The Power Of Networking

If the devil makes work for idle hands, Vaneese Johnson wants everyone to work part time, full time, and even overtime if need be. Johnson’s On the Move Staffing Services L.L.C. is a San Francisco-based, full-service employment staffing firm that is making its way through an economic downturn, still filling jobs for some 75 clients.

Established in 1998 with $10,000 of her personal savings (used for office supplies and employee handbook material), Johnson’s firm has grown from posting revenues of $35,000 in its first year to $1.2 million in 2002. Equally rewarding are the 242 clients who have found work through her firm. Yet, for 34-year-old Johnson, the bigger surprise is that her three-person company has been able to survive at all, unlike the multitude of firms she saw crumble firsthand when the tech bubble burst in nearby Silicon Valley leaving thousands unemployed.

When Johnson started the business out of her home, she networked with city officials and local business leaders. Within months, she’d secured her first major client: a $60,000 contract with Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants. The team needed people to run the concession stands, clean the facilities, and maintain the ballpark during the season.

As her company grew, Johnson needed a proper place to interview people and conduct business. Again, relying on networking, she learned of the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, a nonprofit organization that provides support services for micro businesses. She paid the Center $150 a month for 100-square-feet of space, and used their free services, which included fax and photocopying machines, a mailbox, and a receptionist that served businesses in the building. She also made use of the Center’s free consulting services, meeting with their marketing, finance, operations, and legal consultants to create business plans, develop legal contracts, and print employee handbooks.

Her most challenging period came when the combined effects of the economic slowdown and the ramifications of September 11 almost put the company out of business. “In the summer of 2001 we were averaging $35,000 a week in revenues. After September 11 we dropped to about $20,000 in revenues a week, and by December we were down to $14,000 a week in billing,” Johnson says.

While the company’s clientele ebbed and flowed, the bills kept arriving steadily. “In May of 2001, my company had $5,000 [in cash reserves] left,” Johnson says. Fortunately, within a few weeks of the company’s lowest point, Johnson signed a $70,000 contract with Water Infrastructure Partners, formerly San Francisco Water Alliance. On the Move Staffing helped contractors who’d been awarded contracts with the public utilities commission of San Francisco reach their hiring goals.

Today, as the company continues to grow, Johnson is thinking about new ways to develop revenue streams for the firm. “The challenge now is to take the company to the next level,” she says. “I have to think of ways to grow the company where I can continue to provide employment outreach to people seeking jobs. I have to be creative in an economic downturn.”

On the Move Staffing Services, L.L.C.; 275