How I Started a One-Stop Shop
Recruitment Platform for UK Tier 2 Visa Jobs
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Anastasia Agafonova and I’m the sole founder of UKHired, a platform that helps foreign nationals who require work visas get a job in the UK. We aim to connect talented overseas workers with UK employers who struggle to fill certain vacancies. UKHired is a member of Hatchery, a startup incubator supported by University College London (UCL).
UKHired equips job seekers with the tools and knowledge needed to secure a job offer in Britain. Our main product is a niche job board that aggregates vacancies from all over the web, checks if they pass work visa eligibility criteria and then uploads them to our free database. Users can search for their perfect job using keywords, job categories, location and salary preferences.
We save our clients time and nerves by handpicking vacancies suitable for visa sponsorship – the ‘traditional search’ requires studying many Home Office policies, scrolling through 500+ pages PDF list of visa sponsors and takes around 5 hours of the manual search every day!
At the moment, I am working on releasing new features, such as work visa guide, CV review and others.
As we grow, I plan to launch a B2B service of sourcing skilled international employees for employers who can’t find a perfect local candidate for the role.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
first-hand experience of the problem that my company aims to solve now. I began searching for a job that would allow me to remain in the UK in between my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
I quickly realised that securing a job with visa sponsorship is extremely difficult. Despite having an excellent academic background and work experience, I could not get the job offer. I learned the hard way that if you are unfamiliar with the legal requirements, you might fall into the trap of applying for many jobs that simply don’t qualify to sponsor international candidates. There were virtually no tools for the foreigners to navigate in the confusing immigration system and popular UK job boards did not account for visas in their search functionality.
I utilised my background in Political Science to study the UK immigration system and ultimately changed my job search strategy. That’s when I realised that I could create a product that would solve the problem of hundreds of thousands of international students and professionals. After I did the market research, I noticed that the issue at hand was even more significant than I expected, as it also impacted two-thirds of British employers that couldn’t fill certain jobs due to the local shortage of skilled workers.
I saw an opportunity and decided to create a two-sided platform, connecting foreign professionals and UK employers. That’s how an idea to launch UKHired was born.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
What are the odds that the month when you had planned to launch your first business venture the world gets turned upside down by the worst pandemics of the 21st century? I had done extensive market research and carefully planned the launch, but I could not anticipate the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic consequences that followed it.
The UK recruitment industry that had been healthy and steadily growing in the past years has suddenly shrunk by 60%, leaving very few vacancies for foreign job seekers. Moreover, the travel ban restricted people from coming to the UK. Needless to say, people who used to be interested in moving to the UK and were actively looking for a job had shifted their priorities.
At first, I felt desperate as the market trends were nothing else than hopeless. Then, I realised that I could use the situation to my advantage as it gives me much more time to prepare and increase brand awareness. I decided to launch the website anyways but postponed the release of paid features and B2B offering. The first month I barely had any website traffic, but I worked hard every day and this paid off in a growing user base and improved search engine ratings.
Who is your target market?
UKHired has two different market segments for B2C and B2B clients. Due to the current circumstances, we only focus on developing B2C services.
We have two types of clients: entry-level and seasoned professionals. We are targeting international students who came to study in the UK and then decided to stay here after graduation and foreign job seekers who already built their career in their home country but want a change of scenery.
My target clients come from non-EU countries, mainly the USA, India, China, Australia, Canada, South Africa and many others. I’m looking for people who have skills most needed in the UK, such as medical, tech and engineering.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
I mostly focus on social media marketing, especially on LinkedIn and Facebook. I prefer social media to paid advertising as it is free and efficient. Engaging in conversations with potential clients on different forums and Facebook groups dedicated to people who want to immigrate to the UK via a work visa route helps immensely!
I’m also working on creating valuable content and guest blogging to grow my audience and spread the word about UKHired.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
I try to keep in touch with my clients via social media and emails. I regularly check up on them to see how their job application goes. Many clients expressed their gratitude regarding the service and it’s very rewarding to hear about their success.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
While I don’t have a team at the moment, I believe that it’s important to set up the company culture from the ground up. I value a high standard of work ethic and integrity that impacts every decision and action that I take. I find a bespoke approach to every customer and treat everyone I meet with respect and attention.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
As a solopreneur, I’m always looking for new tools that can help me tackle all sorts of tasks and save time. I’m a big fan of different productivity and organisational tools, such as Trello, Teamgantt and Basecamp. I recently started using Calendly, a handy software that sets up your meetings and calls, sends reminders and adds events to your calendar.
My website is my main product, so tools like Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager are a must for me. I also like using Getsitecontrol to create website popups, grow my email list and get customers feedback.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I’ve been on a steep personal and business learning curve ever since I launched my first venture 3 months ago, and I’m still learning every day.
I managed to overcome my perfectionism that used to hold me back. Entrepreneurship taught me that instead of striving for perfection and trying to get everything right at the first shot, you have to release a good-enough product/content, get the feedback and move on. Once I grasped this principle, I became much more efficient.
I also learned that sometimes you should delegate your tasks or seek help from someone who knows better than you. That’s not a sign of weakness, it’s your strength.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The most rewarding feeling is knowing that your product improves the lives of other people. I love talking to clients and listening to their stories about how easier their job search became since they have found UKHired.
The second best thing about entrepreneurship is seeing how your vision comes true and is reflected in the final version of the product. I thoroughly enjoyed creating a website prototype and choosing the design and then seeing it in action.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
At the moment I do everything by myself and there are days when I have very few social interactions during my work hours, so it gets quite lonely. I wish as my business will grow, I will build a great team and this won’t be a problem any more.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I was never an avid reader of business literature, always preferring books about politics and psychology. A couple of years ago, I came across Shoe Dog written by Nike’s founder Phil Knight. At the time, I could not imagine myself being an entrepreneur, but reading this autobiography got me so excited. I admired Phil Knight’s courage to start his business and determination that got him through difficult times to building one of the best sportswear brands in the world. To this day, it remains one of my favourite books that always reminds me to pursue my passion and keep going no matter how difficult the journey might get.
I also love Amy Landino’s content on YouTube and her Detail Therapy podcast. Amy is an American entrepreneur, bestselling author and a real girl boss. She inspires me to go after the life that I want.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In the next couple of years, I plan to gradually build up B2C and B2B offerings. These will include things like job alerts for users and premium ad placement for companies. I’m preparing for immigration changes that will happen after the Brexit plan comes into force on 1 January 2021.
The UK government will be introducing a work visa for EU citizens and easing some regulations for this visa type, meaning that more employers will be willing to hire international candidates. This will immediately increase my total addressable market by orders of magnitude and the plan is to be ready to benefit when the time comes.
Moreover, as I have previously mentioned, I plan to grow my team and hire in-house developers and marketing team members.