Getting better fees

Implementing these 8 easy changes can help your firm work smarter, not harder, and reap the monetary rewards.

I have always felt that, if A/E and environmental consulting firms spent as much time on getting better fees as they did trying to manage marginal ones to make a profit, they would come out far ahead. We just don’t try HARD enough to get paid decently for what we do.

Here are some ideas you might be able to use to increase your fees (and your profits):

  1. If you are working on hourly jobs or cost plus jobs, charge every single thing you can to the job. Is management working on the job but not billing it to the job? A common problem in A/E and environmental firms is not getting paid for supervision.
  2. If you are working on hourly jobs, try to get more of them on a fixed fee. You might assume that, just because your client has always paid you hourly, they won’t go for a fixed fee, but have you asked? Many clients would be completely comfortable knowing what kind of fee you are committing to do the work for, as long as it wasn’t more than they were planning to spend. Fixed fees give you incentive to use less and cheaper labor, which can make you more money.
  3. Raise your hourly rates. This is the time of year to do it! Inform all clients on November 15 that on January 1 rates are going up. Then raise them. Do it every year. Even a $1 per hour billing-rate increase in a company with 100 employees and a 65 percent firm-wide utilization rate will bring in another $130,000 in profit for the year! Two dollars per hour would make $260,000 over the year. Ponder that.
  4. Use billing-rate classifications. For example, bill all “senior engineers” at a set billing-rate. Then use your lowest paid ones the most on billable work. The result is higher effective labor multipliers.
  5. Mark-up all reimbursable expenses. Start writing into your contracts a 10 or 15 percent markup on all reimbursable expenses. Many firms get away with this. A firm with $500,000 in reimbursables that marks them up by 10 percent will make an additional $50,000 in profit.
  6. Charge for travel time. It’s amazing to me how many firms don’t do this. If you can’t be doing anything else and are going somewhere for a client’s job, it’s billable. If it’s an hourly job, you can get paid for it. Bill it.
  7. Charge travel mileage on local jobs. I have seen this, too. At $0.575 per mile, just driving 20 or 30 miles a day can make another $11-17 per person, per day. It all falls to the bottom line.
  8. ASK for a higher fee. I saved the best for last. Stop being preoccupied with what it will cost you to do a job and instead think about how much someone will pay you to do it. Listen to the cues your client sends off. Be specialized and better than your competitors. Go the extra mile in every way. And then don’t be afraid to ask for a proper fee to do the job – one you know will net you a profit. Nine out of 10 people quoting fees are thinking “what will this cost us?” It’s a good question to know the answer to – but not the most important one.

If demand keeps outpacing supply like it has been doing in so many markets, you’re going to see everyone in the A/E and environmental consulting business raising prices in 2016.

Do you want a free summary report with the latest data from Zweig Group’s 2015 Fee & Billing Survey?

More Fee & Billing Statistics


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

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10 Interesting Marketing Statistics in the A/E Industry

Did you know?

  1. Marketing trends are discussed by only 40% of A/E firms during marketing meetings.
  2. Marketing departments are becoming increasinly responsible for tracking all marketing/sales related data.
  3. From 1997 until last year, the percentage of work done for new & repeat clients has remained relatively consistent at 20% & 80%
  4. CRM use declined from 2007 until last year when it started to rise again.
  5. Firms report doing 60% of their marketing via email
  6. Last year the biggest marketing expense increases were in staff labor and proposals
  7. Only 20% of firms reported entering a design competition last year.
  8. In 2014, a quarter of respondents didn’t know if their clients were on social media
  9. In 2014, 13% of firms said social media use has resulted in actual projects.
  10. 41% of firms say that social media has not resulted in reliance on traditional marketing methods.

This is just a tiny snippit from our large bank of marketing data.  We would love to gather your opinions and experiences to help us be able to present the most reliable data possible. Give us 15-20 min of your time and get 65% off any ZG Survey of their choice.

Click on the below to participate in the 2016 Marketing Survey. https://zweiggroup.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_2oFEPUiZnGYaFKt

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Preparing for the competition

Bill MurpheyCompetition can be a good thing, especially if it stimulates others to make themselves better; survey data shows that now is the time to think about your competitive edge.

I’ve spent most of my career analyzing strategies and developing new ones to counter the anticipated actions of competitors. Working at the Pentagon, I analyzed other countries’ motives, decisions, and actions, and built plans to ensure we were ready to respond to a wide range of events. In the geopolitical world, being caught off-guard can be disastrous for a nation, as we unfortunately learned in 1941 and 2001.

In the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting world, being caught off-guard most often leads to lost market share, lost revenue, and sometimes, loss of ownership.

The healthiest firms prepare themselves for what could happen. They understand their local and regional markets and can identify their competitors within those markets. They understand the value of their company and how they compare with their hungry competitors. They have a formal process for assessing the market; one that addresses much more than the uninspiring strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis taught in every business school.

Successfully competitive companies have also built plans to infuse their firms with talented people capable of accelerating the firm’s growth. They’ve built plans for ensuring their people are educated in the latest techniques and industry trends to maximize their value to their clients. They’ve built plans for a potential ownership transition and the eventual succession. It’s interesting to note that more than 83 percent of large AEC firms are looking to buy another firm, but only 39 percent of firms are prepared for such a transition.

Successfully competitive companies understand their weaknesses and are actively working to overcome those deficiencies. In many cases, they’re successful because they’ve assembled a proactive strategy team chartered to look for competitive gaps in their business model.

From this strategist’s position, here’s a sampling of what I see ahead:

  • According to Zweig Group’s 2015 Mergers & Acquisitions Survey, if yours is a civil engineering firm doing commercial development in the South region with fewer than 25 employees and earning less than $5 million in annual revenue, you might want to have an acquisition plan in place, because that’s the most sought after demographic.
  • Alternately, based on the same survey, if yours is an architectural firm, I recommend developing both an expansion plan and a long-term succession plan, because only 21 percent of the companies surveyed are looking to acquire architecture firms. For your architectural firm, acquiring a design/build firm might be just the spark needed to enhance your competiveness.

What if your company isn’t prime to be acquired? According to another Zweig Group survey, more than 82 percent of the companies that attended the 2015 Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference stated they expect to grow by more than 10 percent next year. Ten percent doesn’t just grow out of thin air: These firms are likely coming after your market share. Are you prepared to compete with them?

Here are some tips for becoming successfully competitive:

  • Know the value of your company. You can start by looking at your books. Make sure your financial statements are in order and that you know the status of all of your accounts. Consider having an outside assessment of the total value of your organization. You’ll quickly discover if you’re a target for an acquisition or healthy enough to expand your business.
  • Build a strategy team. Designate a strategy team with your best and brightest minds. That’s obviously easier to do when you have a larger organization, but a strategy group of three or four people in a firm of 25 employees is very doable. Task them with becoming experts on the industry and the market. Make them your prognosticators of things to come. This should not be just your principals!
  • Leadership is important. Your strategy team must be fully supported by the firm’s senior executives and have constant, direct access to all of your company’s executives. Remind the team its efforts must always be connected to the company’s vision and mission. Most importantly, leaders must be willing to act on the advice of this team of experts.
  • Training is vital. Do you know how to develop a strategy – not a strategic plan, but a true strategy? Very few people have the experience and formal education required to do it effectively. To have an effective team, appoint a leader who’s been formally trained or send that person through a training program. Anything less, and you’re just wasting time. There are a few good programs out there, but the best ones are very pricy. Look at the course overview and if it peddles “SWOT Analysis” as the main selling point, keep looking. There’s more to a solid strategic plan than a SWOT analysis.
  • Commit. Too often, companies spend precious time at some nice off-site location, discussing in which direction the company should head, only to return to the office to place this shiny new strategy on some shelf, where it gathers dust until next year’s off-site at some even nicer location. If you’re going to spend the time, commit to the results, or it’s all for naught.

“Always prepared” is a great mantra for any company in any industry. The ones that prepare for the competition are healthier and will likely fare well. Those that fail to plan will have plenty of time to reminisce about how great things were before the competition took their market share, or worse, their company.

By understanding your company’s position relative to others, actively scouting the horizon, and having actionable plans in place, your company can be successful in the highly competitive and dynamic AEC marketplace.

BILL MURPHEY is Zweig Group’s director of education. Contact him at bmurphey@zweiggroup.com.

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Some things you shouldn’t do

zweig-001Even proponents of ‘never say never’ will likely agree that these gaffes should never be committed.

Though one of my favorite sayings is “never say never,” the fact is, if you work in an A/E or environmental firm, there are just some things you shouldn’t ever do. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Don’t constantly check your phone during the first meeting with an important client. It’s rude and will lead to the client not liking you. I’ve been guilty of this one. Like many of you, I’m a phone addict.
  2. Don’t have your assistant place your outbound calls and then summon you once they get who they’re calling on the line. This is so rude. You are saying: “My time is more valuable than yours.” Whenever anyone does this to me, I hang up on them.
  3. Don’t forget to make sure your subconsultant gets paid after the client pays you. You don’t want to get a reputation for being a thief and using the other guy’s money. You may need the cash, but so do they!
  4. Don’t talk trash about anyone you work with or for. You never know when it is going to come back to bite you. Not to mention the fact that you may not know everything and not understand why someone/something is the way it is.
  5. Don’t tell the founder’s wife she “looks good for her age.” That’s bad manners. Even if you know she is well into her years, never force anyone to face that fact.
  6. Don’t ask a woman “when’s the baby due?” Some tops or blouses make ladies who aren’t pregnant look pregnant. She might not be pregnant. If you ask that, and instead of being pregnant she is just a little plump, you now have someone who wants to see you dead.
  7. Don’t use “out of office assistant.” It looks bad to announce to the world, both inside and out, that you’re disconnecting and won’t care enough about them to return their emails for X days. It just connotes poor service.
  8. Don’t cheat on your expense report. You may get caught. The whole company will think you’re dishonest, and it could ruin your ability to lead or manage.
  9. Don’t say “it’s not in my job description.” There’s nothing a manager – or a peer or an underling – who is doing a tough job wants to hear less from you.
  10. Don’t call in sick every Monday. It looks suspicious, and everyone will think you are either hungover or just wanted to extend your weekend. They’ll resent you for it, too!
  11. Don’t leave early every Friday after changing into golf attire. It looks bad to those who can’t/won’t/aren’t going golfing.
  12. Don’t talk politics or religion if you aren’t 100 percent sure of the other guy’s views. The country is divided. One thing I know is that you can upset about half the population with any political opinion. So why share them?
  13. Don’t post pictures of yourself intoxicated on Facebook. Again, this looks bad. Don’t put anything on Facebook or Instagram or your personal website that you don’t want the whole world to see!
  14. Don’t stand by the front door and smoke. Looks bad. And if you do smoke, try to take the least number of smoke breaks during the work day, as non-smokers will surely notice and resent you.
  15. Don’t look at things on the Internet you don’t want anyone else in the firm to know you’ve looked at.Some firms are really snoopy. And some IT people are talkers. I remember one firm who found out from their IT guy that they had an employee who ran a “swingers” website. It looked pretty bad for him!

Whether you’re the boss or an underling, the owner or an employee, heed my advice!

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

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1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nTaking the time to get these 8 items in order might make all the difference when seeking a buyer for your business.

A lot of us don’t want to plan for it. We don’t even want to think about it. But the fact is an external sale is probably the best way to get the highest value for your firm AND might be the best way to ensure its survival and provide ongoing opportunities for your people.

So, let’s say you think an external sale may be in your future: What can you do to make your firm more attractive to buyers? Here are my thoughts:

  1. Have a good business plan. It helps build potential buyers’ confidence when they see you have your act together in the form of a solid business plan. What is your mission and vision? What are your strategies and goals? And what specific actions will you take to accomplish them? These questions and more should be answered, and you should be willing to share your plan with potential buyers.
  2. Be a growing firm. When you have a history of growth, your buyers will have projections for continuing growth. That growth will result in higher EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes – and bonuses) projections and have a positive impact on your value.  
  3. Be profitable. Every buyer looks at multiples of EBIT. To a great extent, the more profitable you are, the higher your valuation will be. And the buyers will have a greater confidence that your system works.
  4. Have a strong second tier of management. Anyone who is considering buying your company is more interested in the people who work for you than they are you. Once you sell your company, odds are you will either be less motivated or out. So the people who work for you are extremely critical to a buyer!
  5. Have a named successor. Who specifically will take over your business? Who is ready to run it? It is crucial to you and to any buyer that someone is ready to assume the top job.
  6. Clean up your books. Get all your personal stuff out of the company. If your office is leased from you, are you overcharging for it? Do you have a condo or boat on the books that the company is paying for? Is Mom getting a paycheck but not showing up for work? Get all this stuff off the books; buyers don’t want to see it.
  7. Have good accounting. This is so critical. We work for buyers and find sellers who can’t even give us a balance sheet or any kind of profit and loss statement that wasn’t scratched together in a spreadsheet. Audited financials are best. Reviewed are second-best. Accountant-prepared compilations are third-best.
  8. Clean up your office. Don’t have a dump! Buyers will surely want to see your workplace. Clean the carpet. Empty the spare offices of the old furniture piled up in there. Toss the old magazines in the lobby. Change the light bulbs. Clean the kitchen.

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

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2015 Valuation Survey

Val-15If you’re an owner of an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm, you can’t risk not knowing the value of your business. Whether it’s for external purposes, such as a firm sale or merge, or internal purposes, such as an ownership transition or ESOP purposes, all firm owners should know what their investments are worth.

It’s one of the most confounding decisions faced by privately held A/E/P and environmental consulting firms – how to value their enterprises. This decision can have far-reaching implications, impacting both the firm and its shareholders on a financial, organizational, and cultural level. In an effort to provide information and insight on this important topic, for the past 23 years Zweig Group has researched and published this definitive survey of how privately held firms in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry value themselves.

The purpose of this survey is not only to provide benchmarking data on industry valuation norms, but also to further the reader’s understanding of how business value is defined, how it is determined, and perhaps most importantly, how it is created.

The survey covers everything from the reasons that you need a valuation to how to maximize your firm’s value.

Do you know how much your business is worth? If you’re an owner or manager in an architecture, engineering, or environmental firm, you can’t escape valuation questions. Click here to get the best information on your biggest investment.

For information about our valuation consulting, click here.

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Maximize Value With Your Business Valuation

The process of business valuation and the analysis of the firm it involves can be a valuable tool for any firm. A properly prepared business valuation should provide firm owners with an independent view of the value of the firm’s shares, an independent assessment of the firm’s performance and financial condition relative to its peers, and an assessment of the current economic and industry conditions and outlook.

There are a number of fundamental factors that contribute to a firm’s value. Some of these factors are within a manager’s control – such as operating efficiency, the rate of growth in revenue and earnings, and the reliability of the company’s earnings. Understanding each of these factors can help managers better understand how their actions impact value.

Operating efficiency includes all the operating aspects of a firm that contribute to its profitability. These include operating metrics such as staff utilization, the firm’s overhead rate, and more. A benchmark analysis of these metrics can reveal where there is room for improvement.

The rate of a firm’s revenue and earnings growth has a huge impact on its value. This is due to the fact that someone investing in a firm is buying a share of its future earnings, and a growing earnings stream is more valuable than a static or declining earnings stream.

The stability of a firm’s earnings reflects a number of characteristics of the firm and its management. These include risk factors unique to the company such as the depth of its management team, geographic diversity of services, and many other factors. Mitigation of these risk factors reduces the uncertainty of future earnings and increases investor confidence.

It is important to understand how your actions impact the value of the firm. By understanding what factors contribute to or detract from value, you can set policies, take actions, and plan a long-term strategy that enhances the value of the firm for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Zweig Group’s valuation experts understand the industry and what drives value in your firm. For more information, click here.

To buy the 2015 Valuation Survey or for more information, click here.

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New office space

12072617_10153307225956859_1530375576295024395_nSome insights for those planning to relocate or revamp their digs, because we just went through the process.

We just moved into a new office space a couple weeks ago. It’s a big step up from our old space – one that was cobbled together in a 1960s medical office building with an add-on hair salon – a virtual rabbit-warren of halls and level changes with doors on automatic closers and horrible HVAC and lighting. We now have 7,000-square-feet of nice open space with large walls of glass, minimal halls, nice bathrooms and kitchen, large conference room, and super efficient lighting and HVAC. Plus, we’re on a major road with great signage – including a special clock with our logo on it made from our old friends at Electric Time Company in Medfield, Massachusetts.

The effect on everyone’s mood was immediate: We all feel better and more energized by our new space and are moving to the beat of our central stereo system, hooked up to Pandora One. It helps productivity, morale, and our image.

If you are thinking about upgrading your office space, let me give you some advice – remember, we just went through the process, ourselves:

  1. Don’t ask everyone for their opinions on everything. I’m talking about who goes where, what colors to use on the walls, and whether your bathrooms need full-length mirrors. The more you do this, the less happy everyone will be. You can’t please everyone. If you ask and don’t follow their wishes, they can justify being upset with you.
  2. Give people plenty of natural light. Natural light keeps you awake. People who are awake get more done than those who are sleeping (or sleepy).
  3. Have plenty of bathrooms. And be sure a couple are in more private locations for those delicate moments when certain noises or smells that one might like to keep from everyone else are possibilities.
  4. Make it fun! Why does everyone make their office so serious? Have some humorous art. Install some toys. Do something that no one expects. Make the space look like a fun place to work, and you’ll attract employees and clients.
  5. Wire it up! Plan for the future and the changing uses and locations of things. Investing in the cabling you’ll need for communications and computing is essential when you have the walls and ceilings blown out.
  6. Consider acoustics. Carpeting is a heckuva lot better sound-wise than polished concrete when it comes to floors. Consider acoustics in all the materials you pick.
  7. Make it easy to find. Good exterior lighting, the biggest sign you can get, and more should all be part of the new office. You want everyone who drives by to know where you are. It’s marketing, people!
  8. Keep the style eclectic. Going overboard on one or another trendy interior design fad (and they aren’t all modern – “craftsman,” for example, has been really overdone) will only make your space look dated in the years to come. Mixing up styles in your furniture and art will keep the place looking fresh and less dated in the long run.

So what is your advice here? Email it to me, so all of our readers can learn from your experience, too!

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

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Marketing Excellence Awards: The Apostrophe

3. O'NealO’Neal (Greenville, SC), an industrial engineering and construction firm, is taking home third place in the External Newsletter category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for The Apostrophe.

The O’Neal team’s goal in developing an external newsletter was to establish and position O’Neal as a thought leader and AEC industry expert. They also wanted to provide relevant industry information and knowledge to existing and target clients, and help prospects and customers maintain a pulse on industry trends and activity. Through the distribution of The Apostrophe, they wanted to develop a platform to talk about O’Neal’s projects, project delivery systems, recognition, and advancing technology and processes.

Prior to the development of The Apostrophe, O’Neal evaluated competitor newsletters, researched industry trends, followed industry thought leaders, and solicited feedback from prospects and clients on items and topics that were important to them. The piece would be defined by a mix of industry features, project spotlights, and O’Neal news that would create the feeling of the newsletter being a valid source of valuable engineering, construction, and economic information rather than a marketing piece.

The Apostrophe has definitely had an impact on people who have become O’Neal clients. To gauge the effectiveness of the newsletter, O’Neal used face-to-face meetings with clients. The O’Neal team found that they achieved their goals with The Apostrophe by increasing awareness of O’Neal and positioning themselves with key points of differentiation. O’Neal has even experienced many of its clients calling to ask for more information or a breakdown of article subjects and how they were handled.

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: New Employee Questionnaire

5. AC Martin Partners, Inc.AC Martin Partners, Inc. (Los Angeles, CA), an 85-person architecture firm, is taking home fifth place in the Internal Marketing category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its New Employee Questionnaire.

AC Martin typically sends out a general email to all staff when new employees start. It’s a simple note that includes the employee’s picture, title, department, projects, and their educational background. Unfortunately, the email alone is not enough to prompt the rest of the staff to engage in dialogue with new employees outside of the usual project discussions. The firm wanted to find a way to provide insight into the new employee’s personality through their likes, dislikes, passions, travels, and design interests.

The general purpose of the New Employee Questionnaire is to demonstrate that there is more to an individual than simply their title, department, and project. They hoped that by posting the New Employee Questionnaires on the firm’s Facebook page they would be seen as more informal and casual, and could prompt staff to seek out the new employees if they saw a shared interest. They wanted an eye-catching design in order to grab people’s attention. Even with a quick glance at the unique photo layout, staff can get a better sense of the new employee.

AC Martin’s goal of increased camaraderie and congeniality was met. Current employees have either found things in common with the new employees and have engaged them in “around the water cooler” conversations, or have looked into design inspirations that they were introduced to through these posts. These informal conversations would not have taken place in the past, because shared interests were unknown. An unintended benefit which contributes to the firm’s overall social media goals, is that these posts showcase the firm’s culture in ways that a website is not equipped to do.

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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2015 Fee & Billing Survey

The 2015 Fee & Billing Survey was created with information gathered from an online questionnaire that required participants to answer questions about their billing rates, fee structures, staff chargeability, and billing practices. The questionnaire was designed to be completed by the president, CEO, CFO, or person with the highest responsibility in the fee and billing division of the firm.nb,mbn
The purpose of the survey is to inform firms about industry standards on design fees, employee hourly billing rates, subconsultant procedures, and reimbursement policies so that fees, billing rates, and other contract fees can be competitively set internally.

The survey has information on a variety of topics that firms will find useful, like the percentage of firms that have standard billing rates for each position or status level (81 percent), and what percentage of firms have increased their billing rates over the past three years (94 percent).

Also, only 35 percent of firms have an attorney review every individual contract before it’s finalized; another 33 percent have an attorney review only nonstandard contracts.Untitled

Twenty-seven percent of firms charge a markup above cost for changes to the order, additional work, or scope changes; those that do most commonly charge a markup between 11-15 percent.

In addition to this information, the 2015 Fee & Billing Survey also includes the latest available data on fee structures for every major market type, ways firms usually charge for subconsultant fees and reimbursable expenses, how firms collect payment, billing rates and chargeability statistics for 33 levels of employees, and much more.

It’s important for firms to know industry norms so that they can understand what firms just like theirs are charging for the same types of services, and the 2015 Fee & Billing Survey is the best tool for that.

To buy the survey or for more information, click here.

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Successful Project Management

SPM-4-14The successful management of architectural and engineering projects in today’s challenging environment is something of a science that has been evolving over the centuries. Project management has existed in some form for thousands of years, where people have organized to plan and achieve specific objectives that would be defined as a project. It originated from the Latin word “projectum,” which means, “to throw something forward.” Thus, the word “project” originally meant “something that comes before anything else is done.” When the word was initially adopted, it referred to a plan of something, not to the act of carrying out that plan. Our modern-day interpretation refers to both the planning and management of projects in the creation of production drawings and specifications to produce the object and the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques applied to a broad range of activities to meet the requirements of that particular project, whether it’s a bridge, roadway, treatment plant, or building structure.

Project management is also a skill, and involves leadership abilities, communication techniques, collaboration with team members, and creativity. Both the science and skill qualities can be enhanced by a system of continuous client feedback, leading to the ultimate goal of obtaining the client’s next project in the future.

Successful Project Management for A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms integrates both the skill and science of managing projects and identifies the professions’ best practices through numerous examples, checklists, and case studies.

To buy the book or for more information, click here.

If you’re interested in a 6 CEU Seminar on Project Management led by Howard Birnberg, click here.

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Marketing Excellence Awards: Sustainability Report

1. Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd.Klohn Crippen Berger (Vancouver, BC) – a 500-person international engineering, geoscience, and environmental consulting firm – is taking home first place in Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards in the External Newsletter category for its Sustainability Report.

KCB clients face an increasing challenge to address the growing body of international best practices covering a range of sustainability goals – especially in the resource sector, where building community trust and responsible environmental management are critical to clients’ success. The very nature of KCB’s work is to provide sustainable solutions to clients, but they didn’t talk about their work in that way. What brought the issue home to the KCB team was when they lost a job with a major client because they thought KCB couldn’t meet the requirements of the RFP with regards to sustainable business practices.

The KCB team realized that they needed to develop material that effectively communicated their commitment to sustainability. They wanted to be able to respond to RFPs in a consistent and meaningful way and incorporate sustainability messaging into all of their marketing channels.

KCB’s annual Sustainability Report was the solution. The process of reporting has allowed KCB staff to identify what they do well and look for opportunities for improvement, both in their operations and in their project work. In 2012, KCB defined their focus areas; developed processes to collect data on community involvement and environmental impacts; reported on health, safety, and sustainable aspects in their project work. Since launching the initiative they’ve noticed an increase in employee engagement, and an increase in community engagement. They’ve also seen information from the report used consistently in proposals and statements of qualifications.

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: SSymposium

5. Sanderson Stewart..Sanderson Stewart (Billings, MT), a 65-person regional community development firm, is the fifth place winner in the Special Event category of Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Excellence Awards for its SSymposium event.

The purpose of SSymposium was to bring all of the Sanderson Stewart CSTP (Cool, Smart, Talented People) together for two meaningful days of learning, teaching, and team building. Firm leadership didn’t want the event to feel like another thing on its staff’s to-do list or like a long in-house lunch-and-learn. It was important to create a brand and marketing campaign that conveyed the significance and excitement of the event.

The goal of this marketing campaign was to educate and excite the firm’s CSTP about the event and attain 100 percent participation. To achieve this, Sanderson Stewart planned to reach its widespread audience electronically in the initial stage and in-person at the event.

Sanderson Stewart was fortunate to already have a branded, ongoing training program called Sanderson Stewart University. SSymposium was envisioned as a subsidiary of SSU and the logo was designed to continue the collegiate theme of the existing SSU brand. The event had a website to showcase the itinerary and guest speakers. Because many Sanderson Stewart staff work remotely, the website worked well for everyone to be able to check on events as they were posted. The event had its own SSymposium-branded print materials, including itineraries, nametags, and event posters. Firm leadership also felt it was important that, when their CSTP checked in at the conference, they received some standard conference goodies, including SSymposium-branded lanyards and insulated tumblers.

The Sanderson Stewart team’s established goals were achieved. SSymposium was enthusiastically received with 100 percent participation from staff. The firm measured its success by surveying participants about their experience at the event. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

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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Hot Firm or Best Firm to Work For?

zweig-001Conference confirms that when people like their jobs, the firm is usually more profitable; here are some things to consider.

On September 3 and 4, I had the pleasure of being at our annual Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference in Boston. What a great event! I was really proud of our people and how smoothly the whole thing went. Two days of presentations, parties, and ceremonies came together without a glitch.

Combining the Hot Firm Conference with our Best Firms to Work For Conference proved to be a good decision. The linkage between a company’s ability to grow and make a profit and having good people who like working there has never been more clear. Many firms at our conference were both Hot Firms AND Best Firms to Work For – double winners.

It’s absolutely critical to have the right workforce, and it’s getting harder than ever to hire and maintain them. Here are some things I would urge you to consider, if you are serious about competing for talent in this red-hot employment market:

  1. Have humble leaders who don’t have crazy perks. You all know what I’m talking about. One firm owner I met at our conference told me about how she came into a small company with about nine employees years ago that was really suffering. Meanwhile, the firm owner had a special garage at their office where he kept his company Bentley. This kind of stuff demotivates and demoralizes everyone. Humble leaders are tuned-in to these situations and work hard to not demoralize anyone.
  2. Get everyone involved in the business-planning process. Asking everyone for their opinions and input – and really trying to incorporate their thinking into the business plan – is certainly one of the cornerstones of effective management and leadership. People want to be involved and feel like they have some influence over their work environment and their futures.
  3. Institute some form of open-book management. It’s so critical to share your numbers with your employees – I cannot overemphasize it. Do it quickly, succinctly, and clearly. Give the numbers to everyone. Don’t share salary info – that is harmful. Do share info on revenues, profits, cash position, marketing stats, and more. This helps build trust between you and your people.
  4. Make your office cool. Most offices I see are not creative spaces. In fact, they might be the opposite! They are dark, dirty, messy, cramped, and filled with tiny cubicles. Collaboration is just a word or something you do electronically. That’s really crazy, especially when you consider what many firms in this business actually do for a living – in many cases, they design workspaces! Consider your office a tool – a place to help you SELL good employees (who always have other opportunities) on coming to work for your company.
  5. Have some fun. Everyone is too serious. If you do some fun stuff at the office – having something fun or funny happening – you WILL have happier people. Happier people will be positive. And positive people make good things happen. Most people in this business are just too serious. Best places to work are FUN places to be.
  6. Share the rewards. Spread the money around. Don’t be greedy. Firm owners, you know the difference in being greedy or not. Years ago, we worked with a small firm owner – he had about 28 employees. He paid himself $380,000 a year. His next highest paid employee made $75,000. They weren’t doing very well, and morale stunk. People sense huge gaps and disparity. And they really appreciate it if you share some of the spoils around the table.
  7. Get the right people in. The “right” people are those with the right attitude. They want to succeed, they’re nice, they don’t just move from one complaint or gripe to the next. They also want to learn and help out their fellow employees. Clients like them, other people in the firm like them, and you like them. They are good to work with. Competent, smart, and can-do in spirit. Good people want to work with other good people and bring them in.
  8. Move the bad apples out. The bad apples are the opposite of the right people described above. They’re negative or chronically unhappy, hard to work with, incompetent, angry, hostile, and more. Lazy, with bad attitudes, bad communicators, dishonest … what else can I say? They need to go. If bad people are allowed to stay, good people will leave.

I could go on and on: Your success is so tied to your people and leadership and management practices. It is really clear when you meet the leaders of our Hot Firms and Best Firms to Work For at our conference. The best aspect of this event is the people who come. Always an entrepreneurial, optimistic group, so many of them my personal friends – of 20 or 30 years in some cases. It is great to see these successful people in action. They’re smiling, they’re upbeat, they’re winners! And they make good things happen in their companies!

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

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Confrontation and conflict

We’re each leaving a trail behind us – our reputations and our effect on the world – as industry leaders, we should focus on making those as pleasant as possible.

If you have a leadership role in your organization – if you’re the place where the proverbial buck stops – you’re going to find yourself eyeball-to-eyeball with someone in-house, a client, or a consultant who is unhappy about something. The “something” could be work-related, or the person simply could have gotten into an argument at home before going to work and is itching for a fight.

<p”>You may be the boss and have the authority to say, “I don’t care what you think; this is the way it’s going to be,” but that is going to leave behind a very messy trail and reputation.

Why do more and more people today seem as if they’re “just itching for a fight”?

It’s nearly impossible to go into a meeting in any public forum from the United States Congress, a courtroom, a city council, or a planning commission meeting and not see the degradation of civility in our society. We witness it every day through examples of “road rage” on our streets and highways or fighting it out – horns honking and fists shaking – over a parking place at the shopping center. A bad attitude seems to be more common than not these days.

I have neither the knowledge nor the academic credentials to tell you why we’ve devolved to this state, but I’ve taken it upon myself to work at remedying it in my own encounters. I’m increasingly running across people, young and old, who are saying, “How do I get away from this?”

Returning to “the trail you leave behind” analogy, I believe this might be age-related. I’m finding older folks like me care; younger folks, less so. I’d like to make the case for why I think you should care, particularly if you’re young.

People have long memories and, if you’ve worked out your aggressions by pushing back when pushed on, you’re building a personal brand of being part of the problem. That brand, or reputation, will be very hard to shed, making your job of leadership increasingly difficult.

As I have become more conscious of these new rules of engagement, I’ve begun to watch for and study those who are pros at defusing conflict and reaching consensus on issues.

One tactic I’ve used for years and have observed in others when faced with someone who is angry or just being disagreeable is to ask the person to “tell me more about that” in a genuinely curious tone. It’s non-confrontational, slows down the heat of moment, and delivers a very clear statement that “I respect you and what you have to say.” It does not imply “I agree with you” nor “I am going to cave on my position,” but it does provide an opportunity to listen to why the other person feels the way he or she does. Who knows: I may learn something by listening to the way the other person thinks, causing me to shift my position. At the least, the exchange will help me gain insights into how we’re going to negotiate a compromise that is acceptable to both of us.

Then, there’s the termination discussion. This type of discussion doesn’t have to be about termination, as in dismissal. It could simply be an expression of concern when a person isn’t performing well. But the concepts and tone are the same.

The person is performing poorly at their tasks. He or she doesn’t seem engaged sufficiently with the work, the team or the firm to figure out why and do something about it. You’ve concluded that the person no longer belongs with your firm. How do you have the conversation? Do you hand them their final check and say, “you’re fired”? After all, what does it matter to you? Once the person is gone, your problem is solved, right? Wrong! Every person who leaves your firm is part of the trail you’re leaving. If the person walks away disgruntled and angry, he or she is going to tell a lot of people about it.

For years, prior to termination, I’ve used a very simple line, “You don’t seem happy here. Do you think you ought to look elsewhere?”

With this phrasing, I’ve shown respect for a person who is clearly unhappy about something, and we’ve usually been able to work out a mutually acceptable exit plan. Occasionally, I’ve learned that the person was having a genuine problem with something or someone in the firm that I was able to correct, keeping a newly valuable member.

When it is simply the end, I’ve reworded my line to say, “I can see you’re really not happy here. It’s time for you to find somewhere else where you will be happy. That’s what you deserve. Let’s work out how we’re going to make that happen.” Once again, I’ve shown respect for the person and offered to work out a gracious and honorable way for that person to move on.

I sincerely hope you’ll try these ideas. First of all, it’s about time that each of us began to exert an effort to reinstate civility in our own lives and for those around us. Secondly, you’ll be leaving a trail of respect that will serve you well as a leader.

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

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Project Management needs help at many firms

shutterstock_259338482In a recent poll of project managers and firm leaders in the A/E industry, training/mentoring was ranked as the most important thing A/E firms could do to improve project management.  The poll also indicated that 65% of firms have no formal requirements to becoming a project manager.

We know that many architects, engineers, planners and environmental scientists are drafted into project management roles with little to no training, so we created this seminar to fill a desperate need in the industry.  This is the first PM seminar specifically tailored to new and aspiring PMs. This course has been approved for 6 CEUs/PDHs and will provide attendees with a fundamental understanding and some specific tools they can use to be more effective as project managers in an A/E/P or environmental firm.

We have a number of dates for October, November & December, throughout the U.S. You can see dates and locations here: https://zweiggroup.com/seminars/better_pm/dates-locations.php

Our instructor, Howard Birnberg, offers specific examples based on real-life construction industry experience by a long-time industry consultant, trained as an architect. Birnberg is one of the foremost experts on the subject of project management and is the author of numerous project management books.  He is active in a number of PM-related organizations–and has given hundreds of seminars to thousands of architects, engineers, planners and scientists over the years.

We hold our seminars in nice hotels in convenient locations. Instead of being stuck in a dark basement room with bad coffee and stale donuts, we provide a comfortable light-filled environment with delicious full breakfast and lunch.  I promise no attendee will be disappointed.

Contact me or visit https://zweiggroup.com/seminars/better_pm/ if you have any questions.

Christina Zweig, Director of Research & Marketing, czweig@zweiggroup.com

 

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Bill Murphey joins Zweig Group as new director of education

Bill MurpheyBill Murphey has joined Zweig Group as the new director of education.  This new role will strategically expand Zweig Group’s seminars, webinars, and other forms of education. Additionally, Murphey brings experience that will aid Zweig Group’s consulting and surveys department.  Murphey brings 25-plus years’ experience in leading multi-unit organizations in strategic planning, communications, and logistics.

Most recently Murphey was Associate Director of Executive Education & Supply Chain Management Instructor for the Sam M. Walton College of Business for the University of Arkansas. His success there was evidenced by increasing program revenue 1100% during his tenure. As a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Murphey brings unique experience from an impressive career in the Air Force as a C-130 navigator, strategy development expert, logistics commander, and finally as the Air Force’s Executive Director of Strategic Communication and Assessments at the Pentagon.  Murphey holds a Master’s of Science of National Resource Strategy from National Defense University in Washington, DC; a Master of Arts in Military Operational Art and Science from Air University, Montgomery, AL; a Master of Arts in Organizational Management, George Washington University, Washington, DC; and a Bachelor of Science in marketing from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

“Training and development is a continuous and growing need within the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry. We have to build our capabilities and offerings to meet this growing demand and bringing Bill on board is a cornerstone of that,” said Mark C. Zweig, CEO & Founder, Zweig Group.

Bill will be located in the Fayetteville office and available at bmurphey@zweiggroup.com

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It’s time to start preparing for 2016

Christy on MoonTake the last few months of 2015 to assess your clients and marketing.

Although 2015 won’t be over until the last day of December, September always feels like the start of something new. With the temperatures starting to cool, kids going back to school, and the culmination of a year’s hard work at the annual Hot Firm and A/E Industry Awards Conference, September is a great month for reflecting on the work of the previous year and planning for things to come.

Here are four points to ponder in order to revive your marketing in 2016:

  • Take a hard look at the work you are doing and who you are doing it for. Is your revenue stream heavily dependent on a few big clients? Is your market or geographical area one that has shrinking possibilities or that won’t be around forever? If so, now is the time to think about diversification or expansion. If you’re already heavily diversified, now is the time to focus on your strongest capabilities and the things that are the most profitable.
  • If you aren’t on social media, there’s no reason to wait any longer. It’s easy, it’s free, and it works. No, you probably won’t sell a job on Facebook, but marketing in 2016 will require you to touch prospective clients in multiple ways and at multiple times in order to win new work. You will need a strong online presence to attract the attention of the next generation of decision makers.
  • Marketing lists. Your marketing is only as good as the people you reach. Are you reminding past clients of your existence and current capabilities? Have you added new capabilities that they might not know about? If you aren’t carefully keeping track of this, now is the time to start. There are a variety of client relationship management programs on the market that can help with this. Getting new clients and new names to market to will be more important than ever in 2016 (see point No. 1). Events, trade shows, contests, social media, surveys, and even purchasing lists are all good ways to get new names.
  • Segment. This goes along with having good marketing lists. A key feature of marketing in 2016 will be the ability to target your audience in a personal way. Not everything you do needs to reach everyone, and not everyone wants to be reached in the same way.

With the heat of the summer cooling down, now is the perfect time to take a few simple steps forward to revive your marketing. This next year will be filled with new possibilities!

CHRISTINA ZWEIG is a management and marketing consultant at Zweig Group. Contact her at christinaz@zweiggroup.com.

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Critical People

1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nThough most everyone on your team is important, there are 4 major positions that no successful firm can do without.

Managing your business effectively means the business grows, makes a profit, and has good employees at all levels. It really is as much an art as it is a science.

If you’re the leader of an enterprise, you have a responsibility to manage it. The buck stops with you: If the business isn’t successful it’s your fault, period.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that, if you want to win the battle of business, you need to have the right people around you. Here are a few of the critical roles that have to be filled with strong people in order for you to succeed. Please don’t get hung up on the titles – each is followed by a description of what this person actually does:

  • CFO/Business Manager. This is one of the most critical people to your business. A strong CFO is much more than an accountant or controller – not just a historian – this person should positively impact all areas of the business. They’ll find ways for your business to make more from less. They’ll help keep you out of trouble by looking ahead. They’ll do all the things that no one else wants to do, has time to do, or is willing to do. They are a source of general business knowledge and can help tackle any problem the firm is facing. Finance, accounting, policy, board meetings, contract review, projections, ownership transition, and much more fall into this person’s domain. He or she should be one of your right-hand men – or women.
  • COO/Director of Operations. I see this person as your successor in-waiting. They run the line organization. That’s where all the money is made – it’s what the firm does for a living. This is one of, if not the, most important people in the firm. They should serve as a role model for all the other “doers” and managers of doers. An effective COO makes sure the business is doing the right things for the right clients and is making a profit in the process. He or she is also a great developer of people and an outstanding communicator who can jump in and solve any project- or client-related problem. If the CFO is your right-hand person, your COO is your left hand.
  • CMO/Director of Marketing. Yet another extremely critical individual to have on your top management team! Your CMO should be working to make your firm a top brand in whatever markets you serve. If they are doing their job, there should be more and better opportunities coming to the firm every single day. They set the stage, keep you in the limelight, and make every single thing you do look good to the clients you want to serve and the public at-large. Proposals, documents, brochures, direct mail, tradeshows, e-marketing campaigns, PR, original research, marketing database, photography, website, and much, much more are all managed and lead by your CMO/director of marketing. A really creative person here, who will also roll their sleeves up and do real work, is invaluable to you.
  • CIO/CTO. This person is so important, but not every CEO realizes just how important. He or she will keep you technologically in tune with the times – critical for your marketing, attracting and retaining top talent, and ability to work efficiently. The truth is, a really good CIO/CTO will give you a real competitive advantage over your competitors. On top of that, IT spending is a significant chunk of your potential profits, and it has to be managed or can easily get out of control. Your systems allow your people to communicate, facilitate working across a multi-office company, help reduce lost work, and increase institutional knowledge. All critical for your success!

There are plenty of other people who are crucial to your success. But these four are among your most critical. Choose them wisely. Nurture them. Counsel them. Seek their counsel. Reward them. They will reward you with a successful company.

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

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