Not every staffing business makes it through the startup phase, but yours has. After a few years in the staffing business, you’ve got a dozen or so people and perhaps a couple of offices. You’ve not only survived the startup phase, you’ve flourished. That’s the good news.
But the bad news is that you might have hit a plateau in your business’s growth. How can you get past it and keep growing? By developing a mission and a correlating strategy for growth.
Many businesses in all industries seem to succeed almost accidentally: their initial mission is to make it through the first years, and their strategy goes something like “make the customer happy.” But if you’d like your growth chart to resemble a straight (or even curved) arrow heading upwards rather than the erratic path of a bumblebee, the best way to do that is to define a strategy and pursue it.
There’s a lot of confusion over the word “strategy”; it’s often incorrectly used interchangeably with “tactics.” Essentially, a strategy is the overall plan for a company to achieve a vision, while tactics are the shorter-term steps that form how that plan is accomplished.
For instance, “leverage the technology and innovation of our sister software company to become the most responsive staffing firm in the area” might be a strategy for COATS’s sister staffing company. “Use social media and texting to reach candidates quickly” would be one of the tactics that accomplishes that strategy.
What are some strategies your staffing business could use to get you out of that plateau? According to standard marketing theory, they break down into two main categories: differentiation and cost. However, we’re going to talk solely about differentiation.
Potential differentiation strategies:
Niche – Instead of serving any company in your area, you might decide to specialize in, say, medical office staffing or warehouse staffing. This gives you a built-in mission and focus: become the go-to provider for your niche due to the depth of your experience and expertise in that field.
Quality of candidate pool – For more professional fields, you can focus on having the most qualified workers possible, with squeaky-clean backgrounds and constantly updated skill sets. Again, this strategy gives you your mission: attract and retain the best possible people in your area.
Size of candidate pool – You could become known as the staffing firm to call if a company needs 50 or 100 people by Thursday. Your mission then becomes: build a large, comprehensive candidate pool while maintaining certain baseline standards for those candidates.
Customer service – Of course, all companies should provide great customer service. But what if you decided to make customer service the defining feature of your company, to have your sales force, placement specialists and anyone else who comes into contact with a client or prospect give them a level of service that they’d expect from legends of the field like Ritz-Carlton or Neiman-Marcus? That would make a great mission, because it’s an ideal that can always be improved upon.
Speed of response – This combines some aspects of the customer service strategy with the size of candidate pool strategy. Imagine your customers saying, “One thing I can always depend on about [your company]: they’ll return my call in 15 minutes or less, and that shows they value my time.” Or, “I didn’t think they’d be able to put this order together in three days, but they did!”
No matter what differentiation strategy you try, limit it to one at a time. Having one central strategy makes motivation, decision-making and marketing much simpler than trying several strategies at once. The fastest way to un-differentiate yourself, and thus make yourself utterly unremarkable, is to try to be everything to everyone.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t discuss a cost-based strategy for staffing, that’s because it’s a horrible idea. A cost-based strategy only works for your company in the short term, then it works better for whomever is willing to underbid you, then it drives down revenue for the industry as a whole and reduces staffing to a mere commodity. A cost-based strategy is a losing game for just about every service field, and that definitely includes staffing.
So instead of racing to the bottom of the market in cost, set yourself a course for excellence in one area, and make that your company’s mission, its focus and its strategy. That plateau doesn’t stand a chance.