In Touch Networks is transforming the way companies hire board members and senior freelance professionals. It’s made up of an expert group of online networks, removing costs from the recruitment process and bringing elite professionals and employers together. The networks enable organisations like KPMG, Santander and the NHS to gain access to candidates of the highest calibre. And the Northern Tech 100’s not the first list they’ve made. A Deloitte Fast 50 regional winner two years running, they are also the 86th Fastest Growing Company in Europe according to the Financial Times.
We met with Emma Rawlinson of In Touch Networks to talk about the Manchester-based company’s development, international expansion and what comes next.
How did In Touch Networks begin?
It was originally set up to turn the industry on its head, in a way. Our founder was an executive headhunter who had a lot of clients wanting non-exec roles, and a lot of clients on the other side who wanted non-execs but didn’t want to pay the fees for them. He said: ‘You know what, I’m going to put you guys together and we will charge the people who want a job, but not charge the people that are looking for non-execs.’ That was the initial concept and the business has just grown from there.
How would you describe a non-executive?
Our business helps people transition from being an executive, for example from being a CEO, to being a non-executive. When you’re a CEO you’re used to being the loudest voice; you delegate, you’re in the detail and the day-to-day running of that business. When you switch into the role of a non-executive it’s very, very different. You’re there to influence, to add a different perspective, to look at the long-term strategy of the business and give an overview.
That’s quite a transition for people. And that’s where we realised that just putting two groups of people together isn’t necessarily the best for either party. We developed a course called ‘Ahead of the Curve’, which is a seven-week webinar program taking people through that shift in mindset, including what will be expected of them in the boardroom, how they will add value, and how people will perceive them.
How has the business developed?
It has been very fast-paced, but crucially we have developed a culture that allows us to recognise the gaps in how customers’ needs are served. When customers say: ‘Does your membership do this?’ and our answer is no, we find out whether there is any reason why it can’t. We listen to what our customers want and try to offer them everything they need along the journey to achieving their goals.
How had the company growth?
Our membership expanded; revenue growth has also come from the addition of products, such as Ahead of the Curve, our CV writer service, and the one-to-one executive coaching we offer people who want to achieve specific goals. We also run a suite of events, because ultimately people need to network. There tends to be a speaker covering a specific topic at those events, but then there’s also the opportunity for candidates to speak to each other. Attendees tend to be people who are all at the same level, at the same stage of their career, and they all have similar questions, so it’s a good forum where they can bounce ideas off each other.
How do you keep up with growth?
Our biggest recruitment drive is in sales. On average, we take on six people a fortnight in sales and trying to bring people in can be tough. You have to interview a lot of candidates to find people who fit with the culture and who want to be here. When a business grows very quickly, departments sprout up and you get to a pivotal point where you need a leader for each of those teams. We’ve just been on a recruitment drive for new directors in each of our different departments to make sure that each has its own leader. We have created a really fun culture and it’s all about people enjoying being at work. Everyone is on this growth train; they know where the business wants to get to and everybody has bought into that. When you’re all trying to achieve the same thing and you all believe in the business, that’s a happy place to be.
How did you become CEO?
I joined about six months ago. My background is predominantly private equity and finance, so I’d say my role here is to look at the business with a financial set of eyes and say: ‘Okay, how can I work alongside our sales and marketing director to make sure the core of this business is strong?’
Can you tell us about being in Manchester?
It’s brilliant, and it’s really exciting. It means it’s hard to recruit developers, because there’s a number of tech businesses based in Manchester all going for the same pool of people, but it’s exciting that Manchester has got so many of those businesses here. There’s more acceptance in the market that tech businesses are expanding and that they are going to be the growth of the future.
What’s next for In Touch Networks?
We’re moving into the US imminently, which is a big step for us. There’s a huge shift in the US towards people having a freelance career rather than a full-time career. International growth is one way that we can expand, and the other way is through our networks. We take a network and we grow it and build it and look at what is the best product for our customer. We’ve also got our eye on future networks; we are looking at what is working for various groups of people so that we can establish the most useful areas to build products around.