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May 31, 2011

As demand for our search and placement services started to pick up late last summer, I decided to focus intently on one huge task; increasing the production on my desk.  I established new goals, blocked out all other peripheral responsibilities, and hunkered down to re-create a profitable business. Today I can report that my venture has been a huge success!

Those of you that run a solo practice know we all have the challenging day to day task of managing priorities. We have to determine if we truly have the right searches to fill, once we obtain them, and then must attack each placement opportunity with precision and efficiency. We must qualify diligently and seek immediate results without appearing impatient or testy. This process has required maximum focus, a willingness to learn from the challenges of 2009 and a dedication to what has, and always will, work in this awesome industry of ours.

The attention to detail on each search assignment is where it all starts, but often the other aspects of being a successful practitioner get overlooked. I am here today to say that if and when you put together a string of six months of approximately $50K in billings per as I just have, the resulting financial payoff makes it all okay.

So after turning off my creative writing skills and re-prioritizing several minor aspects of my business (like my Twitter account), I am back to share my positive energy as my momentum continues to grow. The first bright note I can share is that years like 2009 are necessary! A lack of demand for our services separates the survivors from the wannabees in any hard core sales profession like headhunting and brings out entrepreneurs that plant seeds to become our next prospects. In the second half of 2010 and 2011 to date, 80% of my billings are with brand new (first ever) clients. This is really saying something, as I am in my 30th year of working the same niche.

The second thing about a tough period like we recently experienced is that it is clarifying. The prolonged dearth of demand enabled me to get tuned into what truly works and is critical to our success as executive recruiters — like the fact that we can never stop prospecting. I over-achieved by telling myself to keep cold calling, to make more MPC presentations, and to be willing to work “one too many searches” as often as possible. That worked and here’s how.

Actually, first let’s look at what I did not do:

  1. I did not worry about or focus on the past. Past clients were tired of hearing from me for the most part and many did not come out of the Great Recession with vigor anyway I put my time and energy into sprouting firms ready to emerge from the ashes.
  2. I did not buy an Applicant Tracking System. Yes, believe it or not I still don’t have one. I beat myself up about this from time to time and do realize that my productivity will increase once installed and configured and customized, and, and, and… In the meantime, I went back to what I know works and stopped berating myself.
  3. I did not rely on search engines. I use LinkedIn extensively, but I still do not pay for it. I have never paid a dollar for a monthly subscription for any candidate/client database or job board. I was trained by the best to use my phone, my pen, my pad, and my brain and they are all still working!

Speaking of training, I owe most of my success in this business to the myriad of exceptional mentors we are so fortunate to have available to us. For instance, all one has to do is look at the reasons for my current success and see that you too can benefit from the inexpensive/free sources of our unbelievably valuable education. So, here’s what I did do and whom I attribute some of these lesson to:

  1. Pick up the darn phone! – Steve Finkel. When I was first trained in the 1980’s we had no automation to speak of. Tough huh?  No, actually it wasn’t. Because as sure as I am sitting here writing this out, we still do not have to rely on exhaustive usage of technology tools to succeed. Not if you make enough calls that is.
  2. Call your client, every client you are working a search for, every Friday – Barb Bruno. When I first heard Barb say this, it was apparent that this was common sense. But was I doing it? No. It really makes a difference in the quality of the communication you will enjoy with each client if you just check in with them each Friday. Whether you have great news regarding a new candidate you just identified, or whether you just ask a question that’s been on your mind, make the call.  Let them know you care; you are thinking of them and are working on their behalf.
  3. There is no substitute for cold, grass-roots recruiting. About five years ago I did some research that revealed the top software companies in my state (Colorado) that employed large telesales organizations for a client that gave me a VP (Inside) Sales Search. I then wrote a recruiting script, per my client’s needs and calmly asked to talk to the VP Sales at each of the 10-15 source companies on my list.
    To be honest, I do not remember exactly what the result of that search was. What I do know, for sure, was that one of the candidates I contacted that day was very impressed with my approach. He was not looking to leave and did not bite at my tantalizing script, but he went on to start his own company two years later and has given me 10-12 searches since. Today he is one of my top clients and best source of networking for relevant candidates.
  4. Stick to the basics – Scott Love. For instance, once you obtain a search – write up your recruiting script, keep it concise, and use it — on every recruiting call.   Your results will increase.
  5. Make another call before you go home. This one I learned the value of in 2009. After two dozen or more “no’s” it’s hard to get back into the ring and anticipate one more punch. But whether you are seeking a new search or that elusive candidate my advice is to plan your next day before you pack up and then say OK – I am gonna make one more call. Sometimes that leads to success or maybe five more calls. Ultimately the numbers game we live in will work for you.
  6. Specialize. As tough as it might appear on the surface to establish and stay within a niche market, believe me, it is much more difficult to survive our industry’s ups and downs as a generalist. As the economy ticks back up, requests for my placement services moves in lockstep with it because I am a proven, known expert within a well defined area of specialization. My niche, IT Sales/Sales Management in Colorado, is not prolific. But if one dominates it and/or has a branded reputation to service it, the demand for you will follow.
  7. Share your love and passion for what works. All of the above is relevant advice regarding the conscious approach we can take to make ourselves better search consultants. But perhaps a more powerful lesson can be learned thru the subconscious.
    If you, like me, can get to a place of feeling how fortunate we are to be in the ultimate people business and communicate your joy for this vital role we play; your success will come naturally. Your success will come through the honest words and heartfelt thoughts you share with candidates and clients in each and every conversation.
    I am blessed to be in that place.

It’s good to be back. In all senses of that statement.

P.S.  I hope to meet you in Las Vegas.

image source: Alejandro Serrano Durán

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