Setting up a business in the UK on your own is no easy feat, especially if you’re from Poland and don’t speak the language. Add the biggest financial downturn in post-war history to the scenario, and your chances of success look slim, or so you’d think. However, Beatrice Bartlay bulldozed through the tough trading conditions and the language barrier to build a booming recruitment business, 2B Interface, that last year reported a turnover of £4.2m.
“The business was started quite accidentally,” she recalls. Having visited the UK in 2005, she began casually helping a friend to find joiners to work in his carpentry shop. “I realised there was a shortage of skilled workers over here and so I found joiners from Poland, and sorted out their contracts and accommodation.” This was never intended to be a permanent occupation for Beatrice, who had already booked herself on a flight back to Poland, where her own events and PR company awaited her return. However, while on her way to the airport, a brief telephone enquiry asking if she was a recruitment agency was all it took to persuade her to stay. “I realised there was a big opportunity here, so I agreed to help find more workers, and in this way, 2B Interface was born,” she says.
Having already set up a business in Poland, Beatrice understood the importance of rigorous planning. She spent six months preparing the business plan, dividing her goals up into years, months and even weeks, all the while abiding by her philosophy that smaller goals are easier to achieve. “In order to reach your targets, you have to work long and hard,” she explains. “Business runs through your veins and is always in your head, regardless of what time it is or what you’re doing, because there is always something you have to do.”
2B Interface was financed using the money Beatrice made from selling her business back home. She explains the importance of keeping costs down, and admits she’s “pedantic about overheads”. Keeping a tight rein on cashflow is certainly crucial to any business, especially in the current economic climate, and Beatrice ensures she invests at least 20% of the income back into the company: “If clients pay late, you always know you’ve got this money as back-up.”
Networking events and trade shows, have proved invaluable to Beatrice, who has managed to buck the downward trend in the recruitment industry during the recession. She swears by these events to build contacts, and insists they’re the most effective marketing tool. “I know how to set up a classy show stand, from my PR background, so these events have helped me to make good contacts in the industry – you never know who you’ll meet,” she explains.
Rough with the smooth
The first big breakthrough came in 2007, when 2B Interface was named Best New Business by the London Chambers of Commerce: “I was so happy and proud of our achievements,” she recollects. However, just three weeks later her main client went bust, leaving Beatrice with a £90,000 unpaid invoice. Ignoring advice to close the business, she refused to admit defeat, and set about recovering the money owed to her. “I realised that if our client still had customers waiting and orders to fill, I could help them find the staff for their production line. I managed to save jobs for the workers and negotiated the best way of payment for the client, who paid in small instalments – it took me three months to be in the black again.” 2B Interface survived, but not without months of long hours, hard work and minimal income: “I almost lost a stone and was working 16-hour days.”
Launching a business in a foreign country has been one of the hardest battles, according to Beatrice: “The business environment in the UK is so different and there are many nuances that you have to learn. You have to start from scratch with everything, even the smallest things you have to learn, like what type of travel ticket to buy.” But Beatrice puts her company’s survival down to the “best team of workers”. Months before the credit crunch struck, her employees were preparing and designing packages for their clients that would weather the financial storm and offer a service they needed. “We listened to their concerns and then provided a solution, by converting many permanent contracts into temporary ones, in line with seasonal swings of the manufacturing companies,” she explains. As a result, the workers on her books retained temporary contracts with a number of companies, providing them with steady income, and the companies with less financially draining contracts.
2B Interface won an innovation award in 2009, after the judges congratulated Beatrice for helping British manufacturers back onto their feet. The company has grown by 250%, and aims to double its turnover year on year. “This may seem a bit ambitious, but we’ve done it so far,” Beatrice maintains.
With an impressive accolade of awards and continued rapid growth, what’s next for the staffing agency? “It depends on the opportunities, but I’ve still got six more years on my business plan.” Having already set up offices in London, Bedford and Leamington Spa, opening premises in the North of England is a goal she’s keen to achieve. But with fierce competition in the recruitment industry, and tough economic conditions, there’s only one way to ensure success, according to Beatrice: “You have to be perfect.”