Little things to make more money

Sep 10, 2023

This advice isn’t hard to follow; it just takes some conscious effort and a little discipline.

Most of our readers are in the AEC business. You already know what a great business it is. Your work is making the world a better place. You give us great places to live, to work, to go to school, to get well, to go out to eat, to buy stuff, and to play sports – among other things. Without the work your firms do, we wouldn’t have electricity in our homes, air conditioning, clean water to drink, roads to drive on, or airports to fly in and out of. You touch the lives of everyone – every day.

Not to mention the people in our business. Architects, engineers, planners, surveyors, and environmental scientists are some of the most intelligent, creative, and ethical people anyone can hope to work with. The people in this business are no doubt one of the best aspects of it.

There are lots of reasons to be in this business. But then there is money. While firms in our business generally do pretty well (some do exceptionally well), there are plenty of companies, particularly smaller ones, that just do OK. We don’t like to see that. We want to see everyone doing well in this business – that way you can pay your owners and employees enough that they aren’t tempted to leave to do something more lucrative.

Here are some thoughts on simple things you can do to make more money with your AEC business:

  • Raise prices. If there is one thing I don’t understand, it is a company that has more demand for its services than it can meet but won’t raise their prices. One trick I learned early on was to always raise prices every year on the first of the year. Send a letter out to all clients on November 15 telling them that on January 1 prices are going up by “X percent,” so if they want to get anything done at the old fee schedule they have 45 days to get it under contract. It works.
  • Go after the right clients. While this may seem completely obvious to you, most companies in this business don’t get it. Some clients and client types inherently pay better fees. Make a conscious effort to find and work for them versus simply working for anyone who requests a proposal. For instance, industrial clients who are making something or providing something their customers need will generally pay higher fees than say a commercial building owner who is trying to spend the least amount of money necessary to fix something required to keep their tenants paying their rent. When the whole factory shuts down and they lose millions of dollars a day if something isn’t fixed, there is a greater sense of urgency and engineering fees are a small consideration. This is just one example of many, but it says focus on the clients who are much more impacted by what you do to get better fees.
  • Write better contracts. Fixed fees, percentage of construction, and cost-plus contracts are inherently better than hourly billing rates and cost-plus with not-to-exceed contracts. Get paid for being more efficient. Get paid for a client that changes direction or increases the scope of what you have to do for them. And make sure every contract has at least two people looking at it before it goes out, and not just for the purpose of finding typos but for the structure of the agreement itself.
  • Focus on being the best there is at something. Specialization pays better than being a generalist. But to do this you have to make a conscious effort. And you will have to say “no” to some opportunities that may come your way. Small firms really struggle with this idea. There is also fear some people have that if they specialize and that market or client type suffers, their business will suffer along with them. My experience is just the opposite, however. When the market for whatever it is declines, it’s the specialized firms that do well. Being the best in your category is what pays the best.
  • Kick up the marketing spend. There is a direct relationship between marketing spending and the growth and profitability of any given business. The more you spend, the easier it will be to justify higher fees. You want demand to be greater than your ability to supply it. Then you won’t ever need to work for clients who don’t understand the value you bring to their project, or those that take too much time or are too difficult to service.
  • Get out of debt. We all got spoiled by ridiculously cheap money for a long time. Three or 3.5 percent interest on our lines of credit is over. Now banks are charging 9 percent or even more. That means it’s a good time to take less out of the business and maybe to sell more equity to key people so you don’t need to borrow. Not to mention it’s going to make you better able to weather any unanticipated storms that may come up. Save more money – pay out less profits – collect your money faster – sell more stock. Pay down that debt now.

Need to make more money this year? Follow my advice and you will. This stuff isn’t hard to do. It just takes some conscious effort and a little discipline. You can do it! 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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.