Five Things Any Firm Can Improve

Feb 17, 2003

As management consultants to the A/E/P and environmental industry for many years, we get up close and personal with literally hundreds of firms each and every year. Many of these are very successful companies that grow and make good profits. But, as successful as the best of them are, ALL of them can still improve in the following five areas: Cash flow. Any firm can do better by billing throughout the month vs. once a month; by calling clients within a week after sending a bill to make sure it’s being processed for payment; by giving the accounting department the primary responsibility for collections; by paying employee and management bonuses out of cash-basis income vs. accrual; and by always asking for a retainer or first installment before beginning work. Hiring. Any firm can make fewer bad hires and drive down turnover by defining exactly what the firm’s hiring process is and communicating this to all managers; by assigning a single individual to manage this process firm-wide; by always checking references and verifying education and registration credentials; by making sure there is more than one candidate to choose from for any given job opening; and by never hiring anyone for any job who is late for the interview, has been caught in a lie, or who can’t spell as evidenced in their resume, cover letter, or job application. Internal communications. Every single firm we have ever performed a management audit for needed help here. Any firm can improve staff efficiency and morale by having a simple monthly report that goes out to everyone and quickly details how the firm performed for the month and year-to-date; by having an intranet site with news, standards, forecasts, and other important (and often changing) information needed by staff; and by having a once-a-month meeting for everyone in the firm. External communications. Any firm can improve its image of quality and service to clients. Some easy ground can be gained by having direct-dial numbers for all employees; by putting direct-dial and cell phone numbers on all business cards, memo shells, and outgoing e-mail messages; by making sure switchboard operators are well-trained and know how to deal with incoming callers; by having a one-page project progress report that goes out to the client on every single job; and by making sure there is always back-up to handle questions or calls from outside the firm for anyone who leaves the office. Marketing. Any company can improve its marketing, which will not only get more business but improve client quality and make the firm more profitable. Some easy improvements can be made by always using the company name, colors, and logo consistently in every marketing effort (something that’s rarely done); by sending out one press release per week to the media; by getting all names of clients and potential clients into one database; and by reporting every sale of new work to all employees in an effort to generate enthusiasm for and interest in selling. None of these things is major, and all are proved to work. So what are you waiting for? Originally published 2/17/2003

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.