Sandra Heath had seen the small print burn people on more than one occasion.
During her years in the staffing industry, she saw many people turned away from full-time work simply because companies did not want to pay the finder fees tied to hiring a worker supplied by a temp agency. In many cases, those looking for work had no idea they had signed their rights away until it was too late.
"The general public is often manipulated into doing things that aren't in their best interest," says Heath, who founded her Sandra Heath & Associates Inc. staffing agency five years ago. "This can be a dirty business and I have stopped people in the hallway who say they didn't walk in because they thought this was a temp agency . . . We do things so differently. We don't want to be lumped in with it."
Heath, who focuses on permanent placements, contract staffing and temporary-to-permanent employment for office and clerical help, set out in 1995 to build a better staffing agency that was committed to its customers as much as it was to keeping an eye on the bottom line. Today, 70 percent of the companies which contract with Heath are referrals, while nearly one out of every two people who walk through her door looking for work are there because of someone else's positive experience.
One might think staffing agencies would be hitting difficult times with America's shallow pool of qualified workers, but Heath is keeping her head above water -- a fact she attributes to a small shop and positive word of mouth about what she can offer.
"I've been doing this for the past 16 years, and the last six months have been bad," she says of the labor shortage. "We can place an ad in the paper and not get a single call. But, we've got this group of people out there talking about us, even if they haven't worked for us in five years."
So in the end, referrals are the engine keeping Heath's firm stocked with both companies which need workers and people who need jobs -- both are groups she counts as valuable clients. Here are three rules she lives by when it comes to building powerful business relationships with your customers.
During the initial meeting with prospective employees, Heath schedules time to meet with them on a one-on-one basis. That way, she can take her time and figure out what type of work the person wants and whether she can deliver that.
"We don't schedule four people for a 10 o'clock appointment," explains Heath. "We schedule one and take as much time as we need so, by the time they walk out that door, they feel better than when they walked in."
Similarly, when Heath is contacted by a new company with which she hasn't worked before, the first order of business is always a tour so she can get a feeling for the work environment and what type of person would excel there.
"You've got to tell people what they're walking into," she says. "I will not send someone where I have not personally been there to meet the people."
Make it personal
Giving of your time is important, but Heath says establishing some sort of connection with your customers is even more crucial to long-term business relationships. She says that is often established with a company's satisfaction with the employees she places there. For the people looking for work, making that connection can be a little more difficult.
Heath relies on lunches and other types of informal meetings with her prospective workers to make them feel more comfortable, an element that is vital to her ability to make a good placement.
"This way, people are more apt to open up and talk to you," she explains. "It's a more comfortable atmosphere having lunch. They have to be comfortable with me to do a good job for them."
Oftentimes, Heath cannot help a person find a job simply because of the types of companies with which she is currently working. In those cases, she is not shy about saying there is nothing she can do right now.
"We don't try to put square pegs in round holes," she explains. "I think honesty is the best policy. If we don't have the exact position you're looking for, we don't make you fit the mold.
"We tell them we're sorry that we can't do anything for them right now and they appreciate that and they come back." How to reach: Sandra Heath & Associates Inc., (216) 265-4600
Jim Vickers (email@example.com) is an associate editor at SBN.