With 2001 now underway, I want to share some lessons I have learned in the last few years with our readers. These are each important issues related to your success as individuals and as firms. Some of these conclusions may seem strange on the surface, but they are based on our experiences working with hundreds of firms in this business each year. So listen up, y’all:The greatest barrier to implementation of new information technology is administrative support staff. That’s right. It’s not money. Everything is getting cheaper, and it’s easier than ever to finance (you can even lease software). It’s your support staff. Have too many of them or have support folks who are too service-oriented, and you’ll end up with top people who are overly dependent on them. They won’t need to learn keyboard skills, won’t have to open and respond to e-mails, and may not even have to check or return voice mails! When the top people don’t experience firsthand how great all of this technology is, they resist efforts to upgrade it. It just doesn’t seem worthwhile or important to them. The best way to improve cash flow is to improve marketing. Your cash flow always erodes when you aren’t in the position of having more clients who want you than you can actually take care of. Then you open yourself up to abuse— abuse in the form of slow-paying clients typically rears its ugly head. So what I would suggest is that you commit to being a high-growth firm, spend more on marketing than you have traditionally done, and sit back and watch as your collection period declines. Of course, you still need to follow good billing and collection procedures! But there’s no need to work for a slow payer when you have fast-paying clients to work for. Thirty percent profits will lead to future problems. Each year, I encounter a half-dozen or so firms that are fantastically profitable. They cannot understand why that concerns me. I’ll tell you why. Usually, it indicates a lack of investment or attention to some critical area of the business. The firm is underfunding their marketing efforts. They are not spending enough on recruiting. They are being cheap with raises. Or they aren’t getting the office space they need. It’s always something— firms in this business rarely can sustain a 30% profit year after year. A 15-20% profit is possible on a continuing basis, a little less for really large firms. But 30%? No way. Problems loom! We are all far too serious. I just don’t know how to get people to lighten up, but they need to. Things can always be worse. Most of the time the things we think are pressing problems are simply trivia. Why let them ruin your life? You have to keep perspective. That means having fun at work, taking the crooked path to success, doing things that you like to do (as long as you don’t hurt anyone else), making friends, and generally enjoying the day-to-day of your work life instead of viewing it as something to avoid. Many of those who complain about their responsibilities at work the most are the ones who die three months after they retire. The “destination” is often not all that it’s cracked up to be. So make a resolution this year to enjoy the journey along the way. Thanks to our readers and clients, I look forward to continuing my education in 2001. And you can bet I will share those lessons learned with you all as they present themselves!Originally published 1/08/2001.
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.
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