Tips for the Long Haul
Project HIRED’s mission is to assist individuals with disabilities to gain competitive employment and advance their careers through partnerships with industry. Combined, our three social business ventures provide competitive employment to over 100 workers with disabilities (with salaries and benefits in excess of $2.6 million) and generate a net contribution of $410,000 or 12%.
Tip 1: Access to expertise
It’s important to allocate the effort to cultivate people you know who have the skills you need. When you share your story you enable prospective employees and volunteers to develop a commitment to your organization, so that they will be willing to connect you to other experts and opportunities.
Project HIRED maintains an updated recruitment plan with key skills and connections sought so that we focus on, and take advantage of, all opportunities to get the specific expertise we need. Board and Business Advisory Committee (BAC) members and other volunteers are working professionals in fields related to our businesses who refer and connect us to many opportunities and in-kind services. Without this expertise and support, Hired TEMPS, our temporary staffing business, would definitely not have successfully weathered the many industry changes over its 19-year history.
An example: During the high-tech boom of a few years ago, the way to get temporary staffing business was to be the primary onsite staffing vendor to larger companies or to be closely aligned with the primary vendor, which was the strategy that Project HIRED pursued. Over the past two years, the bigger companies have opted for a vendor neutral approach that has shifted the opportunity for business growth to contracting with smaller and mid-sized companies. This required an altogether different approach to business development that was outside of our experience. Because of the expertise and commitment of our Business Advisory Committee, we knew about the changing trends early and were able to respond effectively. In addition, the BAC brought in sales representatives from Manpower Staffing to coach Project HIRED staff on these new approaches.
An example: In an industry in which you have less than 15 minutes to submit a qualified candidate for an open requisition, data management and quick access becomes a critical competitive tool. With the help of Board and BAC volunteers, Project HIRED was able to access valuable technical design and development resources to create a database capable of rapidly sorting through hundreds of potential candidates to identify those who are the best fit for the available opening.
Tip 2: It takes people power
Your organization needs people willing to go the extra mile to enable it to be successful.
Transitions in Leadership: If an organization takes the time to ensure that the commitment to social entrepreneurship is deep and broad based, it can survive change in even the most critical leadership positions. Often the success of a business venture rests with the strong vision and leadership of a single individual. When that person leaves, the risk is great that the business will fail. During the 19 years that Project HIRED has been operating its social business ventures, there have been 3 Chief Executive Officers, 1 Interim CEO, 8 Board Chairs, and many changes in Board Members and operational staff. Through it all, HIRED Temps and our call center services have continued to grow and thrive.
Some keys to success:
- Our passion for the entrepreneurial vision and culture is shared by the Board, staff, and community.
- We follow an inclusive process of creating and updating the strategic plan.
- Success is not tied to any one individual.
- It has been a priority to preserve institutional memory including processes, procedures, history, and contact information
- Strong leadership is provided from Board, CEO, and staff during formative stages and times of change.
Tip 3: It takes financial resources
Organizations need access to capital, whether it be reserves, start up grants, interest free or reduced interest loans. Financial capital is essential for taking advantage of opportunities, either for new ventures, changes to or growth in current businesses, and to get through the ups and downs of business cycles.
Several business truisms hold for social business ventures as well:
- It takes money to make money.
- One of the quickest ways to go out of business is to run out of cash…especially when the business is growing fast.
- Know what resources you need and when you need them before you need them. There is no substitute for planning and lining up resources ahead of time, including the resources to “do it” to market expectations, as well as the understanding that doing it on the “cheap” rarely works. Project HIRED has been spared this lesson through the commitment of the Board members to allocate the funds even when staff was trying to “get by”. Board action has overruled the CEO on occasion and said, “You cannot afford not to spend this money.” The non-profit scarcity mindset does not work when running a business in a highly competitive environment.
Tip 4: expect crises, failure and unforeseen challenges--expect change!
Even when things are going very well, always look 1-2 years ahead to see how things will, or might change, and plan accordingly.
Some businesses or services are a 2-3 year opportunity. One example: corporate and community training related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The day the law was signed, Project HIRED sent out flyers with our training schedule/materials/speakers, etc!! This was a lucrative and well attended venture for 2 years before the market became flooded with alternative resources. We anticipated that this might occur and once it did, Project HIRED discontinued the service.
Changes in the marketplace can dramatically affect your business, so be sure you have an exit plan. It’s important to see these changes coming and to “know when to fold ‘em”. An example of this was our sign language interpreter brokerage business. Project HIRED created this business at a time when companies could not find interpreters and as a result were hesitant to hire individuals who were Deaf or hard-of-hearing. After several years of generating significant income and profits from this effort, sophisticated alliances of interpreters became more common and there was less of a need for a “one call resource broker”. When companies became less willing to pay a “broker surcharge” and interpreters were less interested in taking a bit less for the referral, Project HIRED ended this business.
Expect to fail sometimes…failure is OK. Always do thorough research and planning so that you fail as little as possible and so that you mitigate your risk. The most painful example was expansion of HIRED Temps to the neighboring county, which seemed, from market research, to have similar companies, needs, and population from which we could recruit. Although we did our research and planning, we missed the fact that in San Mateo county, relationship patterns and how business was conducted were very different than in Santa Clara county. After two years of hard work, during which our San Mateo county office never got a sufficient volume of placements, we closed it and moved on.
Don’t expect everything to go as planned! Problems and catastrophes are expected and perceived as no one’s fault. Instead of placing “blame”, we focus on solving the problem. Trust and the commitment to solve problems must exist amongst leaders. Neither the Board nor the CEO micromanages or “points fingers”, but instead the team (BAC, Board, staff, community) pitches in to focus on next steps, with “we are all in this together” being the attitude. One financial surprise example of this was the Unemployment Insurance (UI) crisis. Project HIRED found out that any temp who had worked for HIRED Temps, even if that person left to get another job, then lost that job, was our UI claimant. HIRED Temps Advisory Committee and Board members focused on what to do, rather than on why it happened or whose fault it was. They shared ideas to mitigate the financial catastrophe by minimizing the payout and focusing the business on “stable companies” rather than on those who only used temps during “good times”.
In conclusion, these 4 tips have been key in enabling Project HIRED to be a survivor throughout 19 years in the Silicon Valley…Many for-profit companies have come and gone, but Project HIRED is thriving and growing, both on the business side and the client services side.
About the authors
Janet S. Cohen has been a consultant and trainer working with nonprofit organizations for more than 18 years. Her focus is customized work sessions and consulting services for nonprofit organizations on diversification of revenue, earned income, marketing planning, and strategic planning processes. In addition to her own training/consulting business, Ms. Cohen is the Director of New Business Ventures at HOPE Services. She was an affiliate consultant with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services in the Bay Area for 6 years, a senior consultant with the National Center for Social Entrepreneurs for 5 years, and Chief Executive Officer of Project HIRED for 10 years. Under her leadership, Project HIRED grew from a staff of 2 and budget of $50,000 to a staff of 15 and revenues of $ 2.3 million. She has degrees from the University of Massachusetts, the University of Maryland, and a Certificate in Marketing: New Products and Services from the University of California at Santa Cruz. E-mail Jan at email@example.com.
Mr. Archambeau has over 25 years of experience in the field of health and human services. Since 1999, in his role as CEO, George Archambeau has expanded Project HIRED’s call center business from the Bay Area to satellite locations throughout much of the state of CA. He holds a B.A. Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles; an MSW from the University of Southern California, an MBA from Georgia State University, and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.