We are all in the consulting business!

Mar 16, 2020

“To maximize your chances for success, remember you are in the consulting business. Keep these points in mind as you guide the growth and development of your business.”

Sometimes I think architects and engineers forget that they are in the consulting business. Acknowledging this fact affects every single aspect of how you should do things.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Specialization is critical to your success. Why do some of you act as if a good architect or engineer can do anything? Your clients don’t feel that way. You wouldn’t hire an IT consultant to install your Deltek system who has never done one before. So why should a client hire you to do something you have never done yourself? Being a generalist is not the way to be successful. Specialization drives the selection process and greatly affects what you can charge for your services.
  • Because the only thing you have to sell is time and expertise, you can’t give it away. Doing so doesn’t lead to the sale of anything else. This is a huge problem today, particularly for architects who seem to be expected to give away most of their expertise during the sales process for free. Entering design competitions along with 25 other companies is insane. You have to figure out a way to stay busy on productive jobs so you won’t be tempted to work for free.
  • Your time and that of your employees is limited and needs to be used working for paying clients if you are going to be able to pay your people and yourself. You have to use your time very wisely. Cut out all unnecessary meetings. Eliminate any bureaucracy that you can. And be sure you personally use your time as effectively and productively as you can. Remain active on billable projects and set a good example for everyone else.
  • The time of your best employees is particularly valuable. Getting people into the right roles, both in the company and on specific projects, is crucial. If everyone is operating one or two levels below their real capability you will be paying too much to get work completed. You will also be demotivating your best people. This condition often occurs in mature companies that aren’t growing. Their workforce is aging and costing them more every year, and they aren’t hiring less experienced people at the entry level.
  • Making your services into products makes them easier to sell. Selling intangible services is never easy. That means spending some time working to develop standard processes and work products for specific situations that you can sell. When your services become products, they are easier to describe and easier for your people to explain to your clients. And that also gives you an opportunity to clearly differentiate what you will do for the client versus what your competitors will do.
  • Good verbal and written communication skills are essential to your success, so you cannot have people on the team who lack those skills. Consultants have to be able to sell their ideas to their clients if they want their clients to implement them. Those dealing directly with the client need to be able to communicate requirements and priorities to other project team members. Those on a team need to be able to clear up any questions or issues they have with management so they do the right thing. In many cases, communication skills may be more critical than design or technical skills.
  • Recruitment and retention must be treated as critical functions. Because you are in the consulting business and sell time and expertise, having that time and expertise to sell becomes one of your most critical organizational functions. Yet A/E firms have historically done a poor job here. They don’t have recruitment budgets. They don’t have good onboarding processes. They spend almost nothing on training. They do little beyond annual reviews and pay increases to retain people. The result of all of this is critical jobs to unfilled and we have very expensive employee turnover we shouldn’t be having.

So in order to maximize your chances for success, remember you are in the consulting business. Keep these points in mind as you guide the growth and development of your business.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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.