An in-depth discussion with today's top business leaders and the ways in which their companies nurtured future development; the Growth Stories series goes on with Hassan Mohamed, CEO and Founder of UK business consultancy Harrison Forbes.
An expert in providing organisations with talented international interns, Hassan's experience and knowledge has seen him place 127 students in blue-chip and growing UK companies through his firm's Internship Program. Here, we discuss Harrison Forbes beginnings, how COVID-19 came to affect his business model, and the realities of dealing with Brexit and a global pandemic.
I conceived the idea of Harrison Forbes in 2017 at the age of 20 whilst working for other people in the world of finance. Although I learnt a lot from them, I always knew that I needed to be my own boss at the earliest opportunity to fulfil my ambitions. Harrison Forbes, the business, launched in March 2018.
When we started, we only promoted and signed investment clients to relocate to the UK on a business visa. Since then we have added multiple departments on to our firms, such as remote internships with either three, six or 12-month internships.
We have added T5 sponsorship, which is helping international students relocate to the UK on a one-year student work visa, and a T2 sponsorship which is helping international professionals to relocate on a two to three-year work visa.
In terms of financial management, cash flow is king, and I have to always look at my profit margins to keep the business sustainable. You have to be ruthless and find ways of reducing costs and unnecessary overheads. For example, I got rid of the office this year as I realised that we simply did not need it after Covid, since staff were working efficiently from home.
Regulation and compliance are also key parts of our business. Working in immigration, we must be able to keep up with any changes in the rules from the Government Home Office and adapt as fast as possible. For example, what happens with Brexit is something we must keep an eye on and make any necessary changes to relevant documentation and legislation without delay.
Monitoring performance is also key. Most businessmen and businesswomen I know are not experts in how to develop KPIs, so I make sure that I avoid the key pitfalls in not implementing KPIs. Communicating metrics leads to informed decision-making and better results.
Businesses have to keep up with the world around them and react to changes. We are seeing it with Brexit, which will impact us no matter what. All we can do is be ready in the knowledge that we can implement the changes as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.
The hardest external factors we have faced to date has been the pandemic, which has compressed our business by 40 per cent. Prior to the pandemic, our business was more in-house, and face to face. We have had to overcome this and move our full business model to digital with internship, visa consultancy, work applications and business support now all taking place online.
It hasn't been easy, but we've completed it and are stronger for it. If anything, it was a good indication for me just how flexible and adaptable we can be.
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Be decisive. A reality for any leader is that many people need decisions from you, and if you cannot make them quickly your organisation will suffer during times of uncertainty.
Ascertain reliable and high-level summaries, weigh up the options, and then make the call. Do not over-analyse or second-guess yourself. Many times, no decision is worse than a wrong decision because inaction irritates staff, prevents progress, and destroys morale. I call it ‘analysis paralysis’.
Embrace change. As a leader, it is your job to drive change, not avoid it. Why? Because technological innovation can turn multi-billion-dollar industries upside down overnight, and if you’re too set in your ways, you won’t see it coming. A big part of “seeing around corners” is being proactive about change when things are working well – before problems arise.
Seek out advice. Anyone who says they have all the answers is deluded or dishonest. Leaders know good advice is worth its weight in gold and actively seek it out.
Cultivate a group of people who know you well, whether it's a spouse, mentor, or trusted friend. These people can be insightful in pointing out a blind spot in your thinking, especially when they are not part of your everyday decision-making.
Reading about subjects outside of your day-to-day experience nurtures creativity and new ideas that are crucial to leadership. Personally, I gravitate towards biographies, novels, and political or science non-fiction, but let your curiosity guide you.
Never underestimate the importance of sales. Most small businesses think about how the business looks on social media or in the public eye, but social media doesn’t bring in revenue. Bringing in revenue is all about being proactive and calling businesses or clients as they are the ones who have the funding to keep your business alive.
When I started my business, I would call over 50 businesses a day, before doing follow up calls and emails for clients who did not pick up. My early data has indicated that it takes around eight follow-ups to sign clients who have budgets of £200,000+.
Never rest on your laurels, even if people keep saying "no". If you believe in your product and service then you will make someone else believe in it, and that could make the difference between success and failure.
Huge thanks to Mohamed for his time and contribution! For more insight and advice tailored towards new companies, check out the rest of the Growth Stories series below:
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