Editorial: Keys to making lots of money in the A/E business

Jan 01, 2013

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310) Issue # 985`
Originally published 12/3/2012

Mark Zweig enumerates a series of actions and credos that will help you maximize your potential.

Think whatever you will of me but no one can deny I’ve been at it for 32 years in this business, studying what works and what doesn’t. I have seen some people do incredibly well (making millions a year) and others barely getting by.

So here’s what it takes to make a lot of money in this business:

· Believe that it is possible. You will never make any money in this business if you don’t first believe it’s possible. You wouldn’t believe how many people want to argue with me about this – telling me you CAN’T make money in the A/E business. I have the data! More importantly, I’ve seen the numbers in most of the companies we have worked with over the years.

· Have high expectations for yourself. It all starts with YOU. Do you think you deserve to do well? If you don’t really think you deserve to do well, you won’t. If you do, however, you probably will do well. Reprogram, if necessary. Shed the guilt and self-consciousness.

· Build a brand. Brand names always get paid more. Coca Cola. Budweiser. Gensler. CH2M-Hill. EDSA. DPZ. Syska and Hennessey. T.Y. Lin. I could go on and on – this is no complete list. But you get the idea.

· Focus on one or just a few markets. You can’t be everything to everyone – and you cannot especially be a brand – unless you really focus your business and get really good at something.

· Overwork yourself and your people. It’s always been one of the keys to making money in this business. Get all your salaried people working 46- to 48 hours per week versus 40. You just improved your productivity by 15- to 20 percent over a firm that works 40-hour weeks. That’s why morale has to be high and the firm needs a real purpose for its existence. You’ll make more money.

· High prices. High prices comes from being focused on a niche and being one, if not THE top firm that does what you do. It also comes from asking for a high price. It also comes from having really good people and good marketing – which you cannot afford (for long) unless you have high prices. These things all work together and in concert.

· A willingness to say “no” to things your gut says you shouldn’t do. Bad projects, bad clients – you don’t want either of them. You have to say “no” or you will have losing jobs, bad client relationships, public failures, or lawsuits.

· Being willing to say “yes” to things you haven’t done before. It’s the only way you can grow and develop new service lines and project expertise. And that’s how you’ll grow. And growth is related to profitability. If you don’t buy that argument, consider this one: Would you rather make a 10 percent profit on $10 million in revenue or 10 percent on $100 million?

Mark Zweig is the founder and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com.

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.