Staffing for Success in a Soft Market
Many printers tell us they are encountering a soft market in the fall of 2008. Even those who are holding onto most of their customers are finding their revenues drained by lower margins. In response, rather than decreasing their costs, the more successful printing companies are reacting to the soft market by:
- using technology to be more effective and productive
- infusing energy & creativity into their marketing efforts
- developing ways to increase their value to clients & expand their relationships with their most profitable & growable customers.
The top 3 staff investments in soft economic times
To execute the above three success steps for tougher times, you’ll likely need to evaluate the strength of your operations in the following three areas:
You need superlative management now more than ever to assess and configure your infrastructure to respond effectively to market conditions, your sustaining clientele, and current and potential customer needs. You also need expert managers to review resources and optimize the productivity of staff, technology, and workflow.
Contrary to what usually happens in a soft market, businesses that offer products or services should increase their marketing and advertising activities at this time. This mandate applies to every commercial sector–-including retail products, food, entertainment, travel, real estate, and fuel, as well as printing. Purchasers are still out there and are more apt to buy from companies that put themselves forward in the public eye, hard times or no.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing marketing with sales. Rather, marketing delivers strategic messages both externally and internally to reinforce branding and business development. In turn, these messages provide the tools for sales. In a soft market the most effective marketing messages amount to informing your prospects that your company’s mandate is to help facilitate and grow their business, then demonstrating how you will achieve that goal in each case to deliver a return. Such strategic messages serve to de-commoditize your product in the marketplace (even if your offering really is a commodity!)
3. Customer Service
Customer service is rapidly becoming the foundation of our industry. Careers in this category have become highly demanding, since they require strong technical expertise as well as strong ‘soft’ skills to interact effectively both externally with customers and internally through all aspects of production. Investing in the right customer-service people and in their development is absolutely essential if you desire fast and sustaining results, because the highest levels of productivity and customer satisfaction start with expert planning and continue through all phases of project management. Additionally, in tougher times when companies must carefully review their staff count, you will require fewer people throughout your entire workflow if you have well qualified staff to initiate and manage all your projects. Furthermore, it is imperative to select customer-service staff who can advance and adapt to the changing business climate while still maintaining long-term client relationships that can weather change as well.
Of course, both of the above three-item lists are handy oversimplifications. The fact is that all positions in the workflow are important to your company’s productivity and profitability. And every position on your payroll, rather than being just a static expense, should be a dynamic investment to yield you financial return.
Achieving hiring ROI
PrintLink’s numerous preceding articles for WhatTheyThink explain many of the keys to maximizing your return on staff investment. These include:
- Pinpointing your hiring, productivity, & business-development requirements
- Understanding the range, uniqueness & corporate culture of your company
- Optimizing your workforce both to advance & to adapt to changing business trends
- Hiring strategically by assessing a prospective employee’s compatibility & advancement potential within your company’s long-term strategic plan
- Exercising creative alternatives if perfect candidates aren’t available or you can’t afford them
A capable personnel agency pays off
Your core business is, well, your core business, and as a manager, all your time and energy should be spent on your core activities. If, like most companies, you’ve cut back on staff during the soft market, you definitely don’t have surplus time to invest in a thorough candidate recruitment-and-assessment process. Even in companies with dedicated human-resource departments, the core function of their internal H-R professionals is to manage existing personnel and assist with hiring—but not to source candidates. So especially in tougher times that don’t allow for lengthy or inefficient hiring practices, your best course may well be to enlist a third-party staffing agency with proven expertise in personnel recruitment, screening, interviewing, hiring, and negotiating.
The value proposition of industry-specific personnel services
Besides all the above proficiencies and unlike generalist personnel agencies, PrintLink offers employers the rare added advantage of specializing in print. We provide staffing services entirely and only to the North American printing industry and its supply chain--and we’ve been doing it for a long time.
One common scenario in which our specialized focus proves essential is in filling technical positions. In these cases, some in-house human-resource professionals and generalist personnel agencies face a disadvantage because they do not necessarily understand printing. So they do not necessarily grasp the specific requirements of the job. But because we are always able to provide specialized technical insight when selecting candidates, we streamline the hiring process - not just for human-resource departments but also for the managers of the specific department in need of staff.
(In fact, both for companies with and without H-R departments, we work most effectively in partnership with the specific manager to whom the position reports. This alliance constitutes a time-saving measure, for one because it helps us hone in faster on strategic issues. It also enables us to evaluate candidates’ soft skills efficiently by assessing their interactions with the prospective manager and other key staff with whom they may eventually work.)
But far more importantly for employers, the biggest benefit of our specialized, in-depth knowledge is our expertise in devising personnel strategies specifically for the industry. Our long experience with hiring for all its various sectors, technologies, and past and current trends enables us to understand your company’s own unique circumstances and staffing needs. Even better, we can recommend customized workforce strategies to help ensure that your business remains indispensable to your clients now and into the future. And in the insecurities of the present market, our historical perspective, gained from experiencing prior economic downturns and recoveries, enables us to offer you both realistic reassurance and effective practical strategies for continued business success.
In short, hiring - or worse, hiring delays or mistakes - can be an extremely disruptive and expensive proposition. The value of PrintLink's specialized personnel service is that we possess a thorough and comprehensive understanding of both the technical requirements and the future trends of printing. So we excel at helping you hire strategically - both in the present soft market and for the long-term profitability of your business.