Founder Feature: Neil Purcell, founder and CEO, Talent Works

Our Founder Feature series is back! We catch up with Neil Purcell, the founder and CEO of Talent Works, the company that enables rapidly scaling organisations to grow through powerful talent attraction solutions.

Who are you and what is your story?

I founded Talent Works International 11 years ago with a handful of employees and, since then, it’s grown into a global business. I am passionate about finding talented people to help entrepreneurs realise their visions and solving talent attraction problems for tech companies of all sizes. I have supported both established and scaling tech businesses to deliver recruitment strategies across the UK, Europe, and the US, helping founders, boards, and teams hire thousands of talented people worldwide.

Can you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?

Talent Works enables organisations to scale through powerful talent attraction solutions, allowing businesses to realise their true potential through talented people. The team combines RPO, Recruitment Marketing, Employer Branding and Digital Attraction solutions to deliver unparalleled results that scale with an organisation’s needs. Most importantly, we place the organisation at the heart of everything we do: building, enhancing and amplifying employer brand, reflecting culture and ambition.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a huge uptake in on-demand talent acquisition services, particularly for digital businesses. We have adapted our offering to a more flexible model targeted at agile scale-ups looking to source new talent but who are new to talent acquisition or simply don’t have the time. We could see that pivoting our strategy and supporting tech scaleups with a limited number of talent acquisition services would be the key to our success. Therefore, we became very focused on the problems and markets we are built to support as a team.

Scaling businesses are often unaware that there’s a more agile and transparent alternative to the traditional recruitment methods, and it is this niche that Talent Works fills.

How are you measuring your success? What are your metrics?

Following this pivot to a more agile model, we’ve focussed on quality not the number of business leads and have welcomed some fantastic high-growth companies on board, in both the UK and the US.

Another clear marker of our success is the recent expansion of the Talent Works team. Despite the unpredictability of the past year, our headcount has increased by 20% in the first three months of 2021 and we’re predicting a further 30% growth over 2021. Meanwhile, our US arm, established five years ago, has also doubled its headcount.

Ultimately, our financial figures, from EBITDA to turnover, are important measurements of business success, but we don’t see them as the be-all and end-all. As a business, we have a strong and continued focus on client satisfaction so we are able to maintain, develop and grow our account base through successfully executed client engagements. In light of this, we’re expanding our Client Success team to develop new business acquisitions through the retention of our client base. In fact, we have around 90% customer retention and 100% re-spend rates amongst our customers. By the nature of a company’s business cycle, not all of our clients are hiring all the time, so they may not be continuously working with Talent Works – hence our pivot to an on-demand business model. However, I’m proud to say that 100% of clients have spent with Talent Works multiple times outside of their contracted revenue.

How many hours of sleep do you get and what is your morning/evening routine?

Sometimes I get five hours, sometimes I sleep for seven hours. I don’t tend to have a specific sleep routine – but I must stress that this isn’t due to obscenely long working hours! As well as growing Talent Works, I also have a couple of young children to look after which is an equally time-consuming endeavour.

When and where I can, I try to squeeze in a workout, but this has to work around the children’s breakfast routine. I try to get up early, before the rest of my family, so I can have 30 minutes to myself in the morning – but most of my time is spent with my children before I make my escape for work around 7.30 am.

What has surprised you in your journey so far?

After five years of consistent growth, our revenues were suddenly and dramatically hit by the pandemic as organisations decided to halt their growth plans immediately. The pivot to a different business model (fixed to on-demand) and target market (enterprise to scaleup) happened at speed.

This was a move that I was looking to make regardless, but with the plan still in early stages when the effects of the pandemic hit, it forced a sudden readjustment of business focus. Within weeks, the company underwent a rebrand, shifted its marketing emphasis to lead generation through valuable content and adjusted its new business focus, rather than the original plan of a gradual shift over months and years.

This move has actually resulted in 100% growth quarter-on-quarter since December, a 400% growth in March 2020 compared to March 2021, and a sustained 20% month-on-month forecasted compound growth.

Our workforce has pulled together to make it through as a team with a people-first strategy throughout the pandemic. It’s a year that has seen shifts in our roles and some restructuring of our teams. However, 12 months on, I can say that this was a surprise that resulted in the business being back on track and forecasting 60% growth from pre-pandemic revenues.

What are your goals over the next one, three, six and 12 months?

Talent Works has achieved a Best Companies one-star accreditation and has made the top 100 best small companies in the UK. Our client portfolio reflects the digital skills demand as businesses have accelerated their transformation plans and the success of the scaleup space, including online car marketplace Cinch, online mortgage provider Molo and digital infrastructure provider CityFibre.

Following our recent pivot, as a business, we’ve seen a lot of focus on branding, talent attraction and our RPO offering. Therefore I don’t anticipate any change being necessary when it comes to positioning and servicing our clients. We have a continued focus on customer acquisition and retention, and our investment in the Client Success team will help with the smooth onboarding of new recruitment partnerships.

Going forward, we’re looking to continue to rapidly grow Talent Works’ own team whilst ensuring that the company culture remains undiluted and embedded in all aspects of our work. Recruiting the right people, embedding them and inducting them into the workplace culture in a hybrid, office / remote working environment is another new challenge for us. The Talent Works culture is central to our business vision and the sense of purpose for our employees.

Our team isn’t just here to solve talent acquisition challenges for our clients: we want to grow the business and make a tangible difference to the recruitment industry. I try to communicate this continually throughout the business. Every Friday, our all-hands meetings provide the opportunity for teams to update each other, give shoutouts of appreciation, and ensure complete transparency of our common goals at every level of the business, from the bottom up. Everyone has an opinion and the right to make that heard.

With the loss of those all-important “water cooler conversations”, we will need to find an effective way to maintain interactions that aren’t forced or an agenda-driven conversation over Zoom but actually driving connections more socially.

Ultimately, my three-year vision is to continue this mission to help scale-up leaders overcome talent acquisition as the number one hurdle to growth whilst demonstrating a people-first strategy for the Talent Works team, who remained together throughout the pandemic. I want to see Talent Works as the number one recruitment partner for scaling tech businesses.

Can you tell us who your mentors and heroes are, and what impact they’ve had on you?

I’ve not really had a mentor per se. I’ve had plenty of bosses who have shown me what not to do, but not a specific role model to aspire to in business.

Two of my close friends have started, sold and moved onto their next businesses recently, and I always look for advice and opinions from them as business people I respect. I’ve created a network of people that I can turn to for advice whenever I need it.

I have also always respected my parents’ work ethic: both self-trained in courses to further their careers and with a real drive and determination to which I aspire. I’ve always appreciated people who put effort into whatever they do and can drive impressive results from their hard work rather than being handed things on a plate. I feel that my parents really embodied this attitude.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to budding innovators taking the same journey?

Surround yourself with good people – don’t do it alone. On reflection, I tried to make my journey on my own, and this wasn’t the right way to go about it. Yes, you need the right skills and experience to grow your own business, but you also need the right attitude to commit – and it is a huge commitment.

To drive real innovation in an industry, you need to have the confidence and conviction to see things through in the early days and continue this through in the years to come.

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Amber Donovan-Stevens

Amber is a Content Editor at Top Business Tech

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