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Getting Your Butt Kicked in Business 101

The Terrible Mistake My stomach wrenches when I think about it. I sat with my head in my hands, staring at the bank balance and thinking, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.” I made promises to employees about how things would work, and it wasn’t working. I wasn’t sure how I would fund payroll.

If you know me, you know my story, well part of it anyway. You know that I was an original employee of a start-up recruiting agency that went gangbusters over the last 19 years and eventually became a Forbes Top 20 recruiting agency. I was a big part of that success story, I opened three multi-million-dollar executive search divisions and saw my share of wins.

With that fresh in my mind, I assumed that starting my own business in a small town with very little capital would be a snap. What could possibly go wrong?

The Pipe Dream I set out to create a business that was fanatically dedicated to my clients, not one of those spamming discount agencies. Y ou know the type. We would be a full-service executive search firm with retained and contingency recruiting solutions. My goal was to astound my clients by going above and beyond. We would only work with recommended candidates. My visions were massive, after all, my old company was a $500M giant now. I shouldn’t have any trouble replicating or even eclipsing that right?

When I lived in Houston, I was in the car three hours a day, so I liked the idea of moving to a smaller community. Our company is located in Natchitoches, La, home of the Steel Magnolias movie from the 80’s. My home sits across the street from the famous house in the movie where Tom Skerritt shot the annoying birds out of the tree with firecrackers.

My goal was to create a training-centric culture with an emphasis on personal development. We would extend our influence by adding value to companies and changing candidates' lives. The recruiting industry suffers from a severe lack of trust. There are too many shady operators trying to make a quick buck by doing as little as possible.

I wanted a fun environment, so I bought Ping Pong and Foosball tables. My dog presides over meetings, and we take turns presenting motivational speeches every morning, so what happened?

Terrible Execution My blind spot was an assumption that being excellent at recruiting, business development, hiring and training translated directly to owning a business. I assumed that my “loose” style of management and general ADD would not hurt me. I underestimated the amount of distractions, dotted I’s and crossed T’s. I hired based upon hypothetical revenue, before the revenue hit the bank account. I took for granted the back-office functions at my last company.

Ultimately, after laying off two recruiters and watching another one leave, I looked at my tiny staff and asked myself if it was worth it. Then I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I changed. I hired a coach. I put systems in place. I created performance metrics. I created a damn budget! I started driving efficiency. I worked until midnight and discovered grit and determination that I didn’t know that I had.

Then something crazy happened. Profitability. Happy clients. Changed lives.

The New Pipe Dream JBR has narrowed its focus to a very tight niche, commercial construction in the South. We place Project Managers, Superintendents and Estimators. My idealism is still with me. I do believe that I can be a light in a dark place. I do believe that I can bring trust and transparency to an industry that lacks both. I’m not in such a hurry to take over the world, which is just fine with my clients. After all, they get 100% of my attention.

I know that JBR will make a difference, and I’m not going away.

I have the battle scars to prove it.

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Jeremy Bennett has been interviewed by Crain's and the Houston Chronicle. He is the CEO of J Bennett Recruiting, a boutique Retained Executive Search Firm that specializes in Commercial Construction. He is a father of two and connoisseur of West Coast IPA’s.

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