A Staffing Entrepreneur Shares Her Most Valuable Lessons Learned

May 11, 2015

Thinking about starting your own staffing agency? If so, the best lessons worth learning are from leaders who have taken the leap—like Robin Mee, founder at executive search firm Mee Derby.

Having spent the majority of the 1980s in the staffing industry, Mee had often thought about starting her own business — but did not feel ready to take the ‘jump.’ Then, as part of a corporate transition, she lost her job. A larger company acquired her employer, and Mee’s role became redundant. It was during this moment in 1988 that Mee decided to launch her own business.

“I created a business plan while also looking for my next job,” says Mee. “After about 3 months, I made the decision to start my own business.” Almost 30 years later, Mee Derby has placed more than 2000 staffing and recruiting professionals. Here are the biggest lessons that Mee attributes to her success in starting and running a staffing firm.

1. Develop a niche worth growing into

Within a month of starting her business, Mee made the decision to specialize in placing professionals in the staffing industry.

“I recognized a big need in the market and was passionate about this particular area of recruiting,” says Mee. “I noticed that companies were so busy filling external roles that they needed help finding talent for their own leadership teams.”

This focus, staffing the staffing industry, has allowed Mee and her team to develop deep domain expertise over the years.

“Getting good in one area has allowed us to create a brand image that defines who we are,” says Mee. “Rather than focusing on being the ‘best,’ we’ve focused on providing quality by setting expectations, being honest, and doing our best to deliver results.”

Mee explains that one of the best decisions she’s ever made was to get involved with the American Staffing Association, participating on three committees and leading one focused on “Staffing as a Career.” She explains that these volunteer positions helped her obtain blogging and public speaking opportunities.

“This credibility has helped increase the value that my firm brings to the table,” says Mee.

2. Invest in continuous learning

A lot can change over 26 years. In Mee Derby’s case, the biggest changes have come from new technologies, tools, and systems. Rather than letting the industry outpace her firm, she has invested heavily on keeping her teams ahead of the curve.

“We say abreast of what technology is available in the marketplace and focus in making the right strategic decisions for our team,” says Mee. “We aren’t afraid to try new tools as a team and invest in them when they work.”

She encourages her fellow founders and staffing industry leaders to be diligent about this process.

“Making the best investments means getting the right advice and narrowing the field so that we’re not overwhelmed by options,” says Mee. “We need to cast our nets wide in staying abreast of potential options, but we can’t let this process take over our days. We take the time to recognize what works and what doesn’t work for our business. This perspective helps us create a focused and impactful learning process.”

3. Give thought to your role as a leader

Of Mee Derby’s 10 team members, 3 have remained with the team for more than a decade.

“We have an amazing core group — some are more recent hires, but we have one woman who’s been with the team for 21 years, another who has been with the company for 15, and another who has been with the team for 10,” says Mee.

Mee explains that this retention and loyalty stems from the company culture that she has been able to create. In creating this culture, Mee looked to her own values and life goals.

“To me, balance means many things including getting regular exercise, healthy eating, making family and friends a priority, and creating a positive workplace” Mee says. “I’ve attempted to create a business that values balance in my employees’ lives too. We strive to enhance career satisfaction, personal satisfaction, and financial satisfaction.”

Entrepreneurship is one of the hardest career paths that someone can pursue. As Mee points out, she often starts her days at 6AM and works late into the evening.

“When you’re running a small business, you can get sucked into your workload,” says Mee. “Creating balance in my own life has allowed me to create a company culture that values balance in my employees’ lives too.”

Final thoughts

Mee’s competitive advantage is that she loves what she does. It’s this passion that has helped her firm stay agile through the recruiting industry’s biggest changes and challenges. Keep learning and keep growing — that’s the biggest lesson that an entrepreneur can share.

You can read more about how Mee Derby uses LinkedIn in this case study.

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