The dynamics of supply and demand lie behind the fluctuations in almost any type of market. The supply:demand ratio is perhaps most commonly associated with the control of price or pay, but it can also affect the nature of the demand, or simply leave the least competitive forces unable to operate in the market at all.
As we saw in the Career Advancement for Pharmacists post, the laws of supply and demand have created favourable conditions for locums on the South Coast of England, in Kent, in Devon and Cornwall, and in a range of other areas across the UK, heading right up the East Coast to North Yorkshire and beyond. But it’s created less favourable conditions in other regions, such as Birmingham and the West Midlands. In areas such as this, local bookings can be difficult for some locum pharmacists to find. Not because there’s a lack of work, but because the supply of pharmacists is just so overwhelmingly plentiful.
Very plentiful supply gives the hiring businesses enormous choice, and because agencies must react to client demand, it means agencies need to be choosy too. Not only that – there’s also a characteristic trend in which the majority of the work is allocated to a limited group of well established locums. It’s just the way the industry minimises risk. Why hire an uncharted locum when there are proven, 100% reliable locums available?
So it sounds, based on the above, that counteracting the laws of supply and demand would be a tough challenge indeed for lesser established locums. But ultimately, every locum gaining regular work in an area where supply outstrips demand, has managed to counteract those laws. How did they do it? Here are some of the myths and realities…
SHOULD I REGISTER WITH MULTIPLE AGENCIES?
One suggestion that sometimes crops up in answer to a saturated market is that locums register with multiple agencies – and perhaps seek to locum directly with certain big clients. However, this doesn’t in any way change the market conditions, and multi-registration can cause bigger problems than it attempts to solve.
Some agencies will be highly reluctant to book locums who are working for other agencies. The need for total reliability means that rather than two agencies competing for the services of a dual-registered locum, they may instead simply withdraw their interest. If an agency suspects that a locum might pull out of bookings at the last minute when tempted by an alternative, they’ll be very wary about booking that locum, and that’s exactly the kind of suspicion multi-registration creates.
But multi-registration can prove even more damaging to a locum’s prospects, due to the way one registration interacts with another…
For example, a locum pharmacist signing up to work directly for a large pharmacy chain is bound to be ineligible for work with that chain through an agency. This may not sound like a problem. Afterall, the locum can still work elsewhere through the agency, right?… Well, technically they can. But because recruitment = time = money, an agency will always be looking to recruit locums with maximum compatibility. If a significant proportion of an agency’s work in a particular area comes from businesses the locum is not eligible to work for, then the agency may not want to recruit that locum at all.
Where the market is saturated with locums, the above dynamic worsens, because agencies have plenty of choice. Why invest time recruiting a locum who’s only eligible for, say, 75% of bookings, when the agency can invest that same time recruiting one who’s eligible for 100%?
Locums should therefore think very carefully before deciding where to register. The real way to beat adverse supply and demand, is to give the market what it most desires…
FOOT IN THE DOOR 1: TRAVEL
Because supply and demand can vary hugely from area to area, locums living in regions with saturated supply can often get a foot in the door by agreeing to travel. A successful locum might start by researching where the demand is, and then being realistic about how far they’ll likely need to travel. They’ll then approach a reputable locum agency and ask if their travel potential fits in with requirements. Would stay-over block-bookings be an option? Would block-bookings even be available in the locum’s particular field of healthcare? This is why it’s worth the locum talking to an agency regarding the potential for covering a wider area.
Travel is something a lot of locums like, but even if it’s not ideal, it can be worth considering for a period of time, to give the locum a chance to demonstrate their approach, quality, reliability, etc. It doesn’t normally take long for a great locum to stand out, and reach the stage where she or he can be more selective.
FOOT IN THE DOOR 2: EMERGENCY WORK
Emergency work is another good way for a locum to get ahead when competition is intense. Alongside a preparedness to travel, emergency work gives the locum a chance to show why they’re a better choice for all types of booking.
BUILDING A BRAND
Brands possess amazing selling power. A supermarket can place two virtually identical boxes of cereal before our bargain-hunting little eyes – one box tagged up at double the price of the other – and many of us will choose to spend twice what we need to, every single time. Brand reputation persuades us to associate the expensive cereal with unbeatable value – to the extent that its superiority almost becomes hardwired into our minds.
Even though the branded product itself is barely any different from the half-priced alternative; even though our extra spend is basically only financing an enormous series of repetitive and mildly annoying adverts – we still think paying double is a better deal.
Of course, brand power is not the exclusive preserve of products. Individual people create personal brands, as we commonly see in the world of entertainment. The same actors get the top roles, again and again and again. The same performers repetitively succeed in the music business. We choose to buy their music when there are countless free alternatives. They’ve built a reputation that gives them an almost irrepressible edge.
LOCUMS WITH A BRAND
Although few, if any locums actually set out to turn themselves into a brand, as such, some do carve out a brand-like image. The dynamics can be very similar to what we see in the entertainment world. A relatively small number of people consistently getting all the most desirable work. The locums are trusted. Relied upon. Associated with quality. Requested by name.
But all of these locums had to start somewhere. The trust and reputation they have doesn’t come by right. It has to be built. True, they’ve worked very hard and set out with an ethos of dependability. But one of the less obvious things they’ve done, is simply to make sure people know why they’re a superior choice.
And their success is not so much down to the fact that they do make people aware of their advantages, as the fact that most other locums don’t.
THE WORLD IS NOT PSYCHIC
For example, lots of locums have additional accreditations, which qualify them for a broader range of bookings. But how many people are aware of that? Telling the world about a great set of professional qualifications and accreditations sounds like the most obvious step in the world, but so many locums don’t do it. They might wait until they’re asked, or they might let technology dictate how much information they provide.
Team Locum’s recruitment process requires applicants to complete a short online registration. The website requests pictorial evidence of relevant documentation, setting a minimum level of professional accreditation. Now that the use of smartphones is so widespread, capturing acceptably clear images of documents and instantly uploading them to a website is pretty quick. So well-qualified applicants pile their wealth of accreditations into their applications, and set themselves apart, right?
Some do. But others only upload what the registration process cites as essential. They’ve put in all that effort to acquire valuable qualifications. And yet when it comes to the key moment, some will be content to set their personal brand value according to the minimum requirements of a piece of software. It’s like a Ferrari sales exec telling a potential customer that each vehicle has four wheels and an engine.
Whether or not there’s an adverse supply:demand ratio, it makes sense for locums to take every opportunity to express their additional benefits.
IN THE LOOP
In a world where reliability is a key selling point, another fantastic way locums can build their reputation (their ‘brand’) is to use any and every means to keep everyone in the loop. Great locums innately sense the importance of this, but it’s another area where less successful locums slip up. Keeping people in the loop (or not doing so) is actually one of the most common factors setting fully-booked locums apart from those who rarely or never get work.
As we saw in the rapid and short-notice bookings post, locum agencies need to be ready to work incredibly quickly when booking requests come in. And this doesn’t just apply in emergency situations. Even if they’re booking ahead, an agency’s clients may need a quick confirmation. Agencies absolutely must, therefore, know which locums are available to work at a given time.
Team Locum has an easy way for locums to keep the agency in the loop. An interactive calendar on the Team Locum website allows locums to block out the days on which they’re unavailable. This information is then passed directly through to the Bookings Team. However, many locums don’t update their calendar. It’s simply left blank. Are those locums going to get bookings? They’re much, much less likely to do so than those who update. It’s not just about the speed at which agency staff need to work – it’s also about impression. A locum who keeps everyone in the loop looks professional. That’s very much a brand-like association. When someone does one thing with professionalism, people make an association, regarding them as a professional person, who extends the attribute of professionalism to everything else they do. It’s a positive signal, and positive signals are the way almost all brands build their image.
So next time you find yourself in the supermarket looking at cereal boxes, consider how difficult it would be to sell essentially the same product as a rival, for double the price, side by side. Then bear in mind that you’re seeing proof that it’s possible. Why is it possible? Because of positive association. Making a good impression, time and again, can achieve wonderful things.