In the spotlight: an interview with Kate Barclay and Louise Walsh

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This week the spotlight is on the co-founders of Total Facilities Recruitment, Kate Barclay and Louise Walsh. Working in the facilities management and building maintenance sector, TFR launched with Recruitment Entrepreneur in 2014. We caught up with them and learnt what advice they would give to their younger selves, their favourite thing about being their own boss and what it takes to be a successful female CEO.


What was the biggest lesson you learnt in your first year as CEO?

Kate: Cash is king. Especially when you’re running a high volume temp business like TFR. We’re paying out wages every week so it’s incredibly important not to run out of cash. The last thing we want is to get on the wrong side of 100 electricians!

Louise: There were so many lessons and it’s easy to look back in hindsight and say, “if only I’d known that”. But the main things I learnt were the important of resilience and multi-tasking. You always have a million different things to do but you need to make sure you dedicate enough time to all of them and do everything to the best of your ability. You have to keep calm and carry on. Without fail.


What do you do to relax?

Kate: It sounds strange to say that parenting is relaxing but honestly, the most relaxing thing I do is going home and playing with my kids. You can’t stress about wages or clients because you’re so immersed in their world that you switch everything else off.


Why did you choose to partner with Recruitment Entrepreneur?

Louise: We were quite heavily focused on temp supply so we had quite a large payroll need very quickly. We got up to 100 workers a week within six weeks of starting TFR – that’s a large outlay if you have to wait 30 days to get the money from the client.

Kate: We also felt like the package that RE offered in terms of support would be very helpful to us; everything from marketing to legal guidance. We’d run a business and our own P&L before, but we didn’t have the level of financial expertise to run a larger business. As part of the RE portfolio, we have the support of a far larger organization whilst maintaining the small start-up feel.


What object or ritual could you not live without at work?

Kate Barclay[/caption]

Louise: Each morning we have a team meeting, which informs us of exactly where everybody is and what they’re doing. It’s beneficial for the whole team. It helps the consultants share information and work better together. And as leaders, we can forecast what is going to happen, see who is thriving or struggling, and potentially nip things in the bud.

Kate: And tea, of course. We couldn’t get through the day without a good cup of tea.


What characteristic do you look for when hiring?

Kate: I think the most important thing is that I like the person. If someone is able to engage with us and is really friendly, then it’s likely that they’ll get along well with clients. Being able to form good relationships quickly gives you the biggest edge in recruitment.


What is your favourite thing about being your own boss?

Kate: There’s definitely a big sense of achievement. We started with nothing but a company name and now we’ve got all our staff, clients, revenue and candidate success stories. Coming into the office and seeing it busy with people working hard and delivering results makes me really proud.


Do you have any hidden talents?

Kate: I can stand on my head for a really long time.

Louise: How have I never witnessed this? I’ve known you for 17 years and I’ve never once seen you stand on your head.


If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Louise: I think on reflection, I wouldn’t have started a business whilst being pregnant. We signed with James Caan and RE when I was only six weeks pregnant – I think he was actually one of the first people I told! James really supports women in business so that wasn’t a problem. But it was definitely a lot to juggle – so maybe I would tell my younger self, “you don’t have take over the world all at once”.


What advice would you give to other women thinking of setting up their own business?

Kate: The statistics regarding the percentage of female CEOs worldwide are shocking. I think a lot of it is down to confidence. If you get to the point where you’re thinking about applying to start your own business, you know whether you’re ready to do it. If in your head you know you can succeed, then go for it. When we started TFR, we were both in good jobs but we knew that we could achieve more. We just had to take a leap of faith.


What’s your favourite thing about working in your sector?

Louise: The people we work with are definitely the best thing – it’s a really nice marketplace. The majority of our clients are very down to earth, never unapproachable, and generally a pleasure to work with.


What are the challenges of working in your sector?

Louise: It’s a very reactive, fast-paced market, which means we need to be available to our clients around the clock. Say we have a bank as a client – they can’t suddenly lose power or not have any security guards on site!

Kate: We have to structure our lives in such a way that we’re always there for them as and when they need. We get client calls in the middle of the night; even on Christmas day, we’re sometimes sorting contracts!


Louise Walsh[/caption]

Which qualities do you most admire in people?

Kate: When you run a temp business, the most important thing is that your candidates are reliable, trustworthy and honest. We have all these people out in the world representing us and if they can’t be trusted, it comes down to us and it damages our brand.


What do you value most about being co-founders?

Kate: Running your own business you have to wear many different hats; I would imagine trying to do it all on your own would be an incredibly difficult thing. When there’s two of you, there’s simply two pairs of hands.

Louise: You also have someone to sense check against and bounce off of. We’ve worked together for 17 years so we know each other’s thought processes really well by now.


TFR turns five this year – what are your plans for 2019?

Louise: To take over the world!

Kate: When you first start a business, you definitely have grand ideas about what you’re going to achieve. As you grow, you focus more on realistic goals, such as getting the business to where it’s self-sufficient and profitable. That’s what real success is. Now that we’ve done that, we want to grow in terms of headcount, as well as increase our presence in the market place.


How did you get into recruitment?

Louise: We started at Hays on the same day. We both came in through a graduate programme and worked our way up the recruitment ranks, myself in the maintenance engineering side of things and Kate in facilities management.

Kate: We then got approached by a client who wanted us to set up a recruitment agency for them, which we ran for eight years. That gave us the confidence and expertise to then set up on our own and in 2014 TFR was born!


What are you reading at the moment?

Louise: We’ve both got small children so the only thing we read at the moment is Biff, Chip and Kipper. They form a big part of our lives.


How would you describe TFR’s culture?

Louise: We operate very much a ‘team first’ culture. We pride ourselves on fostering a fun place to work, and creating a nurturing environment where people are able to grow their careers. We deliver good training and make our staff feel confident in their roles and responsibilities. Many of our employees have worked for us for years, progressing from resourcers to management level roles within TFR. In order to have this longevity of service, we need to ensure our staff feel happy and valued!


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