What goes up can stay up – if you do!

May 08, 2022

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You are in control of your business, and its success depends on your ability to keep a level head and keep making things happen.

Let’s face it. There are a number of signs out there that this raging economy is going to slow down some. How much and exactly when, nobody knows. But that doesn’t mean you need to operate your business as if you are scared. That – being scared – isn’t going to do anything to help you be a better leader of the other people in your firm. In fact, it could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I will admit that when COVID-19 first started, I was definitely scared. It made me want to unload our rental real estate portfolio as fast as possible. We sold about $18 million worth of heavily-leveraged real estate in the 18-24 months that followed. If we would have kept all of our properties another six to 12 months, we would have made several million dollars more than we did. But I panicked, and it undoubtedly cost us dearly.

Your job is to keep your business growing and profitable no matter what. And you can do that as long as you keep your head on straight. What is happening with the external environment, or with other firms in this business, does not have to happen to YOUR business. You are in control of your business, and its success depends on your ability to keep a level head and keep making things happen.

Here are my suggestions for how you can do that. Whether or not these tactics will work for you, I can’t say. But they do help me:

  1. Go on a news and social media diet. Too much of it and you will find you have a negative attitude. News media outlets focus on bad news. It’s what keeps people glued to them. That sells more ads. So recognize that is what they are trying to do – to get you upset. Find one or two sources you like – my preference is for certain newspapers or online news providers (from what are or what used to be newspapers) – and stick with them for a limited amount of time each day.
  2. Watch your associations. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances, and most of them are very positive, can-do people. If you are young, perhaps you may find some older people have a better perspective on things that will help them be optimistic no matter what is happening. I will confess that I do have a preference for entrepreneurs. They are used to facing obstacles and overcoming them. The successful ones aren’t beaten down and don’t give up easily, and I find that inspirational.
  3. Read inspirational content and watch inspirational, “feel good” movies. Biographies or stories of people who overcame obstacles, fictions where the heroes prevail, happy stories. I will confess that I actually enjoy what we call in our household for lack of a better name, “Hallmark movies”. For example, my new friend Scott Wolf was in a recent Netflix movie, Rescued by Ruby. It’s about a K-9 officer and his dog. Some may think it is corny or cheesy, but watching it made me feel good. I can say the same thing about Will Smith’s King Richard, a movie about Venus and Serena Williams and how their dad supported them and guided their rise in the tennis world in spite of every obstacle you can imagine.
  4. Focus on the positive things happening in your business in your internal communications. Write a weekly email to your employees, and get across the idea that things are going well, that there are many small victories to celebrate, and in short, that you are successful. That will help keep everyone else motivated instead of being scared and beaten down. Your goal is to fight fear! Fearful employees will not be high performers.
  5. Be opportunistic. If we go into a recession, that will always provide new opportunities for those who can see them and act on them. For example, the M&A business – just like the real estate business – is raging right now. There are many more buyers than there are sellers, and that has made prices higher. But if the industry has a slowdown, there may be more sellers than there are buyers. That could provide you with a real opportunity if you have some resources and are brave enough to use them to acquire other companies. Think about that, and be ready if it occurs.
  6. Be open-minded about adding new services or offerings. Changing markets create new needs. What can you do to help your clients that you aren’t doing now? Businesses that do well over the long haul are usually those that can adapt quickly. Having the right services when they are needed is a big part of this. I recall one of the engineering firms l was a part of in the early and mid-‘80s – back when interest rates were 18 percent – found itself in a real dry spot. We quickly got into asbestos abatement, and the truth is it probably saved the company. What else will your clients be needing? Now is the time to start thinking about it.

Sustainable high performance is what leadership is all about. You have to perform in good times and bad. Your attitude as a leader of your AEC firm is critical to your ability to keep everyone up and working positively. Just by nature of the fact you are reading this tells me that you can do it!

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.