The Business of Running a Business; How to Get Ahead in a Down Market

by: John Long, CEO of Avionte

I am privileged to have the opportunity to talk to staffing companies from across the country, representing businesses of all sizes and staffing service lines.  With some exceptions, the consensus is that the staffing industry is experiencing a recession. So, the question becomes – how can you survive in an economic downturn? Moreover, can you leverage it to get ahead?

Following are fundamental practices that all businesses should implement during market downturns. They have helped my staffing software company and I believe they can help your firm, as well.

1) Be lean: Use this opportunity to review all of your expenses. Donald Trump himself suggests that as an owner or manager, you should be involved in every detail of your business. Look at every item from office rent down to paper and printing costs. This is a great practice in general, but in downturns it becomes more critical. With margins razor thin for the staffing industry, every opportunity for savings could make the difference between healthy profits and no profit.

2) Track your expenses: Slow times are a great time to institute better, more efficient procedures to track your expenses. As an owner/manager, it’s essential to know when to expect the expenses, a break-down of each cost, and most importantly, how they affect Gross Profit. Remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

3) Refine your sales and marketing strategy: Good times mask bad sales and marketing procedures. When customers are knocking down your door, you may not need a great sales staff to sell. But in bad times, you need every advantage you can get to find the nuggets of business. Assess each of your sales people to determine effectiveness. How are your marketing initiatives doing? How many leads (and consequent sales) are you generating? If the numbers don’t justify themselves, make adjustments.

4) Trim staff: The worst aspect of being an owner/manager is letting people go. I believe that at the end of the day, we are judged for the positive impact we had on OTHER people’s lives. To let someone go is devastating. However, as the leader of your company, you are required to make difficult decisions. You need to consider the rest of your employees and understand that you owe it to them to make the right choices for long term success. If your entire company suffers, you will have hurt more than the few. Employees fall into three types of categories: the good, the bad and the in-between. I know it sounds obvious, but here is the rub: most companies and managers can effectively identify the bad. They are the individuals that don’t perform even close to expectations. The trouble is dealing with the in-between employees. They are the employees that do OK – not great, but not bad, either. Just OK. The hidden cost here is in the opportunity cost; if you didn’t have that OK person, couldn’t you hire another employee that has the potential to be a great? Compared to the great employee, how much does the OK employee cost you? In any healthy organization, there should be turnover. In a down market, use this opportunity to trim staff and eliminate those that are not bringing results.

5) Review operational procedures: I believe a down market is an excellent time to re-evaluate the workings of your company. What’s working and what’s not? Take the time to determine where your inefficiencies lie and make the necessary changes to fix it. Evaluating your technology is a key component of operational procedures. If you’re one of the many who are convinced that an up market is a better time for a technology upgrade, consider the following if your business is busier in a good market, isn’t your staff busier as well? If that indeed is the case, how will you allocate the extra time required to implement a new software system, implement new procedures, train staff and perform adequate testing? Take advantage of the slow period to finally get your systems and procedures right. During this transition, you can apply the previous practice to trim your staff based on your new operational procedures. It will become clear which employees are accepting of change, which ones contribute to creating better methods, and which ones can easily learn a new system.

Putting a new software system in place, coupled with a stronger staff and increased operational efficiencies during a down market, will prepare you to stand above the rest and flourish as the market turns.

John Long is the founding Partner and CEO of Avionté, a customer-focused provider of staffing software solutions. He has extensive knowledge of the staffing industry that began with four years at Paychex, where he developed an in-depth understanding of back-office functions, specifically with payroll software processes. Over the next several years, John worked for established staffing software firms in advanced roles that included President, Vice President of Sales and Chief Revenue Officer. John’s ability to empathize with staffing software users and fully comprehend their needs is a direct result of his hands-on involvement at every level. John holds degrees from St. Olaf College in Math, Computer Science, and Statistics. 

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