Rona Borre is the founder and current CEO of Instant Alliance, an agency that provides financial and technology workforce solutions for corporations across the globe. After acquiring her Bachelor’s Degree in Business from the University of Arizona, Rona founded Instant Security Alliance in 2001 in Chicago, Illinois. The company has grown to become one of the most accomplished female-owned business Enterprises in America, recognized by national media outlets like CNN, CNBC, and USA Today.
Rona herself has been honored by many awards, including Enterprising Woman of the Year but Enterprising Women Magazine and one of a select group of Influential Women in Business by The Business Ledger. She is also the CEO of Instant Finance (est. 2014), a financial consulting agency, and Instant Technology (est. 2001). She is also a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, The Chicago Network, and The Economic Club of Chicago, prestigious organizations that house some of the sharpest minds in business in the Windy City.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I got my start in the staffing industry almost as soon as I left college, as a recruiter for a company called Team Alliance. From my ground-level work as a recruiter, I gained the understanding of workforce solutions that led me to believe I could handle things on a larger scale. Around 2001, the company I was working for was bought out by another company, and there were changes to the culture that made me want to branch out on my own more quickly.
How do you make money?
Companies pay our fees to find them the best talent available. Because they are getting a workforce that will make them piles of money in return, they are usually very satisfied with what we charge for these services. Ideally, I think recruiters want to establish partnerships with large companies, which we’ve been fortunate enough to do, so the company will come to us whenever they have a need and we can establish a continual working relationship with them.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
About two and a half years from the time we became incorporated. We had to overcome some growing pains for the first year or so, which is to be expected, but in the second year, you could see word-of-mouth having a big impact on how easily we were able to attract clients.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I think everyone has doubts, but it’s how you address them that decides who becomes successful and who ultimately does not. When I began I made a point to hire veteran recruiters only to work for me, figuring they’d bring their own clientele and I’d expand more quickly. They struggled to keep up with new aspects, and I lost a lot of money. I handled it by taking it as a lesson, that I should build talent internally whenever possible. It has worked well since.
How did you get your first customer?
When I left my former employer to start my own business, I was subject to a non-compete clause, which meant I’d have to build up my book of business from scratch to survive. A market upheaval around this time worked in my favor. A bunch of people I had helped find work was laid off, and when they landed in other places, they introduced me to their superiors. Fortunately, these companies were outside of the clause and I was able to establish business with them based on the endorsement of people I had helped in the past.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Really, it’s just a matter of being personable and diligent, and getting results when you say you will. The impact that a good reputation from previous clients is invaluable, even if there are only a few names on the list. I think it’s wise not to make grand claims that you can’t fulfill, but to give the client reasonable expectations about what you can do for them and how you’ll accomplish it. I’ve seen many companies make lots of promises in their pitches, only to fall short and lower their chances with future clients in the same industry. People talk.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
It’s always tough when you have to let someone go who isn’t a good fit or isn’t performing, but sometimes you have to do what is good for the business and put personal feelings aside.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I would say it’s my ability to connect with people, both internally in terms of those who are employed in my company, and with clients, really understanding their needs. Also, I think much of it is because I don’t allow myself to become complacent. I’m never satisfied, and I’m always seeking ways to better myself personally and professionally.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Becoming profitable was a big moment for us, and for me personally. There’s a feeling of being underwater at the beginning like you’re swimming toward the surface and you can see the light but you’re still holding your breath. Becoming profitable is like breaking the surface and starting to swim.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We’re always looking to expand our services to more clients in more industries. I think what I’m most excited about is the idea that we could break into more different areas and make our mark there as household names.
What have business books inspired you?
There’s a book called “Words from the Why’s” by David Fairhurst. He’s the Chief People Officer at McDonald’s Corporation. There’s a ton of wisdom about managing people and business relationships that I think any business owner would benefit from.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
Most of my recent purchases involve taking potential clients out for meals and treating them with hospitality. It goes a long way toward knowing them personally and professionally, so when it comes time to form a plan regarding their staffing needs, I’ve got a leg up on any competing agencies.
What does your typical day look like?
None of my days are really the same. My real passion still is to be out with clients and developing relationships so we can be an effective recruiting partner. I feel most productive when my team is energized and we have identified top talent and placed them with our clients. I know that people ultimately people make all the difference in any situation.