Tag Archives: economy

In Staffing and Recruiting, Are You a Desert Flower or a Mesquite Tree?

In my many years of following the staffing and recruiting industry, two cliches have come up now and again.

“Two and out or in for a lifetime.”

This term relates to the penchant of staffing and recruiting companies to hire freshly graduated college kids with limited experience and/or no job prespects in their chosen field. Often these young people would learn the ropes well enough to be functionally effective, then leave after a couple of years to hopefully greener pastures.

The high pressure of the job has a little bit to do with it, but it’s my opinion that hiring and training have more. This may explain in part why the staffing and recruiting industry has very high turnover rates among their own staff (studies by the American Staffing Association note that staff turnover rates can reach 70 percent or more). The flip side of course is that a certain percentage of people find the business to be a perfect fit for their own talents and skills and make a lifetime career of it.

But what I really want to talk about today is a second term.

“Desert flower.”

desert_flowerThis second term is a little more obscure. And it’s one I’ve seen applied to those in the recruiting industry in particular. The “desert flower” term implies that the recruiting firm or recruiter is of a type that only blooms when it’s raining orders. That they can’t survive in tough times — perhaps because they are too niche-focused, too small, too connected to one client or just too passive in their approach to recruiting and selling.

That recessions can be tough on recruiters and HR professionals in general is an understatement. In fact, according to recruiting industry author and trainer Steve Finkel, every recession from 1975 on has caused the number of recruiters to drop by 40 percent to 50 percent. In a media-hyped market where the news of mass layoffs of tens of thousands of people by GM, AIG, and other big firms take center-stage, the loss of thousands of recruiters and staffing professionals by ones and tens gets lost, but is no less important to those affected.

But there are those recruiting and staffing survivors out there who’ve been “been there, done that” and continue to prosper. They are not, and never have been, “desert flowers” who wait on the life-giving rain of orders from talent-starved customers.

They are mesquite trees.

If you’re not familiar with these hardy denizens of the desert southwest, know that the mesquite is a tough, fast-growing, drought-resistant hardwood that has proven itself to be particularly well-adapted to survival in tough conditions.

The mesquite tree is known to grow well in desert conditions when hardly anything else will. It can sink a tap root through rock-hard ground nearly 200 feet to get to water. Its pods served pioneers as a food source and its wood is among the best for smoking sweet-tasting barbeque, among other things. Cattle ranchers and farmers throughout the southwest will attest to the fact that the mesquite is one tough hombre, nearly impossible to get rid of.

In short, the mesquite tree is a revenue-producing survivor that never, ever gives up.

By now you’ve picked up on my analogy, and know which you are. If you’re a desert flower, you’ve been waiting for the orders to rain on you. How’s that working for you? I wish you well as you wait.

If you’re a mesquite tree, you’ve been very aggressively going after new business, working your customers to find unmet talent needs, expanding the envelope of your search and placement capabilities, looking for new water sources. If you’re a mesquite tree you are surviving now and setting the stage for your rapid growth when a better climate returns.

So, are you a desert flower or a mesquite tree?


Small Business Marketing in the “New Normal”

A Google search on the term “New Normal” today produced more than a million hits. It’s been in use for a while — going back to the tragic events of 9/11 in 2001.

gm-logoThe term is used widely today, although it applies to the economic tragedy that is still unfolding — such as GM’s new 60% ownership by you and I. That we’re in a vastly different economic world than just a year ago is a massive understatement. The challenge for small businesses is how to prosper in an economy that has fundamentally changed. Here are a few thoughts on how I think small, nimble firms like yours can and should respond to improve their marketing position for profits and growth.

First and foremost, DON’T PANIC!

As volatile as the economy seems, it is still a representative part of the “normal” up and down of business. Yes, times are tougher now for just about everyone (except for some of those in taxpayer funded positions). But it’s important to remember that this down cycle WILL end. The trick is to survive — and position yourself for the growth part of the business cycle.

To that end, you have to very carefully consider the down-stream ramifications of every decision you make if you are forced to make cuts in budget or personnel. Cutting too deeply into the muscle of your knowledge (staff) base can stall innovation, sales and customer relations. Cutting your marketing budget significantly is virtually guaranteed to give away market-share profits to your competitors.

From a marketing perspective, doing the opposite of what your competitors are probably doing (cutting their advertising and marketing budgets to the bone to maintain operations) is actually likely to improve your brand, your position and your profits on the other side of the tunnel.

Second, the value proposition you must have to win a skittish customer with a strangle-hold on their wallet, whether in the B2C or B2B world, has never been more important. The simplistic equation used by buyers that BENEFIT/COST = VALUE has taken on a new and more powerful meaning.

This means that you have to get creative with your product, your placement, your promotion and your pricing. Buyers — those who are feeling enough pain to want to buy or are strategically smart enough — know that they are in control of the purchase. So your value proposition has to offer a convincing and measurable difference from that of your competitor, or you are toast. That does NOT mean you should focus on cutting price to compete. It means that you should give a buyer every possible reason to give you a try without commoditizing your product or service.

Third, your small businesses must rightly focus on the fundamentals of effective business operations. When times were good — say 18 months ago — it was easy to let some efficiencies slide. No more. Not only must you actually cut costs wherever possible, you should consider strategic and tactical investments in business automation, tools, equipment, staff, and yes, marketing that will help improve your long-term competitiveness.

Make your marketing dollars work harder and smarter. Use social networking to get the word out and/or offer special promotions to current and prospective customers. Measure what works and do it again. While some advertising, particularly in print, is difficult to measure, electronic and direct advertising (tried and true direct mail) is absolutely measurable.

Finally, check any negative attitudes you have at the door. Ignore the pundits and the economists and focus on the game — your customers’ and your prospects’ needs. You are in it to win, aren’t you? Keep in mind that advertising and marketing is an investment, not an expense. As such, some of it will pay off and some will not, but it’s the long-term  investor that wins.