Working with the government

Jul 06, 2015

1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nSix suggestions for firms seeking to work with the largest buyer of A/E and environmental services.

Let’s face it: The government – be it local, state, or federal – is the biggest buyer of A/E and environmental consulting services there is. Many firms in this industry rely on government work for half, or more, of their business. If you are going to work for the government, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Know their rules. If you don’t know them, you’ll have a hard time getting work in the first place. But it is important to know what you can and cannot do when it comes to buying meals for clients and travelling on client meetings, what you can charge and not charge for, who you can hire, and so much more. Ignorance is no excuse. Do your homework, and save yourself a lot of grief.
  2. Accounting differences can be hard to deal with. Take a look at any company that does both public and private work: There’s usually a balancing-act between accurately tracking every hour worked on private client projects and not charging any more than 40 hours a week to their timesheet for public work when they are being paid on a cost-plus basis. These things can create ethical, and even legal, problems for firms, depending on how they are handled.
  3. Make every suppliers and subconsultants comply with what you have to do for your client. In other words: Make them bill you in the same fashion you bill for your services; make them charge their time the same way you do; make them comply with all federal and local hiring laws, workers’ compensation requirements, and more. Some agencies can make you, as a prime, responsible for each of your subs being in complete compliance.
  4. Hire people from governmental organizations, but be sure to hire the right people. It can be risky. Someone is retiring from your state DOT, and you hire them, thinking it will be a coups. But, instead, you get the dud – the one they were all sick of and couldn’t wait to get out of there – and they will not work with your firm as long as you have anything to do with him or her. Be careful! Do your due-diligence before hiring. You cannot afford a mistake.
  5. Don’t look too flashy. Most government clients don’t want to see your new supercharged Bentley or $8,000 Rolex. If they do, they’ll think they’re paying you too much and will want to stop doing business with you. Be extremely cautious! Even if you do drive a Ferrari F360 Modena to the office every day, keep a 5-year-old Taurus or Camry around that you can drive if you need to. ​
  6. Don’t let them ruin you. I have seen a lot of A/E firms that work for the government start to morph into the clients they serve. They hire government people, adopt governmental pay practices, adopt governmental policies, lay out their offices similarly to governmental agencies, and even mirror governmental organization structures. You probably don’t want this, IF you want to run a profitable, growing company, as the government isn’t known for efficiency and entrepreneurial spirit.
MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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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.