The value of irrelevance

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.31.22 AMMake your firm more valuable by making yourself irrelevant and surrounding yourself with leaders.

Firms that command high market premiums are ones in which the owners are, in many ways, always seeking to become less and less relevant. If you’re the owner of a firm and you’re reading this, you’ve got to be wondering what I mean. What I mean is that valuable firms are those with a wide base of individuals who can step up and lead.

Ask yourself if you could leave your business for 30 or 60 days and have it run the same way that it would if you were there. The less valuable firms are the ones in which the owner is, or a small group of owners are, “the business” – meaning that if you aren’t there, you know that clients won’t receive the same attention, invoices will be paid late, receivables will trickle in, and employees won’t put forth the same effort.

If you have to be there to make sure that the business runs properly, you’ve reduced your market value. If your second in command is paralyzed at the thought of making any decision without scheduling a meeting and obtaining your advance approval, you’ve reduced your market value. If the owner is the business, the next question is what, exactly, does the owner think he or she can offer to a prospective buyer? What do you have to sell?

This is not a theoretical discourse on organizational management. There are multiples and dollar signs attached to the answers to this question. Every buyer that we work with is more interested in the folks behind the top leadership than they are in the guy who wants to cash out and retire.

The firms in which owners delegate operational tasks and client relationships to a motivated next generation of leadership always will be more valuable. When buyers know that your business is able to run without you managing every detail of the company, you’ve just made yourself a much more attractive prospect.

Granted, this is much easier said than done. Entrepreneurs who start their own businesses especially have a hard time delegating. Plus, it’s counterintuitive. How could anyone be as invested in the business as the person who founded the business, devoted decades of time and resources to its development, and whose name is synonymous with the firm’s reputation?

Creating a highly valuable firm requires a great deal of balance. An entrepreneurial leader will foster an entrepreneurial culture. The leader’s passion and drive can become tangible assets if these characteristics are cultivated in leaders across the company. Finding the individuals within the firm who embrace constant evolution and innovative thinking is the first step. The next step is to develop these highly desirable traits within employees and provide opportunities for them to step up and make decisions. Every leader of every firm – from CEOs down to junior managers – should identify their successor and should nurture that individual’s development while at the same time finding ways to hand off more and more responsibilities to their successor. The return on the investment in your own irrelevance will be realized in a more valuable enterprise that is readily marketable.

Jamie Claire Kiser is Zweig Group’s director of M&A. Contact her at jkiser@zweiggroup.com.

This article is from issue 1137 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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Getting value from your strategic plan

1e4331ee10804924bb7174390e870350Here are some tips to get the most out of your strategic plan and realize your firm’s aspirational goals.

How much does a strategic plan cost? If you hire a consultant, pull your senior-leadership away from business and team leadership for a couple of days, conduct the session offsite, and pay for hotel rooms, meals, and transportation, it can be an expensive proposition.

With that kind of investment of time, talent, and resources, it can be painful to realize that so many carefully written, beautifully bound plans end
 up on a shelf, rarely referenced. Maybe it’s time to take this time-worn process apart and focus on practical ways to achieve meaningful change in your enterprise in support of that valuable planning exercise.

Having trodden this path many times over the years with my own firm and with clients since I retired, I’d like to share my observations and advice.

A well facilitated and carefully thought-through strategic planning process can yield a treasure trove of ideas about what you want your firm to be. It can guide you and your team on how you want people to act and collaborate, what markets you want to serve, and what talent “holes” you have that need to be filled. It can specify desired relationships with the stakeholders you rely on to accomplish client work. But a document sitting on a shelf won’t make any of this happen.

From experience, I can tell you your strategic 
plan only gains value when its objectives are understood and acted upon. That will only happen if you’re able to instill your objectives deeply into your firm’s culture such that it changes the actions and attitudes of your people.

Here are a couple of ideas about how to put your plan in motion:

  • Client Service. A dominant indicator of your success appears when your clients are deliriously happy about the way they’re being treated. Is “delirious” too grand a word to use? Not at all. When your teams are listening to your clients, responsive to their needs and wants, consistently checking with them to ensure they feel cared for, they will ask you to do more work for them and recommend you to their friends and colleagues. You can track client satisfaction through all sorts of metrics. Certainly, you can keep a log of repeat and referral business, but nothing is more valuable than a culture in which everyone is expected to have a cup of coffee with a client to find out if all is going well. And this is not just at the principal level, but with all of your team members who have a relationship with a member of the client team.
  • Innovation. Innovation is a common goal of most strategic plans. Nice idea, but how does innovation come about? The best creativity occurs when people with different points of view and areas of expertise collaborate and come at a problem from different directions. Sparks fly, and an idea for something never tried before appears. So, how do you keep people from building walls and hesitating to share knowledge, expertise, and ideas? Encouraging people to reach out to someone with a different point of view can be intimidating. Encouraging people to reach out to someone with a different point of view can be intimidating: “What if they don’t want to talk to me?” “What if they look at what I’m doing and say, ‘That’s really dumb’?”
  • Collaboration. Collaboration requires an open
and trusting culture, one in which everyone feels they “own” every project in the office. Anyone that feels anything less than innovative and thoughtful reflects negatively on the firm and you personally. Employees should be willing, at all times, to pitch in and brainstorm a problem with a colleague.

Instilling that attitude and culture is not a result of writing about it in a strategic plan. It happens when the firm expects it and team leaders model the behavior as they watch work progressing. It happens when leaders lean over a desk or computer terminal to look for ways to think more creatively about the problem being solved, suggesting the team involved reach out to other individuals in the firm who might offer a unique and inspirational point of view. Who knows better than the leadership team where those specific areas of expertise reside? It is leadership’s responsibility to probe, connect and then follow up to see what happened. That’s how a culture of creative connectivity evolves, not because it is written in a strategic plan. It becomes a way of life.

Take a look at each element of your strategic plan and ask: “What specific action, and by whom, will move us toward our plan goals?” Imbed these actions and behaviors into the way things are done on a daily basis. Avoid the trap of assigning committees only to have those committees meet once or twice to debate tasks and actions and then revert to old ways of doing things and get lost in the urgency of the work at hand.

These are just a couple of ideas on how you can make the most of that valuable strategic plan, turning it into daily actions that actualize your plan’s aspirational goals. It’s up to you to develop a new way of life in your firm to make each part of your strategic plan come true.

EDWARD FRIEDRICHS, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with Zweig Group and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at efriedrichs@zweiggroup.com.

This article was taken from issue 1136 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Get a free trial of The Zweig Letter by clicking here.

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The new kids on the block

1203Rapid hiring during the recovery has changed the complexion of many firms

The rapid recovery in the A/E industry has led to unprecedented growth for many firms.  Most firms have rebounded, surpassing their pre-recession revenue and staff levels in a relatively short amount of time. This has put tremendous strains on all areas of the firm, especially those related to new staff. The new kids on the block have the potential of changing the complexion of your firm. To put his into context, we are working with firms that have as much as three quarters of their current staff with tenure of three years or less. For many this is an employee mix never seen in the firms’ history. This is presenting tremendous internal and external challenges. On the internal side, those challenges come mainly in the form of cultural issues, and they turn into branding problems.

Rapid hiring often introduces new people into the organization that may not be the quality of traditional hires. Let’s face it, recessions offer an opportunity to clean house. Those with the lowest contribution get put on the street. Fast-forward to 2016 and the market is extremely tight, already absorbing everyone that has previous experience in the industry, good or bad. With that comes a potential imbalance among your staff. The long-termers have been with you through good times and bad. They understand and reflect your culture. And in the near future, they could also be the minority in your firm.

The best way to get new employees to adopt a new culture and to make them productive is to put them through an immersion onboarding process. This goes beyond company literature and a new-employee orientation slideshow. This is about immersing the employee in the culture and getting them to “drink the Kool-Aid” as quickly as possible. Make your current employees accountable for being welcoming to new employees. Organize social events aimed at accelerating the new hire’s ability to plug into the company and people.

Assign a mentor that spends a set amount of time per week with the employee helping them with everything needed. Make sure your mentor pool is composed of only those who are fully engaged in the company vision and are the most positive folks in your culture. The mentors can have a set number of weeks they do this and then if the relationship continues naturally after the onboarding is over, then that is even better. Also, immediately set goals for the new employee that tie into the overall firm vision and also foster teamwork with their new colleagues. Get serious about protecting and preserving your culture and make integration of new staff a priority and a long-term commitment. A major added benefit of an extensive onboarding process is you can improve an employee that may have been historically an under-performer.

On the external side, rapid increases in workload can cause client service issues that threaten the brand. Currently, firms are hiring as fast as they can and they are still behind. Recent client surveys we have conducted are showing more and more discontent with A/E firms among their clients in 2015. There are many comments indicating that firms are too busy and becoming less responsive. Do you know what your clients think of you right now? I have a warning for you: if your firm is struggling with workload issues, you are likely having lapses in client service. You may not realize it, but your clients feel it. If this is happening in your firm, it is rapidly eroding your brand. As the market softens and the work starts to thin out, your clients will show preference for those firms that are consistent in meeting their needs, regardless of economic cycles.

It is important to constantly reinforce your firm’s commitment to client service, regardless of how busy you are. Make sure everyone knows it is a priority. As you bring in new talent to backfill your people in client service, make sure they know your firm’s commitment to provide responsive and superior client service. Everyone needs to understand the power of your brand name and that it’s sensitivity to lapses in service. Turn your new kids on the block into rock stars and maintain a high level of client service while your competitors are struggling to meet commitments. Protect your brand and your culture with aggressive recruiting and immersive onboarding.

Chad Clinehens is The Zweig Group’s executive vice president. Contact him at cec@zweiggroup.com.  

This article was taken from Issue # 1138 – The Zweig Letter, Published Feb 08, 2016.  Click here for subscription information. 

There’s an all new seminar designed just for A/E/P Firms who want to learn how to recruit better.  Check out Becoming a Better Recruiter worth 4.5 CEUs.

1446739965-R&Rsurveycover_web-2Zweig Group has a brand new survey all about recruitment and retention in the A/E/P industry. The 2016 Recruitment & Retention Survey.

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13 new mini-survyes and ‘Take 3′ promotion

1452648221-WTandRsurveycover_webUtilizationSurveysWebsiteiSurveys OrgStrucSurveysGovernanceSurveys

 

Zweig Group is incorporating 13 new “mini-surveys” for 2016, bringing its annual survey publication total to 27.

“Zweig Group is constantly looking for new ways to provide our clients the data they need,” says Andrea Bennett, the firm’s research and publications manager. “Industry leaders have reached out to us for more information on a variety of topics, including websites, social media, boards of directors, and ownership transition. We also saw an increased interest in learning about reimbursement for travel, company vehicles, and other business expenses. So, the new topics were determined by inquiries and industry analysis.”

The new mini-surveys deal with targeted topics such as company vehicles, cell phones and mobile devices, travel reimbursement, social media, websites, organizational structures, firm associates, satellite offices, governance, and ownership transition.

“We’re calling them ‘mini-surveys’ because the questionnaires are generally shorter and they take a more in-depth look at a specific topic,” Bennett says. “Additionally, these publications are only going to be published as PDFs – though their data will be included in several of the printed full-length surveys throughout the year – which means they’ll be available faster, in color, and at a fraction of a typical survey’s cost.”

Mini-surveys cost $250, and participants in their questionnaires receive a 50 percent discount code that can be applied to the purchase of any Zweig Group survey product. Full-length surveys are $495, and their participants receive a 65 percent discount code.

Zweig Group has also redesigned its long-standing surveys, responding to customer comments for expanded coverage of subtopics and issues affecting the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry.

“We’ve gone through the participant responses to all our 2015 surveys with the goal of meeting our clients’ needs for information,” Bennett says. “For example, many participants of the 2015 IT Survey wanted more data about cloud computing, server virtualization, and how IT department costs related to overall costs. So, we added questions about those topics and eliminated some others that were no longer relevant to readers.”

“Another participant suggestion we’re responding to is having the questionnaires open for longer,” Bennett says. “So, every survey questionnaire has been made available for participation, and we’re going to try to get next year’s questionnaire posted as soon as possible after each survey publishes, so that people can participate on a rolling basis.”

To celebrate the availability of all questionnaires being open for participation, Zweig Group is offering a Take 3 promotion during February.

“If anyone or any firm takes three questionnaires in February, they will be entered to win their choice of a $1,000 Amazon gift card or a free registration to the 2016 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference in September at the Arizona Biltmore, which is valued at $1,295,” Bennett says. “Survey respondents need only enter their information at the end of the questionnaire to qualify, but if a firm has more than one person respond and wants to make sure we know, they can email research@zweiggroup.com to make sure we know.”

Survey questionnaires with impending closing dates include the 2016 M&A Survey (February 9), 2016 Travel Reimbursement Mini-Survey (February 24), 2016 Cell Phone & Mobile Device Mini-Survey (March 2), 2016 Company Car Mini-Survey (March 13), and 2016 Social Media Mini-Survey (March 20). For more information, visit zweiggroup.com/surveys.php, call 800.466.6275, or email research@zweiggroup.com.

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The bold vision

IMUB39JBN1Most leaders are afraid of failure. If they set lofty goals the firm does not achieve they’re afraid they’ll look like failures.

There’s something to be said for laying
out a truly ambitious – some might say “bold” vision. Something that could change the world – or change the “world” as the members of the organization know it to be. Most leaders don’t do it.

Why do you think that is?

It’s simple. Most leaders are afraid of
failure. If they set lofty goals and strive for something the organization does not achieve they’re afraid they’ll look like failures (as leaders). So low goals (or visions) that they are sure they can achieve become the norm.

Of course there is risk in being ambitious. Things don’t always work out. But at least you tried. You gave it your all. And in the process a couple things will most certainly happen:

  1. You’ll inspire other people. We value effort in this country. We don’t like people who had it too easy or who didn’t have to work for their success. So success or failure becomes secondary to effort when it comes to inspiration. And people are crying out for inspiration!
  2. You will do better than you would do if you didn’t set high goals. We’ve all heard the old adage – shoot for an “A” and you’ll probably at least get a “B,” but shoot for a “B” and you may get a “C.” I firmly believe in this concept. Aim high!

But there’s also a chance things WILL work out and you’ll succeed. And that’s a fantastic feeling when your goals are lofty.

Zweig Group’s revenue grew by 31 percent in 2015. We projected 30 percent.
 Our projections are for about 48 percent growth in 2016. That may seem crazy 
to some but I’m convinced we will achieve or exceed these numbers. The reason is commitment. We are committed to do more, doing it faster, and making everything we do the best we can make it. We have great people, great accounting, great marketing, great systems – and great clients. We may fall flat on our faces due to unforeseen difficulties. Should that happen now or in the future you can count on us to get up again (fast) and figure out what we can do better. That’s the American Way!

How about you? Are you setting your goals high enough? Is your vision lofty? Or is it most certainly attainable? Maybe it’s time to really do something THIS year. The time has never been better.

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Get a free trial of The Zweig Letter here: info.zweiggroup.com/the-zweig-letter-free-download

BUILDING AN ENTREPRENEURIAL FIRM: Taught by Mark Zweig himself, this seminar is all about teaching firm owners and managers about what they need to do daily if they want to have an entrepreneurial firm.  This is a one-day seminar specifically designed for the entrepreneurially minded leader in the A/E/P and environmental industries.  It was designed to help your firm blow past static, incremental growth and become a benchmark in the industry. This event is for firms of all sizes; small or large, new or established.  It’s about helping you lead the successful firm you have always envisioned. For more information, click here!

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Building an entrepreneurial staff

568E3E34AEYour employees will work harder if they’re enthusiastic about their role in your firm; here are some tips to make that happen.

As firms finalize their strategic plans for 2016, we hear a consistent desire from firms of all sizes to create an environment in which employees at all levels feel responsible for the company’s financial success. Sure, this is a challenge that all businesses face, but I think it is felt more acutely within this industry than many others.

Most architects and engineers have had minimal exposure to financial management and are more comfortable building bridges than interpreting balance sheets. Successful firms have vibrant, entrepreneurial cultures. Staff feel responsible for the financial well-being of the company and “that’s not my job” is removed from the firm’s vocabulary.

Some of the top ways to get your staff to care as much as your CEO include:

  • Incorporate financial management training into career development for staff at all levels – not just principals. Financial fluency should not be an afterthought. It’s not fair to promote someone to the decision-maker level without arming them with the tools they need to gauge the company’s success. This means identifying key performance indicators or revenue goals, and teaching people what drives the KPIs.
  • Make every job the most important job in the company. One of my favorite anecdotes to this end is the NASA janitor who reportedly told President John F. Kennedy that his job was to help put a man on the moon. If your receptionist believes that his job is as noble as your structural engineer’s, you will see enthusiasm and ownership of individual results reflected on your bottom line. Elevating morale requires celebrating the wins of the back office staff as much as your star business developers.
  • Create an incentive plan centered around financial accountability. A Christmas bonus is great for morale, but doesn’t inherently tell staff that every hour of their day that year built up to the amount that they’ll see on the check. A good incentive plan is one that gives each employee the ability – and the mandate – to control their own destiny by performing their job functions in a way that is beneficial to the firm and responsible with client resources.
  • Share financial information widely. If you are going to follow the advice above (creating an incentive plan), make sure that the staff knows how they are being measured. What
 are the firm’s financial goals for the year? The quarter? Does everyone know the basic tenets of the firm’s five-year plan? More important than sending out results after the end of a reporting period, information sharing needs to be proactive. Disseminating revenue reports and project profitability after the quarter has ended or the project is closed is reactive. Instead, tie reports to firm-wide and project-level budgets and goals while there is still time to correct any issues. Use these reports as an opportunity to point out the cost reduction efforts of that receptionist, the above-target chargeability of your second-year architect, and the new project manager who just beat her profitability target.

The common thread linking all of the methods outlined
is communication. Staff have to know that they matter to the company. They have to know what the company wants to do, and that it is in everyone’s best interest to work together to achieve these goals. They have to be reminded that the firm’s success is their success. Staff also have to understand if they are pulling their weight on the team, and how to improve. The leaders of entrepreneurial firms take the time to build up their employees, and will reap the rewards of their investment.

JAMIE CLAIRE KISER is director of M&A services at Zweig Group. Contact her at jkiser@zweiggroup.com.

Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Get a free trial of The Zweig Letter here: info.zweiggroup.com/the-zweig-letter-free-download

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How to market your firm with SlideShare

slidesharelogoSlideShare is an easy and inexpensive way to present information to your target audience in a visually appealing manner.

SlideShare is a web-based service that gives AEC firms the ability to infuse a powerful visual component into their digital marketing efforts. The thought of yet another Internet tool probably doesn’t sound very appealing, but SlideShare is worth considering because it’s virtually free, easy to use, and requires no ongoing time commitment. It also allows you to increase the potency of your marketing with your target audience by packaging your message in a reader-friendly format.

WHAT IS SLIDESHARE? SlideShare started out as an independently owned Internet-based service, but was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012. The basic intent of the platform is to allow users to upload files or design a fresh concept, which it translates into slide decks. It has similarities to PowerPoint but much better functionality.

WHY SHOULD I USE IT? The main benefit of SlideShare for AEC firms is that it allows you to display marketing materials in an easy-to-read, image-driven format that is more likely to capture and hold the attention of your target audience. It’s harder than ever to attract attention, especially on the Internet. The volume of information is incredulous.

SlideShare benefits your audience by allowing them to more quickly receive your content in a reader-friendly format. Your target audience still consumes volumes of information, despite claims to the contrary in our short attention span culture. Some statistics suggest that Americans are actually taking in more information than ever.

Imagery currently rules the day in marketing, primarily because it allows busy people to quickly and effectively consume and comprehend information. This is how SlideShare explains it: “In today’s world of visual communication, design is an important element of your content you can’t ignore: Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than words, and can increase a viewer’s comprehension by 89 percent.” There you have it.

HOW DO I USE IT? SlideShare is easy to use for even the most diehard Luddite. Start by creating a free account at SlideShare.net. You can either upload existing documents or build a slide deck from the ground up. Your end product will be a presentation, infographic, or a basic document. SlideShare accepts a range of file types from PowerPoint to Microsoft Word to Adobe PDF for those that want to convert an existing document into a single slide or slide deck. Your other option is to build a slide deck from the bottom up, which will require some basic design work. You don’t have to be a graphic designer, but some basic computer and design savvy will help.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE? Start the creation of your slide deck with two questions: What is the purpose of the slide deck? What action do we want the viewer to take away at the end? The purpose is the glue that holds your slide deck together and keeps your viewer’s attention. Are you looking to generate inbound leads? Do you want to direct traffic to your website? Is the intent to showcase your qualifications? An effective slide deck, like any other marketing tactic, must incite action.

HOW DO WE DESIGN A SLIDE DECK? Unlike PowerPoint, SlideShare requires no template. You should, in fact, diversify the layout to keep your slide deck interesting. If you happen to be uploading an existing file, such as PowerPoint, the template is fine, but don’t start out with a template if you’re designing a slide deck from scratch.

You will also notice the ability to add effects and transitions between slides. Keep it simple. It’s tempting to add bells and whistles, but it rarely adds value and also distracts the viewer. The beauty of SlideShare is the ability to easily flip through slides without distractions. Focus solely on the quality of your content.

WHAT CONTENT SHOULD WE INCLUDE? Your slide deck should be heavy on graphics and light on text. A good slide will often contain a richly colored, relevant centerpiece image that consumes the entire page with no more than a sentence, a word, or possibly no text at all. The image makes or breaks the slide so great photography and graphics are essential. Architects can include sketches and landscape designers might include color renderings. Black and white engineering plans will not add much to the design so civil and structural engineers should use them sparingly. You can even insert a video or chart into the slide. Don’t forget to add your keywords to the title, description, and tags to increase the odds of it being found online.

One of the obvious applications for AEC firms would be
to upload a recent PowerPoint presentation, but there are other possibilities. You might also upload a multi-page feature story or advertisement on your firm, a company brochure, a statement of qualifications, an assortment of projects or service, or other marketing collateral for display on your website or sharing on social media. The possibilities are endless.

WHERE SHOULD WE SHARE IT? The most incredible slide deck will serve no purpose without a distribution plan. Where you share depends on the nature of the content, but you might consider posting or embedding it on your website. Posting it repeatedly on social media is also effective for broad distribution. One of the best ways to capture more eyeballs, however, is to create an email and send it out to your list. For a more personal touch, don’t hesitate to send an email to one or more existing or prospective clients if the content is relevant to them. Creating a slide deck takes time and effort, so focus on creating content that can be shared for months to come without getting dated too quickly.

WHAT ACTION DO WE WANT THE VIEWER TO TAKE? As a business, you need to focus on getting results. Refer back to “What is the purpose?” You will build your slide deck around the questions that de ne your purpose, but it’s critical to include what we marketers refer to as a call to action. Your call to action tells the viewer in clear terms what action you want them to take. An obvious spot for your call to action is the last slide, but you might want to include one or more call to actions throughout your slide deck. Call to actions are like “the sale.” If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it.

SlideShare is yet another way for your AEC firm to add a powerful visual component to your online marketing efforts. It’s fairly easy to learn, requires no ongoing time commitment, and it’s free. And more importantly, it increases the potency of your marketing with the audience you’re trying to influence.

Brian M. Fraley is the founder, manager, and chief strategist for Fraley AEC Solutions, LLC, a marketing communications firm. Brian can be found on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, or at the firm’s AEC Straight Talker blog.

Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Get a free trial of The Zweig Letter here: info.zweiggroup.com/the-zweig-letter-free-download

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Ask Christy: Your management questions, answered

KQWMZQ7W1CThis month, readers seek advice on topics related to social media, benchmarking, and increasing prices.

WHO SHOULD FIRMS COMPARE THEMSELVES TO WHEN BENCHMARKING?

Dear Christy,

“We’re about to start our strategic planning process and like to use industry benchmarks as comparisons. When benchmarking, who should
 we compare ourselves to?” —Benchmarking in Bismark.

Dear Benchmarking,

This is a good question that has a complicated answer. I’ve found a lot of firms
 can get stuck on a single, unimportant characteristic that ends up steering them in the wrong direction.

Start by defining what you are benchmarking and then customize the parameters to that particular metric. Metrics most firms are concerned about benchmarking usually 
include salary levels, spending/budgeting, marketing effectiveness, fees, and a variety 
of firm processes and procedures. Discipline, market sector, geography, size, and revenue are generally the most important benchmarking parameters.

Salary levels are just about the only benchmark for which I would always recommend using a geographic parameter. Due to the internet, social media, and other new technologies, many firms who were previously only able to work in a very specific region can now work all over the nation and even the world, making geographic comparisons less important than they were in the past. Still, cost of living needs to be a consideration in any discussion about salaries.

For most things, like marketing effectiveness, national overall figures for firms in the A/E/P industry are going to be applicable to almost anyone. If you think that just because you’re a small firm, you shouldn’t be getting the same hit rate on a press release or spending (the same percent) on marketing, you’re wrong.

When you’re trying to benchmark things like budget amounts (marketing, business development, labor, etc.) I would recommend benchmarking yourself against firms of a similar size and possibly a similar market.

Ultimately you have to ask yourself: “Who do 
we want to compare ourselves to – average firms who might be struggling in the same way we are – or high growth, high profit firms?” Zweig Group does a Successful Firms Survey, which pulls out data from all of our surveys and shows the differences between these groups and firms overall.

WHY SHOULD A/E PROFESSIONALS USE SOCIAL MEDIA?

Dear Christy,

“Will social media really benefit us? It’s not like people hire transportation engineers or sports arena architects because they posted a cute picture on Twitter. Why do we need it?” —Reluctant in Raleigh

Dear Reluctant,

You’re right; I highly doubt you’ll get a big job off one Facebook post or tweet, but that’s just like saying you shouldn’t go on a date because it’s unlikely you’ll marry that person the very next day.

If you want to get new clients, you’re going to have to do a lot of different things. The great thing about social media is it has a life of its own. People can share and repost your tweets or Facebook or LinkedIn postings, and you’ll reach clients and other people you never would’ve any other way. Don’t cut yourself off from it. Remember when email seemed unnecessary and the Internet seemed like a largely useless thing?

NEED TO INCREASE PRICES WITHOUT LOSING CLIENTS

Dear Christy,

“We’re a small generalist design firm in Iowa. We really have a hard time getting decent fees for what we think is excellent work. Any suggestions on how to push fees up? We’re tired of making less money than the painters on our projects, but I’m worried we won’t win any work if our prices increase.” —In a fee pickle.

Dear In-a-pickle,

First of all, I’m a dill-pickle person, and no deli sandwich is complete without a nice cold kosher spear on the side, but I couldn’t tell you what brand is in my fridge!

Be the big cheese: I love cheese and am totally willing to pay 50 percent more for a nice aged sharp cheddar – but how would I know there’s a difference between my favorite Tillamook Special Reserve and a block of Kraft if they had the same wrapper?

You told me what your problem is: You’re generalists, and you’re probably trying to compete with a bunch 
of other average firms offering similar services with promises of finishing the job on time. If you want to command better fees and to be able to export yourself within any reasonable geographic distance from where you are based, you have got to specialize. Specialized firms always get higher fees than those that aren’t. You just cannot be all things to all people. This might have worked 50 years ago but won’t today because people have too many options.

HAVE MANAGEMENT QUESTIONS YOU NEED ANSWERED?

“Dear Christy” is THE ZWEIG LETTER‘s newest column, a place for industry leaders to anonymously submit their most pressing leadership, management, finance, marketing, or human relations questions. Each month, submissions will be answered in print, so that the entire A/E/P and environmental consulting industy can benefit from the shared experiences and information highlights.

Have a question you need answered? Email Christy Zweig at christinaz@zweiggroup.com or send your letter to Zweig Group, P.O. Box 1528, Fayetteville, AR 72702. Even if letters are signed or emails contain the writer’s name, all entries will be kept confidential and published anonymously.

Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Get a free trial of The Zweig Letter here: info.zweiggroup.com/the-zweig-letter-free-download

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Entrepreneurial vs. small firms

photo-1418225162054-0f773a996f9eThink your small firm should stay small? Think again. Here’s why you should strive for growth in your firm.

Without a doubt, there are some entrepreneurial firms in the A/E/P and environmental consulting business today. That said – and I’ve written it before in these pages – just because you are privately-held and a small business does NOT make you an entrepreneurial firm.

Whenever I hear a firm described as a “practice,” it immediately conjures up negative images for me. “Practice” makes
 me think of a business that revolves around one or a few God-like owners who manage
 all aspects of the business, all clients, and all design work. They are lords and everyone else there is a serf. The business exists solely for their benefit and dies when they are gone. It’s somewhat analogous to a medical practice, where there is one doctor and then everyone else is a peon. I don’t like the term. We aren’t in the “practice management” business and the clients we work for want something more than a “practice.”

Yet, there are still some people out there 
who own firms and believe that they can stay small successfully. They look at how much they as individuals earn from their business and it’s more than they ever expected to make, so they are happy with it. Yet they usually would have far more potential if they were an entrepreneurial firm.

Entrepreneurial firms are all about growth. Their owners want to create value in their enterprises – value that can be realized when they either individually or collectively exit from the firm. And this value is not just restricted to an external sale. It could be in an internal sale just as easily.

How do entrepreneurial firms perform better than the rest of the industry? Consider the following statistics (pulled from Zweig Group’s Successful Firm Survey). These are really telling!

  • Fast growth firms (those growing at a rate of 20 percent or more for three years in a row) make an average of 16.2 percent pre-tax, pre-bonus pro t versus 9.9 percent for all firms
  • Fast growth firms have an average revenue of $133,690 per employee versus $126,840 for all firms
  • Fast growth firms make a 39.8 percent return on total assets (pre-tax, pre-bonus) versus 19.7 percent for all firms
  • Fast growth firms have a median total annual principal compensation of $290,000 versus $194,000 for all firms
  • Fast growth firms are worth a median of .59 times NSR versus .47 for slow growth firms

Let’s consider the case of two principals. They each joined A/E firms out of school and at age 40, both became principals in the companies they worked for. Principal “A” became an owner in a $5 million NSR slow-growth company (growing by 5 percent a year) and Principal “B” became an owner in a $5 million high growth entrepreneurial company (growing by 20 percent a year).

Ten years later, by age 50, Principal B’s career and financial position is dramatically different from his counterpart, Principal A, in the slower-growth, not-so-entrepreneurial firm. Both owned 20 percent of their firm’s stock when they bought in.

In year one, Principal A, working in the slow growth firm, earned $194,000
in salary and bonus. His ownership was worth .20 (.47 times $5 million), or $470,000. By year 10, he would be earning $301,000 annually (assuming a 5 percent annual pay increase) and his stock was worth $729,000. Over 10 years, he would earn $2.44 million. His 10-year total would be $3.169 million. Not too bad considering he still has another 15 years to work, assuming he retires at age 65 (and many of us will hopefully work well beyond that).

Principal B, on the other hand, was earning $290,000 in salary and bonus the first year he became a principal in a high-growth firm. His initial ownership was worth .20 (.59 times $5 million), or $590,000. By year 10, assuming a modest 5 percent annual pay increase, he would be earning $450,000 in annual salary and bonus, and his stock would be worth $3.05 million. His total of salary and bonus earned over 10 years would be $3.65 million making his 10-year total $6.69 million. Pretty amazing considering at this point Principal B is only 50 years old and still has another 15 years to work.

Do I still need to convince you of the benefits of building an entrepreneurial firm? Now you know why we will be doing a new seminar this year – Building an Entrepreneurial Firm, in a number of locations around the U.S. in 2016. We’ll start with dinner, drinks, and comedy the night before to get everyone in the right frame of mind. Then we will teach you what we have learned over the last 28 years of working with companies in this business.

2015 was an amazing year for our industry and for Zweig Group. The time has never been better to be more successful as an architect, engineer, planner, or environmental consultant. Happy 2016, All!

MARK ZWEIG is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

Zweig Group is holding a brand new seminar on Building an Entrepreneurial Firm. More details here: https://zweiggroup.com/seminars/baef/

Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Get a free trial of The Zweig Letter here: info.zweiggroup.com/the-zweig-letter-free-download

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Award FAQs

All Zweig Group Awards:

Want more specific details about firm sizes, growth rates, demographic data, and other trends? Check out this presentation.

What happens when I apply for an award? When a firm applies for a Zweig Group award, a firm representative must fill out a short form on the appropriate page on the Zweig Group website and pay the registration fee.  After the registration fee is paid, the registrant will be automatically redirected to a form or online survey that will comprise the rest of the award application.  Each award has its own set of specific components (see below), and will be able to regularly converse with a representative from Zweig Group throughout the process.  We promise you will be regularly reminded of deadlines.

What if my firm applies, but doesn’t end up winning an award? This happens to a lot of firms.  We never publish a list of non-winning firms and no one else will know that you didn’t make it.  Firms who apply to Best Firms To Work For still get the awesome bonus perks of applying such as the results of their employee survey & a bench-marking report –that way they can see the areas where they need to improve.  We usually offer significant discounts to the Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference for applicants who apply to any award but don’t win.

What’s the Trifecta Award? Firms who place well in BFTWF, Hot Firm, and Marketing Excellence Awards will automatically receive a coveted Trifecta Award.  Challenge yourself and give it a try!

Best Firms To Work For bestfirms-2016

Check out the BFTWF application guide here: 

BFTWF: How long does the early bird discount last? Does this change the due-dates of the other application pieces? The early-bird discount is good through February 27th.  The deadlines for the corporate survey and employee surveys are static, the same for all applicants (March 25th, May 12th), and do not change based on when you apply.

How do I choose my BFTWF category?  Firms must enter at least one (but no more than three)  categories in the Best Firms To Work For Awards (Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering, Environmental, Landscape Architecture/Architecture, and Multidiscipline). At least 40% of 2015 fiscal year gross revenue must have been derived from your selected discipline category on a full-time basis.  If you have any questions about your category selection, just email us.

What are the benefits of applying to Best Firms To Work For?  Where to begin?! As a part of the registration fee, regardless of if your firm is a winner or not, they will get a report containing your firm’s responses to the employee survey (numerical ranking questions only) as well as a report from all employees in all other firms in your category to use as a benchmarking tool.  For just $250 more, you can get your employees responses on the “open response” style questions. If you’d like to use the BFTWF as your own custom employee survey, you have the option of adding on your own questions to the end of the graded portion as well. The employee survey results can be used by management to evaluate where your firm is succeeding and where you need to improve.  You can use your survey results as a promotional tool and to aid in recruiting. For firms who place on the list, this rank and the “Best Firms To Work For” designation is wonderful for recruiting as well as getting new jobs. Zweig Group also puts the names of firms who win on our website, sends out press releases, and will do everything we can to ensure that your firm gets plenty of positive press and attention.

What are the other BFTWF options? Employee surveys are expensive (usually $3,000-$8,000), so we wanted to help our clients find a more affordable way to ask their employees some personalized questions.  Firms are now allowed to add additional questions on to the end of their employee survey: 5 questions or less are $400, up to 10 questions is an additional $750.  While firms will see these results, these questions will not count towards their ranking in the awards program.  If a firm asks open-response style questions (EX What has been your favorite project and why?) they must also purchase the open response report ($250).  A Zweig Group representative will work with you to add the questions you want to your employee survey.

If you’d like to add more than 10 questions, or want a custom report at the end of the survey with more detailed demographic breakdowns and comparisons, just email us.

What happens after I register on ZweigGroup.com? 

When a firm applies for this award, the firm representative must fill out a short form on the Zweig Group website, select which categories he/she wants to enter, and pay the registration fee.  If the registrant wants to add custom questions to end of the employee survey, they will be invited to submit these questions at this time.  Registrants are then invited to fill out a “Corporate Survey.” The BFTWF Corporate Survey is a survey about workplace practices, policies, & benefits, and can be filled out by any firm leader, HR manager, or equivalent representative.

Upon completion of this survey, the firm representative is then emailed a custom link for the “Employee Survey” portion of the awards process, which must be completed by May 12.  We recommend firm leaders email this survey link out to all employees inviting them to participate.  For firms with 50 employees or more, a minimum of 40% of the firm’s staff must complete the Employee survey.  For firms with less than 50 employees, a minimum of 60% of the firm’s staff must complete the employee survey.  Someone from Zweig Group will keep you updated on your firm’s participation level to ensure that you meet the requirements by the deadline.

Once these two surveys are completed, they will be graded and combined to determine a final score.  After all firms participating in the awards process have been graded and ranked (late June), every firm will receive their reports.

How are BFTWF Award applicants ranked? Firms are ranked according to their category (Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering, Environmental, Landscape Architecture/Architecture, Multidiscipline & Surveying), based on a combination score comprised of  25% corporate survey and 75% employee surveys.

Hot Firm hotfirm-2016

How long does the early bird discount last? Does this change the due-dates of the other application pieces? The early-bird discount is good through February 27th.  No matter when you pay the registration fee, you have until June 1, 2016 to fill out the very short award application.

What’s on the Hot Firm Award application?  All Zweig Group asks is your demographic information, a few questions about how you grew and achieved success, and your growth (revenue numbers).  Placement on the list is entirely based on revenue growth over the previous three-year period. The other stuff is just so we can look at correlations and find cool and interesting statistics to share with you.

What happens after I register on ZweigGroup.com? When a firm applies for this award, the firm representative must fill out a short form on the Zweig Group website and pay the registration fee.  Afterwards, applicants are given a link to the short application questionnaire.  Award applicants who are in contention will be notified after June 1 and asked to provide verification of revenue.

My firm has won a Hot Firm Award before but didn’t place last year, despite having a personal best growth rate, is this award rigged? No. Have you ever run a race and achieved a personal best time, but still not placed well? Hot Firm is just like that.  Some firms who have been on the list for a long time make big moves and decide to grow a lot, and sometimes new firms enter the list.

Marketing Excellence

Is it a lot of work to apply to the Marketing Excellence Awards? No! Just do a smarketingexcellence-2016hort write up, attach it to your campaign pieces, and stick it in the mail.

How should I submit my award application? Most firms use a binder or affix the different components of the marketing campaign into a notebook style document. You’re welcome to use your creativity as long as everything is stuck together.

Can I use the same marketing campaign and enter different categories in the ME Awards? No.  But you’re welcome to submit multiple campaigns in multiple categories.

Why do you need two copies of my marketing campaign pieces?  If your firm places in the top 3 we will bring your award submission to the Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference where hundreds of people will look at it and vote on their favorite for the “People’s Choice Awards.” We really want to have one copy of your award safely back at the office, just in case something gets lost.

For examples of past winning campaigns, click here:

Refund Policy: Zweig Group is unable to offer refunds after the Application or Corporate Survey link has been sent to you.

Please Note: Awards program participation is limited to business leaders from architecture, engineering, planning, environmental, construction, and allied professional service firms, or by invitation only. Business software or business systems providers, law firms, insurance and financial firms, and other consultants with a powerful message for award participants may participate as exhibitors or sponsors.

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Zweig Group Awards Open and Accepting Registrations

hotfirm-2016Four Zweig Group award programs for the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting industry are now open and accepting registrations/nominations: Hot Firm, Best Firms To Work For, Marketing Excellence, and Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership.

Zweig Group’s prestigious Hot Firm List honors industry firms who have achieved outstanding growth over a three-year period. To apply, a firm representative just needs to fill out a short application with revenue numbers over the past three years.

bestfirms-2016The Best Firms To Work For Program honors A/E/P and environmental consulting firms who have succeeding in creating excellent workplace environments.  Firms are ranked according to their category (Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering, Environmental, Landscape Architecture/Architecture, Surveying, & Multidiscipline), based on a combination of a corporate survey filled out by a member of firm management and anonymous employee surveys.  New this year, firms will be allowed to add custom questions (not included in ranking) to the survey distributed to their employees, making the awards program not only a wonderful way to gain notoriety, but also a tool to effectively obtain employee feedback.

marketingexcellence-2016Zweig Group’s Marketing Excellence Awards are a fun way to extend the life of a marketing campaign. Applicants need to mail in a short application along with a binder containing marketing materials from their campaign.

The Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership Award is given each year to someone working an A/E industry firm who has made tremendous jerryallen-2016impacts on the company through courageous leadership.  This award has a huge prize package of Zweig Group publications/surveys valued at over $3,000.

All of the award winners will be honored at a black-tie gala at the Hot Firm & A/E Industry Awards Conference on September 22-23 at the The Arizona Biltmore.

Most of the Zweig Group Awards programs have reduced early-registration fees through February 27, 2016. To find out more about these awards or apply, visit www.zweiggroup.com/awards.

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Zweig Group Releases ‘2016 Marketing Survey’

1446739392-Msurveycover_webOn January 5, Zweig Group released the 2016 Marketing Survey of A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms, its 18th iteration of the publication. The annual resource aims to help architectural, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting leaders prepare for the upcoming year’s marketing by providing benchmarks of and data from peer and target organizations to inform marketing decisions. In addition to a snapshot of the 106 firms that answered the questionnaire, the 2016 Marketing Survey features a new look that readers can expect to see continually improved upon throughout the year.

“Our big push for surveys going into 2016 is two-fold,” said Andrea Bennett, who took over Zweig Group’s research area at the beginning of the month. “First, we have to meet our deadlines as often as we can, barring some kind of unforeseen catastrophe that’s outside of our control. Secondly, we want to give our readers – some who have been purchasing these surveys for forever – more bang for their buck. Longtime readers will immediately notice more information on almost every page and more charts than ever before. We want to give them the most comprehensive look at the most comprehensive information available; that’s our over-arching goal, and I think they’ll really be able to tell a difference.”

The 2016 Marketing Survey provides a wealth of information related to firms’ marketing directors and staff, marketing budgets, proposal processes and spending, social media and traditional marketing usage, websites, events and trade show participation, and more. The survey ends with respondents’ candid insights on what their firms are doing well and what challenges they face in marketing.

“One of the things we did this year,” Bennett said, “is provide information on fast growth firms – those whose revenue and/or staff have grown by 20 percent or more in the past three years – and high profit firms – where net service revenue has been 10 percent or greater for the past three years – whenever possible. We display these firms’ data along side the ‘overall response’ data, so that industry leaders can quickly see the difference between a so-called ‘average’ firm and those that are doing exceedingly well.”

The 2016 Marketing Survey begins with an executive summary, which outlines the data line-by-line and provides a space for readers to input their firm’s information for at-a-glance comparison. Additional chapters in the publication include an outline of the demographics of questionnaire respondents, marketing planning and staff, marketing directors, proposals and sales, marketing systems, promotions, marketing expenditures, miscellaneous marketing topics, and firms’ strategies and challenges.

Bennett encourages everyone to check out the survey online and to email research@zweiggroup.com with any questions. Additionally, she says, all survey questionnaires will open this month, and participation presents a unique opportunity for service and savings.

“It’s super important for readers to understand that we’re not going out and purchasing lists of people to respond to these questionnaires and that the survey can only be as good as its response rate,” she said. “To that end, I would encourage anyone in an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm to consider filling out a survey. We offer such an array of topics – from ownership to the use of company cell phones – that it would be hard not to find at least one topic that you’re knowledgeable about or have experience with.

“The more responses we have, the more comprehensive our final report is, and the better information we can provide to leaders, the better the industry becomes. Plus, survey respondents receive a discount code that can save them as much as $321 on the purchase of any survey product. I know saving money isn’t everything, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to tell your boss you went the extra mile to save the firm a little cash.”

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Zweig Group To Release ‘2016 Valuation Survey’ February 1

1446739906-Vsurveycover_webDo you know how much your architectural, engineering, planning or environmental consulting firm is worth? If you’re the leader of an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm, you can’t risk not knowing the value of your business. Whether for external purposes, such as a firm sale or merger, or internal purposes, such as ownership transition or ESOP implementation, all firm owners must know the value of their investments. To help A/E/P and environmental consulting leaders manage this daunting task, Zweig Group – the go-to resource for architectural, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting leaders –  will release its 2016 Valuation Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms on February 1.

“Valuing your firm can be important for many reasons,” said Andrea Bennett, Zweig Group’s research and publications manager. “Last year, half of respondents said they performed a valuation prior to an internal ownership transfer, while a little more than a third said it was a buy/sell requirement. However, we also had respondents who said it was necessary to obtain financing, for an outside sale or merger, or an ERISA, ESOP, or IRS requirement. Determining the right way to conduct a valuation for your firm is essential.”

Zweig Group surveyed A/E/P and environmental consulting firms that had performed valuations in the past three years. The survey includes questions about who executed the valuation, why it was conducted, and key financial statistics, including net revenue, book value, backlog, EBITDA, and more. It also covers valuation methods and firm profiles, so readers can compare their companies to similar businesses in the same industry.

The 2016 Valuation Survey will be released Feb. 1, and preordering is available for a discounted rate. For more information, click here, email info@zweiggroup.com or call 800.466.6275.

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Zweig Group Debuts ‘Social Media Survey’

1451491637-SocialMediasurveycover_webZweig Group, publisher of more than a dozen annual surveys about the most important issues in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industries, is proud to announce the opening of its first-ever Social Media Survey.

“Social media is becoming increasingly important to firms in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industries,” said Andrea Bennett, Zweig Group’s research and publications manager. “It not only affects a firm’s marketing plans, but also the company’s interactions with business partners, potential clients, and employees. We wanted to benchmark industry standards for everything from average social media traffic to social media usage policies for employees.”

Bennett encourages A/E/P and environmental consulting professionals to participate.

“We ask a wide variety of questions and plan to gather data from a broad range of job titles, since social media affects all areas of a firm’s business,” she said. “For example, HR and recruiting professionals can tell us how social media plays into the hiring and retention process. Marketers will provide insights about how social media fits into the overall marketing plan and budget. Architects, engineers, and project managers can tell us how they use social media to communicate with business partners or potential clients.”

The survey, which is open for participation until March 13, allows participants to skip questions that don’t apply to them. Respondents who complete the survey will receive a coupon for 50 percent discount code that can be applied to any survey product.

“We’re really excited about the implementation of mini-surveys this year,” Bennett said. “Not only does the digital-only format mean that we can offer them at a fraction of the cost of our regular surveys, but it also means that readers won’t have to wait to receive their products after ordering. Another great aspect, from an aesthetic point-of-view, is that these products will be colorful, which just makes them a little more engaging to the reader.”

Zweig Group will produce 25 surveys this year, including the new mini-surveys and new full-length surveys based on its 2016 Hot Firm List and Best Firms to Work For award recipients. For more information, click here or email research@zweiggroup.com.

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Zweig Group Announces New ‘Cell Phone & Mobile Device Survey’

02:29 1451492543-CellPhonesurveycover_webZweig Group – publisher of more than a dozen annual surveys on the most important issues in the architectural, engineering, planning and environmental consulting industries – announces its first-ever Cell Phone & Mobile Device Survey. The survey, which is part of Zweig Group’s new mini-survey series, is open for participation through March 2 and will be published April 15.

“As cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices are increasingly capable of doing complex tasks, A/E/P and environmental consulting professionals rely on them more for work,” said Andrea Bennett, Zweig Group’s research and publications manager. “We wanted to find out more about how they’re implemented, whether firms provide them to employees, and what service providers are used. Our goal is to provide industry benchmarks, so firm leaders can see if they’re using cell phones and mobile devices to the best of their abilities, how much their peers are spending, and what phone or mobile device applications could help their employees do their best work.”

Bennett reminds A/E/P and environmental consulting professionals that the quality of any survey depends on its response-rate and encourages employees at any level in an organization to contribute to the Cell Phone & Mobile Device Survey.

“The more responses we have, the better our snapshot of cell phone and mobile device usage in the A/E/P and environmental consulting firms,” she says. “This is good for the industry as a whole, because more data means that we can really drill-down that information to show what firm’s peer and target institutions are doing. Lastly, survey participants receive a discount code that can be used for any survey product, so it’s really a win-win for everyone.”

The mini-survey format of the Cell Phone & Mobile Device Survey means that it will be available in a digital format only for a reduced rate and that it will offer an in-depth look at this specific employee benefit.

“We’re really excited about the implementation of mini-surveys this year,” Bennett said. “Not only does the digital-only format mean that we can offer them at a fraction of the cost of our regular surveys, but it also means that readers won’t have to wait to receive their products after ordering. Another great aspect, from an aesthetic point-of-view, is that these products will be colorful, which just makes them a little more engaging to the reader.”

Mini-survey participants receive a 50 percent discount code; full-length survey participants receive a 65 percent discount code. For more information about the Cell Phone & Mobile Device Survey or any Zweig Group survey product, click here or email research@zweiggroup.com.

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Zweig Group Debuts ‘Company Car Survey’

02:14 1451499861-CompanyCarsurveycover_webZweig Group, publisher of more than a dozen annual surveys about the most important issues in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industries, announces the premiere of its Company Car Survey. The survey, which is the first installment of Zweig Group’s new mini-survey line, is open for participation and will be released on March 11.

“Our 2015 Policies, Procedures & Benefits Survey showed more than half of firms provide company cars to at least some employees,” said Andrea Bennett, Zweig Group’s research and publications manager. “On average, about 14 percent of employees have either a company car or an auto allowance, so we wanted to delve further into this topic to provide readers with a more comprehensive understanding of company vehicle provisions and policies.”

The survey aims to establish industry standards for company cars, including cost, length of time used, popular makes and models, and reasons for choosing a specific vehicle.

“We want to provide benchmarks, so firm leaders can see how their spending on company cars stacks up to others in the industry,” Bennett said. “Furthermore, the information in this survey might provide firms who are on-the-fence about whether to provide this perk the data they need to make a final decision.”

The survey, which is open for participation until February 17, also asks participants about who uses company vehicles, for what purposes, and for how long. Respondents who complete the survey will receive a coupon for 50 percent off the finished survey, or any other Zweig Group mini-survey. Participants can contribute by visiting info.zweiggroup.com/survey-participation. For more information, email research@zweiggroup.com or call 800.466.6275.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: The ABBAE Bulletin

5. Allana Buick & Bers, Inc..Allana Buick & Bers, Inc. (Palo Alto, CA), a 100-person architectural engineering firm, is the fifth place winner in the External Newsletter category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for The ABBAE Bulletin.

The ABBAE Bulletin is ABBAE’s semi-monthly newsletter designed to inform and educate current and potential clients of new technology in the industry, services the firm offers, current news, new hires, and events within the company. The newsletter features educational articles that teach readers about the latest updates in the architectural-engineering and building industry in addition to relevant case studies that show readers how the technology performs in real-life scenarios. The online newsletter is sent out using Constant Contact, so the firm can quantitatively measure how well it is doing.

With The ABBAE Bulletin, the firm wanted to create more customized content that its readers would be interested in. The ABBAE team strives to constantly improve click-through and open rates. They use the statistics every month to tailor and improve the type of content they share in addition to different organizational layouts, titles, and other components. The firm utilizes an email service to reach its audience. Through regular communication, they aim to stay on their clients’ radar so they are front-of-mind when their services are needed.

ABBAE was looking to increase its click-through, read, and interaction rates. Through the use of abstracts and quick snippets with links to read more in-depth material, ABBAE was able to increase its click-through rate from 25 percent to 40 percent. The interaction rate improved from 11 percent to 20 percent. The firm was able to obtain the statistics of reader interaction through Constant Contact’s analytics. In addition, upon learning of new services in the newsletter various clients contacted the firm regarding potential new projects.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here.

The 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards are open for registration! Click here to register your firm.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Garver’s 95th Anniversary Campaign

5. Garver, LLCGarver, LLC (North Little Rock, AR), a 375-person multidiscipline engineering firm, is taking home fifth place in the Integrated Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its 95th anniversary campaign.

2014 marked Garver’s 95th year of doing business. To celebrate this milestone, the firm initiated a new marketing campaign to strengthen the Garver brand and advertise its longevity and reliability. Six of the firm’s past presidents were interviewed to gain insight into the company’s history and values. To prepare for the campaign, a comprehensive “tool kit” was created and sent to all project leaders within Garver, providing key talking points about the firm’s history and values to pass on to their teams and clients. Talking points were also incorporated into sales training at the firm’s Aviation Summit and through Garver University, the firm’s in-house training program.

The purpose of the campaign was to reinforce the firm’s branding – a 95-year-old business is strong. The firm wanted to use the campaign to continue to expand into new markets where the Garver brand wasn’t already well established. In order to reach target audiences the firm used a digital and print approach. This included a unique logo and tagline, a video of the firm’s president/CEO speaking about the new campaign, and the integration of a “Throwback Thursday” campaign on the firm’s social media.

As a result of the campaign, new clients were gained and the firm’s project win-rate increased from 43 percent to 47 percent in 2014. The firm also noticed competitors using their own years of service in their logos, even though they were much younger than Garver. The firm was selected for a major aviation project based on its 95 campaign. The campaign was so successful firm leadership has decided to implement a similar campaign for Garver’s 100-year milestone.

For more info on the Marketing Excellence Awards click here.

The 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards are open for registration! Click here to register your firm.

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Why Have an Entrepreneurial Firm?

594Without a doubt, there are some entrepreneurial firms in the A/E/P and environmental consulting business today.  That said—and I’ve written it before in these pages—just because you are privately-held and a small business does NOT make you an entrepreneurial firm.

Whenever I hear a firm described as a “practice,” it immediately conjures up negative images for me.  “Practice” makes me think of a business that revolves around one or a few God-like owners who manage all aspects of the business, all clients, and all design work.  They are lords and everyone else there is a serf.  The business exists solely for their benefit and dies when they are gone.  It’s somewhat analogous to a medical practice, where there is one doctor and then everyone else is a peon.  I don’t like the term.  We aren’t in the “practice management” business and the clients we work for want something more than a “practice.”

Yet, there are still some people out there who own firms and believe that they can stay small successfully.  They look at how much they as individuals earn from their business and it’s more than they ever expected to make so they are happy with it.  Yet they usually would have far more potential if they were an entrepreneurial firm.

Entrepreneurial firms are all about growth.  Their owners want to create value in their enterprises—value that can be realized when they either individually or collectively exit from the firm.  And this value is not just restricted to an external sale.  It could be in an internal sale just as easily.

How do entrepreneurial firms perform better than the rest of the industry?  Consider the following statistics (pulled from Zweig Group’s “Successful Firm Survey.” These are realty telling!

  • Fast growth firms (those growing at a rate of 20 percent or more for three years in a row) make an average of 16.2% pre-tax, pre-bonus profit vs 9.9% for all firms
  • Fast growth firms have an average revenue of $133,690 per employee vs $126,840 for all firms.
  • Fast growth firms make a 39.8% return on total assets (pre-tax, pre-bonus) vs 19.7% for all firms
  • Fast growth firms have a median total annual principal compensation of $290K vs $194K for all firms
  • Fast growth firms are worth a median of .59 times NSR vs .47 for slow growth firms.

Let’s consider the case of two principals.  They each joined A/E firms out of school and at age 40, both became principals in the companies they worked for.  Principal “A” became an owner in a $5 million dollar NSR slow-growth company (growing by 5% a year) and Principal “B” became an owner in a $5 million dollar high growth entrepreneurial company (growing by 20% a year).

Ten years later, by age 50, Principal B’s career and financial position is dramatically different from his counterpart, Principal A, in the slower-growth, not-so-entrepreneurial firm.  Each of these two owned 20% of their firm’s stock when they bought in.

In year one, Principal A, working in the slow growth firm, earned $194K in salary and bonus.  His ownership was worth .20 (.47 times $5 mill), or $470K.  By year 10, he would be earning $301K annually (assuming a 5% annual pay increase) and his stock was worth $729K.  Over ten years, he would earn $2.44 mill.   His ten year total would be $3.169 mill.  Not too bad considering he still has another 15 yrs. to work assuming he retires at age 65 (and many of us will hopefully work well beyond that).

Principal B, on the other hand, was earning $290K in salary and bonus the first year he became a principal in a high-growth firm.  His initial ownership was worth .20 (.59 times $5 mill), or $590K. By year ten, assuming a modest 5% annual pay increase, he would be earning $450K in annual salary and bonus, and his stock would be worth $3.05 million.  His total of salary and bonus earned over 10 years would be $3.65 mill., making his ten year total of $6.69 million.  Pretty amazing considering at this point Principal B is only 50 years old and still has another 15 years to work.

Do I still need to convince you of the benefits of building an entrepreneurial firm?  Now you know why we will be doing a new seminar this year—“Building an Entrepreneurial Firm,” in a number of locations around the US in 2016.  We’ll start with dinner, drinks and comedy the night before to get everyone in the right frame of mind.  Then we will teach you what we have learned over the last 28 years of working with companies in this business.

2015 was an amazing year for our industry and for Zweig Group.  The time has never been better to be more successful as an architect, engineer, planner, or environmental consultant.  Happy 2016, All!

Interested in finding out more about our new seminar? Check it out here: https://zweiggroup.com/seminars/baef/

 

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Get your offers accepted

Here are a few tips on ensuring that potential employees accept your job offer, and have a back-up in case they don’t.

1256It’s a big problem today. You go through a long search process, interviewing multiple candidates for a difficult-to-fill-yet-critical position, develop what you think is a great offer, and then ultimately get a turndown. Everyone is disappointed and you are back to Square 1.

I’ve hired hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years, not to mention I was trained as a recruiter when I first got into this business in 1980. Here are some things that you can do to improve your offer-to-acceptance ratio:

  1. Treat every job candidate like gold. Your job is to have every single person you interview wanting to work for your firm if you want them there. Stop thinking about your role as one of keeping bad apples out. Your real job is to have good apples wanting to come in. YOU want to be in the driver’s seat on who works there. That means everyone has to be favorably impressed with the company and your people.
  2. Before any face-to-face interviews are conducted, develop some recruitment “sales” material. A nice video would be great where you interview current employees who tell you how much they love working there. But you also need simple benefit summaries, cost of living data for your area, a current org chart, some history of the firm, and a list of all your awards and accolades received, as well as some articles on the firm that may have appeared in print. You want to sell – you needs “sales” material. This information can help keep you from getting a turndown.
  3. Plan out every detail for your interview. Who will the candidate meet? How long will they meet with them? What will they see? Who will they go to lunch or dinner with? Plot it all out and then tell everyone involved, including the candidate, what’s going to happen. And if travel is required, make that easy. Help the candidate with flights or hotel arrangements. Make them feel comfortable and important so they don’t turn down your offer, should you eventually make them one.
  4. Get all of the candidates’ compensation details. The way you do that is by asking very early on in the process “How much do you currently earn?” Then say, “How much of that is base versus bonus and overtime? Do you have any special benefits? Do you have a company car? If not, do you get an auto allowance? How much of your medical insurance do you have to pay? How much vacation time do you get?” Be direct. Don’t ask what they want. Ask where they currently are now. Not knowing all of this will result in your paying too much or offering too little and getting a turndown.
  5. Stop being obsessed with why the job candidate wants to make a change. Especially for candidates coming from outside recruiters – they may not WANT to make a change but may be open to the idea. Let them feel comfortable. Let them open up to you and don’t put them on the defensive or you’ll get a turndown.
  6. Get a good realtor involved. Tell the realtor a condition of your referrals is they have to tell you what’s going on inside the candidate’s head. You need to hear the discussion from the car ride to look at houses or the phone calls they have before and after their visit. Not paying attention to the candidate’s housing needs and letting them fend for themselves will nearly always result in a turndown.
  7. Look for a way to talk to the spouse. You have to know their needs and where their head is or you’ll likely get a turndown. Find a reason to call them. Tell the candidate that this is just part of your normal hiring process. You may learn a lot and find out about issues you can address like special school or healthcare needs that you wouldn’t know about otherwise.
  8. Write a good offer. Generally, any offer that isn’t a 15 percent increase in base salary or better will probably get a turndown. Relocations may cost you even more. Lower cost of living is rarely considered by job candidates. And rarely will people make a lateral move salary-wise even if your bonus is a whole lot better.
  9. Don’t give the candidate forever to make their decision. Shorter decision times are better (48 to 72 hours). Seven days, 10 days, or two weeks is way too long and will nearly always result in a turndown.
  10. Ask the candidate how they will respond to a counteroffer, should one be made (and it probably will be!). Then deliver the counteroffer speech. They have been “unfaithful” (when they talked to you about another job opportunity.) “Things will never be the same.” The whole point is to let them know accepting a counter offer would be a mistake and that they have held a gun to their employer’s head and caught them off-guard so don’t trust any promises made in that kind of a situation.
  11. If the candidate tells you they’ll accept but want to wait until they turn their notice in to their boss, discourage that kind of thinking. They are setting themselves up for a counter offer, and you don’t want that. Tell them you would feel they were a lot more decisive and committed if they formally accepted your offer THEN told their current employers they are leaving.
  12. Always get a backup candidate. No matter how good it looks – do it. You may need it. And if you don’t need a backup you will have the confidence to tell your number one candidate what they need to hear in case they try to get too greedy during the offer stage.
  13. If someone turns down your job offer, ask them why. If they say the pay is too low ask what they expected. Ask them if you got that pay for them would they accept immediately? You never know … it may be a minor problem. Don’t make assumptions about why someone turns down your job. You could very well be wrong!

Do ALL of these things and you will increase your offer-to-acceptance ratio. I’m certain of it!

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

Zweig Group has a number of resources for executive search & recruitment including the 2016 Recruitment & Retention Survey (now open for participation), www.AECWorkforce.com a job board for the AEC industry, and personalized consulting.

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