A technical specialist agency says it is reaping the benefits of a fresh business strategy launched in a bid to shake up what its founder believes was becoming a “stale” recruitment market in Scotland.

Gordon Brown said the franchise model has allowed Nine Twenty to increase productivity by harnessing the entrepreneurialism of its recruiters, giving them greater control over how they work and a bigger share of the rewards. He believes this has laid the groundwork for “a good start” to 2021, with projected turnover of £2.5 million up from £2.3m the previously.

The shift has been accelerated by the impact of the pandemic, Mr Brown said, with a need to improve the business structure to take on the challenges within the market. This has dovetailed with increasing demand for bespoke services, rather than a generalist approach.

“We also adopted a franchise model, quite unusual in the recruitment sector, which appears to be paying off,” he said. “Our model gives our trusted franchisees a platform which unleashes their entrepreneurial instincts and lets them flourish by encouraging them to trade, grow and build.”

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Set up in 2004, Nine Twenty focuses on recruiting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) staff across Scotland. The firm has been under the leadership of Mr Brown, formerly of Melville Craig, since he led a management buy-out of the business in 2013.

Nine Twenty’s first franchisee, Karen Stewart, is now managing director of engineering and manufacturing. Following on from her initial success, she has since established her own sub-franchises, employing seven people in her sector.

“I had always wanted to run my own business and within two years I had achieved a turnover of just over £1m,” Ms Stewart said. “Last year I was offered the opportunity to open another two franchised businesses, and I have now set up both an international and a supply chain division, with plans to open further divisions into England later this year.

“Nine Twenty has allowed me to become the entrepreneur I always wanted to be. I have a passion for my sector and feel that the company’s innovative approach will allow us to become a STEM recruitment leader in 2021.”

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She added: “Having the support from the company means that I have the time to come up with, develop and implement my own ideas. I would not be able to do that without the underlying infrastructure.”

Mr Brown said the franchise model has allowed the agency to meet the broader and growing desire among workers for better work-life balance. This in turn supports greater diversity, as those with family and other commitments can accommodate those demands by managing their workload in a way that best suits them.

With the onset of the Covid pandemic last year, this strategy was extended to “traditional” members of staff.

“With Covid-19 coming around the corner, we had to put our faith in our people,” Mr Brown said.

“We implemented a work from anywhere policy, which again was moving away from those rigid structures that are common within our industry. From our point of view, we had an obligation to change our business model – we can’t stand still – and the decision to have no set working hours has transformed our operations.”

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Director of technology Chris Lowden said the success of this approach was reflected in an “exceptional” second-half performance, which followed a sharp downturn in the months immediately after the first lockdown in the spring of last year.

“While we face the challenges of Covid-19 every day, there are plenty of companies thriving by adapting to a new way of living. Nine Twenty is at the forefront of efforts to help these businesses grow.

“Sales have been enhanced with some major contracts including Redspire, the rapidly-expanding Scottish Microsoft Dynamics IT pioneer, and Digitonic, one of the UK’s leading smart mobile marketing and technology companies.”

The boutique recruitment firm, which has a total of 20 team members including franchisees, also has the benefit of operating in markets where staff remain in short supply and high demand. As Mr Brown summed up: “These have been welcome changes, and we believe in them, but we are also in a very, very buoyant sector at the moment.”