Grow your firm in 2019

Dec 31, 2018

Raise your fees to reflect value, prioritize lead generation, and delegate everything that is outside your zone of genius.

Looking to grow the firm? Or maybe you have tried it before with no luck? Over the years, I have had the privilege of working alongside and helping many successful owners of AEC firms.

It always amazes me to see how two people can receive the same input of information and return two totally different outcomes. Sometimes it’s less about the tactics and more about the person.

Here is what I’ve observed about winning firm owners and what they do differently when running their firms and scaling them:

  • Pricing. AEC services have been commoditized. Surprise! Well, probably not. And that begs the question: How hard is it to grow a firm when your clients expect you to compete on price? Even more tragic is that the other firms – your competition – are playing along and lowering their prices to beat you out on new projects. It’s a mess. So, how can you deal with it and come out on top? It comes down to how you position yourself and your services. The word you are going to want to remember here is value. It’s not the same as more. It’s more services. It’s more of you. What I have seen winning owners do to win projects in these scenarios is to increase their fees. You heard right. They dive deep into the client’s problems, see how they can enhance their basic service offering to bring more value to the client, and then communicate it with a laser sharp message to their ideal project client. When the client is intrigued by the value added, the price becomes a non-issue. It’s the “Well, that price makes sense” effect. As price-driven firms race to the bottom, the value-driven winners are piercing through with higher prices and better projects. So, to grow your firm you must learn to enhance your service offerings and position them in a way that your targeted “perfect” client sees the value add. Then raise the price!
  • Prioritize lead generation. Let’s picture a steady flow of project opportunities continuously in the pipeline. For successful firm owners, this is not imaginary. It’s a requirement. And as the firm grows, so does the team. Backlog is one way to calculate how long the cash will last, but it’s not a way to measure growth. Lead generation is! You need to have a process that consistently generates new leads every month. Without a reliable attraction system in place you never know where your next work is going to come from. Things are unpredictable. Growing the firm is hard. When a strong attraction system is in place, you are relevant to high-value clients from the moment they first come into contact with you until they become a client. Prioritize lead-generation and set a foundation for growth.
  • Overcome the hamster-wheel mentality. “Hustle mode” is literally trapping thousands of firm owners and, to be frank, this is not a pattern I’ve seen in winning firm owners. When you spend too many years justifying 60-hour weeks, not having real processes in place, over-delivering on projects, and thinking that “what I do this month will impact me this month,” you end up with the wrong kind of mindset – the hamster-wheel mentality. All successful businesses, including AEC firms, are built on processes. When you prioritize strategy and process, you are cultivating a freedom mentality. This is the type of mindset you will need to grow and prosper. Winning owners focus heavily on learning and installing processes that will buy them freedom. Then, they focus on hiring and training the best people to do the job. This is the leverage mentality. Get out of the hamster wheel and start using leverage.
  • Outsource and delegate. What is your zone of genius? As the owner, you built your firm because you are good at many things, one of which is being an entrepreneur. But there’s something else, something that you are better at than anyone you know. It’s of high-impact to your firm. It’s the reason you are where you are today. As the leader of the firm, my guess is that your strong suit is strategy. As the firm grows, leverage, outsource, and delegate everything that is outside your zone of genius. You will see a positive impact that will enable growth.
  • Not investing in growth. Growth costs money. It’s the reason I have had the opportunity to work with successful AEC owners in the first place. They invested their money in me so I could help them grow. A growth-driven mindset is necessary to understand that some key investments must be made in order to reach the next level. Growth-driven owners invest in programs and mentors, and they install processes critical for growth. They also invest in agencies or personnel to execute day-to-day marketing and sales activities.

Mindset, personal trainers, and even counseling are important to keep a clear mind and a strong mindset. As you begin to nurture the thought of scaling up to seven-figure growth, figure out how you will invest to make that goal a reality.

Ivan Lares helps owners at architecture firms scale their firms by implementing The AEC Method and has personally helped his clients sell more than $30 million worth of architectural and design services. He is the founder of Sea Level Media and the creator of The AEC Method. He can be reached at

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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.