Three Tips to Help Staffing and Recruiting Agencies Ride the Market Coaster

The markets have been on a roller coaster of late. Mostly down. Maybe even a little scary.

3 tips to help staffing and recruiting agencies ride the market roller coaster successfullyIt has some thinking that a bear market, or worse, a recession, is near. For staffing and recruiting agencies coming off a very good year and looking forward to another, it may be a big concern. Especially as the staffing industry tracks the ups and downs of the economy closely.

But whatever is happening in the market, it’s your attitude, preparation and action that determine your ability to succeed in staffing and recruiting. A positive personal attitude and culture within your agency arguably plays the most important role in your success. Even so, here are three areas to focus on that can help you and your agency weather the ups and downs of business.

ONE: Review Often and Build Efficiency into Your Staffing and Recruiting Operations

When orders are plentiful and your profits are solid, it’s often easy to tolerate business practices and workflows that deliver only marginal profitability. But when incoming orders slow to a trickle, poor business practices can hurt profits.

You’ve probably worked hard to build efficiency into your organization. But a regular re-appraisal of your operations and how you might be able to tighten up your practices can help wring more profit out of every transaction.

Begin by making it an action item to get your team together on a recurring basis to review the steps of successful sales and order fulfillment transactions.

Your sales process is probably the first place to look for inefficiencies. Dave Stein, CEO and Founder, The Stein Advantage, Inc., a sales training firm, says, “When we ask sales leaders, general managers and CEOs whether they have a sales methodology and if sales people are compliant in its use, the answer is often disappointing. Many respond saying they have no methodology; but that’s really not the case. Their situation is, in fact, far worse. What they have is possibly the same number of methodologies in place as the number of sales people.” If your staffing and recruiting firm has similar inefficiencies, you can almost certainly figure out how to cut a step or two out of the sales process or execute faster or with better service to the customer.

Perhaps most importantly, become a believer in running your business “by the numbers.” Your key performance indicators (KPI’s) on all your agency operations and your staff should be measurable and actionable. Get a deep understanding of what your agency costs are for everything from sourcing candidates to billing customers. Develop a culture that focuses on quantifiable levels of staffing and recruiting service quality and your customers will look to you to fill their orders.

TWO: Build Long-Term Value into Your Staffing Agency

Building a staffing or recruiting agency is somewhat like building a well-performing stock portfolio for your retirement. Strategically speaking, you don’t focus on next month or next quarter, you focus on highly consistent performance over five years, ten years, or more. If you make your portfolio choices based on that consideration, odds are that you can rest easy in its long-term performance.

Likewise, your staffing and recruiting “portfolio” should focus on delivering similar long-term performance and value. Jim Childs, of Childs Advisory Partners, a veteran of the staffing industry as a CEO and investment banker, notes five strategies for value building:

  1. Develop niche leadership. “Niche companies are always more valuable than generalist companies,” Childs says.
  2. Focus on specialties and higher gross margins. Childs points out that, “The specialty players can have gross margins well over 30 percent due to their specialty focus and their mix of permanent placement revenue.”
  3. Avoid customer concentration. Childs notes that having a big account can be “a high-class problem to have. The trick is to create urgency in the organization to build around this anchor account.”
  4. Build a deep management team. Childs says, “It’s vital to build a deep management team that can drive the business so that it is not overly dependent on one or two people, including the owner.”
  5. Keep building real client relationships. Childs states, “Over time, your model needs to have deep, long-term client relationships to really get a premium in the marketplace.”

THREE: Stick to Your Business and Focus

What, exactly, is your business? How, exactly, do you differentiate yourself from every other recruiting and staffing firm out there? Does every member of your staff understand and believe in the answers to these two questions? You must clearly define the very specific core competencies that are at the heart of why you’re in business.

If you haven’t done so already, write down your business purpose your mission. Frankly, you should be able to put this on the proverbial napkin. Analyze what it means and what it takes to support your mission successfully.

Let’s say that your mission statement is: “We find and place skilled information technology professionals into contract assignments with Fortune 1000-level businesses.” If this were your mission, you would list everything you must do to support the success of the mission. Things like recruiting IT talent through college and university programs and related business and social networks. Then you’d make a second list that includes everything else you have to do that doesn’t really support the mission; like cleaning the office or having staff to maintain an on-premise IT system or handling all of your own payroll and billing.

You must focus on your core competencies. That means that everything that is not central to the success of your business are things that you should consider eliminating, streamlining, or outsourcing. Remember also that focus means NOT chasing every order that might come along. I know, the desire to fill any order from a valued customer is strong. But if it dilutes your ability to deliver on your mission, it also dilutes your ability to maintain quality service and higher profit margins.

Continuous Improvement Equals Continuous Profitability

W. Edwards Deming, the statistician credited for helping Japanese businesses become powerhouses of quality, performance and profitability, said that “Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation.” Savvy staffing and recruiting agency owners and managers will take those words to heart and reap the rewards. Equally importantly, you may just learn to enjoy the coaster ride.

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Three Steps to Improve Your Reputation and Profitability

“A good name is better than great riches,” a philosopher king said 3,000 years ago. That translates in a more market-savvy way to, “A good reputation is worth great riches.”

Is the reputation of your staffing agency being managed successfully?How? Because a corporation’s good name, its reputation, has value that generates profit. Conversely, as Volkswagen has learned, a hit to their reputation due to their “Dieselgate” scandal will cost billions of dollars in fixes and fines, thousands of jobs, and tens of thousands of lost sales.

The fact of the matter is simple. In most cases, you and I are most likely to do business with people or organizations we trust. And in a global marketplace where relationships can be fragmented and distant, trust is built on reputation in the marketplace.

In light of the Volkswagen scandal or other examples of poor morals and integrity that seem to pop up every day, is it any wonder then that people ask, “Can I trust this company enough to do business with them?” How often have you done business with a company whose products, services, or social responsibility turned out to be so disappointing that you vowed never to do business with them again?

What does a perception of ‘untrustworthiness’ mean to you? And your business?

The lack of trust also contributes to weaker ties between workers and the companies for which they work, which in turn has a significant impact on corporate profitability. How much? Well, in one survey of publicly-held corporations, the three-year total return to shareholders of trustworthy companies (as determined via in-depth surveys of corporate transparency and governance) was three times higher than that of the average (less trustworthy) companies.

When you add the loss of employee trust to unethical business practices, the response is natural. Shell-shocked consumers and business-buyers alike are taking a deeper, more measured look at a company’s reputation before making a purchase or investment.

Reputation Quotient (RQ) measures trustworthiness factors

The term Reputation Quotient (RQ) was coined by Dr. Charles Fombrun, Professor Emeritus of the Stern School at NYU and the founder of the Reputation Institute. Dr. Fombrun has done extensive research with companies around the world to understand the roles that their reputations play in their success. Fombrun and his group learned that the most successful companies all have one thing in common: Strong reputations, or high RQ.

Today, the concept of reputation measurement for business is broken down into six attributes, capturing the perceptions of all stakeholders: consumers, employees, and investors. Understanding its impact, RQ measurement is widely used by savvy businesses and pollsters alike.

  • Emotional appeal
  • Products and services
  • Vision and leadership
  • Workplace environment
  • Financial performance
  • Social responsibility

My guess is that Volkswagen would score pretty dismally right now in most of the above attributes. And it will take years for them to improve their scores. So, what can you do to avoid a melt-down like theirs, or improve your reputation in the marketplace?

Improving your RQ: Start with your message – and what you do to back it up

To some degree, reputation management is a science based on one simple concept: your stakeholders’ perception is your corporate reputation.

Knowing then that your reputation is a solid — and reasonably manageable — contributor to your bottom line, how do you build it up? Your reputation is based on the signals or message you send to your stakeholders. It’s not just the words – it’s all of the actions as well. And that includes your products and services, vision and leadership, etc. So, building your RQ can be approached as a three-step process to first identify, build and manage your message:

Step 1: Determine Your Message

In their landmark book “Positioning,” Jack Trout and Al Reis make the unassailable point that success is first and foremost dependent on knowing who you are and what you (want to) do that’s different from anybody else. Unearth your unique promise of value. Learn what separates you from your peers and is compelling to those who need to know about you so that you can expand your success.

This is, for many in the staffing arena, sometimes difficult. For example, all too often you (and more importantly, your customers) hear something like, “Our quality service differentiates us.” Does it now? Can you prove it? Do you have metrics that quantifiably demonstrate that quality?

The point is that you have the ability to prove your point of differentiation from every other staffing or recruiting firm that makes a similar claim.

Step 2: Construct Your Message

Build a communications plan to express your brand. Your brand position must be one that everyone within your company and every stakeholder – both inside and outside of your company – can and will buy into. Here, believability is all important. You cannot make claims you cannot substantiate in both word and action. Remember that your stakeholders will determine by their perceptions as to whether or not your message is true.

Then, identify the tools that you will use to communicate your unique promise of value so that you will become consistently visible to those around you. As a staffing and/or recruiting agency, working with human capital is your area of expertise. Use it. Leverage it. Integrate that expertise into every part of your message.

Step 3: Orchestrate Your Message

Manage your brand environment. Integration is the key here for staffing and recruiting agencies. You have to create and manage a single, consistent message that is repeated over and over again until the name of your firm becomes synonymous with the message you’re delivering.

This means that everything must work together. By everything, I mean everything that is remotely business related. That includes your advertising and public relations, products and services, contingent employee benefits, staff employee benefits, the vision of management, and community service programs. You must ensure that everything that surrounds you sends the same on-brand message.

While you’re working on building and maintaining your own reputation, it would be a good idea to look closely at the reputations of the customers and suppliers that you do business with. Determine if their reputational values are in sync with yours. This can help you from becoming entangled and pulled down through association with those that have poor reputations themselves.

Do it right, your firm will be known as THE staffing and recruiting firm candidates and customers will want to work with. Because you have a good reputation.

Do the right thing, and profit

A high Reputation Quotient is more than just highly desirable. It generates real profit through a strong, consistent and believable message that’s backed up by the actions of management and employees. Accordingly, developing and maintaining a high RQ should be a principal component of your business strategy.

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Is Your Business the River or the Rock?

Copyright 2016 Phil McCutchenExactly two years ago I read this very thought-provoking post, “Are You the River or the Rock?” by Dennis Merritt Jones. In it, Dennis made the case that we each have those things we cling to that make us want to resist or manipulate change. Making us a rock. And ensuring that our rock-like selves will eventually be ground down to dust by the river. His recommendation was to let go. Recognize change as a means in and of itself to an end. Even if you’re not entirely sure where that end may be.

I’d like to suggest that in the world of business, many firms cling to strategies, policies, methods, technologies, market segments, or other aspects of their business. These may have gotten them to where they are today. They may be strong players in their market. They may be the rocks of their industry. Successful. Proud. Solid. Reliable. Unwavering.

Who just may be ground to dust by the river of change.

If there is one constant in business as well as life, it is that change is inevitable. Responding to changing circumstances in a thoughtful, forward-thinking, innovative way can be more than beneficial for any business. It can help you grow or prosper. Or even save the business.

applefallFor example, just twenty years ago Apple was at rock bottom, trying to negotiate its sale to Sun Microsystems. For a measly $3.9 Billion. Last week Apple announced its fourth quarter 2015 profits of more than $18 Billion.

Change happened. Apple innovated – and brilliantly marketed – its way out of failure. The Apple board bought NEXT computers, bringing Steve Jobs back, signed a multi-year deal with Microsoft to push Office, and Steve and the Apple team began to innovate for consumers like crazy. Back from the brink of total failure, Apple changed to survive. And prospered accordingly. You could argue that today Apple, in some ways and for many businesses and consumers, BECAME the river.

There’s no doubt that your business is facing some kind of challenge every day. Competitors, regulations, consumer fickleness, cash-flow, whatever. But those challenges are not as important as is how you and your business respond to them.

Here’s another example that’s more recent: Look at how Uber is transforming the “I just need a lift” market. Once you called on taxies, friends, co-workers, or family members. Now Uber has made it easy and cheap to get a ride from point A to point B in many urban areas. How have many taxi companies responded? With legislation, pickets, and other tactics to slow the inevitable. GM, on the other hand, has invested in LYFT, a ride-sharing company. Rocks and rivers.

Change happens. Disruption happens. If you and your business are committed to your market – even if that market is changing – then you have to be committed to changing with it. Innovation and marketing are critical to helping you not only anticipate change, but respond successfully and profitably.

So, is your business the river or the rock? Are you ready, willing, even eager to accept change and use it to grow your business? It may mean giving up what may be a comfortable place for uncertainty, and setting out for who-knows-where. But what wonders there may be there.

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