Cocoabean: Mary Pratt

The Cocoabean founder on rewriting the recruitment reputation

Recruitment agencies carry a stigma that Cocoabean founder Mary Pratt is determined to remove. Often accused of valuing fees over successful placements, some see recruitment agencies as little more than a necessary ill.


Involved in recruitment since she was just 17, in 2006 Mary decided that she could deliver a better service than was readily available: she wanted to put the personal touch back in recruitment. Cocoabean was to be an agency that placed the right person in the right job, an intermediary that clients and jobseekers alike wanted to speak to.  


Covering sectors as diverse as office networks, media and finance/accounts, Cocoabean Recruitment is an ambitious enterprise and things have come a long way since 2006.


“When I decided to set up Cocoabean, I started work in my living room with just a phone and my laptop plus twelve years’ experience. I left my job on 28 April 2006, and had my first temp out on 29 April 2006. I basically slogged my guts out.”

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The effort was worth it. Just over two years later, the company employs 10 staff members at its Norwich office. As well as a new energy arm – dealing with wind farms and green jobs – which is to launch next year, a further 10 Cocoabean branches are set to open over the next three years as part of a growth programme hatched at CranfordUniversity.


Despite the healthy growth prospects, Mary insists an aggressive expansion plan was not part of her initial agenda. Her original business plan has focused on securing financial footing and a healthy foundation she could build on at her own pace.


“You can sit there and decide how much profit you want to make, but if you have to just break even for a few months, so be it. As a business, you need to embrace your staff and celebrate the quick wins as well as the big wins.”


One such big win came more recently when Mary took home the Service Business of the Year gong, sponsored by Keystone Law, at the 2008 Startups Awards. Such accolades cannot be overvalued in Mary’s view, which perhaps explains why winning awards was one of the goals written into her business plan.


“Obviously the PR is fantastic, but unless you go for awards how can you measure what external people are thinking of you?”


Mary continues to chip away at the public’s perception of recruitment, making a change one detail at a time: “We look at every single process, from answering the phone, through to email, through to how you treat people. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but I’m a strong believer that if you tweak the process by two millimetres, you stand out.”


(will not be published)