Ask the expert: August/September 2020

We just survived the first six months of 2020. How do we reboot ready for 2021?

If you haven’t already done so, file away the business plan you started this year with – the environment we are now confronted with is unlikely to bear any resemblance to the one you planned for!

Time is finite – make the most of it

Following such a sharp economic contraction, competition for any remaining pie is bound to increase. Recruitment business owners will be working day and night as they try to save their companies and many employees, either out of loyalty or conscious of the need to pay the bills, will also go the extra mile and beyond.

However, time is finite and with so many people working harder, simply doing more of the same is unlikely to make a dramatic difference in performance in the short term. To reboot effectively you need to focus ruthlessly on activities that generate the greatest results. As a company owner, you should be ensuring your team are being as efficient and effective as possible before driving revenue yourself. Hammer home the message that long hours only matter if recruiters are doing the right things and doing them as efficiently as possible.

Innovate or be left behind

Challenging economic times usually drive the greatest innovations. The less companies (recruitment businesses and clients) have to lose, the more they become agile and daring; and having the shackles off can be a game changer. So, while stripping back current activity to relentlessly repeat the most effective activities is critical make sure you also encourage the team to set aside time for experimentation and radical ideas.

Don’t simply look internally for innovation, however. You can and should be completing my four-point service check over the phone or video call to help identify opportunities:

  • What are we doing that you wish we weren’t?
  • What are our competitors doing that you wish they wouldn’t?
  • What are our competitors doing that we should be doing?
  • What are we doing that you wish our competitors were doing?

Plan, execute, reassess

I believe in the importance of having a three-year plan, however right now planning further than two years ahead is unlikely to serve its usual value. For now, use your 24-month plan to set your targets for 12, 6, 3, 2 and 1 month. In the shorter term, look at both best and worst case scenarios. Given how fast the situation is changing, review and reassess both activities and targets monthly if not fortnightly.

While cashflow is critical, the next priority is to keep as consistent and dependable a baseline of revenue as possible. Focus on protecting existing revenue streams: broaden your contact base at any clients still hiring, gold plate the service you provide them with, improve your terms and think about what else you can do to reaffirm the value you deliver. Improved terms for a contractual agreement with clients may also be worth considering.

More challenging is judging whether a course of action that is not currently delivering results is worth persevering with – especially innovations you and the team are trialling. While there is generally a lag between investing in activity and seeing results, set interim targets ie. if this activity is to deliver £xx,000 then within two weeks we should have spoken with xx people and have y expressions of interest.

Diversify and grow

With such a catastrophic impact across the majority of markets globally, many of the companies that used niche strategies so successfully are now looking to diversify. Sectors such as med-tech, and specialisms such as programming or data science, will quickly become even more competitive than they already are. Recruitment companies need to decide whether to try to carve a niche or target sectors that have been hit by the pandemic but are likely to recover fast. 

Alex Arnot is founder of MyNonExec and board adviser to more than 30 recruitment companies

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