Early successes, failures, and significant challenges, and how a young firm navigated through them.
In my last article, “Permission to Launch,” I discussed my firm’s initial founding. If you think about it, anybody can plant a flag and give it a go, with little clue about what it will take to succeed. However, reality quickly sets in: the combined stress of convincing clients to give your new firm a try, recruiting staff, purchasing insurance, developing procedures, completing projects, making payroll, collecting AR, managing HR and legal issues, and ensuring you don’t run out of capital, and so on are not for the faint of heart. But time waits for no one, and the headaches quickly multiply when you launch your business. Welcome to the show!
When I think about it, the excitement of founding our firm, the adrenaline rush of winning work, solving client issues, developing something from scratch, and considering what we might become down the road did soothe the startup pains and propel us forward. We were so busy the first three years that we did not have time to look down from the high wire.
Our startup adventures were many. We routinely ran up to six months behind on our monthly financials, which is unthinkable now. Our bank called us in because our receivable’s average age (over 120 days) was called into question as collateral. We developed a seven-point plan to present to our bank to quell their concerns, and it worked. I cannot tell you the exact number of all-nighters we pulled, completing reports, conducting 24-hour pilot tests on remediation sites, or the drudgery of catching up on back office work. If we had known what it would take to succeed, we would not have thought it was possible.
We made some great hires during this time, but we also learned the hard way that there are many unique professionals out there, and some will not like your culture or the demands of consulting, and those disconnects will take you backward. I really could go on and on, but here are a few key things we did learn:
- Organization is critical. In those early days, we were as disorganized as you could imagine. If we had adopted organizational processes and technology quicker, it truly would have helped reduce many of our early stresses and failures.
- Delegation is key. As environmental professionals, we are a very talented lot. However, we thought we had to micromanage everything. Some of us were very slow to delegate responsibilities and tasks, which would have significantly diminished our early pressures and bottlenecks.
- Hiring is an art. In those early days, if we had a staff opening and the resume looked good, they were hired. Looking back, if we had been more diligent in taking time to ensure our culture was aligned, their work ethic matched expectations, and the work product was high quality, we would have avoided some major self-inflicted setbacks. Be clear about your expectations and leverage tools like personality profiling and recruiting software to help ensure quality hires.
- Invest in talent. It is pretty simple: when you genuinely find talented individuals to join your firm, you will never regret stretching your budget to make it happen. Sometimes it’s hard to justify, but if everything aligns, you will never regret making the hire.
- Being slow to address issues. If I could time travel and not disrupt the space-time continuum, the following words are worth their weight in gold. You will find areas moving in the wrong direction in every facet of your business at different times. The quicker you move to address those issues, the better off you will be! It is truly some of the most challenging work and decision-making we faced, but the benefits multiplied once we corrected the issue.
- Leverage your support network. I would slip this in on my time travel mission too. Almost every issue you will face has been encountered by other businesses before, and there are many ways to address them. Your banker, insurance agent, attorney, friendly competitor, trade association, business group, management consultant, etc., has solutions if only you solicit advice. These professionals have overcome or seen others solve similar problems and can help. Don’t be afraid to seek advice!
In our next article, “The Propensity to Consume,” we will discuss the concept of “profit forgives a multitude of sins” and how success can affect your firm in both positive and negative ways. Stay tuned!
Todd Perry, P.G., is a principal and senior geologist at PPM Consultants, Inc. Contact him at email@example.com.