What owners and managers of AEC firms should be thinking about and doing as we plow headfirst into 2024.
At this time of the year in prior years, I often made my predictions in The Zweig Letter for the year ahead. But it seems to me that now the world is too dynamic and unstable and too much is out of our control, so I thought I would skip that this year.
Instead, I thought it might be more valuable to share my thinking about what owners and managers of AEC firms should be thinking about and doing as we plow headfirst into 2024. Here it goes:
- Growing revenue. The longer I have been part of this industry – and this year marks my 44th year in it – the more convinced I am that committing to revenue growth every single year is an absolute must. Being profitable is easier when your revenue is growing than it is when it’s declining. Your firm is more valuable when it has a higher revenue growth rate. The opportunities for your people and yourself are increased through having a growing revenue stream. The alternative is cutting costs (because expenses WILL go up), and we all know that is NO fun! So grow.
- More new services. Growth does not just come from better marketing and more capacity. One of the keys to growth is having new services to sell. It’s also one way to build a competitive advantage in a sea of undifferentiated service providers. So what are you going to do new in 2024 that you haven’t been doing? Can you package up something you do now differently so your offerings seem different from what everyone else does? Do you have to create some new roles or move people inside the company to dedicate resources to the new stuff? Do you need to hire one or more people with different skills and backgrounds than you have now to be able to do something new? Do you need to buy or merge with another company? Do you need to make accounting changes so you can track the new revenue versus the old, and show everyone in the firm how important it is? How can you get your team behind the “new?”
- Marketing experimentation. Again, the longer I have been in this business (and other businesses, I might add – we aren’t unique!), the more convinced I am that as much as everything is constantly changing, the discipline and tactics of marketing need to change even more. It’s crazy how something that only a short time ago made the phone ring and emails come in can suddenly just stop working. Marketing today requires commitment of significant amounts of money and staff time, and continuous experimentation if you are going to become more and more successful over time. I hate to say it but it’s not all going to come from us older people. Younger folks may be more in-tune with the media and messaging that other younger people respond to, plus they know specific technologies and tactics some of us old-timers may not be versed in. Better bring them into the marketing discussion!
- Knowing your numbers. It never ceases to amaze me how many companies do not share their financial performance metrics with all of their employees. Instead, they rely on their partners and second tier managers to pass the word down to all of their people. But here’s the problem – they don’t all do that well – and some don’t even do it at all. Not only that, the numbers top management gets in the first place may be wrong or inadequate. There is still a lot of confusion in the differences in cash and accrual accounting that people don’t get. It takes many firms too long to close out their months. And then we don’t have enough predictive data that shows where we are heading before we get there. Good accounting and sharing the numbers so every single employee knows what is important and how they can influence the results is of paramount importance.
- Becoming a better place to work. With the continued shortage of people who have technical or design skills, plus can manage people and clients and sell work, I just don’t think you can ever stop thinking about how you will make your company a better place to work. The best people don’t need a job. They have to be sold to join the business and stay there. That takes a real vigilance on the part of all of your leaders to make sure they are really doing what they should be to make sure no one feels the company is anything less than a fantastic place for high achievers who live a life of purpose and excellence. Keep working on how to make your company the place the best people in this business want to work.
- Shedding the baggage of the past. All of us – and I do mean all of us – can make a choice to not live in the past and dwell on mistakes we have made that hurt our businesses and ourselves. Sure, it’s great to be honest with yourself and acknowledge these things so you don’t repeat the same mistakes again. But then you have to stop beating yourself up and put those things in the rearview mirror and ask yourself what you need to do going forward. It’s kind of like driving a car. You had best be looking ahead and not behind you, because if you keep looking back you are bound to run into something that won’t be good to run into!
- Personal changes to be more effective. One thing I learned after a nearly 20 year marriage to someone who was addicted to alcohol and drugs (the first of three – third time is the charm!) is that you cannot change another person’s behavior. All you can do is change your own behavior and your own response to whatever the situation is that you are in. Take the addictions of other people out of the equation and nothing really changes. We all have the capacity to change our OWN actions, behaviors, and attitudes, and that’s where the real opportunity for improvement is. I am not the same person I was five years ago, and I won’t be the same person I am today five years from now. Keep learning. Keep evolving. You are never done until YOU decide you are done.
So there you have it – my best thoughts for the year ahead. I hope each and every one of you finds 2024 is a year for growth, success, health, and personal development! And remember – Zweig Group is here to help if you need it!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at email@example.com.