Kelly Knopp heads Southern Education Recruitment, a recruitment agency for the education industry, providing Service, Excellence and Reliability to schools across Kent. Following her recent implementation of Voyager Infinity, Kelly shares her incredible story of starting up her new business during the pandemic, how she chose her new recruitment database, and the service she received from the Voyager Team.
Watch the full interview with Kelly Knopp or read the transcript below!
Welcome Kelly, thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Please tell our audience about your background and the impact of the pandemic on your career.
My original background was in healthcare for about twenty years. I then moved into recruitment for that sector for about a year, then moved over to education recruitment. I had been with a large corporate company for about six and a half years, and very recently moved to a much smaller company where I was for two months, and then got made redundant. So yes, obviously it was a massive impact, losing my job working for a smaller company. I think there was an element of panic from their financial perspective. It forced me to make some very rapid decisions about how I was going to deal with it, and how I was going to move forward.
How did your family react to all of this?
There was obviously a massive element of shock, particularly for my husband. Thankfully, he is a psychiatric nurse – so he counselled himself through the process, as well as me. But this was not an individual thing that was just happening to me – this was happening to everybody. Because of the global impact, I think the worry felt more shared than if it was just an individual case. So, my family has been very supportive.
When we spoke earlier, I was really inspired by the support you have received from all walks of life. Tell us a little bit about that.
Being obviously a very small company, just myself, I was very keen to support local industry and local companies. I approached a very small local company that I had connected with on LinkedIn to design my logo. I explained to them my situation and they came up with some designs. When I asked for the invoice, they came back and said, “it’s on us, we have to support each other”, and I was absolutely delighted. What you get from that is a sort of loyalty. They did something for me, and I have gone back to them for other things. I did something for the charity they support and it has a knock-on effect. I actually think that’s a lovely way to work, and I hope it continues after we come out of lockdown because it’s a good human thing to do.
What about the website and other things?
It’s been a whirlwind really, because whilst a lot of people are finding that lockdown is dragging, it’s going by far too quick for me in terms of preparation, so I might need this to slow down a bit! For things like the website, every company that I spoke to has been so helpful. People obviously they want their businesses to survive by offering great customer service to new customers coming in. It feels more close-knit, from a business perspective, and much more supportive. And then using LinkedIn has been great – people reaching out, connect to offer their services, and going out of their way to find a way to make it work on Zoom for instance, as we can’t drive down and sitting face-to-face.
Absolutely, that is heart-warming and amazing.
And I think that if we take anything away from this situation, if we all sit down and think about how things will work to benefit each other rather than just ourselves, everything works. I am a great believer in karma. You get what you give, and I hope it continues in that way.
It’s fantastic to hear that. Now, technology plays a key part in any recruiter’s life and good software takes care of a lot of mundane admin tasks, freeing up recruiters to do what they do best: source great candidates for their clients. Tell us about what were the key factors when selecting your technology provider?
Oh, Voyager Infinity, I love it. Recruitment is an industry that is always changing, it’s always having to adapt, even pre-pandemic. Personally, I find if you’ve got everything in one place, it makes it so much easier to work, much more user-friendly. Also, it means you can be transient, you can be mobile when you are working. You are not tied to one place. With Voyager Infinity, you can do that. When I was looking for a database software to use for my company, I did some research on different suppliers. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted, very similar to what I had been familiar with using in the past. One of the key things that Voyager Infinity did was they came back to me straight away. There were so many suppliers that just never came back to me, or communication was very poor. When you deal with a supplier that will talk to you and support you, it is essential. The ease of use of the database is wonderful. When I spoke to them particularly about my industry, which is education, I was very concerned about how the software would work for my schools when they received confirmations or candidates when I contacted them and it’s simple, it’s effective.
So, can you amend Voyager Infinity to your process?
Absolutely! You have the foundation that is the database itself, but then I can absolutely tailor it 100% to my company, to how I want to work, and how I want to do things and then address that during the training with Debbie. Nothing is too much trouble; nothing was too difficult or could not be adapted or amended. It is the attention to detail that really sets Voyager Infinity apart from other databases that I’ve used. It’s like they’ve gone round every recruiting company and then decided to create a system that offers the best of everything.
What advice would you give other recruiters choosing a technology supplier? Is it all about the features, or is there more to it?
I think there is more to it. What you want is a supplier that you can phone and there’s going to be somebody there at the end of the phone, particularly when it’s a new database. I’d phone the support line when I thought I’d lost something and got it back straightaway and they calmed my nerves. I thought that I broke the database after only 24 hours, so that aspect is great. But also, using a product that is user-friendly and is always adaptable. I know that with Voyager Infinity, the updates are more frequent. The Voyager team is always listening to its customers, in terms of what features would work and that’s essential. With a lot of databases, until you physically start working with them, you don’t really pick up on little things. You think there should be maybe a tweak there, or a change there. So, I think that is what sets them aside from everybody else: they listen to their customer base. And I think if you have got a data provider that you are working with that does that, you are working in partnership. You have not just bought a service and that’s it, they want you to succeed as well.
What were the biggest obstacles when you set up your new company? Where do you draw inspiration to keep going?
With a lot of recruiters, there’s a certain amount of mindedness that goes on, so I think “I will succeed”, I don’t doubt for a second that I have to win. I think there’s an element of that in any recruiter. For me the biggest obstacles were to decide where to start, what to do first. I had been sledge-hammered by being made redundant. Whatever your background, you get used to a certain lifestyle and a certain way of living. So, you start thinking about how you can cope; how you can move forward when nobody’s hiring because everybody’s on lockdown. It was about weighing up the pros and cons. Can I do this financially? How do I go about this? So, the biggest obstacle is figuring out where to start, what to do first, and getting the ball rolling. I do not doubt there are some bigger mountains to climb as I move forward in this endeavour.
You’ve only just started and there is still a long road ahead of you before you can say that you are truly successful. But what are the three tips that you would give to other recruiters who are thinking along similar lines about starting out on their own?
First, research and look at suppliers like yourself. I only came across Voyager Infinity because I was doing research into it and I thought “Yes! Brilliant, this is it!” Research is essential into competitors, services that you are going to use. My second one is lists. I know that sounds very dull and not very high-tech, but I have got lists about lists about lists that I cross and tick; you got to have an element of organization. And then the third and most important aspect is self-belief. Do not listen to the naysayers. I am a very much a “leap before I look” person anyway, but I think that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. Most people are successful at what they do in recruitment, they’re obviously driven. So why can’t you take that energy and that enthusiasm and turn it into something positive for yourself? It is not always about money, for me it is about lifestyle and that work-life balance and doing something for me and my family. Everybody has different reasons for doing things, some people want the big houses and the wonderful cars and things like that. I understand that we can have different motivations. But you cannot do it without self-belief, you must believe that you can do it. Otherwise, it is not going to work. Hopefully, if I can do it, anybody can do it!
What are your thoughts about how the recruitment industry will change post Covid-19, and the implications for your business?
I think for all businesses, whether it is recruitment or any industry, if you are not willing to adapt or change, I do not think you will survive. It will be the new normal. I work in the education sector, which took a huge impact. You have to think outside of the box in terms of how you can support your clients and a lot more problem-solving going forward. Meeting your candidates face to face was almost essential, but now speaking to somebody on video is probably going to become the new way of doing things. And you must remain strong. I offer Covid-19 training for candidates going into schools, so that they have at least basic knowledge when they go forward. So, it is just being adaptive. You must embrace the situation, as awful as it is, and think what you can do to work with it. I think for a lot of recruiters it will be a change, but I think it will be a positive change. We spend so much time rushing to fit meetings in our schedule and do things when we can work more remotely and take the stress out of everything. So, I think it could be a positive thing.
I completely agree with you. It has changed our lives, but I think it has opened so many more opportunities, and those who take benefit from those opportunities will succeed.
Absolutely. I think that is the way to look at it. I could have looked at this as a very negative situation. I could have sat there and just waited for the world to start turning again and then just go out and get another job, but it is not in my nature to do that. When are you ever going to get an opportunity where you’ve actually got the time to sit and build a structure for your business? You must seize these opportunities, and whilst it is an awful situation, and I cannot imagine what a lot of people are going through with a situation like this, there are positives and you can turn a very negative or very dark situation into something very positive and get some benefit and some good out of it going forward.
Very true. Kelly, it has been wonderful talking with you. I wish you every success for the future, and maybe we can catch up next year to see how you are getting on.
Absolutely. Hopefully, I will then be sitting in a nice shiny office rather than my dining room. Thank you so much!