Leveraging Your Network for Survival, Profitability & Growth

By The Imagination Factory

Courtesy of Recruiting & Staffing Solutions magazine, March/April 2009 issue

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Leveraging Your Network for Survival, Profitability & Growth
by Manny Rao, Chairman of the Board of Directors, NPA

Use your network to:

  • Find work
  • Expand the market you serve
  • Seek advice and coaching
  • Cut costs
  • Benchmark results

These times are no time to go it alone. Businesses are failing at record pace and the current economic conditions are not likely to quickly recover. So, all business leaders, including recruiting and staffing executives are smart to examine new and creative ways to leverage existing assets to deliver improved results. Looking for ideas, help, feedback, and coaching from your established peer network is a logical first step. Recruiters that have built a strong network of industry partners will benefit from the knowledge and expertise these networks can provide with the challenges ahead.

Need work?
The economy goes through cycles. It is no surprise that what was hot cools off. This reality is especially difficult for recruiters that became focused on one portion of the market. For those firms, it is time to consider reaching out to the partner network to see if there are jobs that can be worked on the candidate side. Splits, as these partnerships are frequently called, can help both parties. For the owner of the open position, this is no time to be slow to fill an open position. Clients expect speed right now. Recruiters with excellent candidate sourcing skills but short on open searches are in the best position to fill the opening quickly. The resulting shared fee might seem like a loss to the owner of the open position until recognizing that speed allows more jobs to close quicklyperhaps exceeding client expectations. And this is an important time to keep competition out of key client relationships and the speed to fill can often be the difference maker.

Have Candidates in Markets You Don’t Work?
The most valuable asset of any recruiting and staffing business is the database. Owners and managers have an opportunity to leverage their database by considering the candidates not as assets to be used exclusively by the firm “when the time is right,” but by digging deep into that database and finding the best candidates that can be placed by those in your peer network today. The opportunity to add candidates to the database on a daily basis is the life blood of the business. But if candidates that don’t fit the firm’s niche area or current openings are allowed to “die” in the database, a critical opportunity for leverage within the peer network is lost.

Stuck in a Bad Niche?
Firms working in a limited industry or geography can expect to experience more ups and downs. Even firms that consider themselves generalists may be facing increased competition from industry specialists. So, it is critical to have relationships that will allow access and trade opportunities outside the core focus area of the business. When finance and accounting go cold, other industries like medical and retail may be on the rise. When New York goes quiet, Brazil may be exploding. Developing relationships with complementary or partner-oriented business is best done in advance of slow times. Options are available for those unable to establish these connections in advance of a downturn through paid membership in one of the formal trading networks that exist.

Turning Away Work?
There are not many reasons recruiters and staffing companies turn away business, but it does happen. When a client or candidate approaches a firm for work that is outside of the firm’s specific specialty area, beyond the normally covered geography, or when things are just too busy or understaffed, it may be in the best interest of all parties to turn down the business. Not so if a strong partner network has been developed. Partner firms can fill the gaps in coverage and take on overflow work from a firm that gets an unexpected bump in business.

Need to Cut Cost?
Something often overlooked in the recruiting and staffing arena is the amount of duplication that exists across multiple firms. In these times of reduced opportunity for revenue, it is wise to find ways to reduce costs. Closely aligned network partners can find ways to share in the cost of many business critical products and services. Sharing office space is a great but difficult option to implement, although more businesses are getting creative about how to drive down overhead. Excess space might be an effective bargaining tool with a vendor that needs a location in your part of the city. Non-critical business tools like wireless cards and projectors can be signed out to those that need them and the cost shared. It can be as simple as working with other firms to coordinate your subscriptions and memberships so that large fixed cost items can be shared by multiple parties. Obviously this is not something to be considered with strangers but rather only with those solid networking partners that you have established.

Interested in Expanding?
When it comes time to expand, it is much safer to expand through connections rather than through adding fixed cost or brick and mortar. Perhaps it is more effective to “outsource” a part of your desk as it grows before adding staff. Can a network connection provide a researcher or can some jobs be filled just as effectively via a split arrangement, allowing more time to work on the A+ clients and truly demanding searches? Maybe international markets are a target. Would it be safer to be a candidate source as the intricacies of local business practices in that country are better understood? Even when expanding domestically, it might be a safe option to learn more about the industry or market by dipping a toe. This allows a firm to gauge the standard fees, speed of payment, competition and loyalty of clients before making the plunge. Perhaps the partner relationship is more profitable and less risky than the actual expansion?

Need an Expert Opinion?
Everyone needs help and some feedback on occasion. Small and closely held businesses often lack access to industry-experienced review and assessment options without paying hefty consulting fees. With an effective peer group, and an agreed-upon process for non-disclosure, small firms can gain great insight from those actually working in the business every day. The ideas and feedback shared can range broadly across the spectrum but it is always nice to have quick, simple and free connections to answer questions about things likethe various options for consultant compensation, how the move to VOIP vs. traditional phone lines will impact the business, and what forms and documents have been most effective in supporting the work process?

How Do You Stack Up?
Benchmarking is critical to any continuous improvement process. Without benchmarks, it is difficult to know if a business is the best in class or profits and effectiveness are pouring through the cracks. Again, without trusted networking partners, it is tough to benchmark a business. As they say, if you’re not keeping score, then it is just practice.

Don’t Have a Network Established?
If you don’t already have an established network of peers or industry partners that you trust and work with cooperatively, there are other options available. Start building now. Join industry associations like NAPS and ASA, attend the meetings and get involved. Attend local, national and international industry functions with the purpose of learning and growing an effective network of partners. Plan to fill the gaps in your network and make it a priority.

There is also the option of joining an already existing operational network like NPA, The Worldwide Recruiting Network. NPA was established in 1956 as a non-profit cooperative to facilitate split-fee placements for independent recruiters. NPA membership gives independent recruiters and small firms a way to compete in a global marketplace without sacrificing the unique qualities that distinguish them from larger competitors. Members rely on NPA to build relationships that result in more effective and efficient service to clients and candidates in their own market. Those relationships translate into enhanced revenue-generating opportunities and increased financial stability. In the process, members also add value to their businesses through improved speed, reach, and capacity.

The partnerships made through networking are worth their weight in gold. Leverage a network to move your firm on the continuum from surviveto thrive. If you don’t want to go it alone, NPA can help!

Manny Rao is the owner of Recruiting Services International, Ltd. in Cincinnati, Ohio. Manny’s firm is a member of NPA, The Worldwide Recruiting Network and he serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for NPA. During his tenure in NPA, Manny has initiated or shared in more than 150 split-fee placements. Manny can be reached at mrao@rsijobs.com or 513.721.3030. To learn more about NPA, visit www.npaworldwide.com.

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