End the Year on a High Note

Dec 08, 1997

It’s hard to believe, but 1997 is almost over. It seems as if the year just started and now it’s nearly gone. I hope you had a great year, because very few companies ever make up in December for a poor performance in the prior eleven months. But whether your year was good or not, it makes no difference when it comes to December. You can make this month a good month if you want! Here are my suggestions for ending the year on a high note: Clean out unbilled work-in-process (WIP). This means taking a hard look at every single open job to make sure that everything you can bill is billed. In just about every firm, there are jobs that the budgets were overrun because the client asked for extra services, yet the contract (or contract amendment) to provide those services was never even prepared and sent to the client! This is crazy! If you have these situations, they won’t get better over time— they’ll get worse! The longer you wait, the lower the probability you’ll ever recover this effort. Make sure your project managers and principals in charge get all these situations resolved now instead of procrastinating any longer! Clear out the morale busters. If you have people who constantly complain, who act as if the company is evil and greedy, who are never satisfied with anything you attempt to do to improve their lot in life, or who just don’t work when they are at work, take action now! Why start another year dragging an anchor behind you? And if you think these people bug you, what makes you think the rest of your people are any less bothered? It’s their company, too. Even if they aren’t owners, they do rely on the firm for their livelihood. And they don’t want to see negative, lazy people filling slots that could be filled by enthusiastic contributors. Clean up your office. This always helps raise spirits. It’s cold outside, it’s getting dark early, and the long winter looms ahead. Maybe now is the time to do a little cleaning and painting. Replace those water-stained ceiling tiles. Get a new mat for the entry area. Put those HP toner cartridges earmarked for recycling (you know, the ones UPS is supposed to pick up) in the coat closet. Hang the pictures that you never put up in your conference room. Give the kitchen a good scrub down. Paint the walls of your scuffed up halls. Shred the piles of unnecessary paper that have accumulated in your personal workspace and throughout the entire company. It feels good! Collect overdue accounts receivable. I noticed the other day that 85% of our accounts receivable are under 30 days old. You know why? We call, we send second notices, we put previously billed but unpaid amounts on each and every invoice, we call some more, we send out more letters, and we call again. There is no reason to start the new year with a bunch of money being owed to you. Show you are serious about expecting payment! Be aggressive— you deserve to get paid, don’t you? If there’s a dispute, solve it! And if you can’t, renegotiate and collect what you can. The bottom line is that having a bunch of old accounts receivable as you start a new year never makes you feel very good— and you can’t pay your employees (or yourself) with it. Get out and see your best clients. Now is the time to set the stage for next year. Build your backlog with some new work. The best place to start is with current clients. What is coming up this year? What else can you do for them that you aren’t now doing? What’s the most important thing they want out of their consultants? Where are the other firms they work with falling down? How can you expand your working relationship in a way that saves them time, money, and aggravation? Who else should you be talking with in the client organization? Now is the time to get out and see your best long-term clients. They like you and will give you a chance to do more if you ask. But you have to ask! Call the people that you have procrastinated over calling. Whether this is an upset client or an old client that your last project didn’t go so well for, make these calls now! There’s no point in carrying your guilt forward into 1998 where it can mess with your mind and hamper your ability to cash in on the opportunities that are out there. Pick up the phone and dial. Make your performance expectations known to all in the firm. If you, as the principals, are not 100% clear about what the rest of the people in the firm are supposed to be doing and how they are supposed to behave, now is the time to correct that. Talk to the manager who is a good guy but whose performance is lagging. Talk to the new junior principal (or principal to be) so she knows that you expect at least a 50 hour work week on average. Talk to the receptionist/switchboard operator and tell her that you expect her to recognize the good clients who call. Paint a picture of your vision of a rosy future for everyone in the company. No matter how clear you think your business plan is or how good you think morale is, don’t take this for granted. You, as the leaders, will need to continually refine and sell a brighter future for everyone who is a part of your enterprise. They all need to know what’s in it for them. They all need to know that you see them there. They all need to know that they are important. They all need to know that you know what you are doing. Make sure this happens before 1998 is half over! It should be clear to all. There are things that you can do to end the year on a high note. So let’s stop talking about it and let’s start taking action. Originally published12/08/1997

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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.