Inspirational Woman: Alice Weightman | Founder & CEO, The Work Crowd & Hanson Search

alice weightmanI am a global head hunter and entrepreneur. I started my first business, the executive search firm Hanson Search, in 2002. Since then, I’ve met with over 3,000 individuals across the globe to discuss their career development and business talent needs. Hanson Search now recruits from offices in London, Paris and Dubai.

More recently, fuelled by the frustrations I observed in a rapidly changing industry, with businesses seeking to create a more agile workforce and untapped talent looking for work, I decided to launch The Work Crowd.

The Work Crowd is an online platform that gives businesses direct access to a global army of talented freelancers whilst offering ’employee style benefits’ by coming together as a crowd. We already have a community of over 1,100 freelancers and over 325 clients developed in less than a year.

What inspired you to start a business?

There were two sources of inspiration for The Work Crowd. First of all, I kept meeting clients who were struggling to find or retain female talent. Then, around the same time, I was approached by a number of mums at the school gate who heard that I was a head hunter in PR and marketing and wanted advice on how they could reignite their careers, which they had given up to raise their kids.

It occurred to me that if these businesses are crying out for great talent and these people are crying out for great work, there must be a way to bring them together. I originally started to help some mums individually, but thought technology must be able to do it faster, cheaper and smarter than me!

The Work Crowd therefore helps solve the problem of talent leaving the PR and marketing industry, mainly driven by new parents unable to balance working and raising a family. I met so many unhappy, rather deflated mothers at the school gate who had given up their careers to raise a family and now didn’t know how to get back into work. Alongside that, clients were having conversations with me asking where all the women had gone.

I felt technology was best placed to solve this problem – using the Airbnb model and translating it to the freelance world. My aim with The Work Crowd is to empower people to work in a way that suits them, while offering businesses the ability to find the talent they need.

What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?

The biggest challenge of starting a business is taking your big idea and making it a reality, being able to maintain your vision even during the difficult times. As I have an established business, as well as a start-up, I had almost forgotten what it’s like to go through this process. Establishing, building and driving forward a vision – effecting change and explaining the ‘why?’ to staff and investors. Also being able to focus on the day-today challenges, while also thinking a few years ahead.

Having said that, I love the challenge of starting a business. It’s hands on, strategy, business development, fund raising and people management all wrapped up in one.

What motivational tips can you give to our members?

It’s much harder than anyone first thinks, so make sure you have the grit, finances and support network to get you through the early stages. However, if you have your big idea and are willing to take the risk and make the sacrifices in your personal life, then taking an entrepreneurial route can be incredibly rewarding. I love and live by the challenges that my life throws in my way.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?

Building the technology for The Work Crowd took much longer than we had planned. I went from running my own executive search firm, with minimal tech required, to starting an online talent platform, which meant thinking and doing things in a different way. Whereas before I could just pick up the phone to make things happen, building and running an online platform means working with developers, product managers, UX people. It’s like building a house – keeping it to budget and time is a challenge! Also what we thought people wanted wasn’t always right, so we have made a lot of changes along the way – it’s a constant learning curve.

How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?

I have had different mentors and coaches throughout my life and career who have all been incredibly beneficial to my development. I draw inspiration from many people, including my parents, who probably sparked my entrepreneurial drive. I remember coming up with new ideas on their farm to develop businesses and make money!

I have an incredible support network of friends, investors and contacts that I have met along the way and clicked with, who I can always call to bounce ideas off. They have been invaluable and I truly think they have helped sculpt who I am today. Sometimes talking over things with someone helps you to cut to the chase much faster and develop new ideas.

What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?

Networking is one of the biggest parts of my role – I think as a CEO you need to be out as much as possible. But it can be hard to network whilst also doing the job! And you need to balance your desk time with networking and also following up with contacts.

I am fortunate to work in an industry that I’m really passionate about and when I network I meet really inspirational people. I go to about three or four events a week – so I need to balance this with my home life. Weekends are time for my children and I have to be conscious to get the right balance.

What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?

At every stage of a business growth, hiring the right talent is crucial. But what you look for in new recruits should evolve as your business grows and develops.

At the start-up stage, you won’t be able to pay very much, so you need people who enjoy a challenge and are interested in receiving equity, rather than an impressive salary. At this point, you also need to think about your key strengths and areas where there are gaps. If you hire somebody just like you, you’ll both try to do the same job, so look for somebody who has complementary skills, but can also be a ‘jack of all trades’, as you won’t have the budget to hire a team of specialist expertise.

When the business is more established, you should look to hire experts for different functions, whether that’s marketing, product development, or finance, for example. You will also need people with experience of scaling businesses, rather than early stage entrepreneurs. At this stage, using specialist freelance talent can give you greater flexibility, as you can ‘turn it on and off’ depending on your needs and budget.

But whatever stage your business is at, the most important aspect is hiring people with a cultural fit. Skills can be taught but values can’t and the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is not to be blinded by people who say they can bring clients with them, or bring fast revenue, when deep down you know they’re not right – you’ll live to regret it.

What does the future hold for you?

There are plenty of opportunities in today’s market and I am really excited about growing both brands. Hanson Search is set to open another international office in the next 12 months and push out across all marketing disciplines. I have a great team in place and ambitious growth plans for the future.

With The Work Crowd we are currently launching a funding raise to help scale the platform, add additional functionality and offer a truly global freelance talent solution for our clients. By 2020, 60% of the workforce is set to work independently and we are committed to supporting the marketing and communications community in doing this.

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About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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