Lessons learned in Arlington

Dec 04, 2022

Ezequiel Tovar

These continuing education opportunities offers valuable insight into what makes successful AEC firms stand out from the rest.

had the opportunity last month to attend Zweig Group’s Project Management for AEC Professionals seminar and The Principals Academy. This was the first time I’ve been able to attend some of Zweig Group’s training events, and these seminars provided me with invaluable insights into the AEC industry and what sets successful firms apart from the rest.

Here are the key takeaways from these events that resonated with me the most:

  • It is critical for you to know why clients would want to work with your firm. The “why” becomes your competitive advantage. Having a clearly defined answer to this question within your firm will help you get more work and will allow you to better communicate what level of quality you will be providing to your clients. The perception of usefulness is key on answering this question. Another question that goes along with this is: How will I be contributing to the mission of my client? Imagine addressing that when you are in a client discovery call. Having defined answers to those questions will be crucial for your business' success.
  • Charge what your services are worth. Your clients are willing to pay a premium to work with someone they appreciate and trust. You must focus on increasing their satisfaction with your work and boost their perception that you will be offering a superior experience compared to your competitors. Having already built this level of trust with your clients will certainly further support your claim.

  • People in the AEC industry are over-worked. Burnout, unfortunately, is real. I spoke with a lady who worked for an environmental firm who felt that the drive and passion for her craft weren’t there anymore due do the massive volume of work she had. In the beginning of her career, she loved what she did, however, the spark and connection dwindled over time. You can easily get overloaded when bombarded with excessive work, tight deadlines, managing people, and juggling many projects all at once. All of these factors can make the enjoyment and sense of purpose for your work evaporate. It truly is unfortunate to see such talented and motivated people experiencing this.
  • Focus on growth. The first things we consider when thinking about growth are employees, markets, revenues, etc. What about evolving your brand equity? What about growing your next tier of owners? What about growing your mentorship program? There must be an emphasis on growth because it is the only way for a successful future. Growing with purpose and precision will benefit both the long-term future of your firm and your employees. What employee doesn’t want to be in a company that’s growing?
  • Improving the financial state of the company is a top priority. No matter if you are a principal, project manager, architect, engineer, or receptionist, boosting the performance of your firm will be beneficial in the long run. Why? Because of you! Who will be the future investors of your firm? Investors will most likely be internal leaders who will continue the legacy and vision of the firm. By improving the financial health of your firm, you will be able to get a higher return. Something to note is that just because you make a profit does not mean everything is smooth sailing financially. If cash flow (the blood of your firm) is not in good standing, you will not continue to run your firm as effectively as possible. Also, building a strong balance sheet (the skeleton of your firm) will ensure that the firm stands strong and is able to resist any financial hardship on the horizon. Having a good average collection period, ROE, pre-tax, pre-bonus profit, working capital, revenue factor, and several additional metrics, will make your firm into a financial powerhouse. Making it a priority will require the effort of the whole team because it is in everyone’s best interest.
  • When planning for an internal ownership transition, you have to put in the effort to educate your people. How will your employees know that their firm gives them a good return on their investment? You have to show them by being open with the financials and metrics of your firm. That is why at Zweig Group, we push for firms to practice an open-book management approach. By being transparent, you will be able to sell your people on why your firm is a great investment. Showing them the “why” will help them choose to invest in your firm versus the S&P 500. Cultivating an educational culture around ownership is one of the most important things your can do.

There you go! These two seminars provided an important learning experience for me and offered greater insight into the AEC industry, which is especially valuable as I’m still early into my career. These seminars were some of Zweig Group’s last for 2022, but you can see the full learning calendar for 2023 here.  

Ezequiel Tovar is an analyst within Zweig Group’s ownership transition team. Contact him at etovar@zweiggroup.com.

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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.