Let’s start with the one-liner – what is your company? What do you sell?
Frederick Shelton: Shelton & Steele
We’re recruiters and consultants who work with high-end attorneys.
Tell us your origin story.
Frederick Shelton: I started out as a homeless teen. Never got my HS diploma. But I’ve self-educated harder and smarter than almost any college grad you’ll meet. I still study every week like finals were coming on business trends etc. I failed at more jobs and professions than I could possibly keep track of – until I got a shot to become an executive recruiter. Eventually, I realized that recruiting firms were operating on the same business model they’d used for decades. So I started my own firm and broke the model. We do everything differently and are now turning clients away, while our competitors are scrambling to find them.
Did you need a lot of capital to start your business? How did you finance your business in the beginning?
Frederick Shelton: My employer at my old recruiting firm went through my garbage can and found some notes about starting my own firm. So they fired me. It was the best thing they could have done for me because who knows how long I would have procrastinated! Although it didn’t feel like it at the time because I’d just gotten a new house and my ex-wife was pregnant. We got down to less than one hundred dollars in our savings (we had about $20K in 1996 when I was fired) until I got a retainer check for $20,000. Then I made a deal. Then another. And Phew! We were off to the races!
Was this an area for which you had passion before you started the business, or did you see a need and move to serve it?
Frederick Shelton: I loved recruiting. I loved spending my days counseling Harvard, Yale, and Columbia grads in their career. I still do!
How has the business evolved over time?
Frederick Shelton: We grew until divorce reared its ugly head and that will take down any small business – which it did. I decided to stay a solopreneur and made a very good living, enjoyed a chill lifestyle wherein I could wake up at ten, if I felt like it, take a day off for gold or whatever I wanted. One thing that did evolve was our model and services. After debriefing countless “Rainmakers” (attorneys who bring in the clients) I realized, I’d learned everything about how the most successful attorneys generated and maintained a loyal client base. Introverts did it differently than Extroverts. Patent attorneys got clients in a different way than corporate attorneys. I stored and categorized all of that data and now receive $1,000 an hour from the most highly educated people in the world, for customized marketing consulting. Additionally, I came across something I’d never seen before in 2014 – a Virtual Law Firm. I analyzed what I was looking at and decided this was going to be the “Next Big Thing”. I have since been published in various legal journals and magazines like Forbes on all things virtual and remote law. Guess how valuable that brand has become since COVID?!
How did you grow? Tell us about a moment, or moments, in the early days that were “big moments” for the business. What moved the needle substantially?
Frederick Shelton: I’m in Recruiter Groups on various social media. When COVID started hitting home, I saw people posting about how they were wiped out. Imagine being a recruiter for Casinos and Hospitality right now? Since legal is an essential business in all 50 states, I posted that I would send anyone who wanted one, a Legal Recruiting Starter Kit. For free. Sample contracts, lists of firms, preferred law schools, how to get free databases, five pages of legal terms to know, even my beginner scripts. I sent out over 200 of them.
Several people repeatedly and persistently asked to work directly for me. I hired eight of them.
So much for the chill, solopreneur lifestyle!
That was only the first round. We’re starting a new division soon and will be hiring again, once everyone is fully trained.
Every successful small business owner has to navigate the world of expansion. And choosing how to expand is just as important as choosing how NOT to expand. Tell us about forks in the road on your journey.
Frederick Shelton: Previously, I scaled by investing in tech, instead of people. I developed a system that was ideal for my situation. Now I’ve added as many people as I can manage. My daughter and adopted son (A young man I started mentoring years ago and when it looked like he would have no place to stay, took in to live with us and train in our profession – full circle from when a stranger took me off the streets at 16!) have been working with me as recruiters and my wife did all the accounting, etc.
So once we hit eight new people, we stopped. I modified our system so that no one has to make cold calls (very unusual in headhunting). I hired a VA so they don’t have to build databases or do data-entry (almost unheard of!). Now we’re starting down the journey of building a contract attorney & paralegal division that will easily generate seven figures in additional annual profits and could go to eight figures within a year or two.
As you’ve grown, you’ve undoubtedly had to delegate. How did you tackle that challenge?
Frederick Shelton: Ahhhh the Achilles Heel of all solopreneurs! Control. The need to do everything, control everything, and keep your “secret sauce” to yourself. I no longer do any recruiting at all. I help close deals that others generate when needed but my son and daughter also do that. I have two MBA’s and my daughter handling marketing, social media campaigns, and the launch of our upcoming podcast. My role is to train, inspire, and come up with ideas (like the contract division) and then pencil out the business & marketing plans and designate someone else to take the lead. I put together our training programs and do indeed, give away my best stuff. I create the Big Vision and help my team to see it, so they will be motivated to act on it. I also continue to forward and maintain our brand by getting published in legal journals, quoted in national media, and appearing on only the very best podcasts 😉
You know the axiom – no risk, no reward. Tell us about a time you took a big risk. Did it pay off? Did it fail? Or you had a completely different outcome than expected?
Frederick Shelton: I did take a risk by hiring all these people but it’s already paying off.
Have you ever considered taking on additional partners, venture funding, or bank money to grow the company, or have you always bootstrapped?
Frederick Shelton: I’ve always bootstrapped but am currently restructuring the company so that within a few years, everyone will own a piece of the company, and the next generation of hires will enjoy profit sharing.
Tell us about some of your sacrifices along your small business journey.
Frederick Shelton: I don’t know about sacrifices but we’ve always given money away. We used to feed 100 homeless people out of the back of my SUV on Sundays. Now we do fundraisers for and donate to homeless shelters.
What is the most gratifying thing about what you do?
Frederick Shelton: We genuinely help people. Other recruiters and recruiting models focus on the commission. If you go to the “Clients” page on our site, you’ll find we tell the clients who pay us, that they are not our priority. The candidates are. People before profits. If the fit isn’t truly what’s best for the candidate, we don’t recommend it. We often tell candidates their smartest move is to stay put. They appreciate that. I also love the fact that my brand has become so strong that, even knowing I don’t have a high school diploma, Ivy League graduates, other attorneys, and our clients pay me $1000 / hour for my counsel. I feel like I’ve come a long way.
Who is a leader or someone that you admire? Why?
Frederick Shelton: The ultimate example was my mom. She went from being a single mom in the 50’s and 60’s when that was a HARD thing, to an ultra-successful real estate agent. She had me read “How to Win Friends & Influence People” and also “The Power of Positive Thinking” at age 13. She told me the stuff in those books would be more important than anything I learned in school. She was right. It didn’t take right away but the seeds were planted. Before her passing, she came to my birthday Roast & Toast. Over 30 people got up and talked about how I changed their lives, giving them a place to stay when they needed a hand up – not a handout – a hand up, how I helped them in other ways, and so on. It was the proudest night of my life.
What is a secret weapon that you have that would surprise people?
Frederick Shelton: I’m a master in personality profiling in real-time. Within minutes, I can tell what makes people tick, how they prefer to receive information and in what order, and what will be the most effective approach in influencing them. This is also reflected in how we write copy for marketing, scripts for calls, and so on.
If for this business, what would you be doing as a career right now?
Frederick Shelton: I have no idea! Motivational speaker, maybe.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Frederick Shelton: Watching my kids run the business, golfing, surfing, romantic nights of dinner, and dancing with my lovely bride.
Finish this sentence: “I would not be standing here today if not for ____”
Frederick Shelton: Slick. Slick was the nickname I gave Rev. Clint Jordan. He was the one who took me off the streets when I was homeless. My mom never knew I was homeless btw. Long story.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give your 18-year-old self?
Frederick Shelton: Workers do one thing. Professionals do two things. Entrepreneurs and Innovators do three things. They are: Work, Study, and Think Up New Ideas. Do all three, constantly and forever.