The story of Octopus Personnel – An Unexpected Journey

An Unexpected Journey

Wow, what was I thinking 15 years ago? We were rapidly heading for a recession, and I decide to start a business! I had never planned or had any aspirations to run my own business. A throwaway comment from a colleague who said, “if you were to ever open your own business you know I’d come and work for you don’t you?” was the catalyst for it all. I remember laughing and saying I’d never be able to do that.

However, something must have lodged in my crazy mind as I mentioned it to my family and their response was, “well why not do it? You work so hard for everyone else why not do it for yourself?”

“Passion was not on their tick list!”

I remember getting a notepad and starting to write a pro and con list – getting a dog was very much in the pro column. I excitedly started putting a plan together of what I would need to get started. The list got longer and longer and scarier and scarier – I didn’t have a pot of money ready and waiting so I scrambled together what I could and put together a business plan of sorts and went to the bank. They did not want to know. The bank wanted me to have guaranteed clients – I guess they saw through me and knew I didn’t have a clue on how to run a business. Passion was not on their tick list!

I have since reread that first business plan and it makes me laugh – what was I thinking??!!

My first footsteps

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) ran a course (and I think they still do) – ‘How to run a recruitment agency’so I signed up. It was fantastic, and I still refer to that lever arch folder for snippets of information. Top of the ‘To Do List’ was an office. I knew I wanted to be in the High Street in Gillingham. I had always believed there was an opportunity in the area, but when I spoke to the management team of the agency I was working for, they wouldn’t listen to me.

There were a few options for office space – one in fact was the shop that is now Costa, but a friend heard through the grapevine that number 1 Newbury Court (where Dorset Tech is now) was going to become vacant. I remember speaking to the proprietor and next thing I know I’m signing papers, and I have myself an office. It makes me laugh now when I think about it – I really didn’t have a clue.

A new place to call home

I spent the next few weeks in the office space getting it ready, pulling in favours from friends and family to gut the space and turn it into a high street office. I spent so many hours painting and planning. It was so funny planning where we were going to put desks and office equipment. It was difficult to visualise, so we made life size templates from newspaper to represent the desks, chairs and other necessary items we needed, and moved them around the floor until we had it nailed. We had a small kitchen area, a loo, a front office with floor to ceiling glass windows, and a small back office that became my space.

It was an exciting day going to the office furniture shop in Blandford and ordering 3 desks, 3 chairs and a filing cabinet, and while we were there, we spotted the perfect reception furniture. The shop owner took pity on me, and I got a good price for the lot.

Getting ready for opening day

A date for opening was basically plucked from thin air and then everything had to be sorted for that date.

We used a well-known telecommunications company for our first computer and telephone set up – it took a huge chunk of the money I had and if I had known better, I would have done things differently, but I was green and didn’t know any different.

We did lots of research on CRM systems, we had lots of demonstrations but one stood out, and we are using them to this day! The company has been really supportive, and the system has grown with us. I remember one of the team came to my home in Mere and sat at my kitchen table to show us the system. My daughter Katie was very excited about it, personally I was still old school and liked to work with paper files and index cards! I am delighted to say I have most certainly progressed from those days.

“I still try and use local businesses”

The next thing we needed was a website of some sort. I remember driving around the industrial estates trying to find a company that would help me, and I came across LA Marketing in Shaftsbury. They were fantastic – very supportive and agreed to help with a 2-page website to get me started. During our meeting it also came to light that they could also help with signage and our much-needed window display set up.

I still try and use local people and businesses – I think its so important that we support one another.

“I felt like Super Woman!”

While all this was going on I felt like Super Woman and thought to myself, ‘do you know what, I am going to learn book-keeping and do it myself!’

I enrolled on a course that was one afternoon a week. I lasted 2 weeks! There’s more to my bookkeeping journey so I will save that story for later.

It was just another example of how green I was in those days, my idea was to offer permanent recruitment and then maybe explore temporary recruitment later as I had never ever dealt with temporary workers before – did I have a shock coming!!

To be fair it was so much fun in those first crazy weeks and months. I was so excited about it all but of course I did have this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach – the voice in my head was saying, ‘what are you thinking, you are never going to be able to do this’. But I’d gulp and say ‘YES I can, and I will!’

Opening day was rapidly approaching – the carpet was down, furniture was in, and the systems installed. I remember thinking that we needed some plants so I popped down the road to ‘Focus’ (ASDA is there now) and bought these cheap plants thinking they will only last a week or so but will look good for the opening. We still have one of the plants in the office today – it has stood the test of time, a bit like me really! When it’s looking a bit bedraggled and sorry for itself, we give it some nourishment and a drink and its soon flourishing and doing what it needs to do.

Before we opened, we spent every Sunday going door to door delivering small leaflets to let people know we were opening. The leaflet was to be frank, awful, and so small. I remember visiting a client a few years after we opened, and she told me she still had that leaflet on her fridge, which gave us both a giggle.

The Blackmore Vale Magazine was the place to be. For a half page it was £500 and that was an awful lot of money for me. I really struggled with making the decision to go ahead with the article, but so pleased we did. We opened on the Wednesday and the article went out on the Friday. I still have a copy, I was so proud – there were a couple of photos and a nice piece about the company and how I wanted to be different from your average high street recruitment agency. It certainly got us noticed… and then we full speed ahead.

The story of Octopus Personnel will continue….

Sandra Smart

About the author

I believe that recruitment is at the heart of a growing economy and that a different type of recruitment service, with honesty, efficiency and integrity at its heart, can benefit all. Octopus Personnel is the result of hard work, focus and commitment to that vision – to delivering consistently great results for our candidates and clients alike, as well as ensuring the agency is a vibrant, inclusive, inspirational place to work and develop rewarding careers.