When my Dad opened his staffing business in 1974, a Manpower franchise, I exhorted him to pursue the technical staffing business. After all, he had worked the technical staffing market for almost 15 years and was an engineer himself. But he maintained that to make money and avoid risk as a Manpower franchise, you had to focus on the bread and butter of clerical and industrial staffing. I was 16, he was 47 and the boss.
Really great companies, according to Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, don’t chase every good idea that comes along. They passionately pursue certain lines of business and passionately exclude stuff that doesn’t fit. He gives a convincing description of Walgreens’ decision to unload its soda fountain business as a precursor to its phenomenal growth. So what would Collins think about commercial staffing companies doing tech?
He’d puke, I suspect. It’s not that it can’t be done. To some degree the lower end of the tech staffing market differs little from the upper end of commercial staffing. But the differences between commercial and higher end tech or professional make them essentially two different kinds of business.
Tech uses terms like ‘candidate, consultant, engagement, solutions, corp-to-corp, 1099, onboarding ‘, as opposed to ‘temp, applicant, assignment, arrival call’. Tech engagements can last for years and average at least several months at most companies, whereas commercial assignments average around 20 days. Overtime rules differ on both the pay and bill side.
It’s a different business and one that the entrepreneurial commercial staffing company should approach with caution. And what happened with my Dad? He did fine staying out of tech, retiring from his business after just six years of focused commercial staffing. As Mark Twain said, “I spent four years in university, and I was amazed at how much wiser my father got while I was away.”