Editorial: Keys to success in 2015

Dec 03, 2014

Build a better, more sustainable company with these suggestions from Mark Zweig.

2015 is shaping up to be a FANTASTIC year for firms in this business. It’s really fun to see how many firms are doing exceedingly well in terms of growth, profits, and backlog, and to observe the renewed optimism and sense of possibility for their owners. Now is your chance, if there ever was one, to build a better, more sustainable company and to grab the proverbial “brass ring.” It’s really up to you – as a leader – in how you shape your firm and the people in it, as to whether or not you’ll capitalize on the opportunity that is before you. As usual, I predict there will be some winners and some losers... Here are what I see as some keys to your success in 2015 and beyond:
  • Purpose. Everyone needs it. Few can sustain working for the money alone over the long haul. A clear definition of your firm’s purpose is essential to sustaining individual motivation levels throughout the firm. While this may seem like an impossible task for some firms, it is necessary.
  • Commitment to growth. I have been criticized before for being too growth-oriented. If so, I accept that willingly. There is no alternative. You are either growing or declining. Growth is necessary for so many reasons – to keep people motivated, to improve capabilities, to increase firm value, to support investments in the future, and much, much more. Don’t rationalize that it is ok to not grow. It isn’t.
  • Successors. You need your successor. Everyone who reports to you needs their successors. All those successors need their own successors. Forcing people to do this – working hard on finding successors for everyone in the firm – will greatly increase your chances for success.
  • Working together. We’re in a complex business. We don’t need solo performers. We need team players who get the idea that cooperation is required if they want to accomplish what’s truly possible. Tear down the walls inside your organization (perhaps literally) and reinforce this idea through your own actions.
  • More creativity in marketing. It all gets stale faster than ever. Maybe it’s because we’re all getting bombarded with marketing messages through so many different channels today that keeping everything fresh is more essential than ever. Mix things up. Use all of the channels available to you. Get younger people involved. Build your brand.
  • Selling. Everyone MUST understand that selling work is one of the most important things in the firm. The firm has to be a “selling machine” if it is going to survive and prosper. Everyone has to contribute to this in some way through lead identification, fee estimating, proposal and presentation preparation, and closing.
  • Responsiveness. There simply is no substitute for being super-fast to respond to calls and emails if you want to create a good impression on clients and everyone else you work with today. Those who are responsive will win more jobs and keep more clients than those who don’t. Yes, that tether can create stress in your life. You have to learn how to manage it.
  • Doing. Don’t forget that your firm must deliver quality work and no amount of marketing or responsiveness will make up for bad quality. Those who “do” have to be recognized and rewarded if you want them to ultimately perform as you need them to.
  • Recruiting. People are getting harder and harder to find, despite the popularity of social networking sites such as LinkedIn. You must devote time, money, and other resources to recruiting if you’re going to be able to survive the battle for talent in the years ahead.
  • Investing. Everything takes an investment mentality. If you are one of those firms that functions as an “income club” (a term I first heard used by Paul Greeenhagen, CEO of Westwood Professional Services and one I really like), then you’re going to have to make some changes. Growth takes cash. You need money to invest in marketing, people, technology, research and development, new ventures, acquisitions, and more. You cannot strip it all out like we used to in the good ol’ days.
  • Fueling the fires that burn. One of the most dramatic successes I ever witnessed in this business was with a design firm that I helped with their marketing. I forced them to look at marketing costs by market sector. What we found was the lowest cost of marketing as a percentage of revenue was in their largest sector, and their highest cost as a percentage of revenue in their smallest sector. I convinced them to cut off all marketing to the three worst performers and instead spend that money on the top three performers. They exploded with growth in the years that followed.
  • Construction. You have to get closer to it. I can’t tell you how exactly, other than the lack of construction knowledge, costs to build, and design-build is probably hurting you. Contractors are increasingly powerful competition for design-only firms and more clients are going to them first when they want to do something. That’s a threat to you.
  • Communication. There’s no substitute for it. No communication will result in misunderstandings. These inevitably crop up between busy people who travel a lot or people who work in different offices, departments, or locations. Your job as a leader is to mitigate these problems through every means possible.
  • Just being nice. Everything goes down better if it has a little sugar on it. Be a nice person and people will treat you better. Avoid gossip, don’t seek vengeance, be friendly to everyone – especially those lower down in the pecking order, and you won’t have (as many) people wanting to shoot you in the back.
Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.
This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1082, originally published 12/8/2014. Copyright© 2014, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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.