face2face with Kate Prior

Wendy Johnson

Canberra thrives on small business—of all shapes, styles and service lines. Everywhere we go we see these businesses bubbling away. Figures vary, with one estimate suggesting more than 26,000 are operating across the capital.

Some thrive and survive. Others aren’t so fortunate.

One business celebrating the major milestone of a full decade operating in Canberra this month is face2face Recruitment, owned and operated by Kate Prior.

Like many small business owners, Kate has faced her fair share of challenges along her journey, but the lows pale in comparison to the highs.

Kate actually embarked on her career in recruitment 22 years ago and quickly rose to become a senior consultant, working for national and international firms. She has personally placed in excess of 1,100 personnel in the right job.

Over time, with more and more IT systems introduced in the industry, Kate identified a gap in the market. Ironically, for the world of recruitment, that gap was a decrease in face-to-face interaction.

“The industry was becoming de-humanised in my view,” says Kate. “I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the shift given that we were supposed to be about people.”

One day it hit. Kate wanted to take charge of her future by opening her own recruitment company and she wanted to fill that gap. And so the planning for face2face began, with doors opening for business in 2005.

“I was so excited,” says Kate. “It’s such a buzz looking for office space, developing branding, sourcing staff and clients and generating financial forecasts. There’s so much to think about if you’re going to start out on the right foot and I wanted to be in commercial space and have a professional presence so I was taken seriously from the get go.”

Small hurdles were easy to overcome, like furniture and computers not arriving on opening day, which meant having a meeting with her two staff while sitting on the floor of face2face’s new Yarralumla office. Major hurdles weren’t so easy and some even caused Kate to look deep and seriously question whether to continue operating.

“We set off to a good pace and had placed our first candidate within our first week of business, and that continued for several years,” says Kate.

“Then we hit 2010 and the pressure was on. The ACT had to cope with a double election—federal and territory—the global financial crisis and a major government report that recommended dramatically reducing the number of its ICT contractors, which was one of our major service lines.

“We knew the report was coming and had prepared some risk management approaches, but it still hurt. I felt we were spiralling out of control and knew many other businesses felt the same.”

Kate found herself having to make some painful decisions, including letting some staff go. She worked with her accountant and financial advisor, who were highly supportive and worth their weight in gold, on best next steps, launched into new service lines, and re-engineered processes and systems to make them highly efficient.

That included her website, which is now a rich resource of information for employers and candidates and even includes ‘face2face videos’, including on top 10 bad business handshakes, stress release tips for business owners and balancing work and fitness.

“We weathered the storm but, as with life, the only constant in business is change,” says Kate.

“We’ve had to crawl over other hurdles. It’s an inevitable part of running your own business, but here we are, with champagne glasses in hand, toasting 10 years of matching employers with quality candidates.”

“Life isn’t entirely easy in Canberra these days, with more government cuts looming,’ says Kate. ‘It’s not exactly fun for those who have or will lose their positions, unless they’ve willingly taken a package. We’ve seen a spike in our business, as our recruiters help candidates find new opportunities. We’re here to help.”

One piece of advice Kate shares with candidates is to use a recruitment company to help identify attributes. ‘Ensure these are well presented in your resume and then be prepared to think “outside the box” about what type of position will best suit,’ says Kate. ‘Many candidates are often pleasantly surprised when they land in an unexpected, but rewarding job they had never even thought of applying for.’

And advice for employers?

“Don’t get too caught up with written qualifications,” says Kate. “Employers can unknowingly miss out on candidates who have the potential to add amazing value to the workplace. Our experience has proven that a person with the right attitude and an aptitude to learn quickly is often a better choice than someone with only the right skills.”

Kate’s top tips for running a small business

  1. Consider a business loan at the start—to free you to stimulate business instead of fretting about paying bills.
  2. Develop a professional brand—one that stands out in the crowd and is memorable.
  3. Define your competitive edge—this will enable you to confidently outline your benefits and advantages.
  4. Engage staff based on culture—you can teach skills but can’t train staff on ‘how to fit in’.
  5. Keep future focused—predict what might be around the corner and plan accordingly.
  6. Be prepared to make hard decisions in all areas of your business—this will help you stay lean, mean and competitive.
  7. Market every day—networking is always valuable, especially if you don’t have a major promotion and advertising budget.
  8. Be prepare to weather storms and work hard—it’s a myth that you can be picky with your hours and will enjoy long, leisurely holidays.
  9. Believe in yourself and be prepared to work hard—don’t second guess yourself and learn the art of ‘positive self-talk’.
  10. Celebrate your wins—you deserve it and so do your staff.

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author