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Recruitment is big business. Two thirds of the firms in this category make their bread and butter in this highly competitive industry.

This is SmartSourcing’s (99th) second year in the Hot 100. Customers include Direct Line, easyJet and Lastminute.com. How does founder John Adlington keep the big boys happy? Speedy placements. Firms after last-minute manpower are guaranteed three quality candidates within 48 hours.

Graham Gough and Martin Harris founded Maxxima (57th) in 2001, supplying staff to the medical industry. It’s proved a buoyant market: there’s always demand for medical treatment and staff to administer it. “When we set up Maxxima, we wanted to get as close as possible to recession-proof,” says Gough. “With the economy looking shaky, we’re glad we did.”

The credit crunch has hit some firms in the recruitment sector hard. But Astbury Marsden (43rd) has weathered the storm well, with turnover topping £18m. MD Jonathan Nicholson says: “There are plenty of fish still to be caught; you just need to know where on the riverbank to sit.”

Venn Group (97th) specialises in supplying temps to the financial services and tech industries. With 250 employees across nine offices and a turnover of £60m, it’s got a strong foothold in this ever-changing niche.

Giant Group (64th) has got the temp market all sewn up, too. Specialising in IT contracts, it acts as an umbrella company to temporary workers, handling their personal admin and invoicing employers for their pay. MD Matthew Brown believes the firm’s success is down to an increasingly onerous compliance regime affecting businesses that employ temps.

David Morgan and Simon Law, founders of Morgan Law Recruitment Consultancy (82nd), know all about red tape and piles of paperwork. Their growing client book features organisations such as the NHS and city and borough councils.

Paul Atkinson and Gordon Adam are also in barnstorming form. Their third venture in this sector, Head Resourcing (5th) stormed into our Hot 100 at number three last year and it’s back in the top ten. What’s the secret? “My little black book is bulging with contacts,” says Atkinson.

Ken Davy’s Huddersfield-based compliance and business support firm Simply Biz (4th) has made it into the top five this year. Simply Biz charges its customers a “cap and collar” monthly fee, ranging from £125 to £600, depending on the size of the business. Sales have jumped at an annual rate of 169 per cent to £7.5m and Davy expects next year’s turnover to be “north of £10m”. The secret to this company’s success? “Customer service,” says the 66 year old, who left school the week before his 15th birthday. “We handle around 3,000 calls a month and we answer each one personally.”

Outsourcing company Covion (96th) provides maintenance, security and catering services to the likes of Sara Lee and BDO Stoy Hayward. Co-founders David Steventon and Frank Rodriguez predict continued organic growth in a British market that is estimated to be worth £50bn.

Knightsbridge Guarding (78th) is aiming for a slightly smaller piece of the pie, focusing on corporate security alone. Founded by ex-special forces man Steve Delia, the firm handles the security for 30 blue-chip and financial services companies in London.

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