The moving sidewalk

Jun 10, 2015

i-BZbRLwn-LThe current momentum of the A/E market is like a moving sidewalk: Are you in a hurry to pass your competitors or just standing still?

What do you do when you are on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport? Do you walk (or run) on the left or do you stand on the right? In this industry, you and all of your competitors are on a moving sidewalk – the A/E market – that is moving you forward. For many years, our moving sidewalk was broken, leaving many of us idle. Now, times are great and our moving sidewalk is functioning again. A/E firms’ revenues are growing. Profits are growing. Hiring is strong. M&A activity is sharply up. The market is hot, and we are finally reaping the benefits of it. So, are you standing still on the moving sidewalk – simply moving along at the same pace as your competitors – or are you walking – or even running – to pass them? There are a lot of firms patting themselves on the back for a job well done right now. The market wave we are all riding has everyone on a high and feeling very successful. It’s a great feeling! It is important, however, to distinguish between market success and individual firm success. Because the market is so strong, it might actually cause you to relax on some very important activities as you are working to get projects done. Right now, you should be marketing, selling, and recruiting harder than ever, while strategic planning is top-of-mind. Making key investments with profits is more important than ever. Now is the time to build something meaningful and strategic with the resources that are available. Now is the time to prepare your firm for the next downturn. It’s not fun to think about these things when you are enjoying seeing those days in your rear view mirror, but unfortunately, they are also on the horizon in front of you at some point. Consider these activities to keep you focused on the long term:
  • Update all marketing. Branding and re-branding activities can be expensive. Many A/E firm websites are stale after little attention for years. Update all of your marketing materials now. Upgrade your website and add functionality and search engine optimization to set your firm apart from the competition. Investing in this now will bring rewards later, when you really need them.
  • Train your staff to sell and perform. Invest in in-house training, lunch-and-learns, and so forth. Now is the time to focus on selling and doing. Train your project managers to be more efficient and keep jobs moving without numerous meetings and other time-wasters. Also, invest in an on-boarding process that gets new employees engaged and productive quickly and efficiently.
  • Invest in growth. Develop your in-house recruiting team or hire a third party to create a constant pipeline of top-shelf talent. Line up candidates for anticipated open positions and replace under-performing or negative staff. Get serious about developing new capabilities and revenue streams now, while you have the funds and time to do so.
  • Update that strategic plan. Get a group together that can truly affect change and spend a few days talking about your business. Commit to some simple yet powerful initiatives that improve current operations and force you to invest in long term initiatives.
The summary of this is to invest now. Feel good about the times that we are in but keep working as hard as you did in the recession to create work and build your company. Feel the exhilaration as you speed down the moving sidewalk, passing your competitors, who are standing there enjoying the free ride the market is providing. At some point the sidewalk will slow again, but you will be far ahead of where you are now and you will see your competitors in your rear view mirror instead of only seeing the good times of today. Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s executive vice president. 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.