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Competing up: succeeding against bigger companies

competing upNote: The Doctor is away at RecPlus this week, so enjoy this post from last year!

As long as I’ve been in this industry, there have been the ‘big boys’. The companies that have grabbed attention, market share, and investment. Sites like Monster, OCC, LinkedIn, Indeed,  HotJobs, and CareerBuilder. They sought the #1 position and told their clients that, basically, ‘you don’t need to use anything else. We can do it all’. They couldn’t, of course. But they still managed to garner market share. If you weren’t a ‘big boy’ – if you, in fact, a niche site or a hub or something else – you inevitably had to make the case to the employer as to why you also provided recruiting value. In other words, you were competing up.

We have a revised list of ‘big boys’ now – LinkedIn, Indeed, Google, Facebook. We also have thousands and thousands of startups, niche sites, sourcing tools, and hybrid sites competing for employer mindshare.  So how do you, as a non-‘big boy’ player, survive and thrive? I know it’s possible – many of my clients have been thriving for years despite competition from the sites listed above and more.

The key is you need to inoculate your business. What? OK, definition time: ‘to protect as if by inoculation’. In other words, proactively prevent your competitors from ‘infecting’ you, i.e., taking your clients.  But how? Here are a few key ways:

  • Know more than they do: If you’re running a broad-focus site like Indeed, you won’t – by definition – be deep in any particular area. However, if you’re focused on a particular candidate audience – let’s say, phlebotomists – you can dig deep and get specific. You can know which degree and license is most significant, how long to develop specific skills, and what would make these particular candidates engage with a potential employer. And…you can put that power in the hands of the employer. The broad-focus sites can’t and won’t know this stuff.
  • Cultivate your candidates:  A full-employment economy means that the best candidates won’t engage with your service unless they have a good reason. Give them a bunch of reasons. Maybe you run a Q&A platform like StackOverflow . Maybe you run a hub, like Archinect. Maybe you focus on training and competition, like HackerRank. Bottom line: you give your candidates a reason to spend time with you. You cultivate them.
  • Market yourself: For too long, many players in our industry have relied on SEO and SEM to find their audiences. Things like their name, logo, and ‘persona’ were left by the wayside. Well, let me be blunt: marketing your business to candidates and employers is essential. It is not an option. And just like everything else you do, it should be done intelligently and by people that understand marketing – whether they are your own employees, or an outside firm. Sure, you can blow off marketing. Just don’t whine when one of the ‘big boys’ take your employers and candidates away.

Inoculating your business isn’t easy – it’s hard. That’s why most companies don’t do it – and why those same companies disappear after a few years. On the other hand, if you do go to the time and trouble of inoculating your business, you may wake up one day and discover that you’re not only surviving – you’re thriving. And trust me, that’s a good feeling.

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