Laura Richards, founder of Evolve Jobs Ltd, chats to BQ about entering her business into 2018’s If We Can You Can Challenge and her advice to other start-ups.
What did you do before setting up your business?
For the last decade I’ve worked in a variety of creative roles, in more recent years supporting businesses across the North East with their marketing and PR. My experience covers technology, professional services and the third sector – all of which are thriving in our region. Prior to returning to the North East (I’m a native) I worked in communications and broadcast roles in London, Australia and Cambodia.
In 2015 I began running a series of talent development programmes – events, seminars and workshops – aimed at supporting graduates into the creative and digital industries. Through these, I have partnered with professional bodies like the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (of which I’m now also a committee member for the regional group) and Newcastle and Northumbria Universities. These programmes have directly led to me setting up Evolve Jobs.
What inspired you to set up your business?
In 2014 I returned to the UK to study for a Master's Degree at Newcastle University as a mature student. Upon graduating, I found myself in the unenviable position of ‘job hunting’.
I knew I wanted to work in the North East so spent hours trawling through generic jobsites like indeed.co.uk, doing Google searches and asking everyone I knew if they knew of any suitable roles. I was lucky – I already had several years of professional experience and a local network I could tap into, but it was still a frustrating and slow process. I also saw many of my fellow graduates struggling to find anything, even months after they completed their studies.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was working with lots and lots of exciting start ups and more established businesses in the creative and digital sector. They’d often come to me
when they were recruiting, looking for recommendations of talented young professionals that they could hire.
It was this mismatch – the gap between businesses looking for talent and individuals looking for jobs – that inspired me to set up a regionally focused, sector-specific job site.
The businesses I work with also expressed their frustration that young people, even after graduating from one of the region’s 5 universities, sometimes lacked the ‘soft skills’ required in a professional environment. Evolve Jobs will therefore continue to run the talent development programmes that I began independently
What makes this business different?
Evolve is the only regionally specific, sector specific jobsite in the North East – it focuses on creative and digital roles as they are not only in high demand with graduates, but one of the fastest growing industries in the region.
The model is unique in that it relies on engaging with academic institutions in the region, building direct relationships with graduates and young professionals, as well as having a large network within the local business community. Unlike larger, national jobsites, Evolve’s relationship with everyone that uses the site is personal.
What inspired you to enter the If We Can You Can Challenge?
I’ve seen (and been lucky enough to meet) some of the previous finalists from the If We Can You Can Challenge and I’ve seen the boost to their businesses that it’s provided. The exposure and support they received following the competition, has inspired me to take part.
Where do you see your business in three years’ time?
In three years’ time I see Evolve Jobs as being the go-to place for businesses and ‘job hunters’ working in the creative and digital sectors in the North East.
We’ll have developed partnerships with industry bodies and membership organisations, building on our existing relationships with organisations like CIPR and Digital Union.
We’ll also be running regular talent development programmes for young professionals looking to break into the industry or get ahead in their careers
It is my aim that within three years we will have proven the model works (bringing together academia, business and talent, with wrap around skills support), and be ready to expand to other regions with similar industry clusters for creative and digital (e.g. North West, Edinburgh & Glasgow).
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
It’s still very early days for Evolve, but there have already been some rewarding moments. Gaining the support of Digital Union was particularly rewarding as their members are exactly the type of business Evolve was set up to help.
What has been your biggest challenge?
We are currently bootstrapping Evolve Jobs, which means the biggest challenge so far has been juggling Evolve with our day jobs! In addition to founder Laura, there is a team of three working to make the site a success. Of the four of us, three currently work during the day and are building Evolve Jobs at night and at weekends!
We believe in what we’re trying to do and intend on bringing onboard permanent members of staff as soon as our revenues allow so that we can scale the site and the support offering up quickly.
Who/what gave you support or advice?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have received support from some very experienced, talented people. Both the CIPR North East and Digital Union have provided support – the CIPR in the early days when I first started running talent development workshops, and Digital Union more recently with sense checking the idea of a jobsite.
I’ve also received support from the wonderful Lucy Batley, who not only gave me advice and feedback on the initial idea for Evolve, but also gave me the encouragement (and therefore courage!) I needed to launch the company in the first place!
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own business?
First, speak to people you trust to give you honest feedback – your friends and family all love you too much to tell you you’re on the wrong track! The feedback I had from people in the industry was invaluable as they are my target customers.
Visit www.ifwecanyoucan.co.uk for more information on the competition.
Tickets are now online for If We Can You Can's ‘Ones to Watch’ live final on 26th October at Teesside University, click here to regsiter.
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