Defining Your Niche
The First Step in Placement Firm Success

This article is written specifically for owners of small/mid-sized Placement (Staffing & Recruiting) Firms. If you run a large firm and your model is to work the high volume market (VMS’s, write up any job order you can, etc.), this article isn’t for you. If you hope that high volume offsets low fill-ratios, small margins, and lack of client influence, please ignore what I say!

If you own a small/mid-sized firm, it’s extremely difficult to play the “high volume game” so it’s vital to define your niche/s. This is a marketing, not a sales function. Marketing and Sales are two very different things. Marketing starts with defining your ideal client so that you can increase their awareness of you in a way that causes an affinity with you. This awareness is usually delivered in the form of text, graphics, audio, video or word or referrals.  Sales is everything you do once you’re directly communicating with your prospect.   

Placement industry professionals are typically sales-focused, relying on live conversations via phone or in person. The key point is that the mindset and actions of sales are very different than that of marketing. Salespeople usually write ineffective marketing copy because they’re thinking like salespeople…” how do I convince you to work with me and hire my candidate?”

Marketing people are usually ineffective salespeople because they think like marketing people…” how do I capture your attention to want to engage with me without needing to talk to you?”

When placement professionals learn to combine and deploy the two disciplines appropriately, they create a powerful combination that elevates them above their competition. The results are more placements, higher fill ratios, more loyal clients, and much less stress and frustration.

Where do you begin?

The first step to placement success is the marketing step of defining your niche/s. This is the “Who Question.”  As someone who grew up in sales, this concept was utterly foreign to me. When people asked me who’s your ideal client, my reply was, “whomever I can sell.”  It literally took me 3-5 years to fully understand and embrace the difference between sales and marketing. Now that I get it, the whole world looks different, and business development is so much easier.

Have you ever been sucked into the mindset of chasing job orders regardless of whether or not you possess some true competitive edge for those job orders? When you do this, you set yourself up to become a commodity. Then you’re treated with a lack of respect and value. How does that feel? I hate it! If you don’t mind it, there’s no need to read any further.

You’ll know you have your “Who” right when your clients treat you with respect and value, and your fill ratios climb dramatically—some who finely tune this process experience fill-ratios of 75% or higher.

Defining your ideal client is about gaining clarity, so it’s usually not quick and easy. It’s an iterative process that requires objectivity, self-awareness, and self-honesty. It combines hopes and dreams with reality. I highly recommend doing this process in writing and team up with the appropriate people, so you’re not limited to your own insights. 

The basic steps to define your ideal client

Below are some useful questions to help you create a clear picture of your ideal client, which marketing professionals often refer to as your “avatar.”

  1. What is the unique background that you can leverage? Many of the most successful placement professionals focus on industries and occupations where they worked. This can be an advantage to understand the language and problems of your prospects. It can also enhance your credibility. 
  1. Who do you tend to resonate with? In general, we resonate with people who are more like ourselves in terms of experience, personality, interests, and demographics, and psychographics. Here’s two examples: 1. Let’s say you’re a former engineer who prefers to focus on details, numbers, and data. If you are a typical (non- technical) salesperson, you won’t tend to connect/resonate with this audience. 2. If your audience likes to talk about football and hunting and you have limited knowledge and interest in these areas, you’ll lack resonance with these people as well. 
  1. Who do you not enjoy working with? This is part of the resonance aspect above. How do you feel when you work with people that you’re just not in sync with? How about people you experience as disrespectful or rude? If you have this experience with a significant percentage of a particular industry or occupation, this isn’t your target audience. Even if you were successful with them, is it worth it? 
  1. Does the company insist on the “recruiters are a commodity” mindset? These are easy to spot and are better served by the firms mentioned above for whom this article was not written. Here are some of the markers of this group:
    • They insist on working with multiple firms for each search
    • They insist that you work through HR and tell you not to talk to hiring managers
    • They send you a job description and expect you to “figure out: what they’re looking for
    • They’re paying below the market and insist that candidates meet a laundry list of requirements

 Are you playing in a space that’s flooded with competitors? It’s important to look closely and not make assumptions. For example, there are many IT Recruiters in general, but you may find a niche/s within IT that’s not flooded or types of companies that aren’t bombarded with recruiter calls. Also, if you have a good relationship with a high-level decision-maker, you may be able to box out your competition. 

  1. How will you test your beliefs? After working through the above questions, you’ll arrive at information that leads you to believe that you may have found a suitable ideal client. At this point, it may be tempting to make large investments of time and money to pursue your targets. Don’t do that!

You need to test you beliefs with real data over time and objectively measure and evaluate the results. This means going through some small steps with marketing (including basic website changes) and sales (the initial outreach) and then tweaking your approach based upon results to enhance your success. This is likely to take several months before reaching initial conclusions of suitability.

The owners of the most successful firms are not necessarily smarter, harder working, or luckier than the others. The difference usually amounts to mindsets, strategies, and skills, starting with the marketing step of ideal client definition or niche. Do this well, and you set yourself up for success!

 Check out our business coaching to develop niche recruitment strategies or consider joining a recruiter mastermind group to discuss and learn from others in your industry to develop recruitment strategies for your own business.