Interview with Jessica William, founder of Sidekicks recruitment
Frustrated by the lack of respect recruitment companies had for administrative workers, career PA Jessica Williams started her own secretarial recruitment business, Sidekicks. Read how, one year on they’re moving into offices in Oxford Street!
What’s your career background?
I loved school but – not being terribly clever academically – realised that university wasn’t for me, so I decided to learn by working instead.
I spent twelve years working within admin roles. I started off as a receptionist and latterly worked for years as a personal assistant, which I loved, before setting up my secretarial recruitment business, Sidekicks, in December 2015.
Since then we’ve grown to eight staff and we’re moving offices and launching our temporary division in January, so it’s going better than we could ever have hoped!
Where did the idea for Sidekicks from?
As a career PA who loved my job, recruitment agencies used to drive me bonkers. It was very disheartening being represented in my job search by companies who clearly viewed administrative workers as unskilled labour and didn’t have a clue what it was my role actually involved.
I’ve lost count of the number of times agency interviews consisted of nothing more than a timed typing test on a 1996 version of Microsoft Word.
I passionately believe that support is a specialism and deserves a specialist recruiter in the market and wanted to deliver a talent agency for our industry that delivers on its promises.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
Very quickly, as it turned out! I know from my past experience supporting successful entrepreneurs just how many good ideas are crushed by over-thinking.
I left my job, started temping to support myself financially and got on the phone – I started working initially from my flat in Putney and after I had won my first client things began to move properly. We moved into our office in December 2015 and it all took off from there.
Of course I have made mistakes but I strongly believe that, although planning is enormously important, it’s important to recognise that you can’t pre-empt everything. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and just do it.
What’s your unique selling point?
We’ve all worked in support roles so we genuinely understand both what it is our clients need and what it is our candidates want.
This sounds incredibly simple but particularly within an industry such as support – which is often viewed as unskilled, volume recruitment but in fact encompasses an enormous range of specialisms – it’s critical to know what you’re talking about and to be able to deliver the right fit.
We never put the short term deal before the long term relationship. It’s a small industry and all of my team are very protective of their hard-earned reputations so we don’t just talk differently – we act differently.
We don’t push, we’re consultative when our clients want it, but ultimately we’re here to provide exceptional talent and we believe that if we focus on that, the rest will come naturally.
Who’s your target audience?
Everyone! We provide support to an incredibly diverse range of businesses and individuals, from law firms and banks to fashion houses, startups and celebrities.
Good support really is the backbone of a great business and the operational efficiencies it delivers are phenomenal, whatever industry you’re in.
How do you spread the word about Sidekicks?
We’re deeply immersed in our market and that counts for a lot. We don’t have an advertising budget as we prefer at this stage to invest everything we make into things that are important to us – our Work to Recover scheme, for example.
Most of our candidates and clients find us through recommendation or by word of mouth – we believe that if we’re good at what we do, good people will seek us out.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
We’ve had a few, of course, like any new business. One of the biggest was realising the number of other businesses that routinely do not pay their bills on time!
It’s shocking. I believe it’s probably one of the single biggest factors that contribute to the enormous statistics of businesses failing within the first year. I find it staggering that so many companies (and I’m not talking small businesses here – often it’s global organisations that are the worst) routinely agree to 30-day payments terms and then delay payment for months and months.
If you can’t rely on adherence to payment terms it makes any sort of reliable financial forecasting very difficult, and cashflow issues are often the number one reason for good small businesses having to shut up shop.
And your proudest moment so far?
Still being here nearly a year on, with the best team in the industry, moving to new bigger offices on Oxford Street this month, opening our temporary division in January – and, most importantly, enjoying our success whilst holding true to our core values of honesty, honour and hard work.
Why is work so important to you?
We spent most of our life working in order to feed and clothe ourselves. We might as well make it something that can fulfill needs beyond those basic ones – a good career can deliver a sense of purpose, achievement, fulfillment and balance that, in my opinion, nothing else can quite match.
Who inspires you?
My team at Sidekicks because they are unrelentingly positive and immensely capable. My two younger sisters because they are adaptable, hugely clever and unfailingly kind.
My parents because they are simply the best people I know. And Elon Musk because he was a kid from south Africa who is now a man redefining transportation both on earth and in space. How cool is that?
How do you balance your business with your family?
Don’t over-promise and under-deliver, always be realistic about how much you can give to others, and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do everything today – there’s always tomorrow.
What are your three top pieces of advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Stop procrastinating – it’s immeasurably easier to find an excuse not to do something than to find a way to do it.
- Be humble – remind yourself often that you don’t know everything, and work until you have enough money to hire people who do.
- Kindness matters – business doesn’t have to be cut throat. Treat people with respect and decency and rise above it all; we always get out what we put in.
You can find out more about Sidekicks on their website.