November 3, 2022

How to Self-Destruct a $4M Search Firm and Re-Build on Stronger Foundations, with Mark Phillips, EP #150

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Imagine building a search firm from scratch to $4M in billings. An incredible achievement, right? Now imagine that same business suddenly imploding from 14 team members down to just one. How would you bounce back from such a devastating loss? Would you have the heart and will to rebuild?

This is the story of my special guest, Mark Phillips. Mark is the founder and CEO of HireEducation and in this interview, he shares his journey with unflinching honesty and self-reflection. He takes ownership of the behaviours and decisions that led to the decline of the business. Based on the lessons he learned from both his successes and failures, Mark is rebuilding his business and himself – this time on stronger foundations.

Mark got into recruiting in the late 90s and has specialized in the Education Technology industry since 2006.  He launched his firm HireEducation in 2010 and by 2019 he built it into a $4M per year business. That same year, he faced his biggest challenge.  You will now hear what he’s doing differently to build an even more successful business that he enjoys a whole lot more.

Episode Outline and Highlights

  • [02:34] How Mark knows our mutual friend, Jordan Rayboy.
  • [04:38] Thoughts on recruiters as non-conformists.
  • [12:47] How to build trust with people quickly. 
  • [25:26] Growing a firm from nothing to a $4m annual run rate. 
  • [40:41] The value of hiring someone to do the things you’re not good at.
  • [44:23] Overcoming a massive upheaval in 2019.
  • [52:40] Learning from hindsight – Mark’s retrospect on his most significant challenges led to him rebuilding his firm. 
  • [1:06:15] Mark’s core value in rebuilding his team.
  • [1:09:40] What is now being done differently in Mark’s second version of his business?

Building From Scratch to a $4M Annual Run Rate

Mark shared the key success factors that contributed to growing a $4m search firm in 9 years. There were a number of challenges they needed to overcome which anyone growing a recruitment businesses will relate to. The two biggest success factors were:

  • Market mastery – having an organized approach to his market.
  • Hiring in 3’s – as it takes the same amount to train 3 people as it does to train 1 person. 

Hire Someone to Manage You

Another significant success factor that Mark mentioned is the value of hiring an assistant. Mark’s longest serving employee, Katie, was originally hired as his assistant and has contributed so much and developed her leadership skills to the point that she was recently promoted to CEO. 

What is the added value of his assistant? “Operational details are not my strong suit. I am acknowledging that. When I hired Katie back in 2014, I said ‘your first job is to manage me and your second job is to manage my inbox.’”  This actually makes a lot of sense. In our coaching group, we emphasize the value of hiring someone, like a virtual assistant, that can support you on administrative tasks or operational undertakings while you focus on your business’ vision and income-generating tasks. This is how Mark puts it, “Having somebody that I trusted operationally was really key from getting from $1M to $4M.”

Extreme Ownership: Improving Your Results Requires You to Own Your Mistakes

In 2019, Mark’s business imploded, shrinking from 14 people back down to 1.  That was a really rough experience for Mark which led to a lot of soul-searching and shifts in personal and business focus. At the height of their success, Mark was really stressed and not sleeping well due to significant issues from his working environment. Due to cultural misalignment, a rift developed between Mark and some of his key employees who he had brought on and promoted to Partner level. Ultimately, this led Mark and his top billers to part ways, which snowballed into losing almost his entire team.  It was a truly heartbreaking experience.

In retrospect, Mark is able to analyze the situation and identify his own role in the decline of the business. As Mark described, “When I think about that time, my relationship with those three partners and team members, was not first. Consequently, it was a house of cards… In the end, it was not relationship first”. This lead him to establish a new core value when he rebuilt his business, which is to always protect the team.

You will truly appreciate Mark’s candor and humility in sharing this experience, which can also be a learning moment for all of us.

Our Sponsors

This podcast is proudly sponsored by i-intro and Recruitment Entrepreneur.

i-intro® is an end-to-end retained recruitment platform. Their technology and methodology allow recruiters to differentiate themselves from the competition, win more retained business, bigger fees and increase their billings. Their software combined with world-class training enables you to transition from transactional, contingency recruiter to consultative, retained recruiter. Instead of being perceived as a “me too” vendor, you’ll be positioned as a “me only” solutions provider. Be sure to mention Mark Whitby or The Resilient Recruiter. Book your free, no-obligation consultation here:

Recruitment Entrepreneur is the world’s leading Private Equity firm specializing in the international recruitment industry. If you’ve dreamed of starting, scaling and selling your recruitment business, this is your chance. James Caan and his team at Recruitment Entrepreneur are actively seeking ambitious recruiters who they can invest in. They provide everything you need to grow a successful recruitment business including: funding, financial expertise, coaching and mentoring, operational strategy, backoffice support, marketing and talent attraction solutions. Be sure to mention Mark Whitby or The Resilient Recruiter. Start a conversation here:

Mark Phillips Bio and Contact Info 

Mark first into recruiting in the late 90s and then moved into the Education Technology industry in 2006. He built his firm from a solo desk in 2010 to a $4M run rate in 2019. As a member of the SanfordRose Network, Mark has coached recruiters to the following accolades: 3 Rookies of the Year, 2 Top recruiters in the network, and multiple top 10 in the network performances. His firm recruits for education companies, not schools, but companies that sell products and services to PreK, K12, and Higher Education institutions.

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