Human capital consultants online
This module presents a case study of a professional services provider who has built an online business using a variety of digital tools. The benefits, outcomes and issues are discussed here with Vivianne Arnold, co-founder and CEO of Franklin Phillips, so others in similar businesses can learn how it’s done.
Franklin Phillips – Human capital sector
Franklin Phillips is an executive search and consulting firm specialising in trade finance, payments, digital and transactional banking. They are a global firm with a focus on Asia, Australia and the Middle East.
Franklin Phillips provides retained executive search in their areas of expertise. They also provide consulting services ranging from tailored bank workshops on how to spot a trade opportunity to public relations and conferences around specific trade and payments issues.
You can learn more about Franklin Phillips at www.franklinphillips.com
Part 1: Snapshot of the services sector
Franklin Phillips is an example of a relatively new business, designed to be highly digitally-enabled from its inception. The executive recruitment sub-sector of the professional services industry is one that is well established and which has traditionally run very much as a people-to- people networking business. Executive search firms have typically used their offline business networks extensively to connect organisations that are hiring with professionals who are looking for new job opportunities. It is a sub-sector however that has been very “shaken up” and transformed by a number of more recent online influences. For example, the rapid growth of the online site LinkedIn, which provides easy access to the work experience and capabilities of potential job candidates, is a key change agent.
No longer do you need to collect resumes as an executive recruiter because they are widely available for the vast majority of candidates online.
Other key change agents in this sub-sector are online job postings websites like Seek and MyCareer and the increasing mobility of international job candidates, who are more easily able to be considered for positions than they might previously have been.
Part 2: About Franklin Phillips
Franklin Phillips provides executive recruitment services and has clients engaged around a number of countries in the Asia/Pacific region including Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam. Their workforce is small and distributed. The founders of the business travel regularly and their back office support staff are spread across the region.
From the initial creation of their business the Franklin Phillips founders were focused on differentiating their business model from their traditional competitors.
- Firstly, the business was conceived as being digitally empowered in all aspects of its operations.
- Secondly, the business was designed to be a very nimble and flexible operation, providing significant flexibility for change and improvement.
- Thirdly, the business was set up with the concept of being a truly international operation without any operating constraints imposed by geography of staff or clients.
Vivianne Arnold reinforces consistently in discussion that Franklin Phillips was built to be an active and integrated part of the online transformation being experienced in the human capital sector, not just a sideline spectator to it. This means that other online resources like LinkedIn play a key informational component to their strategy and operations. They seek to make their knowledge and capability around online resources a strong positive differentiator, and not a threat to their business. She sees the firm as a ‘serial digital entrepreneur’ because she and her colleagues are constantly asking themselves ‘is there a better way’ to do this?
In operational terms, Franklin Phillips technology support systems are all cloud based and readily available for staff to use wherever they are located. The company has customised and extended some off-the-shelf cloud based applications to help drive efficiency and effectiveness in their operations.
The company does not believe in the need for expensive office locations and does not have fixed rent arrangements anywhere where it works. Instead it makes aggressive use of serviced office arrangements and actively supports work from home arrangements for its staff who keep in touch many times a day through videoconferencing and Skype capabilities.
Social media exploitation is a fundamental part of the Franklin Phillips business model and drives much of the credentials of the firm. Vivianne Arnold points out however that all of this has been achieved organically and no money has been spent by the company on external online marketing programs. Instead they have focused on activities such as developing thought leadership articles in key online portals, which has successfully driven their business along.
Vivianne Arnold also believes that a key part of the Franklin Philips customer relationship which is critical to their success is the transparency that is provided to their clients about how their business operates and what makes them different from many of their competitors. On a lighter note, Vivianne Arnold advises that sometimes the degree of depth of digital enablement of their business can “sometimes scare” some clients who are less proficient with new technologies, but she believes that transparency has been a strength rather than a weakness in their business development.
Part 3: Advice and insights from Franklin Phillips review
Not all professional services firms can or should mimic the operations of a digitally native business like Franklin Phillips, but we consider that there are some interesting insights from our case study review that can be useful to all businesses that are embarking on a digital strategy and these are outlined below:
1. Knowing your niche and maximizing the online promotion of it
One of key things that Franklin Phillips have done very well is to recognise their competitive differentiation and then take every effort to promote it through their presence online. By being specific and targeted about the niches in which they operate they have been able to have a very visible online image without spending lots of money on online advertising.
2. Constantly reviewing your digital strategy approach and always looking for improvement
The founders at Franklin Phillips are constantly reviewing their online strategy and consistently looking for new ways to improve what they are doing. Part of this approach is driven by regularly engaging with their major clients and asking them what they would like to see improved. Another element is using online services such as website analytics and social media rankings to get a sense of how successful their strategies are.
3. Look for ways to adopt flexible and nimble back office arrangements
A key part of the Franklin Phillips strategy is to have as flexible and nimble a business model as they can. This is underpinned by smart use of technologies such as cloud applications which support vital functions such as Client relationship management, accounting and business information tracking. Not only is this a simple way to run the business, with no up-front investment charges for hardware or software, but it is also very inexpensive in an ongoing operational sense – for example usage fees for their client database are under $20 a month.
4. Exploit social media in a smart way
Social media is a great way to establish your professional services credentials and to be seen as a thought leader globally. With a carefully designed “organic” social media strategy which has built over time Franklin Phillips have been able to become very visible to key prospects without investing large sums of money in advertising or marketing promotion.
5. Have a strategy for how to position your business with new clients
It is interesting that Franklin Phillips have a conscious strategy choice to be open and transparent about their business model to their clients and prospects. The internet allows small firms to position effectively against much larger competitors and many small firms choose to present their business capabilities online as being larger scale than they might be in reality. With Franklin Phillips however they have embraced the “small is beautiful” marketing message and have been transparent about their lack of overheads – with a key competitive message being that they can pass those lower overheads on to lower fees for clients as a result.