Ben founded Thompson & Terry Recruitment with an initial investment of £500 in 2014, in partnership with a client following a successful career in the voucher market and radio. Ben was appointed Managing Director and sole shareholder in 2018, and now leads our team of 3 from our central Abingdon offices.
Everything we do is driven from entrepreneurship; when other recruitment agencies go left, we go right thus constantly finding innovative ways to be different.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Starting his career selling payday loans aged 18 whilst still in a wheelchair and recovering from a serious brain injury, Ben became the record performer globally, thus becoming headhunted to relocate to Moscow aged 19. Ben then launched Groupon in Oxfordshire before heading up the voucher business for multi-award winning JACKfm and as a consultant for other stations nationally. In 2014, Ben opened Thompson & Terry Recruitment, focusing on only submitting candidates that they would personally employ themselves. This has resulted in over 70% of the first CVs they submitted successfully obtaining the job (national average – c.5%).
Whilst Thompson & Terry was Ben’s first business, his entrepreneurial spirit started at a very early age, at age 10 most children would have a rabbit, but Ben insisted on chickens. Within 2 years Ben had grown his 3 chickens as a birthday present to 18, and selling all the eggs to local bed & breakfasts (and to his parents!).
With this early taste of being an ‘entrepreneur’ Ben was very focused on eventually developing his own business, and the roles he took prior to setting up Thompson & Terry were all very intentionally used as a learning curve to complete his rounded skill-set.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
In my view there is no real common denominator that defines an entrepreneur, as we all come in so many shape and sizes; I actually don’t think you need to own a business to be one. I think the biggest thing for me is that sheer desire to succeed and the constant greed to innovate in everything we do. Nothing we do can ever be perfect, there must be a better or more efficient way to do it.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
In all honesty, I don’t think any founder does for sure but that’s the thing that’s so great about entrepreneurship isn’t it?
Having said that, I have now written almost 100 business plans and to date Thompson & Terry Recruitment is the only I’ve pressed forward with. The reason is simple, I looked at the recruitment agency model and found several ways that I thought we could improve it. 95% of most recruitment agency time is spent on the candidates that don’t even get put forward, so non-intentionally wasting the time of the unsuccessful candidates so we have been constantly working to increase the investment into the successful candidates but decreasing the time investment from the unsuccessful (currently circa 60 seconds and remote).
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
This is easy, and in order:
1, No or little fear – 99% of people that I speak to that would like to set up a business but haven’t done so is due to fear. What if it doesn’t work? I can’t leave my job for a risk? I need to pay the bills?
2, Constant drive to improve – The moment you sit still, you are actually going backwards and the best entrepreneurs that I’ve had the great pleasure of working with are constantly looking for ways to make their already very good businesses better
3, A self critic – I think for me this is often the difference between a business owner and entrepreneur; the ability to recognise our personal weaknesses and look to fill that skill shortage, either via external resources or training. Writing has always been my biggest weakness, so I have always ensured I recruit team members who are strong in that area but also still constantly do everything I can to improve my own skills.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The decision making and being able to see through the decisions. I set up Thompson & Terry with a business partner that was also an entrepreneur, and has run several businesses and for me I think we were so closely aligned on most of our vision but the frustration for us both was the joint decision.
As entrepreneurs we both would have ideas at 3am in the morning and want to action them straight away, and I think that’s the thrill of being an entrepreneur; being able to constantly find ideas and instantly action them.
Quite honestly I’ve made several wrong decisions, but actually looking back, it’s still fun fixing them!
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I think for me I will talk about 2:
Apple – Much like how I want Thompson & Terry to be, when their competitors go left, they go right and they are so good at it. Yes their technology is incredible but for me, I find their confidence to be truly different the most inspiring.
Zest Digital – A small local digital agency run by my friend Alex Minchin. Alex is everything I have spoken about an entrepreneur being, he is so driven and innovative to find new and better ways of doing things. An example is that he has recently closed his award winning office and followed a home working model to continue to expand; most of his competitors are getting bigger offices but he’s making the business better. Definitely worth having a coffee with Alex if you haven’t already.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I have had hours and days with Alex and always have lots to talk about so I will focus on Apple for this section. If only 5 minutes, I would ask how to partner with them, to learn, innovate and do business.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Ironically not following my own advice and not following the principles I spoke about earlier (no or little fear, constant desire to improve and a self critic). I think it’s important to remember we are all human and actually it’s human nature to doubt at times or hold back but actually I think to recognise this is vital to getting back on track.
Late 2018, shortly after taking full ownership of Thompson & Terry Recruitment, I took the decision to really ambitiously invest and drive the business forward. We moved into larger offices, doubled our wage bill and tripled our advertising spend, and more significantly changed the ways we do things. By March 2019 we found the ‘gambles’ hadn’t paid off and our revenue was actually down, so I quickly went into defense mode and cut as many costs as possible.
Within 3-6 months we had recovered and by the September we hit record revenue, by learning from the lessons and I believe we are a much better business as a result.
How have you funded your ideas?
As mentioned I set up Thompson & Terry with an investment of £500, and the business has grown organically since then. Whilst the business has grown organically from a very small initial investment, we have always ensured reserves have been available to be able to fund opportunities quickly.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
As a business we have been recognised by a number of awards, as a growing business with big potential. I think the biggest value hasn’t been the awards themselves but the networking around them; I find it so mentally stimulating to meet other entrepreneurs and learn about their successes and ideas; and many times I have gone away and implemented different things into Thompson & Terry as a result.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
The local economy is thriving, and with such a strong and forward thinking business community there are so many opportunities to expand as a business and entrepreneur. I also think whilst we aren’t a tech or science business, by being so close to such a hub it opens us up to opportunities that we may not get outside Oxfordshire.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them? (Anything Oxfordshire especially!)
The first thing I would do is start to network, even before you have set up the business and ask for help. Networking groups are filled with entrepreneurs who have already been through the challenges and thrills that you are about to embark on and I honestly believe a support network has a greater value than anything for a fledgling business
Any last words of advice?
I think for me the biggest and most important step of setting up a business or becoming an entrepreneur is the first; once you’ve made that you are a long way there. Starting my business, which I am sure will be the first of many is one of the best things I’ve ever done but as most of my peers say, it’s 10x harder and 10x more rewarding than you will ever predict.
Finally, if you would benefit from a chat, please do reach out.
Enterprising Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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