Blogcast #18: Kelly Cartwright: Core Recruitment and Badass Construction Recruiter

Rebecca: Hi, and welcome to the Entrepreneurial Journey Podcast. I’m here with Kelly Cartwright from Core Recruitment. My God, that’s a mouthful when it’s the first podcast of the year. Kelly, how are you?

Kelly: Yeah, I’m very well, thank you..

Rebecca: Yeah, really good. Thank you. Thanks for coming on today. We’ve tracked you down through the great British Entrepreneur Awards. Tell us a bit about your business and did you win the award?

Kelly: I think that’s the most important question. Yes, I did.

Rebecca: My congratulations

Kelly: Was my last year that I could actually win the title. So it’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year now. Apparently when you turn 30, you’re not young anymore. Oh dear. So yeah, it was my last one last at time of being able to take that title. So I was absolutely delighted. I think it was one of those ones that you think, oh, if I don’t get that, that’s one that’s got away from me. I can never get it back. So it was absolutely buzzing on the night. So yeah, it was a massive achievement and what Fran does for those awards is just incredible. When I walked in I was like, holy moly, there’s 1500 people in there. This is massive.

Rebecca: It’s huge, isn’t it? Yeah. I mean, God, she’s done such a great job and congratulations on winning the award and getting in there just under the radar, Kelly.

Kelly: I know. I was delighted with that. So yeah, that was a nice one to sort of have on the shelf really.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. So you are in construction recruitment?

Kelly: Yes. So started when I was 23, 8 years ago, having it worked for a couple of national recruitment agencies. Nothing wrong with them, but just wanted to do my own thing and have the control of my own business. So yeah, thought, hang on a minute, I can do it for myself and do it better, but

Rebecca: Yeah, no, that’s great. How many years ago did you set it up?

Kelly: Eight years ago. So yeah, now coming to Wow.

Rebecca: So how long did you work for a national before you set it up on your own?

Kelly: Five years. So I was initially going to, I left college, I had to do my qualifications and I should have gone into advertising and marketing. So I had a job set up ready to rock and roll. Just needed to qualify, but I needed to earn some pocket money, shall we say. So I joined a national was just an admin just to sort of tide me over until I got my qualifications and then just fell in love with the bars of recruitment and never left and never went to my advertising job.

Rebecca: That’s fantastic. I hadn’t realised it was 23 that you started your business. My god, well done you.

Kelly: I dunno if it’s naivety or a bit ballsy, but yeah, no, I think sometimes I look back and think, oh, if I knew what I did now, would I have set it up? Probably not. So I think naivety did help me a little bit on the way.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, none of us would’ve set our businesses up if we knew them. What we know now, no, none of us would. That’s cool. So God, I hadn’t realised 23 years really young. So at that stage now, construction is not known for its enlightened approach, shall we say. Let’s be really polite. How were you received?

Kelly: Some were really, really supportive. I built up some good relationships in the first five years and people were really on board with it. But then I also had people that really weren’t on board and were a bit like, what the hell do you know? You are female, you are 23, you’ve never run a business before. Oh, you’re having a joke. So that for me, I’m always a bit of a competitive person, so I just use that as fire in my belly and I was like, do you know what? I’m going to prove you wrong and I’m going to give you one of them as well.

Rebecca: Good. Yeah, no, quite rightly so. I still don’t get in this day and age when we know that you can pretty much tackle anything at any age, any stage, male, female, black, white, nobody cares why some people still have those attitudes. It still astounds me today, but anyway, there we go. You’ve overcome it and you have looked at your website, I lost count of the number of awards that you’ve got and I stop trying to remember them all. You’ve won a lot of awards, Kelly.

Kelly: Yeah, it’s quite staggering actually, when you do sort of take a step back and look, you think blimey.

Rebecca: Yeah,

Kelly: I need another shelf.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, you do and well deserved. So what was it like? I don’t know, day one because we have a lot of budding entrepreneurs listen to this as well as people who’ve been at it for years. So day one, you’re 23, you’ve left the big national, what was day one for you?

Kelly: Scary. I think even now some days you think, did I make the right decision? Sometimes when you run your own business, there’s no security blanket, there’s no one to hold your hand or anything like that. And sometimes when you’re an employee you have that comfort blanket. So when you’re an employer haven’t run your own business, it’s you haven’t got that. So don’t get me wrong, it’s been tough, but then the good outweighs the bad and I always say that no matter whether it’s your own business or someone, you’ll always have good and bad days, but as long as the good outweighs the bad, then just keep going for it. Yeah. So I think that’s probably my biggest thing. And I also think as well, the more successful you are, the more noise you’re making with an industry, it will ruffle people’s feathers and you aren’t going to be friends with everyone. And I think that’s when I first started, I wanted to be friends with everyone, but actually sometimes you aren’t going to get on with people. Sometimes you are going to make a decision that someone doesn’t agree with and doesn’t like. And sometimes you are going to make a bit of noise and people are going to be like, who they bloody hell is this? But you’ve just got to keep going for it.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. You really do. You’re right. You can’t be friends with everybody. It’s impossible. And you wouldn’t want to be either actually because some would be like, no, I don’t want to be your friend. Not that nice.

Kelly: Definitely. So you’ve just got to learn who is worth listening to, who is worth not listening to.

Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah, you do. Alright then. So you have a team, which is great, and your website made me laugh a lot and I think your latest LinkedIn profile picture, are you on stilts in that?

Kelly: Which one is that?

Rebecca: Well, I dunno, I was looking, I was like, is she on stilts or am I just not seeing that properly?

Kelly: Oh, you are talking about I’m in the first fix of a house, so I’ve got wooden sort of, yeah, so wall. So arm was just highlighting, in fact, I was wearing a dress on site.

Rebecca: Oh right, okay. I didn’t enlarge the picture and I was like, is she on stilts? Is she an acrobat as well as the owner of an agency?

Kelly: Yeah, why not? I’ll just add another string to my bow.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. But your website is funny. I like it. And you’re showing you and your team as real human beings and that seems to run through your business. Some people go, that’s quite a brave move, but what, was that a natural thing for you or have you always been like that?

Kelly: I think the longer I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing, the more open and honest I am with things. When you first you want to blog it, you want to be like, oh, aren’t we great? And all this sort of stuff. But actually I think just being human is missed. And I think especially a lot of people say, oh you are inspirational, blah blah, blah. And I think actually you’ve got to be authentic. Sometimes we all do it. We look on social media, we look on LinkedIn and Instagram and look at everyone’s life and how amazing it is, and actually the reality is that’s pretty much bollocks. They’ve just posted the good bits. And I think actually our approach is just being human. We get construction, it’s very different from different sectors. If I was recruit and for, I dunno, legal, it’d be very different conversation to what I would with, I dunno, scaffolder for example. And I think when we first launched the website it was very much we are about this and this is what we do and aren’t we wonderful and all this that and the other. And actually I thought, no, let’s just be real. We’re a no nonsense, no bullshit, no suits. We are immersed 110% in the industry. If you want to call me a dickhead, call me a dickhead. It won’t offend me. But that’s the language you hear on site.

Rebecca: It is, it really is. I’ve done a tonne of work for construction companies over the years and while they take no prisoners, which I like, but they’ll also tell you how they feel in no uncertain terms. And actually I prefer that.

Kelly: Yeah, a hundred percent. You know where you stand straight away.

Rebecca: Yeah, completely. You can’t be a shrinking violet in construction. Definitely not. And you’ve got to be able to handle some fairly strong banter, shall we say.

Kelly: Definitely.

Rebecca: And you can’t get upset about things that swear words and things like that. But as long as what I’ve found is that honesty has been good in construction and they actually at the end of the day look after each other quite well. I have noticed that. Have you got a nice community now? You’ve been established for eight years?

Kelly: Oh yeah. I’m really lucky. We’ve got a lot of clients and candidates that worked with us for a long time and you sort of get to know people when you’re going out to see them and you’re doing the business meetings, but you still know, I dunno what their wife’s name is or how many kids they’ve got, that sort of thing. And you can have those conversations and have a genuine interest. So that’s been really, really lovely. And I think it’s all about just for me being authentic. I might be the owner of a successful business, but I’m human just like everyone else. We’re all human and I think sometimes you need to use your status and your position within the business to actually be like, we’re all just human. We all live and breathe the same air. We’ve all got opportunities and I’ve not been put on a pedestal and been given an opportunity. I went out and grafted for it. So I think that’s why we sort of then took the approach of this is who we are, this is why our website reflects who we are. And for me, if you don’t like our website, then we’re probably not the right recruitment agency for you.

Rebecca: Yeah, totally. Yeah, yeah, definitely. When did you take on your first member of staff?

Kelly: So I was quite lucky. I had one from day one. You can’t do it all on your own. So now we’re a team of five. Keep it nice and tight knit. It’s all about service and all about relationships. You see a lot of agencies that have massive headcounts, then you dunno who you’re dealing with. It’s just a name at the end of the phone and then you don’t have that relationship or they divulge into different sectors. I don’t want to be the biggest, but I want to be a specialist at what we do and do it well.

Rebecca: Right, right. No fair. That is lucky from day one. Was that your payroll lady because this

Kelly: No, it wasn’t actually. So it was my right hand lady, Sarah. So I did work with her at one of my nationals. So we had a good relationship from obviously previous employment and yeah, it was a natural you coming with me sort of thing.

Rebecca: Oh, brilliant. Oh that is nice to have somebody that you can trust that that’s really good. When I set my agency up back in the dark ages of 1999, in fact 97 I set it up I think was it before, I forget, it was a long time ago, Kelly put it that way. I set it up with somebody that I was working with as well and that worked really well and I actually in the end recruited the old office manager from the national that I work with. She still does my bookkeeping 30 years later.

Kelly: That’s amazing.

Rebecca: I know she still does my bookkeeping. It’s fantastic. Great. So you’re keeping it niche, I mean, does that mean you’re going to go outside? Well must do you recruit across the UK for a start?

Kelly: No, so we do East Anglia, we do work with clients that work nationally and we do support clients if they request us to, because obviously you do build up relationships. So prior to Christmas we were doing some stuff in London with one of our contractors that do sort of hotel. So we support them, but I wouldn’t go, oh yeah, we cover London because we don’t. Right,

Rebecca: Right. Okay. Like I

Kelly: Say, it’s easy to lose if you spread yourself too thin, you lose everything that you’ve worked really hard to be known for by just going spread yourself too thin. You lose service element. I’d rather stick to a strong geographical area that people, everyone knows us, they deal with us. We’re not just on the phone. And then you get known for the good reputation, not somebody that’s gone. Yeah, we’ll do everything and then just a shit at everything.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, I quite agree. Although it sounds as though already that organic growth is kind of leading you to other places, which is really interesting. And I guess with really good clients you can go with them a little bit, can’t you? Yes, which is nice. Do you have a big grand vision for the business, Kelly?

Kelly: No, everyone always asks me this and I don’t know, you don’t take anything for granted. The industry, we all know the market’s really volatile at the minute, so I just think just taking it each day as it comes, as long as we are doing all right, the girls are all learning and they’re coming to work, they enjoy their job and they’re going home with a decent paycheck at the end of the month. That keeps me happy. And for us it’s about the service and about the clients and the candidates. So I don’t think there’s some grand vision, but who knows, if an opportunity presents itself then we’ll roll with it.

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s quite a nice way of working that actually really nice

Kelly: Way of working. I think there’s so much pressure is oh, what do you want to do? Where do you want to be? Why there’s some X age and blah blah blah. And I think we’ve all been there, done that, and then covid come about and that screwed everyone’s plans up. So I think sometimes it’s just, just take each day as it comes and see what happens. I’m a bit of a good calm or come back round and good calm or land.

Rebecca: That’s a really nice philosophy. Do you come from an entrepreneurial family?

Kelly: Yeah, so my mom and dad had their own business randomly in balloon decorating. So I was exposed from a very young age to running a business, so must’ve been nine or 10 when they set up their business and they did sort of rope me in most weekends and stuff, which was fine and I learned a lot at the time. I was a bit like, oh I’ve got to help my mom and dad work this weekend and all my friends are going out on their bike and playing in the park and doing whatever. And I was envious of it, but now I look back, I think that definitely was in me as an entrepreneurial fire, but I probably wouldn’t have admitted it at the time and hopefully mom and dad don’t listen to this. I was used to moan about their business.

Rebecca: Are they still in business?

Kelly: They have sold, they now, funny enough, they have sold their business. They got to the point when you do run your own business, it consumed your life. There is no switch off. And obviously with what they did, it was a lot of parties, weddings, corporate events, and a lot of that’s evenings, weekends. So they just got to the point. So they sold up. My dad is now a bus driver and my mom works for me, so it’s a win-win.

Rebecca: Oh that’s fantastic. That’s worked out alright. Yeah, brilliant. Yeah, when my dad exited his business, he ended up being a driving instructor.

Kelly: Yes. Random isn’t it? My dad used to drive, he used to do tour buses for people at A CDC, the who, he’s done some big names and he’s always been obsessed with driving, so I think it was just that natural thing to then go back into his driving route. But he likes it. He only does all, but it just keeps him out of my mom’s hair.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah, no point.

Kelly: Got a little bit money.

Rebecca: Yeah, quite right. Definitely. And what goes on outside of work for you? You’ve said it’s all consuming and one of the things I ask entrepreneurs about is what keeps them sane? What balances things out there?

Kelly: I don’t think any of us are sane, are we?

Rebecca: No, not really. I

Kelly: Think you’ve got got to find your escape. So for me, I do like going on holiday, everyone jokes, but that is the time I switch off. I leave my work phone with one of my team and my own phone does actually go off. It is all the time. Is the emails, is LinkedIn is social media is WhatsApps, and I think sometimes you need that. I don’t exist. I’m off grid, so that’s really important for me. I’m very lucky. I’ve got a very supportive husband. So I think you’ve got to have your crowd around you that if you are busy and you are struggling, that you’ve got that loved one or best friend or family member, whatever it might be that has got you and does pick you up. If I’m working late, he’s amazing and he’ll get dinner ready, you’ve got to have that teammate. But also I’ve recently started shooting, which is a new hobby of mine. Again, not something you see many females doing, but that is my escape because you have got a live weapon in your hands. You aren’t thinking about dinner or the washing or what have I got on for tomorrow at work? You have got a gun in your hands.

Rebecca: What kind of shooting are you doing?

Kelly: So I’ve only done clay pigeon shooting, but I have got my first game shoot on Saturday, so I’m going to see how I get on with it. I’m not sure if it’s for me killing animals or not, so we’re going to give it a go and then yeah, see what happens. But yeah, that’s my escapism because the only thing I’m thinking about is where I’m shooting.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, I’ve done a bit of clay pigeon shooting. I really enjoy it. My husband shoots. Does he? Yeah. Yeah, he does. He was on a shoot yesterday, so we get pheasant, partridge, duck, that kind of thing. So we eat it and yeah, I’ve been asking him to go on a shoot for ages and ages and age, but I need to get my own gun. I haven’t got my own gun yet. But yeah, it’s a great sport. It’s a really great sport. And you’re right, you cannot think of anything else whilst you desperately trying to hit a clay as it flies through the air. Are you any good?

Kelly: Not too bad. We hosted our first, so I did a corporate event and I did a shoot day for my business and three of my clients came and one of them, I sort of mixed it up so he was loading for me whilst Sean when we finished the drive. He’s like, you aren’t actually that bad Kelly. And I was like, yeah, thanks. He was like, I thought you were bullshit and being a bit of a blogger and I was like, no, I’m not going to make myself look a complete tit. Do you know what I mean? So yeah, I think like anything isn’t it, you have good days, you have bad days, but yeah, I just love it. And for me, I’m a bit of a rare breed and when I get out of the car and you’re walking across, when we do go to the ground, so you get all these older men and they look at you and they’re like, really? And then obviously you think, well yeah, I’m going to share how it’s done. So you get your gun out and you crack on. But it is funny, I had it once we went on an individual down in this older chap, very well spoken. He’s like, oh, have you shopped much? And I was like, oh no, not much. I thought I’m going to play it down a little bit. And then at the end of the drive he’s like, oh, you’re very good. And I thought, yeah, you underestimated me.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. People do act their peril. Kelly at their peril. I had a great friend years ago, she was brilliant. She had bleached, blonde hair piled up. She was covered in bling. She had the big lashes, big nails dripping in jewels and people underestimated her all the time. She had a first class honours degree, chartered accountant, first past first time and all that, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And she would sit in a room and the people were in the room. Usually blokes would just think they could run rings around. Then she caught them out every time.

I know phenomenally successful woman. But the same I think goes for younger people. A lot of old people will underestimate what they’re capable of doing, what they’re interested in, what they know, that kind of thing. And the vice versa. I had it the other week, guy at the car garage was trying to show me how to work the car garage website and it’s like, yeah, developed an app and I learn at least one new software product pretty much every six weeks or so in my business and it’s like, please stop underestimating people. Definitely. Yeah. Alright. So biggest lesson so far in the last eight years, Kelly?

Kelly: I think it’s probably just that you’re not going to please everybody. You’re going to make some decisions that you look back and think that was a bit of a shit one, but you’ve just got to own it. And I think actually just if you do make a fuck up, just owning it and just being authentic with it and think some things, you’ll think, oh, this is going to be a phenomenal idea and it falls flat it and then other things you think, well this will be all right, but actually it’s mind blowing how it’s received. So I just think you’ve got to keep going and just keep pushing, keep striving and yeah, go for it. Really have the right attitude. I think a lot of it’s about attitude and I’ve not gone out and study to be a recruitment and we seem to do all right by it. It’s not what I’m qualified in. And I think sometimes it’s more just attitude and how you approach things, not necessarily what you’re qualified in.

Rebecca: Yeah, totally. Unless you’re going to be an accountant, a lawyer, doctor, architect, the qualifications, they don’t mean a lot really.

Kelly: Sometimes you can learn an industry, you can learn a trade, but you can’t learn an attitude and simple things like you see youngsters nowadays that just can’t get up for work, that don’t have the right attitude. They want to be set on a phone and they don’t want to converse face-to-face with somebody and things like that. So I think that those soft skills are probably way more important than any qualification, obviously, like we say, brain surgeon. Yeah, definitely be qualified. Don’t catch my brain, but in certain circumstances a lot of it and just, I’m a bit of a person that will say yes to everything and figure it out later. Any opportunity that comes my way, I’ll say yes to because you never know who you’re going to meet, who that person might help in years to come or it might be a good calmer comes back round.

I met a guy six, seven years ago, struggled with mental health, came and did a brilliant talk in the office about mental health within the industry. I then met him for coffee when he was with somebody in Cambridge. They do a lot of work with what they call neat individuals, so not in education, what the stands for training. And then we’ve now collaborate. I’m now one of their champions and I work with young people to try and get them, try and break that stigma of you haven’t gone to college and got your A levels, but it doesn’t matter. We can get you a job.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. Like you say, if you can get off of work and be reliable and follow a set of instructions, you’re employable basically because the rest can be trained in as long as you’ve got. And I do, I’ve worked in the past with charities when I run a recruitment business, we worked closely with Bernardos and they had that scheme where literally somebody mentored young person to get them up in the morning to make sure they had the right clothes, to make sure they got on the right bus. I mean really had to hold their hand. Nobody had ever done that for them throughout their whole lives, which is so sad apart from anything else.

But once people get that support, then they can do just fine. They can be really successful. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And it often is that those little tiny things that make a big difference, which is great. Yeah, don’t dismiss you, right? Don’t dismiss people that you think. I met a guy before Christmas, it was the last meeting I had before Christmas and I was like, oh God, how’s this going to go? Turned out it would be a brilliant meeting and being a human being had underestimated him and he was fantastic and we’re actually going to use his service. It was so good. Yeah, I think we all have to be aware of that. We definitely,

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m a bit of a believer in good karma. I think if you do a good deed, it will come background. And I also think if you have a bit of bad karma, it’ll bite you in the bum.

Rebecca: Calm is a bitch, but only if you’re,

Kelly: Yeah, exactly. And I know it sounds a bit cliche, but I think there’s a lot to be said for that. And everyone I come across, we’d see with everyone on a building site from labour all the way through to construction director and I treat everyone exactly the same because alright, they might be a labourer now, which everyone thinks is the lowest of the construction world, but in 10 years time that person could be a construction director and as long as you treat them the same, it doesn’t matter what their title is, they will remember that and it’ll pay dividends. And when they are the ones that are in control of what agency they can use, they’ll be like, do you know what? She’s always shooting me no matter what level of position I’ve been at exactly the same. And that’s why we want to use them. I think sometimes that gets overlooked.

Rebecca: It does. One of my clients is a cleaning contractor company and they call their cleaners operatives and they have a policy that’s built into their culture, which is a no walk by policy, which means they stop and say hello to everybody no matter whether they’re emptying the bins, mopping the floors, doing whatever. And you’re absolutely right, you have to look after everybody. I don’t care what job title. Yeah, totally good. Right. If your business had a character or a personality, how would you describe it, Kelly?

Kelly: Totally. I lost it. Yeah.

Rebecca: Oh, I lost you there. You’re back. So if your business had a character or a personality, how would you describe

Kelly: It? That’s a really good question. I think authentic and I do just think we are a little bit,

Rebecca: I

Kelly: Dunno.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Kelly: Oh I dunno. That’s a really good question. Never thought about it. Well put me on the spot actually.

Rebecca: Alright. That’s my killer Columbo question at the end of every podcast. The other way to think of it is if there’s somebody in history in films or I don’t know, politics, sport or whatever, or a teacher or somebody, I

Kelly: Think that you, somebody like a Karen Brady, I

Rebecca: Like

Kelly: Them. No bullshit use, it doesn’t matter. She’s suffered with being female in obviously a football world and people assuming she’s a footballer’s wife and actually she was the CEO. So I would probably say a bit like a Karen Brady. Yeah, she was young. I can’t remember exactly what it was. I have listened to her definitely.

Rebecca: And wasn’t she CEO E at at 23 as well,

Kelly: But I can’t remember the age after my head, but yeah, and she was a bit like, no hun, I’m not the footballers wife. I don’t need that. I’m actually the new boss.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, I’m with you on her. I saw a talk years ago and I’ve loved it ever since. Yeah, brilliant, brilliant woman. Yeah, definitely. No, totally great place to end. I wish you all the success in the world. I would imagine. I’m going to

Kelly: See you win more awards, stalk you on LinkedIn.

Rebecca: I’ll send

Kelly: You a connection every time I go to Luxembourg at the end of the month just for a weekend. And when’s

Rebecca: Your

Kelly: Next holiday? Sunday. But just a little respite out. That’ll be delightful. No problem. Thank you for having me.

Rebecca: Lovely. Enjoy and thank you so much and best of luck. Thanks for listening everybody.