Are you an amateur?

Jun 27, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 9.30.42 AMA professional firm should have professional collateral, but all too often, bad photos, poor design, and sloppy writing dilute the brand. Of course you’re not an amateur. You are a professional. You work for a professional organization. You put the “pro” in professional. So why do you let bad grammar and poor graphic design impair how your firm is represented to the world? We set such high standards for our profession, yet we allow a constant flow of bad brochures, reports, communications, proposals, and presentations to influence our brand image. Even our routine emails to clients say something about our organization and incrementally affect how we are received. Even though there are numerous examples that could be discussed, I’ll focus on the ones that seem to be the most common in this industry:
  • Bad pictures. Even though I am seeing improvement, this is a huge problem. The improvements I am seeing are mostly driven by technological advances, rather than an intentional strategy to improve project pictures. Are you sending your junior staff out to take photos of projects with no direction or training? This is how we end up with images taken through the bug-splattered windshield of the Ford Taurus company car. Pictures of poor pixelated quality, bad angles, people frowning or in odd poses, and pictures that do not show anything meaningful, are just some of the bad graphics that need to be culled from your inventory.
  • Bad grammar and spelling. The misuse of me, myself, or I, incorrect punctuation, jarring fonts, overuse of center justification, improper indentation, and incorrect spelling are some of the offenders in this category of brand busters. These also represent the most common and most visible of mistakes your people are making in their communications. This is happening all day, every day, in emails, reports, proposals, and presentations. The list goes on. Now that we have moved from verbal communication to almost all written, our shortcomings in this area are greatly enhanced and visible to our audience.
  • Bad message. Another way we look like amateurs is saying things like: “Our projects are on time and within budget.” Congratulations! That means you provide the minimum standard of performance to be a practicing professional. The further translation of such statements is that you are an amateur among your peers. This industry seems obsessed with overused statements like: “We pride ourselves in offering cost effective and innovative solutions.” If you are saying the same thing everyone else is saying, then you are calling yourself a commodity. We are not putting enough thought into what we are saying and instead our messaging is being lost in a sea of similar messages from competing firms.
The overarching point here is that your brand is defined daily by a number of influencers. It is everything written, visual, and experiential that involves your company. Bad uses of graphics and pictures, grammar, and spelling incrementally erode the image of quality that nearly every firm is trying to project. I would challenge you to do an audit on the pictures and communications that are being used by your firm right now. I’m certain you will find at least a few examples that will make you cringe. The situation can be improved, and the problem even solved, through education and accountability. There are a number of resources available that offer basic training on grammar and graphics. Online sources such as can provide employees simple courses to work through. Access to the site can be purchased for your entire organization. Also consider “lunch and learns” to engage staff and foster ideas for best practices. Additionally, a quality control process for outgoing transmissions and materials should be developed and implemented. Recognize that everything your firm produces defines the level of professionalism of your staff and the firm overall. Don’t look like an amateur with bad pictures and written communications, silly fonts and stale messaging. Set the standard high for everything your firm does and have it permeate every area of the organization. Say something different and say it correctly and you have already set your firm apart from the others! Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1151 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.