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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 3, 2015 7 years ago

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Hiring even one good employee is the quintessential challenge for nearly every executive. Then there's marketing executive Christina Cherry. Her goal: Hire 100 people in six months.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

After 20-plus years developing sales and go-to-market strategies for both outsourcers and major companies, Christina Cherry is not only used to the normal ups and downs of the business.

She thrives on them.

“To have a role where you can get involved in that to a great degree and see the results is really cool,” she says. “There's something rewarding about the stress factor of sales.”

That attitude helps her handle her new role as CEO of Sarasota-based Inside Out. The company, a call center marketing firm, devises and implements strategies to help technology and IT firms acquire new business-to-business customers, maintain and grow existing clients and reduce customer attrition. That means the company does telemarketing/telesales, mailings and online marketing for clients. The startup venture is a partnership between Cherry, co-founder Chad Nuss and a silent partner.

A native of the U.K., Cherry recently moved to Sarasota from the Silicon Valley to help launch Inside Out. The business has so far grown rapidly. It already has about 40 employees, and hopes to grow to 150 by the end of 2015. That would allow it to increase its client base from the current eight to 15 to 25. On revenues, the plan is to hit $15 million within three years.

Cherry feels good about the team she's amassed so far. “They're the kind of people who will come in early to empty the dustbins,” she says. “That's what you get in Sarasota. I've been lucky enough to work all over the world, and I haven't seen that to the levels I've seen here.”

But finding the amount of employees needed with experience in sales and knowledge of the IT/tech industries has proved more challenging than Cherry and her partners thought. “Normally, when you have a business like this, you're advertising in the normal places and using a local recruitment agency,” says Cherry. “But that's not working. We've had one person secured through the agency, because it's really struggling to find what we need.”

It has been a 'welcome to the Gulf Coast' moment for Cherry and her team, a challenge they are addressing in several ways.

The company hired its own recruiter, for instance, who's working with local universities to find potential hires. The firm is also getting support from the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County and CareerSource Suncoast to help get its name out. It's using resources like Indeed.com and it set up an employee referral program, where staffers can earn $1,000 for a successful referral. Six such referrals started with the firm June 22.

Although salaries are competitive, it can be hard to attract talent from outside the area. “Everyone knows the cost of living here is less and the taxes are less,” says Cherry. “So mentally you know that if you're earning $70,000 to $80,000 in Chicago, here it's $50,000 to $60,000 probably, and that's the same amount of money. But emotionally, people can't get over it.”

Once it hits its 150-employee mark in Sarasota, the company will likely open a second location in Tampa or St. Petersburg. It will be close enough to make travel between the two easy, but far enough away to tap a different pool of potential employees.

“The opportunity for somebody here is not so much greater than anywhere else, but it's swifter and more of a priority to me,” says Cherry. “I'm going to need you, and you're going to need to be ready. I don't want to set you up for failure; I want to set you up for success.”

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