If your business requires so much attention from you that you don’t have the overall quality of life you want, it’s time to do something different.
For some reason, I feel compelled to express my distaste for so much of what I read on entrepreneurship, management, and business these days. But if I do that, then to some I will sound either willfully ignorant or just like a bitter old guy.
So, let me say this: You don’t need a lot of this stuff. The AEC business is not that hard to make a decent living in these days. Demand exceeds supply. Put that extremely high demand on top of a labor shortage – combined with basic competence in what you do – and you have a formula for making money.
But my two questions for you are these. First, do you have a business that will succeed without your continuous high level of personal involvement and attention? And secondly, will you be able to extract the value you have built in your business when you decide you want to get out of it so you can do something else? Those two questions have always been top of mind for me when working with any firm in this industry.
So let’s talk about my questions. Does your business require continuous attention from you such that you don’t have the overall quality of life you you want and you haven't set the stage to be able to sell it internally or externally some day? If the answer is “yes,” it’s time to do something different. These are the six things you need to be working on:
- Having the right people working in your business. That involves both recruiting and retention. Every time I talk about recruiting, someone has to show me how smart they are and remind me retention is critical, too. I know that! But you can’t retain anyone good if you don’t first hire good people. That takes your willingness to commit real resources (time and money) to the problem. Most firms in this business really aren’t doing that. Look at the percentage of net service revenue going for recruiting in the typical firm in this business and tell me if you don’t agree. There is little that is more important today than recruiting. And as far as retention goes, the key to that lies in NOT giving people reasons to feel they need to leave your business and go somewhere else. What do you make your people do that makes them feel they have to lose their personal dignity to do it? Those things take many forms, from having them fight in a bureaucratic system that wastes their time, to having them participate in something even slightly unethical, to talking down to them, to paying them less than they are really worth – and more. Focus on eliminating these things and your retention rate will improve.
- Learning how to effectively delegate. Sure – there is information out there on how to be a better delegator. That’s all basically about being clear in what you want people to do and checking in with them every so often. But the real problem related to lack of delegation in our business is that the delegators don’t have faith in their people to do what they want them to do the way they want it done. In some cases it is founded. See my point No. 1 above. In other cases, it’s either ego, or what I call the “craftsman mentality,” (i.e., no one can do it as well as I can, so I might as well do it myself) that keeps design professionals from delegating. Either way, not delegating is a trap that will hold back your people, your business, and yourself needlessly.
- Training your people in how your business works. You will never have a business that can exist without you – or better yet, thrive without you – if you don’t have a lot of people who really understand what you are trying to do and how your business makes money. This will only come about if you have a business planning process that gets a wide range of engagement from your people and if you share your numbers and talk about what they mean. Open-book management is the single best tool I have used to accomplish that. There are entire books on the subject. One of these may actually be worth reading. Companies such as Zweig Group can also help you implement open-book management. Do it.
- Being willing to subjugate your ego for the greater good. This is a really hard one and was a difficult pill for your author to swallow at times. You are going to have to let other people be in the spotlight. If you are the only one who is, guess what? You will be the only person any clients want to deal with. And there is the trap you just made for yourself. Ditto if you have any partners and the focus is on them. The sooner you can start promoting the accomplishments of the other people in your firm, the better.
- Building a “brand” for your business that continuously generates leads and allows you to charge higher prices than other firms that do what you do. This will not happen unless you make the consistent investment in brand-building marketing activities. That means lots and lots of direct mail, email, social media, community involvement, signage, vehicles, and a lot of other things. Get out your checkbook. This is a pure “overhead” expense (I prefer to see it as an investment) you must make if you want to have the benefits that result from it. So spend the money it really takes to build your brand.
- Learning to separate what you do from your identity as an individual. In other words – learning how to think of yourself as more than just the owner of a successful AEC business. You may scoff at this last point and say that isn’t you, but believe me, I get it, and a lot more of the people I know who own and operate these firms are in this mode than those who aren’t. It’s all-consuming to build and run one of these businesses. It’s your baby. It’s so important to you. I understand. But there is more to you as a complete person than just someone who runs a successful business. Don’t forget that. And you do have/will have other needs in your life. Needs for good family relationships. The need for a spouse or significant other. The need to work with your hands and do something tangible. The need for travel experiences. And time to do nothing. That’s why your whole identity cannot be wrapped up in what you do for your business or you will never devote any energy to any of these other things.
That’s it for now. See you next week!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.