• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on - Matt Blackledge

At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to Director of Recruit Better, Matt Blackledge. We chatted about the truth about getting into the industry and advice for anyone just getting started.

Business background

I’ve been doing recruitment for nearly 20 years in both agency and in-house environments. I’m a bit of a system and process nerd and one of those annoying people who is always asking ‘why?’. I set-up my own aviation recruitment business early in 2012 and was joined by my business partner Will later that year.

We grew the business gradually whilst always trying to do as much as possible with the smallest amount of resources. We have always focused on using systems and processes to make what we do as efficient as possible and managed to develop a strong business and a good reputation with a really small team of people. But then coronavirus hit!

Over the last few months, we have refocused what we do and have set up a new business called ‘Recruit Better’. Our focus is on helping smaller companies save time and money when they recruit.

Like many recruiters, I pretty much fell into it! My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) was working for a recruitment company and I applied for a vacancy with them. That was in June 2001, 3 months before 9/11. The period after 9/11 was my first lesson in surviving a downturn in the market. I managed to do enough and learn enough to keep my job – although that was probably more to do with the fact that I was a pretty cheap overhead at that time!

Overcoming challenges

We’ve had loads of challenges, but coronavirus is really the big one. Some of the setbacks we’ve had since starting our own business 8 years ago have given us the skills and experience to deal with the current crisis. Our main business for the last 8 years has been aviation recruitment – primarily supplying contract Engineers and Mechanics to aircraft maintenance companies around Europe. We were hit incredibly hard right at the start of the pandemic. We had two awful days in mid-March when we lost 90% or our ongoing revenue. Every time the phone rang, it was more bad news.

The previous crises we dealt with meant we understood the need to act quickly, so we took a weekend to drink too much and feel sorry for ourselves and then put together a survival plan on the Monday morning. The aviation market is decimated and won’t return to anything like normality for at least 18 months, so we took a decision to develop some other skills and refocus the business.

We looked at our skills and experience and thought about where they are really useful in the market right now. For a long time, we have felt that the recruitment market is massively inefficient and that smaller employers were being crowded out by the firepower of the ‘big boys’.

So we developed our ‘Recruit Better’ toolkit to help small companies find the skilled people they need to continue their growth. Most small companies don’t have the resources to dedicate one or more people to recruitment full-time, so it’s something Managers have to do on top of their other duties. They also don’t have the budgets to pay traditional recruiter fees.

We do a free 10-minute ‘Health Check’, looking at recruitment marketing, systems and processes. We then make some suggestions for how to ‘Recruit Better’ and quote to do the work. It costs a fraction of what a traditional recruiter would and it is ‘pay as you go’, so you only pay for our services when you need them. We believe that this is applying our knowledge and experience in the best way to a part of the market that is really badly served at the moment.


This is going to sound really cheesy, but the whole ‘Recruit Better’ thing feels like the culmination of the experience I’ve gained during my career. I really passionately believe that SMEs are the driving force of our economy and that their voices and stories should be heard. We publish loads of content with the #RecruitBetter hashtag so that anyone can benefit from our experience. If you’ve got the time to do it, any company could implement our toolkit and wouldn’t need us because all the advice is already out there!

I definitely don’t count myself as ‘successful’ yet. I would probably put myself more in the ‘annoyingly persistent’ bracket. I’m not entirely sure where I got this from, but I always keep trying to move forward whatever happens.


If you are thinking of starting your own business, the best thing I can suggest is to read and implement Donald Miller’s ‘Story Brand’. If you can’t clearly define what your business does and why customers should use you, it’s going to be really tough. This book will help you solve this problem.

I’m not big on giving advice, but these are the things I wish I’d known 20 years ago: -

  • Listen more than you talk.

  • Be inquisitive. ‘Finding stuff out’ is probably the key skill in the job market today.

  • Speak to people. Pick up the phone or go and see them. You can’t develop proper relationships electronically.

One of the things I use frequently in my own thinking is the Kubler-Ross curve, especially in difficult times. It’s known as the ‘5 stages of grief’, but it’s also a model for how people deal with unexpected events.

As a business, and as individuals, we try and work through the 5 stages as quickly as possible so we can get on with what we need to do. We have a code with each other – “I’m still at stage 1 so I’m not ready to deal with this yet”; “I’m at stage 5 so let’s go on with it!”.

I think it’s really about giving myself permission to feel bad sometimes, but also knowing that it is part of the process to move on to better things.

Highs and lows

I’m motivated by solving problems and helping uncover why things aren’t working as they should. There’s always something that surprises me, and which I can use to expand my knowledge.

Running your own business, there are going to be times when the whole world falls apart and only you can deal with it. I’m incredibly lucky that my business partner and I have such a candid relationship where we focus on “what’s right, rather than who’s right”.

I’m also really lucky that my wife Emily has been in recruitment and business longer than I have so she really understands the problems and gives another perspective on any issues we face.

If you enjoyed this blog check out more just like it here. Check out Recruit Better here.

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