Sidekicks London: Jessica Williams
The female founder talks about the 'addiction' of entrepreneurialism, and how she aims to supply the best secretarial staff in London
Name: Jessica Williams
Company name: Sidekicks London
Location: Central London
Date launched: 25/01/2016
No. of employees: 5
Tell us what your business does:
We proudly source and supply the finest secretarial support staff in London.
We specialise in the provision of the best personal assistants in the market. Our assistants are educated, intelligent people with real commercial nous and often quite extraordinary skillsets.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Sidekicks was born out of a belief that the UK secretarial recruitment market can do better – MUCH better. I am a former assistant with over a decade's experience supporting at CEO level, and I was profoundly shocked at the lack of understanding of the nature of my role by traditional secretarial agencies.
Many agencies in London view the role of a PA as an unskilled administrative worker, which is so far off the mark, it's unbelievable!
As a result, I teamed up with Claire Grant, who is one of London's best recruitment professionals with over 12 years’ experience in the secretarial market. Together with the rest of our enormously experienced team, we are dedicated to offering a service which offers far better value for money, transparency and measurable results than any other agency in London.
How did you know there was a market for it?
In addition to my own frustrations about my treatment by London agencies, as part of my initial market research I spoke to a large number of my fellow candidates.
A very strong common theme ran through their feedback: that there was a lack of understanding, respect and effort within the secretarial recruitment market – it's a specialist market saturated with volume recruiters who don't understand the roles they are recruiting for. We knew that we could do better.
What were you doing before starting up?
I worked as an Assistant for over ten years whilst running a number of small businesses on the side. The sale of one of those earlier ventures provided much of the funding for Sidekicks.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Always! Always, always, always. It's not work, is it, when you love it?
Running your own business is like life amplified. You get the butterflies, you get the shakes, you feel crushing fear and exhilarating highs and abject lows and huge rushes of adrenalin – and all of this on a daily basis because of the performance of something that YOU created. It's completely addictive and the more you do it the more you want to do it.
I think that being an entrepreneur is rather like being a gambler. It's an addiction, it takes over your life – you can't stop it! You also become a terrible bore – that person who has just had a new baby who only talks about the baby? That's me, but my baby is a recruitment company! I am SO unbelievably dull.
How did you raise the money?
The money was raised by a combination of private investment and the proceeds of the sale of a previous business of mine.
The enormous benefit to being privately owned and run is that it means we are able to work in a way which allows us to stay true to our values and do the best possible job for our candidates and clients – rather than simply chasing short-term profit.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
It's simple; a client hires us to find their Sidekick – whether that's a personal assistant to an individual, a private secretary to a family, an EA within a large corporation, or an office manager within a start-up – our clients are enormously varied.
We then set to work to ensure we understand the true nature of the role we are recruiting for and the type of person (in terms of experience, skill set, goals and personality) that will suit that role.
Our specialist nature means that we are able to advise on salary and seniority levels – often saving clients money if we feel that the role would be more suited to a keen, capable junior than a senior PA with extensive experience, for example.
We then manage the entire interview, offer and hiring process. We know many of our candidates personally and we are able to source talent for our clients which they simply wouldn’t find elsewhere.
Our fees are really simple and transparent: we charge a fixed percentage of the candidate’s first year's salary, which is all agreed with the client before we commence work for them.
Finally, we have a real incentive to do a great job – we offer a six-month guarantee (one of the longest in the industry) so it's imperative to us that the placement works out beautifully in the long term!
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
We faced numerous hurdles during the set-up process, which took around nine months.
The biggest hurdle was definitely the lack of genuine financial support for small, new businesses. A lot of companies like to claim they support start-ups, because it's great PR, but we found that in reality very few are able to offer any form of practical assistance!
To give you an example: after we found our office, we turned our attention to the IT equipment we needed. One company (which shall remain nameless, because we're kind) advertise themselves as specialists within the start-up market.
After six weeks of wasted conversations it emerged that that they didn't work with companies with no trading history – they didn't work with start-ups at all! Sadly, not an uncommon occurrence.
What was your first big breakthrough?
My first big breakthrough was when Claire Grant, our head of London Talent and my first employee, agreed to come on board.
Her validation meant so much to me; as an incredibly experienced recruiter who knows the London secretarial market like the back of her hand, the fact that she was willing to leave an established, big presence in the market to join me at Sidekicks meant that she really believed in what we were doing. It was the best feeling ever!
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Stop listening to the ‘white noise'.
There are a million articles on the internet promising to give you the secret to wealth – ‘Twelve Things Successful People Do Before Breakfast', that sort of thing. Billions of self-help books, hundreds of people who want to take you to one side and tell you the best way to succeed.
In reality, it's all just a distraction. Do your research, make sure you understand your market and your product, and then just get going.
Ultimately, the only way to learn is by doing, and you need to have faith in yourself and your ability to succeed on your own terms. You can do it – embrace the tunnel vision, and simply don't allow anyone or anything to distract you from what you want to achieve.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
At Sidekicks, doing what I love; placing amazing candidates with amazing people.