Once a Big Biller, Now a Slave

Gary (not his real name) was a million dollars a year biller who got fed up working for someone else. So he quit, rented an office, hired a bunch of guys and set up his own consultancy.

Given his outstanding sales record, the venture began with champagne and high hopes. Six months later the fizz had gone flat.

“The whole rationale for building a team was to have more freedom and to grow something with value which I can sell at some stage. In fact the opposite has happened because it’s still me who’s generating 90% of the revenue. Only now I’m propping up a bunch of under-performers. It’s taking up a huge amount of my time and focus.

On my own, as a recruiter I was doing really well financially, now I’m struggling. The pressure is relentless, my overheads have sky-rocketed.  If I take my foot off the gas … sheesh! I am a slave to my own business.

Gary’s problem is not unique; this scenario is all too familiar for many recruitment business owners.

So what’s the solution?

Here’s what enables some billing managers to get it right when others fail.

First there’s a strategic decision; successful firm owners decide up-front that their goal is to build a business that generates revenue without them. They realize and accept that there’s going to be a lot of sierra hotel India tango that they will encounter on the way. They have the determination to work through it and persist until they accomplish what they set out to do.

Of course it’s critical that you hire the right people, individuals who are self-motivated, intelligent, hard working and want to make a lot of money.

It’s tempting to look for an experienced recruiter who will be productive without delay, not absorbing a lot of management time. But in most cases it doesn’t work out that way. There’s a reason they’ve moved on from the last job and it may not be one you will like.

Alternatively you could hire an enthusiastic rookie who comes with no baggage, no bad habits. But the risk is, they’ve never done this job before and recruiting doesn’t suit everyone. They may get three months into it and realize, “This isn’t for me”, or they can’t do it despite their enthusiasm. You could sink a lot of time and energy on them and be no further forward.

Whoever you pick, what’s vital is that they start billing reasonably quickly.

As a general rule, they should make their first placement by month two, or month three at the latest. Some exceptional individuals may do their first deal in month one. But if they don’t place a single candidate in the first three months, they are probably not going to make it.

Ideally your new team members should be cash-flow positive within three months, six months worst case. After six months, at the outside twelve, they should be hitting their full target consistently, every month.

So assuming you’ve hired the right people, how do you get them billing quickly?

To achieve this it’s essential that you have an effective induction program.  You can’t just expect them to pick it up by shadowing you — do that and there’s going to be a high failure rate.  There’s no way around the fact that hiring and training new team members is time consuming.  A lot of effort and thought has to go into onboarding these new people.

For the typical big-biller manager this may not come naturally. Results-oriented people are very often impatient, they expect everyone to work and think the way they do. They can’t understand why someone might not just get it and be able to do the job.

If you don’t see yourself devoting the considerable time and energy it takes to develop a structured, 12-week onboarding program from scratch, there’s a turn-key training system I can recommend.  Get in touch and I’ll send on some details.


I’ve been brutally honest with Gary about what it will take to make this work.  It’s not going to be easy.  It might involve letting a few people go.  He can then redouble his efforts to help those remaining team members who have the motivation and actually want to sell.  Most importantly, he’ll need to start thinking of himself as a Leader, not just a fee-earner, and commit the necessary time/energy/resources to training, developing, coaching and managing his team.  Provided Gary takes my advice on board and follows through on the action plan we’ve agreed, I’m confident we can get the business back on track.

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