Thomas Brooke International isn’t your everyday executive search firm. Its expertise lies in placing highly specialized professionals in an incredibly specific vertical: the plastics and polymers industry. In other words, it’s not a field where clients come beating down the door.
“We find hard-to-find-people,” says managing partner Nicola James. “It could be anything from the president of the company all the way down to a very specialized engineer with skills the company doesn’t currently have, but needs.”
James runs Thomas Brooke International together with her husband, John Birch. This year they’ll celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary and a major period of expansion; in the past twelve months, they’ve experienced the fastest phase of revenue growth since the company’s inception.
“At this point we’re five months in our fiscal year, and we’ve already surpassed last year’s sales,” James says.
So how did a small firm in a very niche field grow so quickly? James credits Thomas Brooke’s success to some key decisions in three areas.
Enlisting Expert Help
Since the beginning, James and her husband have taken a very active role in their company. The executive search industry is a high-touch field with a long sales cycles, thus, it takes a great deal of hands-on time between a partner and a prospective client before contract is signed.
But in addition to development, James and Birch were also actively managing every other aspect of their business—including their finances. They felt out of their depth but weren’t sure how to solve the problem.
“[Accounting] was our weakest area,” James says. “It was not our core competency. Accounting is a necessary evil in running a business, but a lack of knowledge in that area can trip you up big time.”
They’d been burned before trying to work with local accountants, who had trouble supporting the company’s non-traditional business model. Thomas Brooke itself often works remotely with clients, so its partners decided to see what kind of accounting solutions were out there in the digital realm.
“Ignite Spot’s ad came up on a web search and seemed like just the kind of forward-thinking place we were looking for,” James says.
Ignite Spot signed on to manage the financial side of Thomas Brooke’s operation in March of 2016, taking over corporate and payroll taxes, introducing time-saving applications like Quickbooks, and helping to give James and Birch an accurate picture of the company’s financial health.
James says the company now has the ability to add team members without dealing with a boatload of paperwork, which was a major factor limiting its growth before. They’re also able to make more prudent decisions based on clear, accurate numbers.
“Accounting went from being a time drain with seemingly no upside, to a valuable management information resource.”
Shifting The Partners’ Focus
The second area in which Thomas Brooke’s partners made changes was how they spent their time.
As James explains, in their field it can take months or even years before a professional contact becomes a paying client.
“The executive search industry is so high touch and often confidential, so it’s very difficult to grow,” she says. “Credibility and trust are paramount. Selling is not simple; it takes time.”
Now that Ignite Spot had taken over the books, Thomas Brooke’s partners had more of that time available to dedicate to growth-oriented initiatives like relationship building and having meaningful conversations with decision makers.
“There is no substitute for those conversations, which take a lot of time. We were able to devote that time because we weren’t spending it on the books.”
James credits this newfound time as one of the biggest factors in the company’s rapid expansion.
Prioritizing The Vision
Finally, James and her husband took a renewed look at the company’s vision. They’d always strived to be the standard of excellence in their field, but a lot had changed in the 25 years since they’d started out.
They took a fresh look at their objectives and mission in the context of the lessons they’d learned along the way and outlined some new goals for the next 25 years. Expanding into additional industries is one of the opportunities on the table.
“I would like to see us take our model into adjacent spaces,” James says. “In particular, I want us to be a difference-maker in the lives of the people we touch.”
As she explains, Thomas Brooke often works with professionals as they make a major life change: a new job or career path. She wants to help them navigate it in the most impactful way possible.
“We want to make a difference in the lives of people by providing opportunities—being matchmakers that make a difference.”
Congratulations, Thomas Brooke, on 25 years of success from all of us at Ignite Spot!
Get weekly insights from real entrepreneurs about making more money, building a team and creating a meaningful business. Subscribe to our blog below!