I am extremely excited to feature Wanda Smith, CEO of Symphony Placements who gave me the inside scoop on how to bring your business to the next level. I met Wanda years ago and was immediately drawn to her tell-it-like-it-is style. Wanda was real, honest, incredibly successful and very down to earth. What also struck me about Wanda, was her confident attitude. Very specifically, what I admired so much about Wanda was that she was self-assured and openly shared her accomplishments and wins with others. Wanda was proud, confident, and made a little bit a noise along the way – which she never apologized for. I know that I personally, would love to be a little bit more like Wanda. And, I think every woman (and man) reading this, will benefit from hearing Wanda’s story and her 18 ways to bring your business to the next level. Thank you for reading! Hugs & Handshakes, Lauren
Building Symphony Placements into a Staffing Powerhouse
At age 59, Wanda was a widow with $300,000 in the bank. Wanda had enough of working for others and decided to take her life savings and a chance on herself. With the mission of building a staffing company that stands out from the pack, Wanda got to work. She put one foot in front of the other every single day. Eleven years later, and now 70 fabulous years old, Wanda shares how she built Symphony Placements into the staffing powerhouse that it is today.
With her authentic style and tell-it-like-it-is personality, Wanda shares the good and the bad of building a business. She also provides 18 ways to bring your business to the next level.
Today Symphony Placements is doing business nationally. The company is also attracting international attention. Wanda and her team have developed an innovative Employee Engagement Program and the company is poised for growth.
However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Wanda shares her journey:
59 years old, a widow and an 18 month non-compete
When I decided to go out on my own, I had almost 20 years of experience in the staffing industry. At the time, I was doing everything except signing the checks. I reached the point where I knew that I could do this better than what my company was doing and what other staffing companies were doing. I was always focused on building strong and lasting relationships with my clients. So, I left my job and bided my time until I could hang my own shingle and call upon those who I had built strong relationships with over the years.
I needed a paycheck
For the next two and a half years, I went to work for my son. It was a lot of fun to work for my son as he grew his company into the success that it is today. But, I was ready to begin my business.
$300,000 went down to $8,000 very quickly
I started Symphony Placements with $300,000 and before I knew it, I was down to my last $8,000. Terrified! I thought that I was going to go bankrupt. I certainly couldn’t turn to a bank at this time because I wasn’t doing enough business. It was at this point, that I looked into the mirror and told myself that “I would not fail. That I could not fail. And, that I was not going to be humiliated with failure.” During those dark days, I went into the office and just went back to the basics. If I made 20 calls today that meant that I was going to make 30 calls tomorrow and 40 calls the next day. I was tenacious and was going to keep rocking that boat until that boat started again.
What went wrong?
I did not consider that factor that all of the people I knew, and had great relationships with, may change jobs. In my two and a half year staffing hiatus, my contacts changed companies or exited the business. So, I had a VERY big shock when I started to call them and they were no longer working there. Again, I was determined not to fail, so I simply and painfully started over. I had to resell myself, my company and my services just as I did in 1988 when I started in the industry.
Opportunities being a Woman Owned Business
A huge game changer for my business was when I learned that I would be a candidate to get MBE (Minority Business Owner), DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise), and WBE (Women’s Business Enterprise) certifications through the state of Maryland. There was a tremendous amount of business opportunities available for minority and small women-owned business. I obtained my certifications, and in 2009 I landed my first state contract which I have been working on for the last 8 years. This contract and those that followed, have been big wins for the company – and wins that we would not have had without the certifications.
Standing out from the crowd
At Symphony Placements we tailor our services to fit the client’s needs instead of having our clients fit our services. This is the big differentiator from us and our competition. We strive to add value, expertise and successful solutions in the areas that matter most to our clients. For most of our clients, the area of challenge is employee turnover.
Employee turnover is very expensive for our clients. Most staffing companies do not address the issue of employee turnover because they are more concerned with billing – so employee turnover is actually good because they are constantly billing. We, at Symphony Placements, do not believe in this revenue model because it does not add value to our clients.
At symphony placements, we developed an Employee Engagement Program which provides creative ideas and suggestions for our clients to engage and retain employees who are on temporary assignment. We operate as partners with our clients instead of as a vendor / client relationship. With open communication and our team’s genuine level of care for our clients, this fosters a much more successful outcome in the shared mission of employee retention. And, it helps companies control costs.
How did you come up with the name Symphony Placements?
John (who I was dating at the time and who is now my husband) use to be in advertising. When it came time to start my company, I would leaf through the yellowpages (yes, we were still using the yellowpages) and then names were like: ABC Temp or Temp this / Temp that. The names just didn’t have a vey nice connotation to me. They lacked class and pizzazz. When John and I were driving in the car, we had this little game – John would throw out the name of a company and I would try to come up with the tagline. After many names, John came up with Symphony and I said: “we bring harmony to your staffing.” We both got a little quiet, and I said, “I like that!” The name stuck.
Wanda’s 18 Ways to Bring your Business To The Next Level
- Success doesn’t come to us by accident. You have to work hard and be a little gritty.
- Be true to yourself. You are a unique individual. Let that uniqueness show. Have personality in your delivery. People do business withpeople they like. If they like, they will work with you. Don’t be a rubber stamp!
- Women – if you own a business consider getting your MBE, DBE, and WBE certifications through the state of Maryland. If not in Maryland, see what certifications your state has available to you.
- Don’t relay on banks to give you the capital you need. You must start out with enough of your own financial resources. However, when you do turn to a bank, seek to work with a lender who sees your vision opposed to seeing dollars in their pocket. Make sure you have the right banking relationship partner.
- You must be flexible. Business will not always go your way. You must be willing and ready to adapt and reinvent yourself. Think outside of the box.
- You must learn to listen and hear what the client is trying to tell you. Too often we interject and interrupt, silencing our prospects and clients. It is imperative that you listen. What you have to say may be important, but what the client has to say is always more important and must always come first.
- Make the client feel important – they absolutely are.
- Be tenacious. If you are stuck in a lull, keep rocking that boat until it starts again. That may mean making 10 calls today and 20 tomorrow. It may mean attending a new networking event and working differently – just keep working smart and hard.
- Hire slowly and fire quickly. (I always waited too long to let someone go.)
- Work with those you click with. You need to have a shared vision and common goasl for the success of the company.
- Constantly look for opportunities to add branches to your business. Resume building was a natural arm of staffing and allowed me to charge for the service and continue to add income to my company during the recession.
- When working with clients, view your relationship as a business partnership – not as a stale vendor / client relationship. You must communicate, be creative and solutions oriented to address your clients’ needs and goals.
- Get to know people, network and be adventurous.
- Make sure your husband can handle your success and is truly your support staff. It is so important that your husband is comfortable in his own skin and is not threatened by his wife’s success.
- Your company’s website is critically important. It acts as your receptionist and is the first impression someone has of your company. It must have warmth and showcase your knowledge and expertise. Your website must also be up to date.
- If someone wants to talk and meet with you, they want to become your client. Make it happen.
- You are never too old to try something new – or start a business. I was 59 when I started Symphony Placements.
- Have a succession plan in place. Even if you are not ready to retire… I think too many CEOs are too selfish to establish a succession plan. Get it done, so your company will live long after you are gone. You never know what tomorrow brings.
At age 70, what’s next for you Wanda?
I turned 70 in May, but I am not ready to retire. I still love what I do and am excited and invigorated with our national business model that we are constantly growing and improving. Business in more exciting than ever. And, I get to help hundreds of people find jobs so they can have a better life and provide for their families. It is pretty amazing to be able to add such value to others. Symphony Placements has been like the birth of a baby for me. I look forward to what our teenage years bring.
To learn more about Wanda and Symphony Placements, please visit: http://www.symphonyplacements.com/Employers-Home.html
Also, please check out upcoming issues of I95 Business Magazine and website where Wanda will be writing articles about the challenges women business owners face. http://i95business.com/
Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment below for Wanda to read or a question you would like answered.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out the other amazing interviews on this site.