Time for a change!

Oct 01, 2001

Best I can tell, the events of September 11 pushed a fragile economy over the cliff. It’s hard to make a bull like me into a bear, but I am there now. Companies everywhere are cutting back, the airlines are going broke, hotels are empty, car sales are dead, and real estate prices are falling. Our clients are telling us they are also being impacted, even those that you wouldn’t think would be based on what they do. It’s apparent that if there was ever a time to reevaluate what you’re doing, it’s right now. Everything is different. It’s getting ugly, and it will probably get uglier. That doesn’t mean that failure is inevitable for any particular firm, but it does mean that some will get stepped on as caterpillars and will never metamorphose into beautiful butterflies. If I ran an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm, here are some of the things I would be doing right now: I would be tuning up financial reporting and forecasting systems. In a time of crisis, you need to be able to get up-to-the-minute information that shows where the bleeding is so you can act quickly on it. Acting quickly on old information wastes a lot of money! I can honestly say that 98% of the firms we interact with do an inadequate job here. I would be taking a hard look at the markets. Airports will still be a good market, but there will be much less air-side work (runways, taxiways, etc.) in the short-term and much more on the land side (terminals, baggage handling, security). There will have to be more roadway work, especially if air travel is greatly reduced, but funding for specific projects or in particular states may be in jeopardy. There will be more toll roads and more railway projects, too. But there will be a lot fewer hotels and resorts being planned, less office space to build out, and fewer residential developments that need planning. On the other hand, Army Corps of Engineers, Navy, and Air Force work should be strong. And there ought to be more treatment plants as water quality continues to be a huge issue nationwide. Energy studies and retrofits will be good, but most new building design work will be down. I would cut high-level people, not just drafters and administrative staff! Don’t kid yourself. Things will not get any better for the short term (six to nine months), and in fact, they will probably get worse! Don’t rationalize that your backlog will go up, or that you can’t do without someone who is clearly not cutting it because he or she is the only one you have. Do with fewer people all the way around because things are going to get darker before the dawn. Many firms are cutting benefits, and I would take a hard look at what you are doing there now. During the good times, everyone started doing more and more for their people. We advocated it ourselves. How quickly things change! Today is a new era. Protecting your profits has to be the first priority. Marketing is quickly changing, and you’d better look at what you are doing. While firms are doing a better job getting their people to make sales calls, other types of marketing are making some real inroads. E-marketing is rapidly displacing direct mail as a way to position a firm as an expert in a particular market. Send e-mails with links back to your web site to select groups of clients, then poll them while there are there. This is the future of marketing. And it’s here now. Other things are changing, too. Work clothing is once again becoming more formal. The casual era is probably coming to a close. Office space, too, is getting less fun and more formal. No razor scooters or popcorn machines! And company cars are most likely going to be American. There’s a serious tone predominating, and you don’t want to be out of step with it. It’s going to be rough sailing ahead, folks. You know I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it. Originally published 10/01/2001.

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.