In this Q&A, My Business catches up with Melbourne-based Sarah Kennedy, who started her own recruitment company, Boston Kennedy, a decade ago and expanded into Adelaide and Brisbane before celebrating 10 years in business in 2012.
Kennedy decided to set up Boston Kennedy after realising that there was a gap in the executive recruitment market after working in the industry for more than 17 years. Below, she offers some insight into how she’s enjoyed a successful 10-year trot at the helm of her own SME business.
My Business: What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started in business?
Sarah Kennedy: The issues surrounding cash flow management would be the one thing I wish I’d known before I started in business. When times are good we were spending our money quickly and we weren’t thinking about the tough times ahead, such as the GFC.
MB: What are your most effective work habits?
SK: My most effective work habits include my efficiency in completing tasks and my ability to prioritise tasks. I still write out a ‘To Do’ list everyday and cross off tasks as I complete them.
MB: The most important person in my business is ... because ...
SK: I would have to say that each person within the company is equally important. A business is like a big wheel and if one of the cogs in the wheel doesn’t work properly the wheel won’t turn. The cogs represent individuals in a business and everyone plays a crucial role, from the receptionist that takes calls to the accounts team that ensures payments are made and received.
MB: Best business decision you’ve ever made?
SK: Bringing in a business partner is the best business decision I have ever made. It has been great to have a partner with different skills that complement mine and someone to lean on for support and advice when challenges arise.
MB: What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in business? How did you fix it?
SK: One of the biggest mistakes I have made in business was hanging on to people for too long. I allowed people that were underperforming to stay in the company and this was detrimental to the top performers as they felt like they were doing more work and not receiving the credit. This has been fixed by incorporating a robust performance management scorecard, which ensures each person is accountable for their actions.
MB: How do you delight customers?
SK: I delight customers by placing great people in roles that they desire to be in and fit them with the requirements of clients. I provide clients with high quality candidates that add value to their business. The main way to delight customers is by over-delivering.
MB: Share your number one sales technique with us.
SK: My number one sales technique is listening to peoples’ needs. I have a genuine interest in peoples’ businesses and never claim to know more than my clients. I think they appreciate the interest I have and the ability to listen to their needs and provide a solution.
MB: What’s your secret team-building tactic?
SK: There are no secrets to team-building; I think that communication is the key. I regularly bring all the offices together and hold meetings, conferences and celebrations to recognise our achievements as a company. I also host an annual awards ceremony to celebrate the achievements of individuals.
MB: Who do you most admire? Why?
SK: I admire and respect people who have built their own success. This includes Janine Allis (Founder of Boost Juice). Her passion, drive and energy are extremely inspiring traits. The founders of SEEK are also admirable. I think that they have great values. They have supported the recruitment industry and never competed against it. Their service has completely revolutionised the recruitment industry.
MB: What’s more important in business: passion or preparation? Why?
SK: Passion is without doubt more important. It is crucial to ‘love what you do’ – a la Steve Jobs – and passion for what you do takes you that extra mile. Through passion you are able to fulfil the expectations of your clients every time. Preparation comes with experience and you should be prepared for any situation that you have to tackle.
MB: Favourite websites and why they add value to your work?
SK: Google is my favourite website. I use it every day. Google is a phenomenal tool that allows me to search for anything that I need. It is the best search engine.
MB: What’s your favourite networking activity? Why?
SK: The Australian Israeli Chamber of Commerce Luncheon Series is my favourite networking event. There are approximately 30 business leaders that discuss issues facing the global and local economy. The lunches go for about two hours. They are well structured, run on time and are alcohol free. I am generally the only woman there and I really enjoy being surrounded by successful individuals with interesting views on a range of topics.
MB: How do you relax?
SK: I find it hard to relax in Melbourne, so I like to treat myself to some time away at my beach house in Sorrento. Exercise helps me to relax – I enjoy playing golf, running and skiing as well.
MB: If someone gave you $100,000 and said “Invest this in your business by the end of the week – or lose it” what would you do?
SK: I would definitely invest this money into my business. I would spend it on a staff conference and invite valuable key-note speakers.
MB: The internet is a massively disruptive force. What’s your reaction to disruption?
SK: I think that the media and internet can both be disruptive forces. There is a plethora of information available and people rely heavily on both sources to make their decisions. I think that there are two main actions people can take and this is to panic or to think. From my experience the best way to handle any disruption is to be open, honest and transparent. I do not encourage any of my staff to second guess what is happening and I always aim to keep them in the loop with any changes that may affect them.
MB: How do you foster and express creativity?
SK: Creativity is something I admire. I am open to people’s creativity and embrace individuals that come forward with ideas to create events or have any suggestions that will improve the company.
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