Reimagine, renew, retool

Jul 20, 2020

With new cases of COVID-19 on the rise, now is not the time for complacency. Instead, it is a time for self-reflection and new action.

With new cases of COVID-19 setting daily records in many parts of our country, and predictions from many experts for rough sailing ahead for at least the rest of this year, now is not the time for complacency. Instead, it is a time for self-reflection and new action.

Have you considered a bold re-imagination of what you want your firm to be? How about renewing your sense of purpose? And what are you doing to retool your business to maximize your chances for success in what is likely to be the business environment of the coming months and years?

These things and more should be on your list of priorities right now. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Take a hard look at your strategic plan and reimagine what your firm can be and what it should be. This could be a great opportunity to get out a clean sheet of paper and dream about what kind of firm you really want to have. If there was ever a time to do a new business plan it is now. There are many potential threats as well as just as many potential opportunities. Prepare for both.
  2. Refine the stated purpose for your existence as an organization to be sure everyone on your team knows they are doing worthwhile and important work. Now more than ever is the time to build a purpose-driven organization. With so many people worrying about their health and financial futures, and so much more remote work than we had even six months ago, people are more likely to feel isolated from the business and question how they are spending their time.
  3. Research and reconsider the markets you’ve always served, and determine what new markets you should be pursuing. Just because you have always served hotel developers or office developers or retail developers or oil companies doesn’t mean that is all you can ever do. Look for allied markets that aren’t too far of a stretch and start making efforts to identify clients and projects in them. If you need to hire someone with experience in serving those new client types to lead that effort, now is the time to do it.
  4. Renew old relationships with clients, employees, consultants, and regulators. I recently wrote an article in The Zweig Letter about making “50 Calls” to do just this. I think it is a worthwhile idea that could lead to many new opportunities if you and the rest of your principals or partners will just do it.
  5. Develop new succession plans and make every single person identify who will take over for them if they get sick and are unable to maintain their work duties. It’s always been important but it’s even more important now with the COVID-19 infection rate predictions for the coming months. Odds are you will have people get sick and will need to figure out who will do their jobs when it happens. So wouldn’t it be better to prepare for this inevitability now BEFORE you have to? More preparation time can only be beneficial.
  6. Check in with your banker(s) and learn what they are seeing happening with their clients. Keep them informed about your situation as a company and what you are doing to adapt to the changing environment. Banks are probably going to start having a bunch of problems. Once the investment real estate starts coming back to them when tenants can’t pay their rent and then building owners default, and their small business loans to restaurants and other highly-impacted businesses get into trouble, they could get nervous about your financial condition and any lines of credit you may have with them. Put them at ease by telling them what you are doing to remain strong and show some friendship and empathy for them as businesses and individuals as well.
  7. Aggressively kick up collection efforts for accounts receivable, with a particular focus on old AR. Old AR is always riskier than new AR. Those clients could get into trouble and the longer you wait to get paid the greater the odds you will never get paid. So get on it now while most businesses are still in good financial shape and can pay your bill if they want to. Any further delay could prove to be a mistake.
  8. Reexamine every aspect of your cost structure and shed any unnecessary overhead. Many firms have already done this but let’s face it – the PPP money really helped many companies in this business (as it was intended to) so they didn’t have to make cuts. But that is over now for most of our readers and many companies are left with reduced workloads and backlogs. Office rent (with so many telecommuters), labor (labor is your biggest cost – it has to match workload), and any other non-essential overhead may all need to be cut. If you are in this kind of situation, do it now before you get too far behind the eight-ball and have too big of a hole to work out of.
  9. Get everyone involved in marketing activities. Besides just making calls there are so many other things your people can do. They can all be sure to like, comment, and share all of your social media postings. They can write blog posts for the company blog. They can get involved in client trade group and professional organizations. They can write for publications. All of these things and more will contribute to the firm’s marketing efforts.
  10. Develop a new list of the kind of people you want to hire and start recruiting. Now is the time! If you don’t have the right people in any role, develop a role description and get the word out. I think a lot of good folks may be more willing to make a change if they don’t feel their current companies are doing what they should to deal with their costs and/or a changing market.
  11. Reconsider the size, structure, and composition of your board of directors. Now – more than ever – is the time to add the right outside directors. Increasing diversity should be a consideration if you are like most firms and have a BOD made up exclusively of white guys older than 50. And while you are at it, why not look for people who have been more successful than you in the same business you are in? Or how about those who were in responsible roles in one or more of your client organizations where they could possibly help you win new work?
  12. Implement new tools and systems that will better facilitate working remotely. If you haven’t done it already, I would be surprised. But what else is needed? For example, one firm we are currently working with recently found it necessary to develop a huge shared schedule of every single marketing activity they are undertaking – so they did it. What tools do your people need that they don’t now have? Ask them!
  13. Work extra hard to communicate to your employees your direction, sense of purpose, and the tactics you are or will be using to remain competitive in the months ahead. This will help alleviate any fears or anxieties they have about their employer remaining viable. Think about what I said earlier. You don’t want your best people to be looking for new jobs only because you aren’t communicating with them adequately. It would be a shame to lose someone over these fears.
  14. Develop personal contingency plans to help keep your family and self secure. Have you talked with your spouse about where the money is and how he or she can access it? Have you updated your wills, trusts, and estates? I’m not being morbid when I say this. But be smart. Expect the best but prepare for the worst.

All of these things and many more should be on your “do” list for the near term. Better get on it now!

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