As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Daering, Founder and CEO of Newance.
Amanda loves both people and questions. So, leading a people-first movement in the world of talent acquisition and retention is as much a passion as it is a career for her.
She is the CEO of Newance, bringing creative solutions to STEM talent challenges across the Midwest. Amanda believes strongly in continuous improvement and its applications across the talent lifecycle. Her most frequent sources of inspiration are often rooted in best practices of user experience, product development, and marketing.
Having worked with a wide range of companies, from startups to billion-dollar enterprises, Amanda has spent over a decade building high performing teams with a unique blend of pragmatism, empathy and business savvy.
Thank you so much for joining us, Amanda! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks for having me.
Believe it or not, my path to launching Newance started with a really impactful internship.
I thought I would pursue a career in finance and got an internship at a small firm with a truly incredible culture. I quickly learned how crucial intangible elements, like trust, are to the DNA of a successful business. I also learned that a career in finance was not for me. It sparked such a deep interest in team dynamics for me and I started in HR shortly thereafter.
My last job as an employee was at a fantastic technology services firm called Centare. As a member of the executive team, I learned about the operations and practices of a premiere services business. The team there was brilliant, opinionated and wonderful. I left that job a much better leader than when I started.
After 12 years as an in-house HR practitioner and talent leader, I often found myself disappointed when dealing with agencies and consultancies. They were either too transactional or their process was incredibly laborious for a small-to-medium-sized company.
Those two experiences combined to create the right moment to start Newance.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It may be tough to pick just one! In the early stages of Newance, I started experimenting with various CRM tools.
I tried one that had a “sync with calendar” option. I assumed it would track activities from my calendar but it ended up overwriting my existing calendar.
My entire calendar.
It replaced all of my scheduled appointments with a completely blank CRM calendar.
On top of the data loss, every single person I was scheduled to meet received a “meeting decline” alert.
I had no idea what was deleted and had to try to piece it together from memory while frantically emailing the CRM company to restore the data.
I learned two valuable lessons.
1. Be very careful when selecting “sync.”
2. Things aren’t as tragic as they seem in the moment. While it was a lot of work to rebuild, people were so understanding about the mishap!
I’m glad to be able to look back and laugh at it now because it was not amusing at the time.
Newance finds talent for diversified tech categories. Tech fields move ahead at lightspeed. How is Newance able to stay on top of the advances to be able to identify qualified candidates and recommend them to clients?
We see ourselves as members of the tech community. We’re not engineers but we regularly attend meetups and workshops. We work closely with leaders in the tech community to stay in the know and provide insights from our expertise around talent development.
We’re also honest about the things we don’t know. If you asked me to code, I could put something into bold text but that’s really about it.
Newance engages in research across many platforms, events and uses other marketing to identify and attract potential candidates. I would assume most tech companies, certainly the start-ups and smaller companies, don’t have the wherewithal to undertake such a search. I assume you don’t bat 1,000 with your sales pitches. Yet what resistance would a potential client have to using your service?
There is certainly plenty of recruitment and talent consulting firms to choose from. It’s a crowded field with a lot of options out there.
My take on it is that, as an industry, recruiting has tried to keep existing systems and just add more volume. But more recruiters, more ads and more e-mails aren’t always the answer.
That process is the foundation of the industry’s biggest problems: a crowded field of agencies that often don’t deliver what they promise and an ever-growing frustration from talent who have to sift through inboxes full of irrelevant messages.
It’s a bad model and following it inevitably leads to talent being oversold on some illusion of perfection. And the reality is that no workplace is perfect.
We help our clients to think through not just recruitment but also their onboarding and environment for retention. We look for the genuine highlights of a workplace and we’re also honest about what might be holding them back.
With our candidates, we focus on fit especially around factors like work style, ability to work with or without autonomy, and pace. We want them to not just start but thrive in their next opportunity.
For example, we have one client who is extremely process-driven. They take great pride in creating and following a designated process for almost all areas of their work. They often improve those systems so it’s not necessarily a fault but it is core to who they are. So, we don’t send candidates who clearly prefer a more ad hoc environment. We don’t publicize them as “flexible”. They’re kind and fun and efficient. But they are not flexible. And that’s ok.
Is there a reason why your knowledge and experience isn’t scalable? Any reason you haven’t opened offices in all the major tech centers across America? Or, did you find a niche market with less competitive pressure?
Our process has scaled relatively quickly but it’s a tenet of our business to grow responsibly and at a pace that won’t jeopardize the quality of our work.
Talent strategy is equal parts art and science. The art takes longer to teach and we’d be doing our clients, both companies and individuals, a disservice by prioritizing our bottom line over our ability to do good work.
While national expansion is certainly possible, we’re well connected in the Midwest and that’s why we’ve built our foundation here.
That being said, our reputation is spreading. We’ve recently been retained by one of our largest clients to date, a global PE firm, with all of our work for them focused in NYC, San Francisco, and Houston. That makes national expansion a more realistic goal much sooner than we initially anticipated.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven business” is more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
We wanted to bring the future of work to the here and now. We believe the best way to do that is to be a connection point for brilliant people who are solving interesting problems.
Our clients’ work ranges from predicting detailed flavor palates in wine to saving lives with high tech healthcare innovation. Whether we’re helping them to hire engineers or scientists or helping executives build the right ecosystems for those people, we’re committed to our vision of bringing the future of work to life for them.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Show. Don’t tell.
Whether a candidate trusting us to match them to the right role or a client trusting us to build a high performing team with effective systems — the stakes are high and we take that seriously.
Trust is built by action and results. So that’s where we focus our efforts.
For instance, when recruiting, we make it a point to share a current employees’ story or perspective with a candidate rather than pushing our own. It means more coming from a peer than a recruiter.
For companies, we help leaders identify and fix the gaps between what they’re saying and how their actions are being perceived at the team level.
Perhaps the best example of living this value is taking our own advice! We treat our team like adults and trust them with perks like “Call in Well Days” where you don’t need to lie about having a cold to take in a last-minute baseball game on a beautiful day. But of course, it’s a two-way street. We all appreciate that these perks are predicated on respecting the urgency and importance of our work.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
To focus decisions on tomorrow and to focus actions on today.
What I mean by that, is that I take a long -term view on things like goals and making healthy business decisions. But I take a short-term view on getting stuff done. I think about what I action I could take literally right now in order to make those longer-term goals a reality.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’ve certainly had some times where I’ve looked back longingly at my corporate job!
That steady, predictable paycheck and shared responsibility is easy to miss.
Highs and lows in entrepreneurship are unavoidable and in facing bad news I find it incredibly helpful to just refocus on the work or choices that I can control.
I wish I could properly credit this quote but I read somewhere that “if you do the work, that the emotions often take care of themselves.” In my experience, this has been really true. Even if it’s just switching to an easy task for a few minutes, it helps me reset.
When I’m in need of rest, it helps to lean on my support system and take a real break. My business partners, family, and entrepreneur friends can be excellent sources of energy and great reminders to step away from work on a regular basis.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Today we’re a team of 10 and growing. We’re getting wonderful feedback from our clients which feels really incredible.
While some specifics of our service offerings have changed and will continue to evolve, the core of what we wanted to build is coming to fruition — we’re spending our time with such smart people who are hard at work on interesting problems. And I love that wholeheartedly.
There’s always a next challenge to tackle. At the moment, our challenge is continuing to grow and the natural strain of that growth. It’s a healthy tension on our systems but I’m watching carefully to make sure it stays healthy.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Never stop mastering your craft.
The key to building a successful services business is that your company must be a better option than the three other choices your potential clients have: doing nothing, completing the work themselves and other service providers
While pricing can always be a factor in that equation, if you’re not great at what you do then you’re going to lose often.
I measure success in a few ways but our primary litmus test is tracking referrals from clients and partners. The bulk of our new business is generated by referrals, and I take that as the ultimate validation of our work.
2. Love your outcomes more than your processes.
Any process is only as good as the circumstances surrounding it.
When circumstances change, so must your approach. We fall in love with the structures and rhythms we build. There’s a sense of safety in the familiarity and a sense of accomplishment in the completion.
But being safe and being successful don’t always go hand-in-hand.
It’s not always easy, but you have to be willing to love your results enough to break up with a bad process when necessary.
Personally, I just recently had a system for expenses that worked well for me. But it was too slow and arduous on my partner’s end. So we’re actively changing the process. This new method will be gone someday too. That’s what it means to care more about the outcomes.
3. Learn finances and operations best practices!
The invoices you send and the cash in the bank are not the same things.
It’s critical to learn how to run the finances of the business or hire an expert to help you. We do our own bookkeeping but consult with a fractional consultative CFO every month.
I’ve seen so many great businesses make decisions based on optimism rather than reality and it always seems to come back to bite them.
I’m not an expert on this. Many would say I’m too conservative but I’ve been thankful for that approach when “sure things” disappeared without a trace!
4. Have empathy for your clients.
As consultants, we’re hired to be “experts” in our industry but that doesn’t make us experts in someone else’s business. Just like we’re trying to do a great job for the client, the client is trying to do a great job for their company.
We spend a lot of time building a view of the situation from our clients’ and candidates’ perspectives, and I think that’s been our most powerful tool when building trust-based relationships.
And let’s be real, I’ve made plenty of mistakes too. I can teach people solutions because I’ve been in their shoes with a communication failure or a loss of trust on a team. Many of those experiences are the basis of my approach with clients.
5. Find business friends who share the same buyer like you.
Make friends with people who sell something else to the same person that you do. These lovely people have a wealth of knowledge about your potential clients, including insights into what they care about.
These can turn into great referral exchanges too.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have awesome business partners at Newance! Angela Damiani and Jeremy Fojut founded Newaukee, a social architecture firm before people were using terms like social architecture.
We met ten years ago when they were just getting started with an idea to change the way young people connected with the city and with each other. They’ve since built a suite of businesses around the idea of creating belonging.
They’re always willing to be first at something and really live in the land of “what if.”
Their “what if” ideas are quite eclectic, like “What if we could turn the space beneath this bridge into a disco party?” or “What if we got young professionals to convene and solve civic issues on an individual neighborhood level?”
They’ve succeeded in all of these examples, which always inspires me to be braver and bolder with ideas.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d want to make curiosity contagious. If everyone found a bit more joy in curiosity, the process of growth and change could be something exciting rather than something to resist.
How can our readers follow you on social media?