Management for Smaller Firms

Oct 07, 2002

From time to time, we’ll hear from a reader who wants us to give more management advice specifically aimed at small firms. These people seem to think their small firm is different from a larger one. “The same rules don’t apply,” or “that won’t work for us,” or “we can’t afford that” is what they say. Well you know what? For the most part, they are wrong. The same management techniques work in large and small firms. This stuff is universal. Here’s some of what I am talking about: Recruiting. Whether large or small, every firm should know what its current hiring needs are, what its anticipated hiring needs will be throughout the coming year, and what kinds of people it generally wants to bring on board. You could be hiring one person or one thousand, and this applies. Yet many firms do a very poor job at recruiting. They are not working off of a list of needs, recruiting is not included in the overall firm business plan, and everyone who hires has a different idea about the kinds of people the company should be bringing on board. Marketing. Whether mega-firm or mini-firm, every company needs a marketing strategy. That starts with knowing who it is trying to sell its services to and what kinds of services it is selling. Most firms, large and small alike, could benefit by going back to this level of fundamental marketing discussion because so many are chasing all over the place with absolutely no real plan of any kind. And brand building should be as much a part of a small firm’s marketing program as a large. When ZweigWhite was first getting started, for example, we sent out a free letter to the 250 people in my rolodex. It cost about $100 a month. And the phone rang afterward. Any firm can do this! Business planning. One-man shop or 10,000 employees in 100 offices…every firm needs a business plan that answers why the company is in business, what it is trying to become, how it will get there, what its goals are, and what steps are going to be taken to further those goals. It kills me when I talk to principals of small firms who see a plan as a luxury! Ever try to do a project where the client’s needs are completely undetermined? It’s pretty hard to do a good job, eh? Cash flow. Do only large firms need to worry about cash flow? I think not! In many cases cash flow is an even bigger problem for the smaller, less capitalized firm than it is the larger one. Again, the same rules apply. Ask for retainers before starting work. Have a contract before working on the job. Bill throughout the month, not once a month. Get the bills out fast— no time for lengthy reviews. And follow up quickly with your collection efforts. This is the same formula for any firm. Technology. Every firm today, large or small, needs to have e-mail, Internet access, a web site, voice mail, and cell phones. Whether it’s a one-person company with no support staff whatsoever or a 3,000-person firm, clients and team members all want access to you that’s fast and convenient and of the form that they are used to. In other words, if a client has e-mail, and you don’t, they won’t like working with you. And all of this technology is so easily affordable to any firm that there is no reason not to have it. I could go on and on. Good management is good management. Common sense is common sense. So the next time you hear, “that won’t work here, we’re too small,” or something similar, maybe you should ask why. Originally published 10/07/2002.

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.