Recruitment Agency Growth: How to Scale From Startup to £10M in 10 Years, with Ed Steer, Ep #135

Imagine growing your recruitment business from zero to 10,000,000 in net fee income in just 10 years!

That growth trajectory is highly unusual in recruitment. Yet Sphere Digital has achieved it. I was keen to uncover the key factors that enabled them to scale the business successfully so I interviewed Sphere co-founder, Ed Steer 

What I learned is that they always had the mindset and intention to scale, so they set up the company for growth from the very start. Over the past decade, they’ve managed to build a high-performing team of 70 employees but it wasn’t a walk in the park!

Ed generously shared the things that worked, such as a real focus on training and creating career pathways for their people to be promoted internally.  He also revealed the growing pains, mistakes and hard lessons they learned – especially as scaling rapidly can present a multitude of challenges. 

Ed is the CEO of Sphere Digital Recruitment, a multi award-winning agency specialising in recruiting marketing, sales, analytics, product & creative talent in the UK, Europe and North America. Winner of Best Small Company in the UK and London at Best Company Awards 2022, Sphere works with clients like Amazon, TikTok, Facebook and a whole host of house hold brands and innovative tech start ups.

Episode Outline and Highlights

  • [2:35] How Sphere was conceptualized and started with growth in mind.
  • [16:36] Transitioning from a billing manager to becoming a business manager – hear the enablers that made it happen for Ed.
  • [25:34] Trust and enablement – practices and development plans for associates, consultants, directors, and beyond.
  • [32:50] Challenges in managing a large team during rapid growth – Ed reveals some of the growing pains and learnings they had to go through.
  • [37:30] Launching in North America – what made it successful for Sphere?
  • [45:07] What are Ed’s biggest learnings for the past 10 years?
  • [48:49] Discussion on the benefits of hosting events and building communities.

Organically Growing the Leadership Team with Trust and Enablement

Starting with two founders in 2012 in a small office in London, they now have more than 70 key employees covering not only the UK but also the US market. We discussed the milestones leading up to this growth as we all key success factors that enabled Ed to effectively transition from a billing manager to a business owner.

One outstanding takeaway I appreciate from this part of the interview is how they are growing leaders organically. To retain great talents and put clear developmental plans for their employees, internal growth is in place. You will hear how trust and enablement are practiced within their firm. Ed also shared about PROGRESS – a development plan for associates, consultants, directors, and beyond. 

Rapid Growth Has Its Challenges

Just like with other organizations rapidly scaling, there will always be growing pains. This is the same for Sphere Recruitment as shared by Ed. Elaborating on some things that went wrong, Ed said, “Lots of junior managers hiring lots of junior people probably too fast.” He also added, “Maybe expanding the headcount when we didn’t have the job flow to support it.” To summarize, he felt that they were successful in growing but business but did not have the experience or the know-how to make it as good as they were when they were just 10 people.

What did they do to turn it around? Getting back to basics is the key. Focusing on their principles and repeating what makes them successful – business development and training.

The Formula to Success When Expanding to New Territories

Despite being pushed back because of the pandemic, Sphere Digital have recently expanded into the United States with an office in New York City. By allowing a senior member from the main office to facilitate the growth and manage the business in the US, they were able to retain the culture and values to the new office. This interesting approach is the same playbook I’ve observed with companies expanding into different regions and becoming successful in doing so: Having a client base in the new territory and sending someone from the main office to ‘evangelize’ the culture, processes, and way of working. 

Our Sponsors

This podcast is proudly sponsored by i-intro and Recruitment Entrepreneur.

i-intro® is an end-to-end retained recruitment platform. Their technology and methodology allow recruiters to differentiate themselves from the competition, win more retained business, bigger fees and increase their billings. Their software combined with world-class training enables you to transition from transactional, contingency recruiter to consultative, retained recruiter. Instead of being perceived as a “me too” vendor, you’ll be positioned as a “me only” solutions provider. Be sure to mention Mark Whitby or The Resilient Recruiter. Book your free, no-obligation consultation here: www.recruitmentcoach.com/retained

Recruitment Entrepreneur is the world’s leading Private Equity firm specializing in the international recruitment industry. If you’ve dreamed of starting, scaling and selling your recruitment business, this is your chance. James Caan and his team at Recruitment Entrepreneur are actively seeking ambitious recruiters who they can invest in. They provide everything you need to grow a successful recruitment business including: funding, financial expertise, coaching and mentoring, operational strategy, backoffice support, marketing and talent attraction solutions. Be sure to mention Mark Whitby or The Resilient Recruiter. Start a conversation here: https://www.recruitmentcoach.com/vc

Ed Steer Bio and Contact Info

Ed is the CEO and Co-Founder of Sphere Digital Recruitment, a multi-award-winning Digital Media, Marketing, and Technology firm with offices in London and New York. Before starting Sphere, Ed worked with PFJ – from a consultant position to being an Associate Director in seven years. 

Ed and his wife also enjoy volunteering with Fun in Action for Children, where they work as “befrienders” and mentors since May 2013. They spend one day a week (a Saturday or Sunday) spending time with a brilliant and talented person who needed some additional support, away from challenging home life.

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