The only reason to hire a search firm is to solve a business problem. Somehow, the industry seems to remember that only about a year into a recession.
In early 2002 in the midst of a recession, I was working for a global leader in the staffing industry. They were in full-out panic mode, lurching from one bad salvation plan to the next. It was a disturbingly familiar experience. A dozen years earlier I watched the recession of 1990-1991 tear apart the mid size staffing firm I worked for at that time. It wasn’t about solving problems for customers, it was about making sales, any sales.
So in the 2002 recession, I quit and started to look for a job. It went pretty well, in 3 weeks I had 5 job offers from other staffing firms, but I glumly realized they all had the same problems. Their business models did not work. They paid heavy overhead costs for brand and prestige building activities. They overpaid people for sales activities (like bringing in new searches) but very few people on staff could actually diagnose and solve business problems for customers – it was all “Oh yeah, I know a guy who knows a guy who is exactly who you need.”
I couldn’t find the job I wanted working for someone else, so I had to start my own firm. Almost 7 years later, we are navigating through the current economic turbulence with revenues and profits 20% higher than last year, a positive cash flow, and a growing team of problem solvers. 2008 is our best year yet.
Here’s part of why business is good. We never got greedy – our search fees average less than $10,000 per search. We never got lazy – we complete most searches in about 5 weeks start to finish and that speed is exactly how we keep costs down and still make a profit. We complete about 100 searches a year and nobody in the company works on commission.
But here is the real reason business is good. We never forgot. We never forgot that the only reason we ever get hired is to solve a business problem for a client. Our Project Managers call our clients a year later and ask only one question. “Did you get the business results you wanted to achieve when you hired us?” That’s the unreasonable standard we hold ourselves to.
So what business problem are you wrestling with?