Break into a new market sector/project type

Feb 20, 2022

Mark C. Zweig

If you feel the need to diversify your business, here are some tactics to win clients in a new market when you don’t have prior experience.

Many times over the years, we have worked with AEC firm clients who, as a part of their business planning process, decided they wanted to break into a new market sector or project type.

Of course, that’s rarely easy. The biggest barrier is the age-old conundrum of clients who typically hire based on an AEC firm’s previous experience doing projects of that type, when the AEC firm doesn’t HAVE that experience. How can you get that experience IF you have to have it TO get it?

While I won’t try to argue that prior experience is the predominant factor driving AEC firm selection in most cases, it is not in every case. If you feel the need to diversify your business, here are some specific tactics that I have seen work for other companies:

  1. Mine your current staff roster to find experience that individuals in your firm already have but you weren’t aware of. Believe it or not, many companies in this business are unaware of everything their employees have done in the past. They may not have it all on their resumes or in your marketing database. You may have to pull it out of them.
  2. Use your existing clients to give you a shot at doing something all new. These clients are ones who know you, like you, trust you, and want to see you succeed. If they have other needs that are out of your traditional wheelhouse, they may be willing to give you a shot. Ask them! You may just get a shot.
  3. Hire your way into the new market. You could recruit someone who has experience doing work of a certain type that you don’t now do. There’s nothing novel about this strategy, but there is little doubt it can work. The problem with it is twofold. One, it’s slow. It could take years to find the right person and then even longer than that for them to secure a project. And two, there is no guarantee you will get the right person. That could really take a long time to figure out.
  4. Buy your way into the new market. Buy another firm that is already serving the market or doing the types of projects you want to do. This is done fairly often in our business and is one of the top reasons firms go on the acquisition trail. It doesn’t have to be large or cost a lot of money. There are many small firms out there with no transition plans or exit strategies for their owners. They may also be willing to finance the whole thing for you. Do some research and make some contacts. If you don’t have the time or desire to do this for yourself, Zweig Group has entire groups of people dedicated to providing this service.
  5. Do research and use PR to get into the new market. This has always been one of my favorite tactics to employ. Do a study on the new market you are trying to serve, and then spoon feed the information you have learned back to the participants via email and by getting press. A good example of this was when Ross & Baruzzini did a study of emergency response centers – a new market they wanted to break into – several years after the 9/11 attacks. By surveying municipalities on what kinds of emergency response facilities they had, and then getting that information back out to those municipalities through a variety of channels, within two years of the effort they secured their first project in that new market. This is only one of many examples.
  6. Use your outside BOD members as a way to get into a new market. They may have contacts or experience that could be very valuable to your diversification efforts. Learn all you can about them and what they have done over the course of their careers and leverage it. I have seen this tactic used successfully more than once.

There may be many reasons a firm in our business would want to diversify its portfolio. Primary amongst them is reduced risk if the external environment suddenly changes. While we are no doubt in an unprecedented boom period for our industry currently, there are some potential clouds on the horizon you may want to keep an eye on. Spending some time on what markets could be positively affected by negative events could be wise.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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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.