Your Reputation

Sep 15, 1997

“You’re only as good as your reputation.” Somebody wise must have said that somewhere along the line! It’s certainly true. When your reputation is good, the phone rings with new work opportunities, your competitors’ staff members send you their resumes, and bankers want to give you money. When your reputation is bad, clients look for reasons not to give you work, job candidates identified by recruiters pull themselves out of contention when they find out it’s your company that is hiring, and lenders and suppliers look at you as if you are some kind of criminal. Here are of my thoughts on company reputation— how to have a good one, how to ruin one, and more: Specialization in a market sector works for and against you. I am a big believer in concentrating your firm’s marketing in one or more tightly defined market sectors (market sectors being defined as groups of buyers with common wants and needs). Being perceived as a firm that really understands clients of a particular type always makes it easier to sell work. And, the more work you do for clients of one type, the easier it gets to keep working for clients like that. The problem comes in if you do a lousy job for one of these clients. The tighter the market focus, the more likely it is that your screw-ups will not go unnoticed by the other members of the market sector. Your reputation takes a hit and it can be hard to recover from. Do good work — always. One way to have a good reputation is to do good work. Don’t compromise your standards. Don’t work for a firm that won’t pay what they have to for you to do a decent job. Be honest with your clients about what’s likely to happen if they want to take the wrong course of action. Provide adequate time for quality checks along the way. Periodically ask the client if they are happy with what you are doing for them. Make sure that quality is a priority, and that it doesn’t always take a back seat to schedule and budget compliance. Not paying your subconsultants is dumb, dumb, dumb. I can’t tell you how many firms that do a lot of prime basis work have been lambasted by their subconsultants because they didn’t pay them promptly. Do these firms think they can get away with this?? Not much is talked about more in the local A/E/P or environmental consulting community than firms that don’t pay. I find that subs are typically not very sympathetic to the excuses of primes that owe them. They (the subs) are in business, too. They have to meet their payrolls, too. Not paying your subs so you can pay your own bills will always hurt your reputation, no doubt. Good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster. Do the right thing, do a good job, and others will learn about you. Your clients will spread the word and sing your praises. But they won’t spread good news anywhere near as quickly as they’ll spread bad news about you if you don’t perform. I don’t know why it works that way— it just does. Maybe it’s human nature that bad news is more interesting or that it somehow makes us feel better about ourselves. Or perhaps clients are hesitant to say how great you are because they don’t want to share you? I don’t know. One screw-up may be all it takes to kill your reputation. When you are number one, other consultants will make up stories about you. We all like to knock the leader off the mountain. Some firm owners use their top competitor as a target to motivate their troops. The problem is that sometimes this competitiveness is taken too far, and stories get created that aren’t true and that can actually hurt a firm’s reputation. For example, I recall hearing rumors about a particular high-rise firm’s imminent demise years ago when in fact, they never came close to going belly-up. Once you get on top, some people will do anything to knock you down. Watch how you treat your employees. People talk about the last place they worked. If you get a reputation for being a sweat shop, for favoring family members, for abusing your people verbally, for being selfish, and everyone in the consulting community will know. Even though we do everything we can to avoid these projects, we have had recruiting assignments that were virtually unfillable with anyone from the local market because our client had such a lousy reputation as an employer. Be careful about this— it can have very damaging long-term implications! A firm’s reputation is a fragile thing. It takes a long time to earn a good one. But a good reputation can be destroyed overnight if you aren’t careful. Originally published 9/15/1997

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