Insights

3 Challenges to Starting Your Own Executive Search Firm

Posted by Reed Flesher

During my first interview with Robert Crowder, Managing Director of Chapman Farrell Group, we talked about his journey to starting his own executive search firm after 10 years at UPS and 15 years working in recruiting for The Hartford Group, Aetna, and Vanguard.

In the podcast we talk about his journey to founding Chapman Farrell, the challenges that he faced in doing so, and why it’s not marketing or networking that will make the biggest difference in the success of his firm, but a combination of the two.

But perhaps the most interesting quote from Crowder was this: “In every project that I had to do [in his MBA program] I set up a lot of things that I anticipated I would need for my business. Even with all that preparation and thinking through things, there are some things that wound up being challenges.”

Why did I like that quote in particular. Because, to quote Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” And even for someone like Crowder, who carefully planned out his move to start his own executive search firm, there were challenges and factors that arose when the time came to make the move.

Here are three challenges Crowder identified in particular, including one that’s likely on the mind of anyone considering their own executive search firm, and one or two that you may be overlooking.

The Nest Egg

The main thing that Crowder wanted to keep in mind when considering the timing of his move was being financially secure while he searched for his first client. For Crowder, the target was a six month nest egg. Why six months? “I wanted to have enough in savings to be able to do the business without the fear of not being able to survive up to 6 months,” he says. To Crowder, if you start running out of runway, you start getting desperate. And when you start getting desperate, you become willing to cut corners on quality or compromise your own value. “I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make sure that financially I was in a position to be able to pursue the business that I thought was most aligned with my value set.”

Becoming Your Own Chief Technology Officer

No matter how technologically proficient you are, the switch from having an information technology office to having, well, youself, can be sudden and startling. For Crowder, becoming his own chief technology officer meant having to think about subjects and solutions that he previously took for granted. “Having a static IP address versus one that rotates might affect my ability to send out emails,” Crowder explains. “That’s not something that I normally had to think about or deal with but being in my own business, was one of the things that was a challenge for me.”

Another challenge was one that Crowder truly never anticipated. “What you would think would be a simple transition going fios from a residential to a business plan with the same address wound up being more of a challenge than I thought it would be as well.”

Crowder’s advice for facing these logistical challenges? Cultivate a growth mindset. “Don’t get frustrated or paralyzed by what you don’t know. It is an opportunity to learn something new. Whatever the challenge, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for growth and development.”

Creating Your Brand

If you’re thinking of starting your own executive search firm, you’ve likely thought of marketing. What will the name of your firm be? What will your logo look like? Will you have a slogan or timeline?

But one of the challenges facing Crowder came at a more detailed level. “Aside from being my own chief technology officer, another thing that is actually more challenging that you have to think about a lot more is creating all of my own documents from scratch.”

These documents included contracts and power point templates for client presentations. “Everywhere I worked you’ve already had templates that have been provided, you already have the color schemes and how you use those things, but now that I am with my own firm I’ve got to think through those things myself,” says Crowder. This led to important questions about color palettes, and whether those colors were consistent with the rest of the unspoken brand and image. “I had to think about things a lot deeper from a branding standpoint than I’ve had to before,” adds Crowder.

If you want to learn more about Crowder’s journey to starting Chapman Farrell Group, the factors that led to him to start his own executive search firm, and a typical day looks like for him in the early stages of his company, the first episode of our new podcast, Executive Recruiter 2.0, is available now.