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SMART IDEAS #3: Don't be all things to all people

Weekly inspiration for the staffing industry

ISSUE #3  |  October 28, 2023

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• Don't be all things to all people

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SMART IDEA #3: Don't be all things to all people

A few weeks ago, I was at Staffing World speaking with Jim, the owner of a relatively small staffing firm in the Midwest.

I asked Jim, "Tell me about your company. What do you do?"

Jim proudly replied, "We do all kinds of staffing…clerical, industrial, accounting, finance, some IT, and even a few HR placements."

Jim was very proud of the capabilities of his team!

Then I asked Jim, "Do you specialize in anything?"

And he said, "No, we're in a small community, so we have to do everything for our clients."

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you have to do everything for your clients?


Trying to be everything to everyone is a surefire way to make yourself a commodity! Unless you want to compete on price, you need to pick something to focus on…something you can OWN.

Even in a small market.

Want to stand out?

Be the big fish in a small pond.

As the cliché goes, "the riches are in the niches..."

Employers want to work with specialists…staffing firms that know their industry, the types of people they need to hire, where to find those people, and what it takes to successfully hire and retain them.

If you are a generalist, what types of talent are you really good at recruiting?

If you are already a specialist, can you further refine your focus and be best at recruiting for micro-skills? For example, don't just be an IT recruiter; be a specialist in data science, cybersecurity, business intelligence, or other in-demand technical skills.

Executive recruiters have always followed this strategy. They become experts in talent acquisition for exceptionally specific skill disciplines. I remember working with a recruiting firm in the chemical industry. They didn't just recruit chemical industry executives; they had seven different practice areas, each focused on a sub-niche of the chemical industry.

Now, specializing doesn't mean you have to recruit just one kind of talent. You can specialize in other ways:

  • Have a vertical market focus.
    Pick an industry you are really good at service. You can look at SIC or NAICS code to get a listing of industries. Some of the most common in staffing are manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, financial services, professional services, technology, education, life sciences, and government.

    Your company could specialize in a vertical, or you might have service delivery teams or individual recruiters focused on a specific vertical.
  • Target employers that are a specific size.
    The majority of staffing companies want to target the "middle market" – those companies that are big enough to have a decent volume of staffing needs but small enough not to use a VMS or MSP.

    If you want less competition, go where most companies are not going. Become an expert at serving small businesses – you get to be more consultative, and the margins are better! Or get amazingly good at recruiting and fulfillment and specialize in serving high-volume staffing users.
  • Be an expert at solving specific kinds of problems.
    It's probably not a surprise that the biggest challenges faced are not staffing problems. They're business problems, such as problems with sales, productivity, and cost control. The good news is that (almost) every business problem can have a staffing solution.

    Can you become the best at solving problems with turnover, candidate quality, dealing with workforce reliability, improving productivity, and better managing labor costs?

    The better you understand the problems your clients face, the more opportunities you will discover to sell staffing services.
  • Provide unique service delivery models.
    Staffing is changing. We're seeing more instances of "staffing as a platform" and more use of technology in service delivery. But using tech is just one way to create a new business model.

    I've seen staffing companies that sell staffing as a service (like your Netflix subscription). Others provide project solutions and own outcomes rather than just supplying labor. And others that take ownership of departments in their clients' facilities.

    In creating a new business model, you are seeking innovative ways to solve problems using staffing (and hiring) as a tool and/or providing new ways to deliver your services.

What are you the best in the world at doing?

In staffing, differentiation is hard. The more you focus, the easier it is to stand out.

If you build your team, your processes, and your service delivery models around your specialty, it becomes difficult…if not impossible…for other firms to complete.

Focus is a powerful source of sustainable competitive advantage.

One last thing.

Just because you are a specialist doesn't mean you can't fill an order outside of your specialty. It means that you position yourself around your area of expertise. You can always say "yes" to other business when it comes to you!


What do you think of the new format? Like it? Hate it? Either way, we’d love to hear. Just click reply and tell us your thoughts.

Have a topic (or challenge) you want us to address? Tell us that too! We’d be happy to provide specific tips for you in future issues of our SMART IDEAS Weekly

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Haley Marketing | PO Box 410 | Williamsville, NY 14231-0410 | 716-631-8981

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