unLTD’s Phil Turner speaks to Julian McFarlane, the founder of Sheffield-based company Staff One, a thriving recruitment agency which uses its own bespoke software to ensure that they can go above and beyond for clients across a range of sectors.
Could we begin by discussing your business journey and how you came to set up Staff One?
I have been working in recruitment now for 17 years. For the first 10 years, I worked for a recruitment company and learned all about the business, gaining an inside-out understanding of how the sector works while also studying for a qualification in recruitment. After 10 years of working for my previous company, I left to set up Staff One in 2016. For the last seven years, we’ve been building up the business into a multi-sector recruitment agency, serving the construction, commercial, industrial and healthcare sectors.
Why did you choose those sectors to specialise in?
It grew organically. When I left my last company, I went off on my own to do some consultancy work as a one-man band, supporting local commercial organisations with their recruitment campaigns, ad hoc recruitment advice and supporting them in growing their staffing in areas where they had large requirements. I got to the point where I could bring extra staff in and some people who I’d worked with previously approached me to see if they get involved, so it went from a one-man band to a group of recruiters. We are now a team of 12, and we expect to double that in the next year.
Business is clearly going well?
Business is going really, really well. We don’t really turn down any work that we get offered because we believe that we’ve got an opportunity to deliver our recruitment service better than other companies out there. So, when construction companies approached us, we created a construction arm to the business; the same goes for healthcare and industrial.
Due to this, what started as a small-scale, commercial-focused recruitment business has now grown into areas outside of that, and we’ve succeeded in those sectors.
Do you think that willingness to move into different sectors and ‘grow as you go’ is one of your core strengths as a business? Or has this all been quite strategic and down to an original business plan or vision?
It’s very much about having structures and processes in place. And when you get that right, you can apply that same structure to different industries. At the end of the day, people are still looking for the same type of service: understanding the company’s needs, discovering the people that are right for them and putting those two elements together. You can apply that formula across industries as long as you maintain the same level of approach; it’s about extracting all the information that you need from a client and applying the right sort of screening process to find quality candidates.
I’ve tried to give my staff here certain tools, so that even if they come on board with just the bare bones of solid recruitment and HR skills, by sharing the knowledge I’ve built up over the last 17 years and the systems we’ve got in place, we can teach and upskill our recruiters to get to the level we’re looking for.
Why did you go into recruitment in the first place?
As many people do, I fell into recruitment. I started off in retail and really enjoyed the idea of creating engaging environments and driving sales through managing people. Those are two things I’ve always been passionate about, and when somebody first spoke to me about going to work in recruitment, they were two things mentioned as being missing. I was excited to learn about a new industry and get involved in a new role. After a decade in recruitment, I have applied those basic beliefs to Staff One: creating an environment that attracts people and managing effectively to get the best out of people.
As someone who knows the industry and has run their business for seven years now, how close to your initial vision in terms of culture would you say you’ve reached with Staff One? Have you had to compromise at all along the way?
I think it’s all about compromise. Prior to moving into our new location, we were based in an office above the iconic Leadmill Club for our first five years. Whilst it was quirky and cool and an absolute landmark location, we outgrew it and the environment didn’t always bring out the best in our team, no matter how much we loved it. In relocating, we tried to bring some of the “cool” element with us like a vibrant and informal environment and a well stocked drinks fridge. Culture is an ongoing focus for us and I’m always mindful about how we should adapt to make our environment the best it can be.
A unique part of the business is your in-house software development “sigma” to help run and manage your operations. Could you tell us a bit about how it works?
In the early days, when I was launching Staff One as a one-man band, I was being consulted by big companies asking for a lot out of their recruitment. I was a sole recruitment consultant working alone, and it really hit me that in order to compete with other recruiters I needed a tool that would allow me to deliver over and above – something that helped me to save time, provided a resource of candidates I could access and would help me in being compliant throughout the recruitment process.
So, I wrote the framework for a piece of software, which I named Sigma, and it essentially became my backbone as a recruiter. Over the next four years, Sigma was developed further and added to by every person that joined the company. We kept putting money in to improve the software, right through to 2020 when were able to hire a full-time software developer, who has pushed through some really significant updates to the system, making it more streamlined and integrating it into various online platforms, apps and tools that our clients and candidates can now use.
How significant has Sigma been for the company’s growth?
For us, we believe that the use of this sort of software and technology in a developing market is going to make the difference in any recruitment business, or any service business, full stop. This independent piece software now provides a unique selling point that allows us to go over and above for our clients. It also saves us money as we use on piece of software for all of our business processes and data for clients, candidates, sales and payroll is all stored on there.
You moved into a spacious new office space at Saville House earlier this year. How are you finding that?
Great! We moved in here back in February, so we’ve been in for six months and it’s all going very well.
On that note, you mentioned that you were looking to double in size in the next year. Is that happening quite organically?
Yeah, we’re not having to take as much of an aggressive lead to try and recruit people. We don’t have to promise people or sell the vision because things are in place now; people can see the kind of environment they’re going to be working in and what we can offer our staff. So a lot of people are reaching out to us over LinkedIn and contacting us organically to say they’re interested in becoming a recruiter with us.
What do you feel like the state of the recruitment industry is at the moment?
I’ve been in recruitment since 2007 and I think things come in waves. As you can imagine, there was a massive downfall after the credit crunch, where we saw a lot of recruiters made redundant, or were a part of companies that went out of business. A lot of these people then set up on their own, so between, say, 2008 to 2012 you saw more small recruitment businesses setting up and establishing themselves. After that rise, it did begin to die off a little bit again, maybe due to it not working for everyone or people leaving for larger recruitment companies who were actively looking to bring recruiters in.
Since lockdown, we’re seeing a bit more of a resurgence in the people working independently in the sector again, and there’s never been more competition in getting clients to come to a recruiter rather than going online. But there were still similar challenges 17 years ago, when you were trying to persuade to clients to come to you rather than put a job ad in the local paper. You’re always going to have some form of competition in that respect.
You’re quite active in your charity work as a business. Which organisations have you been working with recently?
Yes, while we’re focused on growing as a business, we want to give back as much as we can do. We’ve partnered with some really fantastic charities, such as The Children’s Hospital Charity, who we’re closely involved with. We’re also sponsoring a lot of grassroots football so we can do our bit in helping children be happy and healthy. This year, we’ve also recently started sponsoring The Lighthouse Charity, an organisation which focuses on supporting the mental health of people who work in construction, an area identified as having a poor record on mental health.
What’s coming up for Staff One?
A few developments across the brand to put us into certain areas. We’re producing more branded products that we’ll be putting out into the market for our clients, so our name is going to be much more visible. We’re working with a fitness brand at the moment, and we’ll be addressing a lot of health and wellbeing in the workplace topics with them over the next six months. We like to be able to provide our clients with free tools and advice to ensure they can give their employees the best working experience. We see ourselves as much more than a company that puts bums on seats; we want to offer the full spectrum of support – whether that’s advice, handling payroll, assisting with HR or offering the full-circle recruitment process. By offering that bit more we can set ourselves apart.
www.staffone.co.uk // 03300 535 600