Business Advice: Seeing the opportunity in every difficulty

“Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems.”

So said Sun Tzu, renowned strategist and philosopher – a phrase we would do well remembering in these challenging times. Undoubtedly 2023 has brought a continued softening of most recruitment sectors and geographies, with some sectors experiencing much deeper troughs than expected when budgets and forecasts were being written for the year.

However (there always is an ‘however’!), with the right strategy, planning and call to action your business can – and should – be in a position to grasp those opportunities and emerge stronger and resolutely ‘match fit’ for H2 and into 2024.

Strategy and planning to include

Do not be tempted to lower charge rates and pricing – price reductions will create a perception of lower value among customers and it’s certainly harder to put your prices back up when markets bounce back; reducing prices can conflict with your brand positioning and protecting that may outweigh any short-term benefits of reducing prices.

  • Marketing – not an area to over trim at times like these. Develop a plan that re-focuses energies very specifically; your business will have been focusing on generating in-bound candidates in a job-rich market, so have you pivoted the strategy quickly enough? Identify the channels that give you the biggest bang for your buck, not forgetting allocating budget to external events that bring your teams face to face with your clients.
  • Technology – evaluate your current tech stack and operations infrastructure and identify any inefficiencies, including adoption rates, in the business. Develop a plan to streamline and/or implement where necessary. The acceleration of AI and machine learning to take over many of the labour-intensive tasks in recruitment is breathtaking – it’s so important to stay abreast of this.
  • Keep recruiting for your own business – while this may seem counter intuitive, this is one of the best times to focus on those key strategic hires for your business. A softer market is the right time to approach individuals who can be key to driving your revenues into 2024. You will find that a challenging market can reshape thinking, so grab the opportunity to get in front of salespeople that you may have struggled to find in the past.
  • Performance management – in the line with the above, additional recruiting should only take place when you are confident you are really effectively and consistently managing performance in your existing teams. While we may be in a tighter market, there are so many activities that can be directly controlled by your teams. If you have set objectives, measure them and be resolute in the application.
  • Cost reviews – cash is king, ever more so in challenging times. Ensure you are constantly reviewing costs, identifying any areas where efficiencies can be made and implementing with energy. Collections should be top of your weekly/daily agenda, there will be pressure to extend payment terms so be confident you know what that does to your working capital costs.
  • Cashflow – develop cashflow forecasting that is constantly updated in line with trading. Sound financial projections that accurately forecast operating expenditure against any new revenue forecast are of paramount importance, allowing you to determine where you may need to adjust your business model.

When was the last time you did a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis of your business? If your market space and your buying community are changing their buying habits then you need to re-identify your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Then use this analysis to feed into your thought process and internal conversations to develop plans.

Let’s end with another saying from someone who without doubt excelled at war room mentality. “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill. Be more optimist!

Tara Ricks is co-chair of Elite Leaders, and a non-executive director and board adviser

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