Growth doesn't come smoothly at Kalamazoo Banner Works -- it happens in fits and starts. Roger Lepley, CEO of the $2.3-million sign manufacturer, meets the periods of accelerating demand by buying about 1,800 hours of temporary help a year.

Ordinarily, most temporary-personnel agencies dread small-company clients because they often hire just once and require lots of hand-holding. But, as Lepley discovered, entrepreneurs can ease agencies' fears and ensure better service by learning a little about the temp business. Here's his advice:

Expect to pay more: Kalamazoo pays temp workers at hourly rates that are about 20% higher than those of employees in the same position, but it saves on the costs of benefits, workers' compensation, and paperwork. Overall, Lepley has cut labor costs by 18% just by using temps.

Protect the core business: Full-timers still perform key jobs. "We have to protect ourselves," Lepley explains. "Large silk-screen printing isn't easy, and ruining a banner is ruining $80." Temps handle secondary tasks.

Fill duties, not titles: Three days of answering phones and typing presentations do not require three days with an expensive word-processing temp. Instead, use the word-processing pro for one day and cheaper clerical help for the rest. Kalamazoo lists duties before calling the agency and then asks for help choosing workers.

Meet the temp: Preoccupied managers may leave temps to twiddle their thumbs for the first few hours. Kalamazoo forwards a list of job duties to the production line as a reminder the day before a temp's arrival. When temps arrive, they get an office tour.

Talk about the future: Kalamazoo doesn't use many temps each year, but it gets them every year from the same agency. Repeat business is a temp service's lifeblood; by describing your anticipated needs, you'll likely get more attention and better pricing. -- Phaedra Hise

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