Marketing in Times of Scarce Human Resources

By Barry Friedman

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OCTOBER 2006 - Every business has cycles. One month it may be not enough staff to handle the workload, and the next month it will be something else. Should a company market based on current staffing needs, or on future staffing needs? Either way, over time the cycles will reverse and the issues will change. The problem—or opportunity—is how to create balance between production (getting work done) and sales (bringing in new work).

Some companies grow the most in a bad economy because they seize the moment. Other companies cut back on costs, reduce their marketing, and generally downsize until the economy picks up. Some companies, however, look for acquisitions, increase marketing, and grow during these difficult times. More opportunities exist in turbulent times. The challenge is how to balance growth opportunities with resources.

Strategies and Action Plans

To take advantage of when others are cutting back on marketing and when the market is expanding, one must settle on a few, targeted strategies and related action plans. These strategies and plans must start at the top and be managed on a regular basis. To be successful, leadership at all levels, from managing partners to department heads, will be required. If the commitment is not there, plans will fail.

Below are suggested strategies and action plans.

Make room for new clients. The first step is to purge an existing client base of substandard clients. Put a strong partner in charge of this program. Set a goal to eliminate a certain percentage of clients. One will find that fees will increase because clients are willing to pay more, and margins will increase when substandard clients are replaced with better, more-profitable ones. In the process, the staff will respect the firm more. The problem with implementing this strategy is that weaker partners may protect those clients. Make it mandatory that each partner justify keeping clients. This program will be difficult, but it can pay huge dividends.

Get aggressive on recruiting. Typically, recruiting is handled by the human resources function or someone in the technical area of a practice. This process will generally fail when there is a shortage of staff in the marketplace.

The marketing department or the most creative, aggressive, sales-oriented partner or manager should be in charge of recruiting. Recruiting is a marketing effort, and it should be dealt with on that basis.

Set specific goals. Set goals on recruiting, and report on the results. Remember, if an organization wants to change behaviors, it must start by measuring the activities that influence those behaviors.

Bonus plan. Create a bonus plan for accomplishing recruiting goals. If the goal is to hold a certain number of qualified interviews, base the bonus on that metric. Keep the bonus short-range (e.g., quarterly) to better motivate the staff responsible. Publish the goals and actual results for all partners, and make them part of the firm culture.

E-mail recruiting newsletter. An e-mail recruiting newsletter can be used for campus recruiting as well as other staffing efforts.

The following ideas can help build the newsletter:

  • Create goals for the number of e-mail addresses added to the newsletter distribution list each month.
  • Involve every staff person in the program.
  • Add ex-employees to the distribution list.
  • Review all prior resumes submitted and applicants interviewed, and add appropriate applicants to the list.
  • Add all controllers of existing clients to the list.
  • Add all existing staff and their spouses.
  • Add all professors from colleges where recruiting is done.
  • Add as many college students as possible.
  • Add other firms’ staff members who are met through professional associations or events.
  • Add a sign-up form for the recruiting newsletter to the firm’s website.
  • Offer special incentives to new hires. Find out what motivates them, and offer it.
  • Include pictures and biographies of staff in the newsletter.
  • Create articles of interest on new hires. Show the human-interest side of the firm; focus on staff, clients, and what makes the firm different.

Changing the Workforce Mix

Examining a company’s workforce mix involves a critical analysis of the requirements of the work and determining whether any of the below might be effective.

Work-at-home employees. Many jobs can be done completely at home, especially tax returns and engagements that do not require client visits. Staff is easier to find if they can work at home.

Outsourcing. Much work can be outsourced to third-party service providers. A great deal of management is required and the process is not easy, but the benefits, in terms of the money saved and the equivalent of new staff found, can be significant.

Flex-time workers. The more flexible a firm is in terms of working hours, the greater the opportunity to hire staff. If a company meets the needs of new hires, it will get them.

“Retired” individuals. The older population is growing significantly, and many of these individuals can still produce and contribute. Consider the “forced retirements” of partners at large CPA firms and the displacement of controllers and CFOs in corporate America. This has created a talent pool with the necessary core skills so that a firm with the resources available might want to develop a “retread university.”

Women. Many women left accounting firms because they could not make partner, or because their firms could not accommodate a family/work-life balance. These women represent a great potential resource pool. Creativity will be required to recruit them, but the payoff could be significant.

The Power of the Internet

The Internet is the great equalizer between small and large firms. The following ideas can help one use the Internet to recruit.

  • Create regional or national advertisements in Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Do some research and use the right keywords.
  • Build special webpages just for recruiting. Make them robust, and profile the firm in unique ways. These landing pages then become the links for the firm’s e-newsletter and the search-engine advertisements.
  • Advertise on websites that accounting professionals visit.
  • Advertise with online resources, such as Monster.com. Sign up for special programs that can create a more effective profile and provide access to résumé databases.

Barry Friedman, CPA, is the CEO of BizActions, LLC (www.bizactions.com), an online business development and marketing firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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