Q My business performs background checks, and because of a new big account, I have to hire about 100 employees this month. How can I do this without losing quality?

Sandra James
Private Eyes
Walnut Creek, California

When circumstances force you to bulk up quickly, the first thing you need are professional bulker-uppers. Andrew Wang, CEO of Beacon Hill Staffing Group, in Boston, recommends retaining two to four contract recruiters. Look for firms that know your local market and your industry. Also urge existing employees to shake their own personal networks. Enhanced referral bonuses can do wonders to concentrate the mind.

Also, don't turn up your nose at temps. "If you're only looking for permanent employees, you've really shrunk your candidate pool," warns Greg Diamond, managing partner at Clovis, a staffing firm in Bethesda, Maryland. Sure, permanent employees may be ideal, but talented temps can help you over the hump, and who knows? Maybe they'll love the work and you'll persuade them to stay put.

With all that new blood flowing in, it's also wise to give some old blood a boost. Promote your best workers to managers or team leaders and charge them with interviewing, training, and managing the recruits, suggests Mark Harris, CEO of Axiom Legal, a New York City-based firm that provides on-site legal services. Then put each in charge of a freshman team. And since those managers will also be new at their jobs, put them under the wings of experienced managers and executives. You, of course, remain the primary fount of wisdom, so make sure your spray of information reaches farther than ever.

If you don't have a process manual that spells out absolutely everything your company does in detail, now's the time to create one. And to make sure the newbies are sufficiently spongelike, don't hesitate to quiz them. That worked well for Insitu, a company in Bingen, Washington, that builds unmanned aircraft. After the company tripled its work force in one year, CEO Steve Sliwa started quizzing fresh hires on what they'd learned from training sessions. The tests were written by experts in each department, and employees who missed too many questions had to retake the tests until they passed.

You should also spot-check the work of new hires and contact your customers to ensure that all's right with the world. Whether you do it by survey or a phone call, ask: Are we delighting you as much today as we did a month ago?


Q We sell mattresses online, and so far we have relied on Internet advertising. We're thinking about launching a broad direct mail campaign. How can we predict how successful this will be?

Philip Krim
The Merrick Group
Stafford, Texas

Web marketing is like fishing: You buy an adword and wait for customers to come nibbling. Direct mail is like hunting: You get customers in your cross hairs and take your best shot. Use the right ammunition, and you may bag some big game, but only if you precisely identify your quarry. "You want a rifle approach, not a shotgun approach," says Rick Gasaway, CEO of MarketerNet, a Chicago-based firm that helps businesses target their direct mailings. Unfortunately, recognizing the nature of your prey doesn't mean you know its habitat--at least not down to the street number. And only banks and other certified lending institutions can legally buy data detailing consumer credit worthiness. Still, competent direct marketing firms can help you home in on car owners, homeowners, and new parents, for example, as well as businesses in specific industries and geographies.

So, ready, aim…lower your expectations. Even a targeted campaign will likely produce response rates under 2 percent. To increase your odds, choose a direct marketing firm with experience finding the type of customers you covet. Don't sign on until the firm gives you case histories that include response rates in multiple markets. That's one gauge of expected ROI.

After you've found a vendor, start with a test run. Don Schultz, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University and the former editor of the Journal of Direct Marketing, suggests sending a few thousand pieces to people in a geographic region you haven't tapped. A dry run can help you tweak your pitch and also project how much a larger campaign will affect your bottom line. In addition, it lets you test that your marketing firm's data is freshly groomed. If more than 3 percent of your mailers come back unopened, that's money wasted--and cause for worry. (Want to do the math? A standard mailer costs between 30 cents and $1.30, depending on the company. That includes the bulk postal rate as well as the printing, design, and customer data costs.)

Direct mail marketing is not for everyone, Schultz warns. High-volume, low-margin businesses should approach with caution. "If you have a very small margin, the testing and costs can eat up your profits," he says.


For direct marketing trends and a database of direct marketers, visit the Direct Marketing Association's website at www.the-dma.org.