It’s the time of year when individuals resolve to stop snacking and start exercising — and when forward-looking business owners and managers set goals for the coming year.

Some goals may vary depending on the industry in which a firm works, the type of searches it performs, the size of the firm or other factors.

For example, as 2012 dawns, some staffing firms are still struggling to work their way out of the recession — while others say business is booming. These firms will have different goals, while some goals will work for any business.

Based on what has worked — or not worked — in the past and the trends they see for the coming year, we asked staffing firm owners and managers what their plans are for improving businesses in 2012:

* Work with clients who are serious about filling the position.

At Big 3 Consulting in Salt Lake City, Scott Robinson plans to focus on clients who are not just testing the waters. “I only get paid if they hire my people,” said Robinson, managing partner of the firm, which focuses on software sales positions and does a lot of contingent searches. “We don’t want a search that we put our time and effort into to evaporate because of a non-decision.”

Robinson wants to focus on clients who will give timely feedback and have an effective hiring process in place. This includes competitive compensation.

“My clients that are serious about hiring good people right now are absolutely having to go above and beyond their typical packages,” Robinson said. “Candidates in today’s market are not looking to make lateral moves in terms of compensation.”

* Use analytics to drive client behavior and improve productivity.

Valerie Frederickson, founder and CEO of Menlo Park, Calif.-based human resources consulting firm Valerie Frederickson & Co., plans to build on a system of analytics that her firm has recently started using with clients. “When we start a search, we show a client how we’re going to track our activities and their activities, and how we’re going to compare them to our last 20 searches,” said Frederickson, whose firm does mostly retained searches.

This means they can show clients what the firm has been doing – how quickly they have presented candidates, for example, and where those candidates came from. They also show the client how well they are holding up their end of the search: Has the client made all of their weekly update meetings with the staffing firm? Do they reply to messages within 24 hours? Do they interview candidates quickly?

“It’s a way of holding a mirror up to ourselves and our clients, and that helps predict success,” Frederickson said. “We’re trying to create a lot more transparency and accountability on both sides.”

* Compete on more than price.

“There is only so far you can take price down,” said David Chie, chief operating officer of Palo Alto Staffing Services and Palo Alto Staffing Technology, in Palo Alto, Calif. “We want to be able to maintain price sensitivity, but also be able to sell our value as consultants to our clients.”

Chie’s firm is releasing a value-added services program that will allow the firm to act more as consultants to clients and build more exclusive relationships. For example, when the firm fills administrative positions for start-ups, sometimes the executives at the start-ups have never had administrative support before. Consulting on how to make best use of the services would make the experience better for the client. Other services could include executive coaching, outplacement and human resources legal advice.

“We want to be considered an adviser,” said Chie, whose firm’s core business has traditionally been recruiting for administration, human resources, sales, marketing and finance positions. In January 2011, the firm started Palo Alto Staffing Technology to focus on software development positions. “We’re all creatively thinking, how do we become closer with our clients?”

* Find new ways to get paid for industry knowledge.

In years of working with employers and job hunters, staffing experts learn a lot about topics such as industry trends, hiring practices and management. Michael Hayes, owner of Momentum Specialized Staffing in Phoenix, is positioning his firm as a resource for people who want to learn where the job market is headed. He appears on Phoenix television discussing the economy and job market, for example, and he is now writing an e-book to help job seekers do better in interviews.

By establishing the firm as a source of expertise in these areas, Hayes hopes to find new income streams.

“We want to do more consulting with companies,” said Hayes, whose firm fills a wide range of positions, including custom-recruited industrial and clerical jobs. He is also looking to increase his speaking engagements.

* Be cautious about giving away services and advice.

Giving advice to job hunters or potential clients — whether it’s helping a prospective client detail a job description or coaching a candidate before an interview – can pay off in the long run, but it can also take time away from paying work.

“You feel like you do a lot of charity work in the recruiting business,” said Glenn Davis, owner of Next Step Group, an executive search firm with offices in San Mateo, Calif., and Tampa, Florida. The firm focuses on industries including software, outsourcing and professional services. “And it does to some extent make you unproductive.”

The key is to differentiate between free help that will ultimately improve the business – and time-drains that will not.

* Deliver high quality and high volume at the same time.

High-volume accounts can be key to a successful staffing business. The trick is to combine high volume with high quality – something Chie says is a key focus for his firm moving into 2012.

“We are working on ways to internally refine our recruitment process and standardize it so we can scale the volume more quickly,” Chie said. They hope to use their applicant tracking system and their internal qualification and technical screening to become more efficient.

* Build a social media presence.

Some firms may be starting from scratch, while others will be extending a successful social networking strategy in 2012. In either case, using Twitter, Facebook and other tools can be a critical piece of a staffing firm’s success.

“We have been doing it for a while now, and it’s started to pay off,” Hayes said. The firm is now getting leads about jobs and candidates from Twitter and Facebook. Setting up an integrated social media system is helpful, so jobs posted on the online job board are sent to social media outlets without having to be manually entered.

“When people are on vacation, we don't want them even checking email.” - Valerie Frederickson

* Focus on work/life balance and health.

Frederickson’s firm allows people to work from anywhere, which has allowed employees greater flexibility and work/life balance. When they’re not working, she encourages them to check out: “When people are on vacation, we don't want them even checking email,” she said. Their office closes completely between Christmas and New Year’s.

However, the work-anywhere culture has contributed to a new problem: repetitive stress injuries caused by using laptops and mobile devices so frequently.

“We find that it’s very hard to focus on health and working out and eating right when you’re so results-focused,” Frederickson said. “We’re having to increase our focus on health.”

What are your new year's resolutions? Join the conversation! Leave your comments below!

Tags: Momentum Specialized Staffing, Staffing Firms, Industry, Michael Hayes, Big 3 Consulting, David Chie, Glenn Davis, Goals, New Year's Resolutions, Next Step Group, Palo Alto Staffing Services, Palo Alto Staffing Technology, Scott Robinson, Valerie Frederickson, Valerie Frederickson & Co.