Diversifying Your Business

Stretching Too Thin?

The nightmare scenario, of course, is that a diverse company can do too much and collapse under its own weight. At first glance, Strategic Workforce Solutionslooks like a poster child for that scenario. Kristin Vickery's New York City-based company is a $25 million employment agency with 60 employees and satellite offices in London and Chicago. When it opened in 1995, the company provided temporary and occasionally permanent help to law firms. Today, it provides placement in numerous fields, including human resources and accounting; it offers consulting services to law firms looking to merge; and it provides outsourcing for real estate securitization and IT projects.

"You do worry about stretching too thin," admits Vickery, 35, president and COO. "You have to flesh out your ideas and grapple with the question 'What are we?' In our case, we are a staffing company, and when we have a new idea, we have to make sure it fits with what we are."

At the same time, Vickery thinks diversification is key to the company's long-term success. "If we didn't diversify, we would never reach our goal of being a $50 million to $100 million company, which we don't intend to do by acquisitions." One way Strategic Workforce Solutions can offer projects like real estate securitization without imploding is to find-here it is again-strategic partners. "It's interesting how everything comes together," says Vickery. "We're not just trying every new idea. Everything we do can potentially fold into every other project."

But to get that synergy between revenue streams, you have to take a good, hard look at your business. Says Vickery, "You can only afford to diversify so much, so that you maintain your expertise and make sure you don't lose credibility--and not look like you have a hand in every pot."

Spoken by an entrepreneur who runs a company that could hold its own in any gym.

A Little Different
Not ready for the leap into diversification? Try these baby steps:

  • Find new uses for your current product or service.
  • Look for new client bases for your products and services.
  • Tweak your product or service. If you make red wagons, try blue, orange and hot pink.
  • Hold seminars or workshops for customers or the general public at your place of business.
  • Create a consulting arm of your company; the only inventory you have to store is inside you and your employees' heads.
  • Create partnerships with companies to develop services or products that are just out of your reach, and split the profits.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist in Loveland, Ohio. His treadmill has a cake of dust on it.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It's Really Something Else.

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