Big trends in the A/E business

Jun 24, 2015

revenuehotfirmFirm leaders would be wise to reflect on current happenings in industry and to prepare for what’s next.

When you’re lucky enough to survive to a “certain age,” you suddenly become aware of “certain things.” That diet you’ve had for 55-plus years might finally be catching up to you, and you have to change your eating habits or go on diabetes and cholesterol drugs. Your friends start dying off – sometimes more than one in a given year – and you regularly find yourself reading the obituary pages in the local newspaper. Your teeth have problems they never had before, and, before you know it, you’re in a dental chair going through a painful implant process that includes bone grafts from cadavers. Let’s just say the trends become clear and will affect many of us as we age. The same thing applies to our industry: The trends are becoming very clear to me. They will affect all of us – you, me, everyone – in the A/E/P and environmental business. Here they are:
  • We’re in boom times. This means a lot of firms are overloaded with work. They’re worrying less about marketing and more about doing. Our people are overloaded and complaining about it. We’re understaffed. We’re making more money than we ever have before, and how we use that (i.e., suck it out or reinvest in the firm) is crucial to our future success.
  • There’s a merger of design with construction. You can ignore this at your peril, but the fact is more and more clients want design-build, versus design-bid-build. That means you can either get on board with this idea and figure out how to make it work for you, or fight it and get smaller and smaller. It’s a huge deal. We all need more construction knowledge and a different attitude toward risk to deal with this.
  • Firms are adding in other, nontraditional services. It might be going into at-risk construction, or strategic planning, or providing an app or piece of software, or going in the temporary help business, or any number of very different services that aren’t “normally” part of an A/E firm’s offerings. These initiatives are critical to growth and can significantly differentiate a company, giving them a leg up on success.
  • Firms are really beginning to embrace e-marketing. It is not just spam. It is a completely viable marketing tool that works. And more A/E and environmental firms are using it to promote jobs, people, market sector knowledge, poll clients, promote invents, send out newsletters and more. E-marketing works. It’s cheap and cost effective. But it takes a good list to be able to use it. And most companies in this business do not have that.
  • Some firms are spending big money on recruiting. It is so critical to be able to find the talent you need. It is also getting harder and harder to keep the people you have. Aggressive companies are recruiting like mad, and your best people may be getting called every day by your competitors and their recruiting agents. How much is a lot of money? How about $10,000, $15,000, or even $18,000 per head-hired for recruiting? This is spread across ALL hires, including neophytes and support people. Think about that. Adding 50 people and replacing 20 who leave? That’s 70 people at $10,000 each – $700,000 – or 70 people at $15,000 each – $1.05 million. It’s a lot of money. But, if you don’t spend it, what kind of talent will you be able to find – if any?
Time marches on, and things do change over time. Be thinking about all of these trends: You must look ahead, or you will suffer the consequences of not doing so.
Mark Zweig is president and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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.