Debi Williams, AFWA Manager of Marketing with Maggie Shea, CPA, Partner at StaffBuffalo
Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with AFWA Member and small business owner, Maggie Shea, CPA. In this interview, Maggie discusses her challenges when starting a new business, the importance of a great support system, a passion for volunteer work, and her advice for others considering entrepreneurship.
Tell me a little about your background – what brought you to the point when you decided you would start your own business?
We launched StaffBuffalo on April Fools Day in 2015 and it has overall been a success! I am a 30 year old CPA (Certified Public Accountant) with Big Four and local public accounting experience in NYC, BVI, and Buffalo, NY. My goal is and always has been simple but important: to make people happy. That simple goal is my life’s passion.
Originally, I started out as a Public Accountant for 3 years, until deciding that I wanted to help Accounting/Finance professionals figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up! I started at a local recruiting firm, where I learned a lot and found out that I love helping people and their career goals!
I decided to start my own staffing company following a hefty change in management at my old Firm. This change led to a drastic turn in company culture, high turnover, and an unpleasant work environment. I eventually realized my loyalty to the firm was no longer reciprocated. I then decided to spin off and create my own Staffing Firm, StaffBuffalo. The rest is history!
What was your biggest challenge in starting your business – did you rely on a mentor or support network?
My biggest challenge in starting my own business was that I did not know that I wanted to start my own staffing firm! I wasn’t going to go up against my old firm until a former co-worker was let go, allegedly for keeping in touch with me. In that moment, I decided to team up with my former co-worker to utilize our skillset to the fullest potential working with Accounting/Finance placements. Despite accusations, I was careful not to utilize any resources or contacts from my previous firm. In fact, I perceived any accusations as a compliment, showing that StaffBuffalo was doing well.
Another tough part in starting the business is that I wanted to do it on my own, without any outside funding, which meant we had to (and have to) keep our expenses and overhead to a minimum at all times. Many established companies reached out right away to try to “buy in” to my company, but I politely declined.
The main surprise was the massive outpouring of support we received. It was overwhelming and to this day we are all humbled by it. I found mentors in the most unexpected places – people I have never met before reached out to me to lend a helping hand and to introduce me to new people and clients. I am forever grateful for the outpouring of support and I pay it forward every day by helping people that are looking to start their own business. I teach them how to get their business moving quickly and with extremely low overhead. I have learned a lot about bootstrapping a business and I wouldn’t change anything!
Tell me about StaffBuffalo?
StaffBuffalo is a 100% women-owned full-service professional staffing firm, focused on providing contract, direct hire and executive professional search solutions for employers in the Buffalo, NY and surrounding area. Throughout the placement process, we target candidates that are both a technical fit and a great cultural fit, which reduces costly turnover and reduces the strain on internal company resources. We specialize in providing our clients with the best candidates for each job, as well as, personalized career management solutions to each candidate looking for new opportunities.
Working with StaffBuffalo is like working with a matchmaker: our clients value our input on the soft skills and personality traits of each individual candidate. Candidates are far more than what they put on their resumes and, likewise, filling positions takes more than matching certifications and experience to a job requisition. The most important task when career-matchmaking is finding someone that fits perfectly within the company culture and is as passionate about your organization as you are. Our recruiting team works to match strategic career changes that fit their workplace desires and align with each individual’s career goals. We now have 2 full time employees and a college Accounting intern.
You match accounting and finance professionals with opportunities that fit their career goals – do you notice any trends in what today’s employees are looking for and/or what is one piece of common advice you pass to your clients?
We place accounting and finance professionals at fantastic companies on a daily basis. The team utilizes our experiences in Accounting to help Accounting and Finance people transition to the roles that they want, not just stay in a role that they need. Employers are looking for certifications above all else. We tell people to go for a certification in something that they truly want, so that they will be ahead of their peers in the future. Becoming certified sets our candidates up to beat out their competition, not only now, but in the future!
What’s next for StaffBuffalo in 2016?
StaffBuffalo has a big year ahead! We just hired a new Recruiter and HR Consultant, who will be focused on growing the Healthcare recruiting and consulting practice. We also are looking to move out from our remote work-life and purchase a building in the upcoming months to make a StaffBuffalo Headquarters. We are constantly signing on new clients, but keeping our values and our quality of work as our main focus. We believe in quality over quantity and will only provide the best matches to our clients and candidates.
How has being a member of AFWA, and any other professional networking associations, been a benefit to you in your journey?
Being a member of AFWA and the BNHRA (Buffalo Niagara Human Resources Association – part of SHRM) has truly been the backbone of our professional networking. Combining our passion for Accounting/Finance and HR has given us so many great connections and support through our start-up phase. Once again, we believe in paying this support forward by assisting those in-transition and those that also want to start their own businesses. (We even sponsor the In-Transition program with the BNHRA.) There is a fantastic give and take with both of these organizations and we appreciate everything!
Community involvement seems to very important to you, how has volunteer work impacted your business and/or career?
Community Involvement is key to our success. When joining volunteer boards and activities that you are passionate about, you meet others that are just as passionate. You have a chance to slow down and get to know other professionals in a deeper way, outside of the hustle and bustle of the work day. Recently, I was recognized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County for my volunteerism at the “Women Who Move the City” event in Buffalo. Not only do I take time to volunteer, but my team sits on various boards and we volunteer as a group consistently throughout the year! We shut down the office and we participate in volunteer events that mean something and impact our staff members in different ways.
As a female entrepreneur, what advice do you have for other women looking to start their own businesses?
- Utilize your trusted contacts that you have obtained over the years as your confidants. Have a lawyer, accountant, benefits broker, payroll company, and insurance agency in mind. DO NOT try to do everything in house. Your job is to grow the business, not do all of the administrative components of it!
- Three words: overhead, overhead, overhead. Or rather, lack thereof. Our main office is my dining room, while we save up to purchase a building. We have utilized cloud services as much as possible. No printing unless absolutely necessary, including thank you notes (those are handwritten). Also, I’ve utilized non-traditional talent sources. I had 3 days to come up with a name and logo and my husband (a Cop) not only designed the logo, but also took over website design. He had never done that before in his life.
- Startups are strong in their flexibility and speed and lack of institutional expectations. I utilized talents I knew we had and I’ve tried to bring out those hidden gems in all my employees. My husband handles marking with almost no budget, which challenges and catalyzes his creativity. Stephanie has a great eye for photography and efficiencies. Everyone pulls together to create something absolutely fantastic!
- Enjoy your time as a startup – it won’t be forever: Our company culture is centered around making clients, candidates, and our own employees happy. I can’t offer fancy benefits, so I do the best with what we have to motivate my staff. Our team cooks meals together daily (Blue Apron), walks around Buffalo for some fresh air, has a company (huge) dog in the office, volunteers frequently, spends hot afternoons at the pool, and we are always seeking innovative ways to improve our culture. We are fiercely proud to be located in the City of Buffalo and do everything we can to help expand the renaissance here.
- My main piece of advice: don’t second guess yourself and don’t be afraid to jump. Making the parachute while you’re falling is half the fun! The timing was absolutely perfect for us and I am glad that we are where we are and I cannot even imagine where we will be a day, a month, a year, a decade from now!
For more information about Maggie and StaffBuffalo, visit www.staffbuffalo.com.