Survival & Thrival: Offensive Strategies to Consider Now

Kurt Wilkin

Last week was another long one. From my conversations with founders and CEOs, I know most of you are exhausted from the chaos and try to spend the weekends recovering and recharging your batteries. I’m right there with you! As I write this, I’m relaxing on my back porch, reflecting on the week that was and preparing for the week ahead.

This past week’s Survival and Thrival CEO Forums were focused on helping each other tackle challenges and opportunities. We’ve been meeting weekly for eight weeks now, so we’ve gotten to know each other well. Although confidentiality is paramount to the success of our group sessions, I can say that we’ve celebrated, commiserated, and supported each other. In our latest round, we doubled down to help participants seize opportunities in front of them.

If you’ve been following along with our Survival and Thrival series, you know we’ve been preaching offense for quite a while now. Look, COVID-19 sucks. But there are ways to leverage the “new normal” and help your business come out better than before. This week, the CEO Forums discussed a number of ways to go on offense. I’ll discuss three of them here.

Hire and Onboard A-Players
Let’s face it, the world looks vastly different today than it did eight weeks ago, and this includes the recruiting world. A few weeks ago, I provided an example from a CEO in one of the forums. In early March, one of her employees demanded a 25% pay increase. A few short weeks later, once the pandemic set in, that same employee was begging for his job. My point is that you can attract and afford a much higher caliber employee in a 20% unemployment environment than you could when Austin and many other markets were at 2%, pre-COVID.

Now is the time to go get that A-player to help take your company to the next level! Many companies are having challenges, and some star employees may be willing to make a jump or are already on the market. Harvard Business Review agrees that a huge talent transfer is coming. Although you probably can’t leverage PPP money to directly pay for that new employee at this point, you can use it to provide some breathing room to take that step.

If you decide to make a hire, you may have questions about hiring and onboarding employees in a virtual environment. We’ve been doing these things for years—well before they were a way of life. Lately, we’ve been writing about those topics and we have some additional tips coming soon. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to ask us for help. We’re here for you.

Identify M&A Opportunities
Is now the time to double down and grow market share for your company? Now that the dust is settling a bit, forward-thinking CEOs are looking at merger-and-acquisition opportunities. In some cases, our participants are looking to sell, but the vast majority are scouting for opportunities to buy. Your readiness for either depends on a number of factors, including your industry, your balance sheet, and the team you’ve assembled.

There will definitely be opportunities to buy over the next 12 to 18 months. If you determine that acquisitions are part of your strategy, start looking now. If your current business is well-run and you have a great team assembled, you’ll be able to make moves when the time is right. A word of caution, though—be careful not to spread your existing team too thin. Be prudent. Now is not the time to take on someone else’s bad business model.

This brings us to timing. Most of my readers aren’t “bottom feeders” or looking to take advantage of someone, but everyone loves a bargain. Every situation will be different, usually depending on the industry. In some cases, companies have been decimated by COVID-19 and are available now at fire-sale prices. If you’re outside those industries, your M&A targets may have been able to extend their runways and stave off the worst, at least for now. Have patience. You will likely want to wait until the 3rd or 4th quarter to pull the trigger—but it doesn’t hurt to start the dialogue now.

Discover the Art of the Pivot
Finally, we continue to discuss ways to pivot our respective businesses to come out of this stronger. Some pivots will be subtle and temporary – for example, I previously mentioned our friends at Z5 Inventory leveraging their logistics and supply-chain background to source and distribute PPE to hospitals. Others may be drastic and long-term. We have spent a lot of time in the forums helping each other pivot in a variety of ways.

One thought I keep coming back to is how we can apply some of our lessons learned during this crisis to life after we return to “normal.” Last week, I posed a question on LinkedIn: “What are you doing now that you’ll KEEP doing after we return to the office?” I got some great feedback about personal routines and spending time with loved ones, but I really think this question applies to pivoting, as well.

One of our participants sells highly sought-after electronics both online and in retail outlets. Historically, she has relied on consumers’ ability to try out her products in stores to differentiate her product and highlight its features, by putting them on their heads. Are you seeing the issue? Even beyond retail stores being closed, once they reopen, no one will want to sample products like they have in the past!

During the shutdown, she has noticed something interesting. Even without the in-person trials she historically relied on, her online sales increased substantially. Another participant asked, “How are you able to sell successfully online if consumers aren’t able to try your product in person?” Her answer wasn’t surprising to those of us who do a lot of online shopping: her company focuses on customer reviews and videos of real people using and enjoying her products. “Well, why don’t you use some of the same tools in retail outlets?,” you might ask.

Maybe that’s the “aha” moment we all need. When she returns to stores, she can leverage her online efforts and turn this success into a long-term strategy! It makes perfect sense when you stop to think about it, adapt methods learned online to fit retail by showcasing customer reviews and testimonials. Pivoting opportunities are out there. We just have to be creative, and don’t overthink it!

Moving Forward
This week my LinkedIn Live guest will be Rand Stagen. If you are a Founder or a middle-market CEO, you likely know about Rand’s work at the Stagen Leadership Academy. Please join us for our Survival and Thrival Q&A Session this Wednesday, May 20 at 10:30 a.m. Central! We will discuss leadership and pivots and playing offense while  answering any questions you may have.

Our goal at HireBetter is to help you navigate the unknown and assist in any way we can, especially when it comes to questions about your team and the health of your business. We’re offering free sessions to help founders and CEOs leverage talent to play offense. And we will continue to host CEO Forums and keep you updated.

There’s been a lot of upheaval and uncertainty. We’re definitely not out of the woods yet, but everywhere you look there are opportunities. Look for them and take advantage whenever and wherever you can!

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