretty finely tuned machine now, is that the business has KPIs. It’s the word that any employee would have previously dreaded: “Oh God, he’s going to want to measure me on something.” And what I did with the help of a coach was I built a dashboard of all the key metrics in my business coming down through how many inquiries we had to generate, where those inquiries would come from so we could monitor the sources and the work that went into the campaigns, to know the inquiry numbers, then we could turn that into how many of those inquiries do we need to convert through sales? We’ve got those conversion ratios, and of those, when we get the work, so in our operations team, how many jobs do we need to be working on, how many CVs typically should we be sending? And it’s not a numbers game. It’s really important for anyone listening, and my team already know, I’d rather you send a fewer number of the right CVs than just some CVs to hit your number because the actual thing I’m looking at is the end metric.
So we follow this through and it just flows beautifully and it shows me if at any given point we’re in the green, it tells me if we’re hitting amber, which means I need to do some stuff to make it green again, and it also signals up with a big alarm bell if we’re hitting the red, and if we’re hitting the red, those KPIs, I say to anyone in my business, they’re yours, they’re not mine. I’ve got my KPI and my KPI is a combination of all yours, surprise surprise. But I’m not going to hit you over the head if you’re constantly in the red. You might not be here for very long if it’s always red, but you’ll be the one that self-sacrifices because you come to me and ask for help if you need it and I’ll always offer it.
So really understanding the metrics behind the vision have really helped me to understand the heartbeat and be able to give it that little clinical check on a daily basis, do the little tweaks and deliver the value to the customer at the end of the day.
Pieter: That sounds really good. So, for you, a business person, or whatever you’re doing, what’s your big focus at the moment? What are you working towards? What are you trying to achieve?
Adam: We’ve got lots of work on, I have to say. Despite the world conspiring to try and throw a spanner in the mechanism with Trump, Brexit, general election and whatever other horrific things are going on in the world, the good news is that the entrepreneurial culture that we’re very privileged to live in means that people do care, but also know that they need to get on with it. So actually all of that leads, and the relationships that we’ve worked really hard to develop over the years, means that there is a steady stream of work, so actually delivering on those assignments. And the great news is that they’re very varied so we’ve got some senior manager and board positions that we’re working on. We can probably only work on couple of those at any one time really, given the amount of time they take, and then a good number in the middle of SME clients who either need some help with some advertising for roles they need to fill or response managing those using one of our team to act as their in-house person.
But I think my big focus really is on continuing to grow the association with the name, the Adam Butler name, and executive search, so that we can go … I’d love to be the first choice for businesses who want to make key appointments. I need to niche that down a little bit further and go after a couple of areas which is a big part of the focus and financial services, and North West UK or South East seem like the obvious choices to me because that’s what I know and that requires me thinking in a different way about how I market to those people. This is marketing to the C-suite, the chief executive, chief ops, chief financials, venture capitalists, private equity companies and presenting that … my avatar has changed I guess it what I’m saying, Pieter, and presenting that process that we’ve developed that’s very transparent to the right person at the right time consistently and whilst it’s good fun, it comes with its own challenges ’cause they’re busy people of course.
Pieter: Yeah, by the nature of who they are and what they do. So, as my final question, you snuck one in so if you’re clever you can get away with four here, if you had to recommend three books that business owners should read to help them grow and build their business, what would you have?
Adam: My little plug day. If anyone is interested, Hiring a Superstar is the book that I wrote with the help of my team. It’s available on Amazon and it just talks you through my story and the process that we recommend people adopt when bringing a new team member into the business.
But the three books that have had the biggest impact on me, two definites and one more recent book. So it’s Stephen Covey, 7 Habits. Start with the end in mind, sharpen the saw. Two massive lessons from that. Know what the reason you’re doing the thing that you’re doing is and never ever be too arrogant or hung up to know that there’s not more stuff to learn. Massive.
E-Myth Gerber just taught me loads about the fact that business isn’t just about having a good idea and getting out into the world. Business is actually about creating systems and processes and leading through those and coming to the realisation that that doesn’t mean it’s unimaginative, in fact completely the opposite. It takes great imagination to be able to understand the nuance of a business and apply a process to it so I’m a big fan of E-Myth.
And then I don’t know if you’ve come across this one, Pieter, but have you read or have heard of Happy by Derren Brown?
Pieter: No, I haven’t.
Adam: I actually listened to it on a long car journey. So rather than actually physically reading and studying it, I listened to it and Derren Brown, of course, is the stage performing magician, NLP hypnotist, very intriguing guy. But the book is all centred around what is happiness and how can you achieve happiness? And actually it has in it some quite interesting and challenging thoughts.
Get her a copy of Happy by Derren Brown and put it under her food bowl. Yeah, it’s very revealing. I wouldn’t say it’s got any specific lessons, but it does change the way you think about what is happiness and how can we actually be more grateful for what we’ve got and set the right kinds of goals for our life that will mean something. So, yeah, I’d really recommend that.
Pieter: Cool. Yeah, well I will check that out and we’ll put a link to your book in the show notes, I’m happy to do that. And if anybody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to reach you?
Adam: Best way is probably email or Twitter. So email being [email protected] or Twitter is adampbutler, so @adampbutler, or you can read that @ a damp butler, whichever way you like.
Pieter: So it shall be forever more.
Adam: Yes, correct.
Pieter: I like that. Well, brilliant. I really enjoyed that. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Adam: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Much appreciated.
Pieter: Yeah, and hopefully we’ll catch up in person soon and we shall speak soon. Thank you very much.
Adam: Yeah, take care.
Author: Pieter K de Villiers
Pieter K de Villiers is slightly obsessed with systems. The systems and process automation he builds for small businesses are transformative, to say the least. Pieter is a Co-Founder of Barefoot Digital and the Amazon best-selling author of “Barefoot Business: 3 key systems to attract more leads, win more sales and delight more customers without your business killing you”.