Going Small to Better Serve Clients

Even in this down cycle, Frank DeGeorge, President of the Maven Group, is optimistic about the economy. He has helped several of his clients begin the hiring process for new employees in the coming year. For their part, the Maven Group has weathered the storm by diversifying and taking on more government business. DeGeorge states, “During the really down time, our government business was growing. That helped sustain us. We really didn’t dip. We didn’t grow much, but we didn’t dip, so it’s been a good thing.” DeGeorge’s journey into the small business environment took a path that intertwined very large staffing businesses with smaller ones. After he got out of the Army, DeGeorge obtained a position with a small staffing and recruiting company. That company was then purchased by Monster.com. DeGeorge recognizes that there are pluses and minuses with big and small companies. His main frustration with larger staffing companies is their inflexibility to solve their client’s staffing problems. “The immediate reaction in a big company in staffing is, ‘No, we don’t do that. Go find what we do and go do that.” So in 2003 with a business plan scribbled on a napkin, DeGeorge and a partner started the Maven Group. Even though the beginnings of the Maven Group were impromptu, the plan was thoroughly analyzed and thought out. DeGeorge and his partner identified what would be required to start and maintain the business and recorded everything they thought they would need. DeGeorge quickly realized two big advantages of starting a small business: the ability to change to help your clients and the small amount of overhead required. “You don’t have to have a storefront and put $300,000 dollar’s worth of goods there,” explains DeGeorge. “We started off from home, and we thought, let’s service our clients better.” The Maven Group specializes in the placement of Information Technology and Engineering professionals in temporary contract, contract-to-hire and full-time employment. They assist Fortune 500 companies, Government Agencies and their Prime Vendors across the United States to fill their important Information Technology positions in multiple disciplines. With DeGeorge’s oversight and direction, the Maven Group employs creativity, excellent customer service and honesty to help their clients find the right candidates for positions. DeGeorge likes to talk to his clients to find out exactly what they are looking for and what they are expecting. “I think creativity has always been a basis for everything we’ve done in our business, especially in the beginning,” he says. “We would ask our clients, ‘What’s your fear, what are your thoughts, what’s your budget for this?’ We want to understand their process.” DeGeorge also thinks outstanding customer service and open, honest communication with clients is one of the keys to his company’s success. In his industry, he has seen indifferent relations with clients. “A lot of times an HR person will contact a recruiter and then expect them to come through with some candidates,” he explains. “However, if the recruiter is working on something else they might never call back, and they don’t follow up.” DeGeorge goes on to say, “We are about following up and coming back. I will get right back to you a week later and say, ‘Hey, we’ve searched and I’ve talked to 50 people.’ Talking with their clients and learning their business processes has helped the Maven Group diversify into industries they were not originally set up to service. They use their established and tested procedures to help clients find IT and engineering professionals in industries as diverse as manufacturing and medical. “The nice part about my business is it’s diversified,” says DeGeorge. “I don’t just focus on the auto industry in finding supply chain software developers to handle their SAP systems. We also do a lot of work in the medical and aerospace fields. I’m happy that we’ve done that because it’s very diverse.” The Maven Group’s business clients are typically Human Resource representatives and mid-level managers. When he first started the business, DeGeorge tried to avoid the HR offices. He communicated directly with the managers to find out what their needs where and the best way to fill those needs. He quickly realized that having an upset HR dept didn’t fit well into his goal of open and honest communication with his clients. He revamped his process to include the HR department. “We developed a process of how we can help them, and show them that, ‘Hey, look, I’m here to help you out. I don’t want to compete with you.’ There are some companies that feel we compete with HR.” The Maven Group acts as a third party in the hiring process trying to marry a candidate with a company. Because of this DeGeorge recognizes that he also services the candidates looking to fill the positions. Even though the companies looking to fill their vacant positions are the paying customers, he understands that by matching the right candidate with the right position everyone wins. One of the keys to the Maven Group’s success has been their success is hiring the right people. Early in his career, DeGeorge was taught the mantra of “You have to hire three to keep one.” Through his experience in working with large staffing companies he has seen validity in this mantra. However, starting and running his own small business has changed his perspective. “As a small business, you don’t have time or the money for hiring three and keeping one. Every hiring decision is a critical decision,” states DeGeorge. In some situations, the Maven Group has found success in having employees work remotely from home. DeGeorge has found that the key ingredients to having a successful work from home employee are time and experience with the company and the ability to balance their work and personal environments. DeGeorge also believes in accentuating the strengths of his employees and moving them into other positions if needed. Furthermore, working in a small business, he understands the need for direct and immediate action. “I think you have to be direct, because as a small business we don’t have the time or the money not to be,” he says. “In a big business when it’s not your paycheck, it’s not your money and you’re managing people, you can sort of follow them along.” The Maven Group serves as many Fortune 500 companies as several of the larger staffing companies, and it also does a good deal of government business. DeGeorge left the military with a service related disability, and operating as a service-disabled veteran owned business has given the Maven Group an opening in the government space. In 2003, DeGeorge saw the opportunity to do business with the government when then President Bush mandated that businesses seeking contracts with the federal government had to use a percentage of service-disabled veteran owned companies. The Maven Group got government certified and currently they participate in the small business National Veterans Business Conferences every year. However, doing business with the government has its own challenges. “The government business is a long process,” DeGeorge explains. “It’s a longer cultivation process of a client than in the commercial side. It is a long haul for any small business trying to go after government business. You need to have a slice of commercial business that sustains your business as you go after that government work, because otherwise, you’ll go out of business.” Moving forward, DeGeorge sees the challenges to his business as growth, creating opportunity and managing his employees the right way. His realizes that the larger staffing firms can offer advantages to their workers that his smaller company cannot. He uses his management style to try to create a work-life balance for everyone within the Maven Group. “We allow them to take off when they need to,” says DeGeorge. “We allow them to keep in balance with their family. We do team building things to keep our folks together, even the folks that are out of town. We’ll fly them for meetings to talk about best practices and have each person make a presentation about recent changes in the industry.” In these trying economic times, DeGeorge and the Maven Group are also helping their business by managing their costs. He sees a higher return on investment by investing in his employees than in a lot of other business expenses such as office space and décor. DeGeorge acknowledges that this is a wild time for hiring, but he also knows that he can add value to companies looking to hire. “Companies are laying off all these people,” he says. “It is scary to me, but at the same time it is a challenge because companies need us more in this time, because they don’t have the time or resources to recruit and to find the good people they need, and we can help them.” DeGeorge thinks the economy is going to begin to grow and he wants the Maven Group to be positioned to take advantage of that growth. However, he wants his company to grow smart to take the Maven Group to the next level. He also foresees the government side of his business expanding. Some of the driving forces behind Maven Group’s success are DeGeorge’s open and honest communication style and his ability to be flexible. “Be honest about what you can and can’t do,” he says. “Don’t bluff the customer and tell them that you can do something when you can’t, because it will be found out.” Concerning flexibility DeGeorge adds, “It is not always about making a certain percentage. Sometimes we reduce our fee or work with the customer.” One piece of advice DeGeorge offers to anyone thinking about starting a business is to do so with a partner. He has found that the creativity and experience of two minds is irreplaceable. “Anybody that’s starting a business should never do it by themselves,” he relates. “Unless that person is the expert at what they do, and that’s how they want that business to grow, with just their own clientele and they never want it to go beyond that. If so, then start it yourself. But I strongly recommend starting with a partner.”

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