Today, the vast majority of people rely on Internet and personal referrals to make decisions. Yelp. Angie's List. LinkedIn. Amazon ratings. We are hesitant to buy a pair of socks, eat biscuits and gravy at a restaurant or sleep at a hotel without knowing what other people thought of it first. Fifteen years ago, the average person felt much safer driving to Sears and picking out an appliance, so we could "see for ourselves" what we were buying. But according to recent surveys, 80% of people have changed their purchase decisions after reading negative reviews online, while 87% have made a purchase after reading positive online reviews. Approval ratings and user reviews are here to stay - and will continue to grow in popularity. As businesses, we must expect that our own "brand" will also be ranked and then shared with others. For better or....
In a world where branding and reviews are the norm, personal referrals take on a more important role than ever before. According to the Peter Blackshaw book, "Satisfied Customers Tell 3 Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World" (Peter Blackshaw, 2006), "The success of a company or brand rests in its ability to create and maintain credibility with its increasingly vocal customers and consumers on every front." Said differently, no referrals likely equates to no credibility.
What makes referral so powerful? First and foremost, they come from an unbiased third party who valued their encounter with your company to pass the praise along to others. When a referral comes from a trusted friend or family member, its value is further enhanced. Another reason referrals are heavily utilized is that they are almost completely free. The Silicon Valley Business by Referral says it this way, "Think about referrals as the most compelling sales advertisement on earth for absolutely no cost to you." There is also a unique bond that forms when you, the customer, put your stamp of approval on a business. It becomes associated with your name, and will likely make you a more loyal customer in the long run. The benefits are limitless.
In our business we survive on referrals, both from our customers and our candidates. Every business is different, but I believe it is critical to do a gut check every now and then to get a good bead on how your customers sense you are doing. This becomes very clear when you track the number of referrals you are receiving.
Generally speaking for my fellow business owners, we are definitely witnessing an economic recovery. Recently, I have been reflecting on when I started my company the year following the attacks of 9/11, and I can attest to the fact that there have been many more ups and downs than I ever could have prepared for or ever anticipated since that time.
In the past 30 years, for example, America has seen the real estate and banking busts repeat themselves twice, the dot.com fiasco of the late 90's, and the stock market go skipping along. To employers and job seekers alike, it seemed like these days would have no end. Yet in hindsight, we realize that after each of economic crises, there has always been a time of prosperity, job growth, and increased stock value. Weather-beaten and slightly shaken, we're still here, and so are the companies we've poured our lives into.
Having started my first company and succeeded wildly (through its ultimate collapse) in 1991, I have looked back over some of the struggles we faced during each new roadblock and evaluated the reactions that we should have had versus those we naturally seem to have. Without question, there are several things I will do differently if we ever experience something like what we just witnessed. It is all about planning, overcoming objections, and surrounding yourself with people who can help lift you up rather than those who will drag you down.
1. Never let fear dominate your business sense.
“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” - Les Brown, motivational speaker and author of The Power of Purpose (Twitter profile)
If you spend your days reacting to adverse circumstances rather than formulating a proactive plan and implementing it, you are hindering your own success, regardless of what is going on externally. In a down economy, companies must resist the urge to go into "hibernation mode," laying off valuable employees, cutting back drastically on spending, and withdrawing from your social circles. Though these seem like great survival tactics, they are harmful because they continue the cycle of fear and can actually lead to that downward spiral you are trying so hard to avoid. As we have seen, the economy will come back: what kind of business will you be left with when it does?
2. Make generating new business your #1 priority, and find creative ways to do it.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, Inc.
In an uncertain economy, every referral, every networking opportunity, and every ad counts. Your main priority is to generate new customers, the lifeblood of your business. Any activity that doesn't contribute to this goal should be delegated to someone else or done during non-business hours. Go to those chamber meetings, reach out to that friend of a friend who was asking about your business model. This may seem counter-intuitive at first: networking rarely brings immediate results, attending events costs time and money, and the last thing you want to do is go to a meeting where you are forced to make small talk about your floundering business. But anyone in business is in the relationship-building business, and those who fight this fact, lose. Networking is a vital tool you must have in your toolbox to survive lean times.
Need to get your name out there with little to no overhead cost? Consider showcasing your expertise through a blog, or by hosting a clinic at no charge that leaves your prospective clients wanting more. Referrals are also a great way to generate new business – in 10 years of owning Phoenix Staff, our referral-based business has eclipsed that of our “paid” efforts. We do offer a very robust referral program (www.hereismyreferral.com) and this has been a successful effort, but many people will refer friends, colleagues neighbors and potential business partners solely for the purpose of helping others grow their network.
Finally, it is important to be sure you are maximizing social media to attract new business opportunities and ideas. Utilize as many resources as you have available. Follow the companies you are looking to partner with long-term, whether they are potential customers, vendors or companies where people who interest you currently work. Following the companies and the movement/news within them is a great way to socialize your name and brand your company. The more visible your people are in the market and adding value within physical and virtual social networks, the more ‘magnetic’ you become and the more opportunities will come to you.
3. Cut down on needless spending and increase "investing" habits.
"A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets." - Bill Watkins, former CEO of Seagate (Twitter profile)
Tough economic times are a great motivator to re-evaluate what is necessary and helpful in your business, versus a commodity. Business trips are planned around times when we can accomplish more than one goal at a specific location, we cut out elaborate lunch appointments, and we may hold off on some marketing spend that could be accomplished more effectively by getting out and meeting people.
That said, remember there is a marked difference between spending and investing. Don’t be afraid, even in adverse times, to invest in quality people and assets that wouldn’t normally be available to you. Every economic change creates opportunity of some sort. When the economy is down, rent is lower, capital goods are cheaper and labor is more plentiful than ever. You may be able to hire people that are usually out of your price range – take advantage of those opportunities. Businesses with this mindset set themselves up for growth. While your competitors are cutting costs and trying to keep expenses low, they are not likely focused on customer satisfaction. The astute leader will step in, improve every facet of their customer service, and increase customer loyalty as a result.
It is always a good time to invest in your relationships with loyal customers, to further your staff’s education, and to acquire assets that will help your company keep costs down long-term. Again, these don’t have to cost a lot out of pocket – with e-learning, job swaps, and virtual social networking, on-the-job training need not come to a halt when business slows down. If anything, it’s a great time to implement training that has been put off due to time constraints. And if you feel the tension between time spent acquiring new clients and maintaining relationships with current ones, remember that your current relationships are already generating revenue, and they are your strongest source for referring new customers your way.
Whatever methods you utilize to adapt to a changing economy, use them with confidence and determine to stay positive. Your business will be stronger at the end of this. You can create positive change even in the midst of adversity. No statistics, stock report, or dwindling cash flow has the potential to hinder your success to the extent that a negative mindset will.
Want more? Check out these articles on thriving in a tough economy.
As a business owner, you work around the clock, devoting much of your profits trying to establish connections, maintain relationships and publicize your company's product. Why on earth would you take even more of that money and give it to a cause that, while worthy, could do little, if anything - to enhance your bottom line?
The Wall Street Journal reports that based on research produced by Dover Management, companies that cultivate a culture of philanthropy are more profitable. The data support results of a similar study produced a year ago by university researchers.
Dover found that companies with a solid link between giving and operating earnings outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 index by 3.5 percentage points over five years.
Dover’s research is further supported by a study last year by Baruch Lev and Christine Petrovits of the New York University Stern School of Business and Suresh Radhakrishnan of the University of Texas at Dallas School of Management, which said, “Corporate charitable contributions are effective in enhancing revenues in the ‘consumer sectors,’ such as retailers and financial services.” (philanthropy.com)
I first heard about social responsibility programs at some of the largest employers in Arizona from their employees, not from their managers. These companies have established robust programs for social responsibility and community involvement. This is a great idea for small businesses too. You have so much to gain from supporting a charity or non-profit organization:
Enhancing company morale – This can boost company morale by bringing employees together to support something that is separate from the office. Additionally, some employees are inspired to work harder, knowing that their efforts are aiding causes they believe in.
Cultivating community support and good will – People are more apt to support businesses they feel are part of their world. There’s no better way to make sure your community grows and continues to thrive than to support local causes and those who are involved in the front lines.
The opportunity to support causes you believe in – It is great if you can tie your business purpose to a particular charity. If this is not possible, then pick a charity that you are passionate about and get behind them!
Marketing and business strategy – This is a way for you to reach out and connect with community members on a different platform.
If money is genuinely prohibitive, remember: contributions don’t have to drain your bank account. Many organizations, particularly those at the local level, have needs for time and services as well as cash.
Whether you support battered women’s groups, energy efficiency, animal rights, rainforest preservation or ending world hunger, be sure to research your group first. Ask your local Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, or other local supporters about them. Or, try to look them up at Charity Navigator.
I usually recommend picking one “preferred” group to support with most of your available time and money. But for a small business, it’s a good idea to keep a small amount of money in your monthly budget for other charities.
All in all, supporting a charity or non-profit group can help your business grow; but most of all, it can be a great way to give back to your community and support causes that are depending on the generosity of people like you.
We are very consistently asked to review and comment on resumes - with good reason, we see a ton of them. Quite honestly, we know what hiring managers like to see - for the most part. You will read tons of articles on crafting the perfect resume and format, layout, white space, objective or no objective and how many pages it should be. Trust me, everyone you talk to will have an opinion, and the only opinion that truly matters is that of the hiring manager. But there are some very basic things that I like to share with people, and I hope they are helpful.
- You had better know the information that is shown on your resume inside and out. Oftentimes people enlist the help of their friends, family, colleagues and recruiters to help them write their resume, and when they do they often take it back and never review it. Seriously, I have seen this happen a LOT. You need to not only know everything listed, but you need to be able to speak to all of it as well.
- Know that your resume is never "complete". Your resume is being worked on until you find a job. Otherwise, you are relying on it to get you to a place that it has yet to get you to. The mission is not accomplished until you land the role that you are looking for, so don't be afraid to change wording around and add skills you possess as you look at new job descriptions.
- You are looking for new job; therefore, use the descriptions of the job to help you understand what people are looking for in their next hire. In other words, read job descriptions, lots of them, and use those words to craft your resume. If you are using stale or outdated verbiage or relying on the internal nomenclature that is relevant only to your last company, you are likely missing the target role and the target audience.
- Be open to criticism. Good or bad, it is better than no response at all. Get all the advice you can get and make sure you are prepared for honest critics. If you are able to get people to give you a reply on your resume, it carries a lot more weight than those who say nothing - take it for what it is worth and see if their advice can be used to your advantage. The offense comes when you get no response, not when people are trying to offer helpful insight or suggestions.
- You should worry about white space, formatting, layout and all the other things you have been told are important. Though these things are all important, nothing is more important than content. Don't use too many cliches, don't use too many adjectives and don't use words that you are not comfortable using in your normal conversations with people. Don't go back more than 10 years unless there is relevance to going back further. For example, there is relevance when you went from working on the help desk to being CIO, and now you are looking to be a COO. There is no relevance when you were on the help desk 10 years ago and you still are today. Nothing is right or wrong with either of those scenarios, but if you show career progression and need to advertise that in order to get the role you are looking for, then show it - if what you are looking to do next is either the next natural step or falls in line with what you have recently been doing, then leave anything past 10 years off the resume.
Here are some other articles I found to be good on the topic. By the way, always open to criticism - share your thoughts!
Phoenix Staff started 10 years ago today. Retelling our story the other day to some members of our team reminded me of many things that I have forgotten along the way. This has not been an easy journey by any stretch, the first 6 months was definitely the hardest, but the subsequent 9.5 years have tested every fiber as well. This has been an amazing experience and I am excited about the years to come - opportunities to build upon our existing relationships continue, consistently being referred to new people and opportunities continue and the chance to work with the hardest working and most positive teammates ever is more than I could ever ask for.
To those who we have worked with us along the way, I am thankful for your contributions. To the customers who continue to trust us to find their most important assets, I am eternally grateful. To the candidates who have become clients or have chosen us to refer their friends and colleagues to - your trust and confidence in us is tremendous, thank you.
The team that currently works at Phoenix Staff, however, the team that has gone through the most difficult of times here - weathered the economy and stood by my side - you are as solid as they come - thank you!
10 years has flown by, I hope that Phoenix Staff has made the impression we intended - that we will are here to help people achieve their goals. Thanks for sharing in part of the journey!
As I meet with people and talk to them about what they want to do in their next role, I often hear the answer - "I can take on any challenge and manage to the employer's expectations of what they need." Granted, this may well be the case that you have done so much and seen so many situations that you are able to step in and take on a great deal of responsibility, but there is a problem with this answer - it isn't really an answer, it only begs for another question or simply a repeat of the original question, "what do you want to do in the next role that you take?"
Several challenges can come out of the lack of being specific when interviewing and being ready for this question. One challenge is that most interviewers will not ask again when you give your "I can take on any challenge you toss at me" reply. This is a big problem, because, for your sake, they should ask for more detail. Instead, they will often continue to the end of the interview and then get back to you with the "you are overqualified for the job" response. We can discuss a ton of other questions and answers that may come up during an interview, but this one seems to be very prevelant today and one that intrigues most people, especially candidates, who I speak with.
When I ask a candidate the question about what they want to do I fully expect that they will reply with something along the lines of:
- I want to come in and take a team to the next level
- I want to help implement process where process doesn't exist
- I have been successful at the tactical delivery of projects and want to help my CIO in that regard
When you reply with, "yes, I can do all of that" you are unfortunately, at the very same time saying, "if I don't get to do all of that, I will be bored". Thus, you have just made yourself overqualified.
Granted, you may well be able to do all of those things simultaneously and very well. But, recognize for one minute that the person you are interviewing with only needs you, today, to accomplish one of those things - they need you to deliver projects and follow the strategy that has been set while doing so. YOUR job as a candidate is to find out what this hot-button area is and then reply directly as to how and why you can accomplish the goals in that area - and ONLY that area. It is when you start talking about other areas where you can "also" help out or have expertise that you are, for all intents and purposes, giving the interviewer a reason to be cautious about hiring you due to your overqualified or potentially getting 'bored in the role' status.
Answer a direct question with a direct answer is my advice. When asked why you fit the role that they have posted or described they need filled, you should focus point by point on that job description rather than on your own resume - be concise, be deliberate and be brief - until they ask you to expand. When you are asked to expand, you can reply with "where would you like more detail?" rather than making an assumption that they will automatically want to know that you are also a mentor, a trainer and have managed far more people in your past than what they have here.
One of the best litmus tests in the recruiting and staffing world as to whether or not we are in "recovery" is the number of referrals people send our way. This number has been on a very steady increase for the past 5 weeks, at least. Granted, there are a number of indicators of a job market recovery, but this one is certainly near the very top of the list.
Primarily because when people start to send you their friends names and numbers and not only their own, it shows a degree of confidence that you will be able to find them AND their friend a job - this doesn't happen when the market is "lean". During the lean times people are more apt to send you their resume only as they fend for themselves.
Secondly, hiring is heating up and many companies are hiring in quantity. People are looking for work and letting their friends know that they are looking. In other words, people are less scared to publicize that they are interested in looking around.
Finally, I contend that people are ready for more of a challenge and more opportunity and many companies have yet to make the move find themselves in the unfortunate predicament of backfilling spots that have been occupied for years. In these cases, when one tenured employee leaves, they are bombarded on their way out the door with requests from others who want them to "take me with you!"
This market is getting better and we are grateful for the amount of referrals. We all want those to keep coming as it can only mean a positive recovery is in the works!
Great news regarding the Austin market and the continued improvement that is going to refelect in other markets as well.
You may have heard that it’s best to look for a job while you have one. Although this may seem odd advice, it’s actually a very true statement. When you begin job searching while employed, you are in a place of security. You don’t have to worry about finances and, although you may be eager to leave your current position, you aren’t pressured to find a new job immediately. You can browse for new opportunities at your own pace. When you are unemployed, however, the search can feel much different. The big question is – does being unemployed making you any less desirable to potential employers?
There is no easy answer because it truly depends on the situation. Oftentimes it can feel as though recruiters have an easier time placing employed people in new jobs. This is due to several reasons. First, we’re currently experiencing a time of relatively high unemployment and lengthy unemployment tends to make people desperate. Though you may feel like you’re hiding this desperation, employers may sense it immediately. Another reason is that hiring managers have become much more selective. With what would seem to be so many people on the hunt for a job, it’s easier to be a little picky. Thirdly, even if an employer is hiring, they may not necessarily be looking to fill the position immediately – or even within the same month.
So, does this mean unemployed people should simply accept their fate and take any open position they can find? The answer is a resounding “NO!” Unemployment is not a scarlet letter – and it doesn’t have to ruin your chance of finding your dream job. It does mean, however, that recruiters are more important during times of unemployment than ever before.
In addition to helping you in job searching, they can assist you in grooming yourself for interviews, building up your confidence and being fully prepared for each interaction with a potential employer. In other words, although you may feel slightly less “wanted” because you are unemployed, this does not make you any more or less qualified for positions than employed counterparts.
If you are unemployed, do your best to network, share your perspective on things with others, but don't attend events or meetings where the attitude is toxic. There are plenty of chance to interact with people who have a positive outlook and who have gotten traction and good advice - seek out those people. Read blogs and tweets about where people are finding success and try different things. Don't write a "final" resume - there is no such thing!
I asked someone I have known for many years to articulate a recent conversation we had for my blog. He was kind enough to oblige and here are his thoughts.
Shoulda been my name
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there...”
Anyone who has seen the musical Chicago will remember these lyrics and the character of Amos Hart, Roxie’s nebbish husband, who sang the song. You, too, can achieve a Mister Cellophane persona without any substantive action on your part. All it takes is that you get terminated from your job.
Service and product suppliers who used to beg for face time to tell you how they could save you millions and who tried every imaginable trick to get on your calendar now cannot find your number to call you back. They promise to get together for coffee when their “schedule frees up” which, apparently, never happens. I understand that their business is selling and now I have no budget with which to buy, but maintaining the relationship for future business should also be a priority.
Business colleagues who shared professional panels and groups with you now can’t send an email or make an introduction on your behalf.
A colleague was a LinkedIn first connection to the internal recruiter at a company that had posted a position I was interested in pursuing. Now, this guy and I weren’t good friends, but we have worked on a very large project together so I thought that he might be comfortable providing an introduction to the recruiter. I emailed him and asked for assistance and when he replied that he would be glad to help I provided him with an introductory bio to include in his email to the recruiter. At that point, he fell off the face of the earth and was never heard of again. That’s the only possible explanation. Follow up emails to him were ignored.
Recently an opportunity came up at a great company where I had five quality connections to the senior team. FIVE. You know where this is going. Four of the five promised to intercede on my behalf and then went dark. They may have done something; maybe not. I have no way of knowing. The fifth, the CIO of a large corporation who had been in a CIO group with me never responded to my emails. These were all professional colleagues I had worked with and broken bread with and I was sure to provide each one with an out; every email included “if you are comfortable doing so (and it is OK if you are not)…” I would have been fine for them to come back and pass on the request. I’ve done so with others when my connection to the target wasn’t close or recent.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. But the fact that they are exceptions proves the point. I have had some serious above-the-call-of-duty assistance from people – past suppliers, recruiters and colleagues – and I thank them profusely each time. I know how easy it is NOT to help and so appreciate it every time they take their valuable time to try to help.
What turns an unemployed executive into a leper? Are these colleagues simply bottom-dwelling scum-sucking pigs? No. Well, maybe one or two, but the rest are good, well- meaning people who for one reason or another either drop the relationship completely or fail to help after promising to do so. I understand that their job isn’t to find me a job. I understand that some people believe that unemployment is contagious. I understand that unless you have been in my shoes you may not fathom the urgency or importance to me of that meeting or that email.
There is a simple solution to this. Be honest. If you don’t want to help or can’t help on a particular opportunity, say so. If you say that you are going to help, do so. It isn’t complicated. And, as stated earlier, there will be no hard feelings if you are unable to help. However, if you fall into the category of those people to whom I have become Mr. Cellophane, I have a very good and long memory.
My own thoughts are this. I come up short daily with my candidates – as hard as I may try, there aren’t enough hours in the day to follow-up with everyone who needs to be followed up with. There is, however, one discussion that I don’t fear having with people and that goes something like this – “I am not your best resource, but am happy to be here if you have any questions or if you see something out there I might be able to help you with. At this stage, though, I would be wasting your time and mine by saying that I can help you.” We all know people like the gentleman who shared this story with me – we all deserve the respect of knowing where we stand.