Temporary workers can help small businesses weather economic ups and downs. To get great ones in the door, you need to choose the right temp agency.
Small businesses can't always afford a full-time graphic designer, or an a seasonal receptionist, or even someone to build their website. That's where temp agencies come in. But small businesses are much more hesitant to use temporary staff than their larger counterparts.
While 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use temporary and contract staffing strategically, which is to say in preparation for the peaks and valleys in their demand cycle, once you get down to businesses with between 25 and 99 people, that figure drops to 12 percent.
Part of the reason for this disparity is small business owners' concern that temp workers might be more trouble than they're worth. "One of the misconceptions is that 'temp and contract workers would have a hard time assimilating into my workplace seamlessly. My people would spend more time trying to train these people and bring them up to speed, it just isn't worthwhile,'" says Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association, which is based in Alexandria, Virginia.
If you look to the long term, however, using temp workers well brings far more benefit to a business than the effort expended in training them. Here's how to find a temp agency that will make the process as smooth as possible.
Finding the Right Temp Agency: Gauge the Breadth of Your Agency's Talent
When shopping around for temp agencies for your business, the most obvious consideration is what type of talent you're looking for. Some agencies specialize in a single profession, such as providing administrative assistants, or focus on a specific professional sector.
If you can, look a few years into the future and determine whether you will need more depth of talent in a certain area. Your company's future focus can and should significantly affect your choice of temp agencies.
Solvate, a New York City-based company, bills itself as the Zipcar of temp agencies (it allows its clients to access talent virtually and on an hourly basis). The company makes no effort to specialize; instead it offers business owners access to a variety of types of talent they might need. And they know whereof they speak, having used 87 different temporary workers to help build their business since its inception in 2007.
"We don't want to focus on any one thing because what we've already seen from our active clients is that they have tapped on average 6.8 different people to work for them," says Michael Paolucci the company's co-founder and CEO. "So what that suggests to me is that [we're] like a small business toolkit; we're like a Swiss army knife."
Dig Deeper: Hiring in an Employer's Market
Finding the Right Temp Agency: Ask the Right Questions
Once you've ascertained that the agency you're considering stocks the type of talent you're looking for, you have to ask yourself a trickier question: why are these people temping? You don't want to dip into the dregs of the talent pool, so how can you assure that you're not sacrificing quality when you choose hourly workers over salaried workers.
Paolucci's company has an easy answer to the quality question. Solvate's workers are limited to professionals who have already achieved success as independent contractors. They aren't working as temps "because they cant find a job or they're in-between jobs, or they didn't make the cut someplace else," he explains. Other temp workers "don't have a professional reputation on the line like an independent contractor, who is really trying to build their client base."
Jill Evans Silman, the vice president of Meador Staffing Services, which is based in Pasadena, Texas, views the issue of accountability differently. She asks: "Why would you go to an accountant [versus] a CPA? Well, if the person's gone to the extra trouble to align themselves with a professional association, if they've sat for the certification, if they've done those extra things, why wouldn't you want to go with them."
Similarly, Wahlquist is a proponent of agencies with the ASA seal of approval. That designation means that the firm has committed to operate in compliance with the association's code of ethics as well as providing continuing professional education so that they are up on the latest HR legislation.
Coy Renick, co-founder of The Renick Group, a Roanoke, Virginia-based recruiting and staffing firm, has a number of suggestions for questions to ask a prospective temp agency before signing on the dotted line:
- Are there prior or current customers you can use as a reference, preferably business in a similar market and size range?
- Is its rate competitive with other staffing firms in your geographic area?
- How many years of experience the agency's employees have?
- What has its success rate been with making placements and what is its past level of turnover?
Dig Deeper: Hiring Temps? Here's How to Keep It Legal
Finding the Right Temp Agency: Ask About Additional Perks and Services
Many temp agencies have standard services beyond simply matching your company with the right talent. They will also perform criminal and background checks, education verification, and even drug screening. Some agencies offer these as a complete package while others are willing to parcel them out. For example, it might conduct screening of employee backgrounds while allowing your company to conduct the interviews in house.
The most common supplementary service that staffing agencies provide is advice on subjects like workforce management. Companies are increasingly offering the option of "helping you devise more efficient and effective strategies for screening, onboarding and deploying talent," Wahlquist says.
In fact, for some temp agencies that's the most rewarding part of their job. "Small businesses are the ones that I really enjoy working with because they depend on me not only for staffing and recruiting but they also, from time to time, want my advice on HR issues," Renick says. He also appreciates that smaller ventures usually make decisions faster than their larger corporate counterparts.
Dig Deeper: How to Hire Your First Employee
Finding the Right Temp Agency: When to Opt For a Headhunter
Not all hiring situations call for a temp agency, but it's not too challenging to decide whether to search for talent using your human resources team, a temp agency, or a headhunter.
Making your HR staff central to your talent hunt only works when you have sufficient resources to let them handle that on top of all their other responsibilities. Silman notes that "one HR person may be responsible for all the new hire paperwork, all the documentation, handling benefits, and a compensation." In a scenario like that, you'd want to call in a headhunter or a temp agency.
"If I was going to hire a CFO, like a C-level executive that wasn't readily available in my network, that kind of thing, I might imagine going to a headhunter," says Paolucci. Essentially headhunters, or recruiters, are good for meeting your need to speedily find a full-time staff member who is central to your business.
But, before using an executive search firm or other head-hunting service, keep in mind that the process can be costly. "A lot of time you're paying this big fee in advance so you're sort of stuck with the process and maybe sometimes you make compromises in your decision cause you've already paid for it," Paolucci says.
Dig Deeper: How to Hire an HR Director
Finding the Right Temp Agency: Working One-On-One
Temp agency experts generally agree that the staffing team you're working with needs to take a very hands-on approach to assessing your HR needs, which can be jarring for some entrepreneurs.
"There's a tendency with people to say, 'well, I just need this, or go find me that.' Well there's more to it," says Silman "It's very difficult for us to work with one hand tied behind our back if we don't understand the culture."
Gaining that heightened understanding can require an in-person meet-up, which allows the staffing professional to go into more detail. They will want answers to questions such as "what does the headcount look like? Who do you have doing what? Do you have any particular new products or services that are launching?" Wahlquist says.
Seeing the physical layout of your office can even help your temp agency understand "little things like where is a temp employee going to park and how you handle your work breaks and lunch periods," Wahlquist adds. That makes matching a contractors personality as well as their skills that much easier.
It's not only helpful to hold these meetings before a single temp has been placed but to stay in touch with your agency so they can know he the placements are going. For his larger clients, Renick will hand deliver paychecks as an excuse to stay current on any developments with either the client or the talent.
Dig Deeper: How to Fill IT Jobs in Hot Categories
Finding the Right Temp Agency: When to Drop Your Agency
Every once in a while, a temp worker won't pan out too well. Then the question arises: Where you should draw the line? Is it time to switch agencies? Or are a few botched placements are to be expected?
"We're not with these people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and people can do some pretty crazy, silly things," Silman says. "If I was evaluating a staffing service, it would be less about that particular situation than how quickly they rise to the challenge and how quickly they are able to turn things around."
Paolucci believes that as long as Solvate takes responsibility for a poor placement and gives its client a refund, one bad placement would not ruin the relationship. The company also has protocols in place to preempt a problem.
"We make sure the work that's being done is delivered to the client in micro deliverables," Paolucci says. This "minimizes the kind of damage that can occur because it's not like somebody's going off to work on their own for 40 hrs and then coming back with a project that the client says hey that's not what I wanted."
Dig Deeper: Vendor Management for Small Retailers