Navigating the Nuances of Recruiting Key Talent: The Founder’s Guide to Safeguarding Boutique Professional Service Firms

Navigating the Nuances of Recruiting Key Talent: The Founder’s Guide to Safeguarding Boutique Professional Service Firms

As a founder who’s ventured into the world of boutique professional service firms, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of meticulously handpicking the right talent. However, the hiring process is littered with pitfalls that could jeopardize the very foundation of your enterprise. So, what should you be wary of when bringing on a key employee?

    1. The Danger of Moonlighting

Imagine this: you find the perfect candidate who’s exceptional in their domain but is currently employed elsewhere. They offer to work for you in their free time. Sounds tempting? Proceed with caution. Moonlighting often leads to divided loyalties, stretched commitments, and the potential misuse of proprietary information from their primary employer. What if they use their employer’s resources during your project’s working hours? This can raise serious ethical and legal questions and put your firm’s reputation at risk.

    1. The Significance of Non-compete Clauses

When hiring a key employee, especially in a niche domain, non-compete clauses become paramount. This agreement prevents the employee from joining a competitor or starting a rival business, ensuring your business secrets remain safeguarded. However, ensure that your non-compete is reasonable in terms of duration and geographic scope; otherwise, it may not hold in court.

    1. Safeguarding Secrets with Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

An NDA is a legal contract that prevents the employee from divulging confidential information. For boutique firms, where proprietary methods and client data are sacrosanct, NDAs offer a safety net against information leaks.

    1. Non-solicitation Clauses: Protecting Your Client and Talent Base

A non-solicitation clause ensures that departing employees cannot poach your clients or woo your remaining team members for a specified period post their exit. This clause is invaluable in preserving your business ecosystem.

    1. No Raiding Stipulations

Closely related to non-solicitation clauses, no raiding stipulations prevent former employees from recruiting your staff for their new endeavors. Given the tight-knit nature of boutique firms, losing multiple team members at once can be devastating.

    1. Invention Assignment Agreements: Why They Matter

Imagine if an employee develops a breakthrough technique while working for you, but there’s no clarity on who owns this invention. Invention assignment agreements ensure that any inventions, ideas, or processes developed during employment are owned by the firm. For service firms constantly innovating, such clarity can prevent future disputes and potential financial losses.

    1. Remedies for Breach of Contract

Despite best efforts, breaches do occur. But all is not lost. Two primary remedies are available:

    • Seeking an Injunction: This legal order prohibits the employee from continuing the breach. For instance, if an employee joins a competitor despite a non-compete clause, an injunction can bar them from working there.
    • Monetary Damages: If your firm faces financial losses due to the breach, you can seek compensation. While it might not mend damaged reputations or client relations instantly, it provides some reparation.

In Conclusion:

Navigating the hiring process in a boutique professional service firm is akin to traversing a minefield. However, with due diligence, a thorough understanding of legal clauses, and always being prepared for the unforeseen, you can onboard the right talent without jeopardizing your firm’s sanctity.

Building a successful boutique firm is as much about the people you bring on board as it is about your business acumen. Proceed with caution, arm yourself with the right legal tools, and always prioritize the firm’s long-term integrity over short-term gains. The journey might be daunting, but the rewards are immeasurable.

If you find this article helpful, come join us at Collective 54. Apply here.

Episode 81 – Why, and When, a Professional Services Firm Should bring Recruiting In-House – Member Case with Don Goldstein

Your ability to recruit talent is critical to scaling a market-leading boutique. On this episode, we interview Don Goldstein, CEO of 5Q Partners and he shares how he decided to invest in an internal recruiter and its overall impact on the organization.


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that are familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander and I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode we’re going to discuss recruiting and in particular how recruiting changes as you move through the three stages of a boutique process, firm grow, scale and exit in the early days. Recruiting is typically done by the founder. There’s a small number of jobs that need to be filled, and he or she can shake the tree, so to speak, and fill the spots. Then you get a little bigger, maybe into the early stages of scaling and the number of jobs to fill and the types of roles multiply. And you start using, using external recruiters. And it’s expensive, but it’s still manageable because you’re not hiring, you know, dozens or hundreds of people. Then, of course, you have a lot of success and now recruiting becomes really difficult. You’ve got to hire dozens, hundreds. In some cases, believe it or not, thousands. And using external recruiters can get very expensive. And sometimes those firms themselves aren’t built for scale. So you bring recruiting in-house and you start making it a core competency of your firm. And given that we’re in professional services where people drive in business, having a talent supply chain is mission critical. So that’s what I’m going to talk about today. And we’re very lucky. We have a great guest who’s in the middle of all this. His name is Don Goldstein, and he runs a cybersecurity firm called 5Q. Hey, Don, it’s good to see you. 

Don Goldstein [00:02:11] Great to see you. Great. Thanks for having me on. Sure. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:14] Would you please provide a proper introduction to the audience? 

Don Goldstein [00:02:18] Sure. So I’m Don Goldstein with five Q. We are a managed security and I.T. services firm nationwide actually now. And we serve primarily the commercial and corporate real estate industry, which is vast and broad. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:38] Right now, Don, we wanted you to come on today because you recently brought recruiting in-house, as I understand it. And I would love for you to explain to our members and those that are listening to this kind of how you used to do it before, how you do it now, and what what caused you to make the recent change. 

Don Goldstein [00:03:01] Sure, Greg. So. When you talk about in your book. That. Personal networks are not scalable for your clients and for your new hires. That is exactly the kind of thing we ran into. So as soon as we hit a certain point there, there really wasn’t anyone else we could turn to within our network. To go find the right people we needed that had experience in the industry and so we had to look at other means to do that. Using outside recruiters can be effective, but when you’re in scale mode and hiring literally dozens of people, that becomes extremely expensive. And it also bottlenecks your people because they’re having to do a lot of the screening and interviewing. So we felt when we hit a certain point, which was right at the end of 2021, we had to make a change in the way we recruited. We were fortunate enough to find a tremendous internal recruiter. Who became available to us and started right at the beginning of December, which was exactly at the time that we were poised to scale in early 2022. So it couldn’t have come at a better time for us. And it’s been game changing, literally. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:35] Okay. So this is a great use case for us. So at the risk of asking a question that might reveal sensitive information and if it does, feel free to decline. Give me an idea of the magnitude, like how many people are you hiring and what do you anticipate the hiring need to be? 

Don Goldstein [00:04:56] I can give you some exact numbers. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:58] Okay. Thank you. 

Don Goldstein [00:04:59] So since the beginning of December 2021, so it is now been. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:05] Five months. 

Don Goldstein [00:05:06] Almost 45 and a half months, close to six months. We have hired 40 people. Wow. With our internal recruiter. 36 are still with us. In other words, I would say of the 40 we had four miss hires. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:22] Wow. 

Don Goldstein [00:05:23] Which we identified quickly and took care of quickly as soon as we identified that we had done a mishire. And that’s going to happen. Sure. In a company like ours, especially where a lot of our people are expected to travel 80 to 90% of the time. And you don’t really know until they come on board how they deal with the travel part of that. Mm hmm. So we hired 40. We dropped our cost per hire to just around $1,000 per hire or 1.3% of salary. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:02] Oh, my goodness. 

Don Goldstein [00:06:05] Now, included in those 40 hires were six internal referrals. Mm hmm. And how we deal with internal referrals is we give a $2,000 bonus at hire, and we give another 2000 at year one. Mm hmm. And I also want to say, in addition to those 40 new hires, the 36 we have with us and we expect to keep with us. We promoted nine people this year. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:34] Wow. 

Don Goldstein [00:06:36] So part of what we’ve had to do is exactly addressing the questions in your book. We’ve had to move from generalist to specialist because of the kind of work we do. The people that got us here couldn’t necessarily get us where we needed to go, and we also needed to make sure we had a manager of our employees. We had the ability to move people into those manager positions and doing it internally. Is just great for retention. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:10] Yeah, no doubt. Yeah. I mean, employees love to see their peers getting promoted. They know what those peers did. They earned it. You know, it gives them hope that that might happen to them because you believe in internal promotions. I’ve got to come back to these numbers for a second because they’re astounding. So 36 out of 40. I mean, what does that 90%. You have a 90% success rate, which is. Yes, which is incredible. I mean, hiring is good as we can get at. It is still a little bit art, not all science. So that’s a huge success. Right. The the drop in hiring cost of $1,000 per hire. What was it when you were using external recruiters? 

Don Goldstein [00:07:49] It was anywhere between 8 to $10000. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:53] Okay. Per hire? Yeah. So, you know, if you say 8 to 10 grand savings per hire and you hire in dozens of people, I mean that more than pays for an internal recruiter and then some. 

Don Goldstein [00:08:04] Right. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:05] I want to ask you a little bit about how you make the internal recruiter successful inside your firm, because first off, it’s hard to find one. And I’ll come back to that in a moment. When you find one in you, you give them this type of assignment. I mean, this is a busy person. How did you make the recruiter successful? 

Don Goldstein [00:08:26] So what? Our starting point was that we have a director of h.r. Who is external. Mm hmm. We do not have a dedicated director of h.r. Interest. We have a part time person who has years and years of experience, and he could not continue to deal with the hiring piece, even using external criminals. He just couldn’t he just couldn’t keep up himself. And so working with him, we were fortunate enough that he had the ability to help us identify that person. I’m not sure we would have known enough to to realize what it took to find the right person. Mm hmm. We found someone. Who frankly, you know, we just weren’t sure if she was going to be able to pull this off for us. But what she did immediately was she leveraged external services. If you want me to name them, I can. Yeah, please. One primarily. Which was. Which is indeed. Mm hmm. Which is a great place for the kinds of I.T. and cyber people we needed to find. And she just knew how to leverage that and how to qualify people. How to position. The rules we have. Another thing that I have to point out was we have two main offices, Atlanta and Dallas. We realized during COVID, especially with people who are traveling all the time and the fact that we’re able to make remote work, work for us is that we didn’t need to worry about location anymore. As a matter of fact, having diversity of geography has helped us in many ways. So now we have employees, and I believe the last count was 17 states. And so once we took the handcuffs off of our recruiter and say, find the right people wherever they are. That just opened the doors wide for us. Mm hmm. And one of the other things. That made this successful. What? She just wasn’t looking at this from a hiring perspective. Just get a body in the door. She learned our business. She worked with our team. She understood the questions she needed to ask to qualify before she turned the candidates over to our hiring managers so she wasn’t wasting their time. Yeah, she literally was doing hundreds and hundreds. I tried to get the number. She stopped counting at some point. How many people she screened? But she was able to very successfully bring over. To our hiring managers, people that would really make the next cut. Mm hmm. So the other thing that she did was she paid very close attention to the process, very close attention to not only the hiring process, but the onboarding process. So she helped us get better in all of those areas because she really dug in and figured out what it took to be successful in not only hiring, but retaining those people and having a great experience in their first week, which just meant that that allowed us the ability to leverage our internal recruiting even more. And that referral business. The other thing I would point out. And I made this clear because it’s really part of our core values. I really wanted more diversity. On our team. Mm hmm. And I’m happy to say of those 36 hires, 50, 55% represent minorities. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:28] Wow. 

Don Goldstein [00:12:30] And in I.T.. That far exceeds the norm. Yeah, 25% women and other minorities. So this has also been a game changer for us because. It’s really added to the depth of knowledge and experience and just the culture of the company and it resonates with our clients as well in this industry. Commercial real estate, as you know, primarily has not been looked at that way. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:11] The numbers are just astounding. I had one tactical question since this is a teaching call and you’ve given us such great information. I was really surprised to hear and I think it’s a great idea that the recruiter owns the onboarding process. Is that true? 

Don Goldstein [00:13:26] The recruiter is part is a major part of the onboarding process in terms of following up with the employees, making sure that their experience when they come on board is a good one, and then asking them once they’re onboarded, how was their experience and what could we improve on? Yeah, that, that was huge for us because we just didn’t have that before. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:49] Yeah. 

Don Goldstein [00:13:49] That muscle. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:50] And very often there’s a handoff there. The recruiter brings them in and then hands them off to somebody who runs the onboarding process. And at times that handoff can be a little awkward and the employee doesn’t have a good experience. And you have some infant mortality, which obviously we want to we want to avoid. 

Don Goldstein [00:14:05] And I can give an example of that. Great, a great example. So one of the things we would do because we wanted to get our engineers on board and billable as quickly as possible. Yeah. Day one, we would send them with their other engineers out to a site to learn our process of our assessments that we do at the properties. She came back to us and said, Don’t do that anymore. Give them that first week to get their feet on the ground. Don’t. Don’t have them travel the first week. Have a have a program in place to ease them into that. She also made a great suggestion for US cyber engineers because we have some really, really good top technical talent. To make it meaningful for them, give them homework. So when we bring on a cyber engineer that first week, we give them homework. So say we’re going to take them out and have them do cyber assessments in a property. One of the homework items we give them is assess your home network from a cyber perspective and tell us what the results are. I’m giving away a little bit of the secret sauce, but I don’t mind doing that because it’s something like that that has really resonated with our new people. They love it and the fact that we’re not putting them on the road. That was only because she came back to us and said, Stop doing that. That’s not a good way to bring your people on board the first week. Right. Give them a week to breathe. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:35] The numbers are astounding across any industry, but in your space IT services cybersecurity. I mean, the job market is so hot to be able to be able to do this. The way you’re doing it is is really remarkable. I guess one last follow up tactical question, Don. What are the recruiters accountabilities? How do you measure his or her performance? 

Don Goldstein [00:15:58] So she reports on a weekly basis, because we do use the EOC model and we have hiring metrics. I’ve already named a few of them. Yeah. We measure the cost of the new hire and we do that on a rolling 12 month basis and now it’s down to 1000. Once we get to December, when we have a full year, it’s going to be far less than a thousand. The other thing we measure is retention. Mm hmm. So our retention has gone from in the thirties to right at 20%. Mm hmm. Meaning attrition. 20% turnover. Yep. As opposed to in the thirties and even higher prior to that. I’m expecting to get that down to low teens. We also measure. The time to hire. One of the things that we ran into in the beginning of this year, which was unexpected because usually first quarter for us is the slowest quarter historically. This year. It was the biggest quarter we ever had. So I had more work than I had people and we were scrambling. So what we did when we brought our recruiter in was we basically said to our hiring managers. If you think this is the right person during your interview, make a verbal offer on the spot. Hmm. That’s a little risky. Mm hmm. Right. You still have to go through all of the checks. The checks after that. But what we were seeing was we do we’d have interviews. And then by the time we get to another level of interviews, that candidate was already gone. And I didn’t want that to happen. So instead of having multiple interviews, we did more team interviews so we could get it done faster. And if that team. Felt that they had the right person right then and there. They were empowered to make the offer. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:05] Yeah. Another example of iterating your process. Right. And adhering to a process to hit these numbers and you’re measuring it with metrics. I mean, I could talk to you about this for hours. And of course, we’ll have a chance to to have you with the member Q&A session. But unfortunately, Don, we’re out of time this morning or this afternoon, I should say. But it was an incredible, literally incredible role model example of how to do this. And this is a hot and hot issue for lots of our members. So on behalf of the members and the membership, thank you for contributing this morning. 

Don Goldstein [00:18:39] Thank you, Greg. My pleasure. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:41] Okay. And for those that are interested in this topic and others like it, pick up a copy of our book, The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. And if you’re interested in meeting exceptional people like Don and you’re focused on professional services, consider joining our mastermind community and you can find it at Thanks again, Don. Take care. 

Don Goldstein [00:19:06] Thank you. 

Episode 39: The Boutique: 4 Different Recruiting Needs for Professional Services Firms to Scale

As your boutique professional service firm scales, talent acquisition shows up on the list of top priorities. Collective54 founder Greg Alexander discusses why the ability to recruit at scale separates the winners from the losers.


Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that as your boutique scales, recruiting shows up on the list of things to excel at. The days of recruiting from your personal network are over, and the ability to recruit at scale separates the winners from the losers. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg is considered one of the industry’s best talent pickers. In fact, Dr. Jeff Smart in his best selling book, Who the A Method for Hiring suggests Greg is one of the best he’s ever seen. Greg, great to see you and welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:26] Sean, it’s good to be with you. I see that you dug up Dr. Smart’s classic book and who Jeff and Randy who run smart and associates are the best in the world at hiring the right people. I encourage everyone to read that book and check them out. I was flattered to be mentioned as a success story in their work.

Sean Magennis [00:01:45] Will do. Greg, I have heard you mentor boutique funders in the area of recruiting. So during these conversations you discuss how there are four different recruiting needs when scaling. Can you walk the audience through these four?

Greg Alexander [00:02:01] I’d be happy to, but before I do, allow me to place this into the proper context. If you are a small, young firm in the startup phase, this does not apply to you. Recruiting in the startup phase is not a mission critical task. The needs are basic in most jobs can be filled from personal networks. In contrast, if you are a firm trying to scale, meaning build something more than a lifestyle business, then recruiting is a mission critical task. Not all the jobs can be filled from personal networks as there are just too many of them to fill. And also the stakes are higher. So, for example, as you leave the scale stage and start to prepare for exit, you will need to recruit a CEO so you can ride off into the sunset. If you miss higher this role, you can kiss your earnout goodbye. Recruiting goes from a passive activity to a mission critical task as you mature. Does this make sense, Sean?

Sean Magennis [00:03:00] Yes, it does. Thanks for setting the table, Greg, and for the context.

Greg Alexander [00:03:05] OK, so let’s jump into the four different types of recruiting as a firm scales. I will start with the first big change, replacing generalist with specialist. As you scale, you will attract more sophisticated clients. These clients will pay you more and therefore expect more. These clients are experienced buyers of professional services and they know what to look for. For example, they will require you to name and describe the team on the account in the proposal. This means you will need to spell out the years of experience, industry references, project case studies and many other items. The prospect is deciding on which firm to select, due in part to the bios of the account team. If you recruit generalist, you will lose too many deals and will not be able to scale sophisticated clients. The types of clients our audience wants to work for, the mad, hyper specialized talent. Does the first recruiting change makes sense?

Sean Magennis [00:04:12] Yes, it does, Greg. So switch from recruiting generalists to recruiting specialists in response to the needs to more sophisticated clients. What is the second recruiting change that happens as you scale?

Greg Alexander [00:04:26] The second recruiting change that pops up when scaling a boutique is the need to hire a manager of managers. You see, startups are filled with small teams, boutiques are filled with medium sized teams, and the market leaders are filled with large teams. Therefore, startups hire managers who manage individuals, boutiques, hire managers who manage other managers and market leaders, hire managers who lead entire departments. So during the scale stage, owners of boutiques need to recruit or develop managers of managers at about midsize. The need for this role again, manager of managers shows up. So this is the second recruiting change and does that make sense?

Sean Magennis [00:05:14] It sure does. So when small startups graduate to the scale stage in their life cycle, the need to hire managers of managers shows up for the first time. This is a big change and it makes logical sense. What is the third recruiting change on the journey?

Greg Alexander [00:05:33] So the third recruiting change that pops up when scaling and boutique is the need to hire executives, boutiques at scale require an executive leadership team. These executives have autonomy to make decisions. They’re not simply executing the founders plan. They are drafting their own plans in at times even have their own independent profit and loss statement, which means they have spending authority. Does the third recruiting change make sense to you?

Sean Magennis [00:06:00] It does Greg and I have seen many a founder stumble at this point. This requires giving up some control and that can prove to be difficult for some. What is the fourth and final recruiting change as a firm scales?

Greg Alexander [00:06:17] So the fourth change that pops up when scaling is a need to reassign the founder. So we all love our founders. They are the pioneers who created jobs and wealth. However, at a certain point, founders become a bottleneck founders. They want to launch new services into new markets and innovate. They do not want to install process and systems and scale. And yet that’s what’s needed at this stage. Therefore, founders must hire or promote a new CEO. The objective is not for the founder to stop working or to work less. Rather, it’s to make the founders contributions much more impactful. The CEO runs today’s business while the founder is developing tomorrow’s business. This one two punch accelerates the pace of scaling. Does that fourth recruiting change makes sense?

Sean Magennis [00:07:15] It absolutely does. Greg and I especially like the word reassign as opposed to replace. We are not showing the founder the door. Instead, we are creating an environment that allows his or her creativity to blossom and not be strangled.

Greg Alexander [00:07:31] Yeah, that’s correct. I mean, where would jobs have been without Cook or Zuckerberg? Without Sanders?

Sean Magennis [00:07:36] Absolutely. Excellent advice and examples as usual. Greg, thank you.

[00:07:44] And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Matt Rosen [00:08:09] Hello, my name is Matt Rosen. I’m the founder and CEO of Allata. Allata service enterprise clients in the financial services, health care, retail distribution and professional services sectors. Our clients are nationwide and we have offices in Dallas, Pheonix, Salt Lake City and Boise. Our clients, such as Freman Associates, and the Army Air Force Exchange, turn to us for help with strategic initiatives typically creating new revenue streams, creating digital customer experiences or increasing productivity. We help our clients by building digital strategies and roadmaps, designing product custom, developing software and helping them gain insights into their data. If you ever need help with a digital strategy, product development, customer development or data initiative, please reach out to me at [email protected] and the websites

Sean Magennis [00:08:56] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let’s try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist and our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, your recruiting strategy is working for you. If you want to know too many times, recruiting and the lack thereof is more than likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:10:01] Number one, the individual contributors need to evolve into manages? Number two, the managers need to evolve into managers of managers? Number three, do managers of managers need to evolve into executives? Number four, do you need to shift from generalists to specialists? Number five, are you attracting sophisticated clients with higher expectations? Number six, has the founder become a bottleneck? Number seven, can the impact of the founder be amplified if partnered with the CEO? Number eight, does Decision-Making need to be pushed to those closest to the clients? Number nine, is it time to shift from experimenting with the model to scaling the model? And number ten, is it true that what got you here won’t get you there?

Greg Alexander [00:11:17] You know what I love about those 10 questions in particular in this episode is there’s a yes box in a no boxes, no maybe box.

Sean Magennis [00:11:24] That’s exactly right.

Greg Alexander [00:11:26] So you founders’ out there when you’re asking yourself these questions, make sure you’re you’re answering accurately.

Sean Magennis [00:11:32] Thank you, Greg. In summary, recruiting as a startup is not a mission critical task, yet when scaling, it is the need for specialists, managers, executives and a CEO arrive on the scene. These are new roles and usually cannot be filled correctly from the founder’s personal network. To scale, your boutique needs to become a master recruiter.

If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. Thank you, Greg. I’m Sean Magennis and thank you, our audience, for listening.