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 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 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

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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

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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 For more information, email 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:


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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

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

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The top leader’s REAL job

242When seeking to define his or her position, a top leader should consider these 7 vital responsibilities.

Because top firm leaders (CEOs, presidents, managing partners, etc.) probably have a better opportunity to define their own roles than those who aren’t in leadership roles, one of the big questions every leader has to ask him- or herself is: “What is my REAL job as a leader?”

Here is some of what I think it is:

  1. Defining and communicating the mission for the organization. Why does the company exist? What does it stand for? Why is it a worthwhile organization to devote your time to or to give your valuable business to? The answers to these and many other questions related to purpose are the domain of the top leader. If you can’t do it, who is going to? The person who can give life to these questions should be the top leader.
  2. Defining and communicating the vision for the organization. What are you trying to become by some point in time? How large? Doing what for whom? The vision is so essential. We routinely see a lack of clarity for what the firm’s vision is and that, in turn, paralyzes every single decision management has to make – large and small. The top leader has to define the vision, sell it, and continue to communicate it, over and over.
  3. Getting the right people in the right roles in the organization. This also includes recruiting. Who is on the team and what position are they in? Takes a continuous effort to analyze and make the changes needed. New hires, reassignments, and firings – all part of the top leader’s job and one that takes constant attention to do it well. And by the way – even though not everyone is (obviously) a direct report, it does not mean you should be laissez faire when it comes to who works in the firm in any job.
  4. Determining basic resource allocation issues. What will the firm spend money on? Will you buy other companies? What should the marketing budget be? Where will you grow? What will you invest in? Where the money goes is a really big part of the job of the top leader of any firm in this business.
  5. Confronting “uglies.” This is everything from a non-productive principal to a non-paying client to a bank credit line that’s out of compliance to a problem employee who is alienating everyone else – whatever the worst things are facing the firm. The top leader HAS to do this. No one else can or will.
  6. General cheerleading. You gotta be up when everyone else may not be. Constantly selling the future – why it’s good to be there, why the firm will do well in spite of any obstacle – this is your job. Optimism, general cheerfulness, and ability to see light at the end of the tunnel even in the midst of major crises – the top leader has to have this ability in his/her toolbag.
  7. Setting an example. Always the job of the top leader. People will do as you do –not as you say. So work ethic, communication speed, willingness to do dirty work when necessary, compliance with company policy, self-sacrifice, and so much more all have to be exemplified by the top leader if you expect anyone else to model those behaviors.

There’s a lot more … so much more. But I’m out of space. See you next week!

This article origIssue # 1133 – The Zweig Letter

Published Jan 04, 2016

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO at Zweig Group. Contact him at

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Things usually go as expected

zweig-001In work and in life, our past experiences, relationships, and the information we consume contribute to our outcomes.

You know – in life, or in business – things pretty much happen as you expect them to. That may sound crazy to some of you, but I firmly believe it. If you expect to fail, you probably will fail. Conversely, if you expect to be wildly successful, you probably will be that.

  1. The programing we’ve had. Our parents are the ones who program us. If they think we can be successful and tell us so, it affects our thinking. We won’t settle for less than we should. They help us develop an expectation. Hopefully, they ALSO help us understand the work ethic, diligence, and sacrifice that go along with the expectation and help us realize our individual potential as well – because those things also have to be there. By the same token, if our parents tell us the world is evil and we will be beaten down by the man and never get ahead, that, too, will probably happen. Not so say that people cannot ever overcome their programing. Some do.
  2. The people we surround ourselves with. We all pick winners or losers as friends. And then we also pick those who bolster us up and support us or those who knock us down and defeat us. The people we surround ourselves with have a huge impact on our individual ambition level and sense of possibility. Being with the right circle of friends will have a huge impact on any of us. Pick them closely!
  3. What we read and watch. Inputs DO matter. Too much of any negative information is bound to influence our thinking in a negative way. That’s why one has to balance their input of news so as to stay informed but not be tricked into thinking the world is so evil and hostile it makes no sense to try to do anything. Ditto for books and movies that are all about conspiracies, murder, and crime. Too negative. We all desperately need positive messaging – things that inspire us. History, biographies, nature, art, and other sources of inspiration should all be on our reading/viewing list versus just negative information on terrorist attacks or senseless murders or child abuse.
  4. Our life experiences. They either confirm that things will turn out good in the end – or bad. Small successes lead to larger successes. Luck plays a part. Where you live – the quality of your schooling, success (or lack of it) in athletic pursuits, early relationships, student government, small business ventures, early jobs and more all make such a difference in terms of whether or not one “expects” good or bad things to happen to them. Of course, some people use negative events to make them stronger – however, most don’t.

I’m thankful for the great parents, friends, education, and life experiences I have had. What’s important for all of us as leaders in A/E/P and environmental firms is how we deal with the people who work for and with us. Are we painting the picture of how good things could be – and then reinforcing that idea through our own actions as role models? Are we setting the expectations high enough and meeting them ourselves?

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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What’s your “big idea” in M&A?

Although Zweig Group’s M&A Survey offers a variety of responses to the question “why are you considering an acquisition”, there are, essentially, only two reasons that firms pursue inorganic growth. These reasons are to either boost the acquiring company’s current performance, or to redirect your company from it’s current business model.

1. To boost the acquiring company’s current performance. 

Firms that fall under this general motivation might be interested in pursuing companies that also occupy a niche within the acquiring company’s market. The overall objective is to acquire firms that enhance the firm’s current revenue stream, or, less frequently, firms that influence the cost structure of the acquiring firm.

This model works best when the acquiring company has a solid operating model and is ready to expand that model by bringing its knowledge or expertise to other firms that it “understands.”

A large MEP engineering firm acquires a smaller MEP engineering firm in a nearby market that the acquirer has had difficulty breaking into – this is an example that will boost the acquiring firm’s current performance. The acquiring firm here will actively seek out targets that are motivated for growth, with strong leadership that recognizes the opportunity that a large firm brings to its existing staff.

Strategic planning is a great way to identify the specific complementary attributes that can support inorganic growth as a way to boost the acquiring company’s current performance.

2. To reinvent your business model and redirect your company. 

The second motivation is a less common one. This motivation reflects a fundamental change in a company’s operating model. This model is a great way to protect your firm from commodization.

This type of acquisition occurs, for example, when an architecture firm that specializes in repetitive roll-outs for big box retail stores acquires a small, boutique firm with high design in the retail sector. The new attention to design detail is an investment that the larger firm is making to avoid becoming dependent on one or two large big box stores. The trade-off is that the efficiencies realized through the acquisition might be questionable. How much additional revenue can the two firms generate after the join forces? How do we make “1 + 1 = 3″? The buying firm will likely need the key rainmakers and practice leaders to stay engaged for longer after the closing to help ensure that business stays stable as the model changes.

This is a challenging motivation, because there is inherent risk in taking on a new operating model, but it is one of the more successful “arranged marriages” that we see in this industry. It’s also more difficult to price an acquisition target that is outside of the buyers’ immediate purview.

By the way, the most common reason that firms are considering an acquisition, according to our 2015 M&A Survey? Entering new markets, followed closely by geographic expansion. Are you ready to develop an acquisition strategy? Call us at Zweig Group!

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A little ADD isn’t all bad

HeartsThe work and talents required of an A/E principal means that some traits associated with attention deficit can be useful.

Experts have claimed that as much as 35-40 percent of the adult population has some degree of ADD (attention deficit disorder). While the last 20 years has been the time of treating everything with medication (i.e., drugs), I’m not convinced a little ADD is a bad thing – especially if you work as a principal in an A/E business.

Here’s why:

  1. You have to shift gears quickly. With so many projects, clients, and other people both inside and outside of the firm to deal with – not to mention the continuous barrage of emails, text messages, and phone calls – you better be able to quickly address whatever it is that’s coming at you. And multi-tasking – writing an email, talking on the phone, and holding a meeting with an employee, all at the same time – no problem!
  2. You have to be wary of threats coming from all directions. The ADD brain is a more primitive one and is better geared to survival. Throw in just a pinch of paranoia and you’ll be better equipped to deal with the contractors who are trying to make you look bad, the clients who don’t want to pay what they owe you, and the myriad of other bad things that COULD happen to you if you weren’t looking out for your business continuously.
  3. You have to move fast. The need to stay busy and the accompanying hyperactivity helps you get a lot done some times. Staying billable is easy when you work a 60-hour week. Juggling all the things you have to juggle – selling work, recruiting people, training underlings, solving problems on projects, and firm management stuff requires you to move quickly or you won’t make it.
  4. You are geared for what the famous, ‘80s-era McKinsey management consultant, Tom Peters, called MWBA (management by wandering around). Staying in constant motion throughout the office helps you stay on top of what’s really going on with the projects and the people in your firm.
  5. You also occasionally have to hyper-focus. When it’s down to crunch time on a major proposal or project milestone, sometimes you need to shut out the world and lock in on one single task. The individual with an ADD brain can do this when it has to – to the exclusion of all else, of course. But this trait can help you get things done when absolutely necessary.

Time for me to get back to finishing a proposal, writing up a construction cost estimate, doing a bunch of paperwork for our bank, getting ready for a 9 a.m. meeting, and returning about 1,500 emails and phone calls. Maybe a little ADD isn’t so bad? Or am I just rationalizing?

MARK ZWEIG is the founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

© Copyright 2015. Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

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Fostering new ideas

Having fun and encouraging creativity can lead to the generation of fresh, new business ideas.

IMG_2699I have long felt one of the problems with the A/E/P and environmental consulting business is that we have so few new ideas – really new ideas – to fuel the success of our businesses. So many firms seem to be plodding along – with owners who are doing the same thing as the other owners of firms in this business – all hoping the economy holds up and they can sock away a few bucks so they can make it through the next recession.

That’s sad. Because I KNOW that most of us could do a whole lot more with the resources we have if we just came up with some new ideas and then actually implemented them!

We have smart people. We have smart clients. We have design and technical abilities. We have offices. We have cash flow. We have cash and borrowing capacity. But we aren’t using all of this very well. If we were, we’d all be a helluva lot more successful.

The process of firm (and life) transformation has to start with some new ideas. Where will they come from? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Start reading Inc. Magazine and other similar publications. Why? Because they are focused on privately-held, growing companies and will get you outside of this industry! Learn from people outside of this business. The most recent issue has so many articles. One on a fellow who took his fashion company from public to private. Another on a restaurant design firm where all owners are equal owners and work together with undefined roles and it actually works. Another article on a guy who decided to pay each of his employees at least $70,000 a year. Another on someone who was considering selling their company for as much as $4 million but then realized they’d be taking a huge pay cut they couldn’t afford and may have other options to work less but keep it. One on someone who outsourced his operations to the Phillipines and pays his workers $4 an hour and he and they feel great about it. I could go on but I strongly recommend getting out our industry and learning about some others!
  2. Force your managers to come up with new ideas. Try having all them do their business plans this year with more than their typical sales, revenue, and labor expense forecasts. How about asking each unit to come up with three new things to sell and three new ways to market? Then make them present their concise plans in an entertaining format. Give out prizes for the best ideas and presentations.
  3. Make your office environment a lot more fun. Maybe you need to have a free lunch for no reason. Let your people teach a class on anything they want to teach it on. Have lots of sugary snacks. Get an office sound system and try out a “DJ for a day”from your employee group. Go on a field trip to an interesting new business or somewhere fun. Mix it up.
  4. Be open to new ideas. Never say “never” when someone makes a suggestion. Let it age. Ask questions. Try small experiments to see if it works. Test it on other people. Don’t be quick to say “no.”
  5. Mix up the roles. Tinker with your organization structure and roles. Just because “Sally” has always been the bill collector doesn’t mean she has that job for life. Just because “Joe” is in charge of I.T. doesn’t mean he’s right for the job today. Inject some young people and new grads. I hate to tell you but youth and naïveté may actually lead to more creative thinking some times.

Hopefully if you do these things you’ll be energized yourself and maybe you’ll be more inclined to come up with some new ideas. Your next challenge will be implementation. Ideas by themselves are worthless without action. But more on that another time!

MARK ZWEIG is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at

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Working in an entrepreneurial firm

More so than the everyday small business, organizations that aim to grow must employ specific types of people.

Not every A/E or environmental firm is an entrepreneurial firm. But, if you’re reading this, odds are yours might be.

There are some big differences between ordinary small businesses or privately held companies and entrepreneurial firms. Growth is what it’s all about. Entrepreneurs want to create value in their businesses, not just extract from it to live a particular lifestyle.

These differences affect the types of people who will survive and thrive in an entrepreneurial firm. If you are running an entrepreneurial firm – not just a small business – here are some qualities I would look for in employees:

  • People who don’t fear change. Growth requires change. Most people don’t like change because change creates stress. You need people who thrive on it and get bored if things aren’t changing. Entrepreneurial firms are constantly changing, and their people have to change with it.
  • People who don’t want to be put in tightly defined roles. When you work for a growing company, you have to be flexible and willing to do the job that needs doing. Those who prefer a fixed, crystal-clear set of duties and responsibilities will probably not like working in an entrepreneurial firm where they could be called upon to help capitalize on a new opportunity or to put out a fire at a moment’s notice.
  • People who see work as fun and have their heads in the game, vs. those who believe work-time and fun-time need to be separated. Nothing drives me crazier than to send an email to someone at 5:02 p.m. and not hear back from them until 8:31 a.m. the next day: It tells me they don’t really have their heart in their work and just want to separate work from personal life. That’s great in a government job or a small business, but it won’t work in an entrepreneurial, high-growth environment, where engagement is everything.
  • People who have a desire to constantly learn new stuff. If someone doesn’t want to learn and just wants to do the same thing every day, they probably won’t be happy in an entrepreneurial firm. The constant change requires constant learning. New people, new software, new clients, new projects, new locations, new everything. Entrepreneurial firms require their people to constantly learn and evolve as the organization does.
  • People who can think long-term and who can delay immediate gratification. Entrepreneurial firms probably cannot afford the same pay that a stable company might provide. Growth sucks up cash and requires constant reinvestment. The long-term rewards may be greater, but the short-term rewards could be less. You need people who understand this, but then you also need to “make good” on that implicit promise.
  • People who can handle the idea that not everything they do or try works out, and that’s OK.Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial firms do a lot of experimenting. Different services, different ways to do things, new people, new offices, new technologies, new marketing tactics, companies acquired, etc. But not everything they do works out. Along with constant experimentation, you’ll pick up a certain number of failures. That’s OK, as long as none of them tank the company. You need employees who aren’t going to be crushed by the occasional failure.
  • People who had their own business. If you have never had your own company – no matter how small – you’ll have a harder time understanding the motivations of owners who want to grow their business. It helps to hire people who have already experienced some of this firsthand. They’ll fit in better.
  • People who crave excitement and identify with the success of the company. Being part of an entrepreneurial company is FUN. You need employees who need to have that fun, want to be a part of that success, and take pride in it. They show where they work on their Facebook pages. They brag about the company to their friends. They wear the company T-shirts on weekends. They never refer to the company as “they” or “them” and instead have pride in the firm’s success and see why that is good for them.

Think about these points. You want an entrepreneurial firm? Hire the right people who are likely to fit in!

MARK ZWEIG Is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at

If you want to find out more about recruitment and retention policies that work, check out Zweig Group’s brand new Recruitment & Retention Survey.

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Getting the ball across the goal line

shutterstock_220112881There are probably many reasons why people have trouble completing tasks; here are some ways to solve the problem.

It seems to me, a common problem we all encounter these days – either with ourselves or people who work with us – is the ability to actually FINISH something. It’s a widespread issue, and one that’s rampant in the AEC business.

Why is this? Is everyone too busy to finish the last 2 percent of work? Do people just get bored and move on to the next thing? Or, is it just that it seems like the other guy’s job?

Whatever the cause, here are my thoughts on how to solve this problem:

  1. You need to be sure YOU aren’t the offender. It is one thing when someone else doesn’t finish up like they should. But it’s another when you, as the leader, don’t. It sets a horrible example. And it’s the same story you have heard many times: Lead by example.
  2. Make it the PM’s job. The PM is ultimately the one who HAS to finish. When he or she doesn’t, it could be that the PM hasn’t been functioning like a PM because the PIC is “too strong.” He or she might expect the PIC to wrap up all the details that need taking care of because the PIC has been doing more than they should have all along. Then, when it comes to final details, the PIC might not think that it is his or her job. Check into this.
  3. Lay out clear expectations. While I have never been a big fan of job descriptions, I do think there should be some clearly understood roles for everyone in the firm, particularly when it comes to projects. Who does what should not be a mystery. And what “finished” means must be defined. Not everyone has the same standards. Make yours high and let them be known to all.
  4. Celebrate endings! We’re done! Let’s make a big deal out of it! Let’s be happy! Too often the end of the project comes along and the only reward is another one just like it. The lack of finality and closure is alienating and hampers job satisfaction. Why cheat your people from this satisfaction? Make sure they finish, and then celebrate it!
  5. Counsel offenders. It’s ok to be patient with people, but those who routinely never complete tasks need to know you recognize this behavior pattern and that it is not acceptable. If you never confront it, then how can you blame someone for acting this way?

I don’t know about you, but I have little use for those who never complete what they start. I don’t have the time to pester them too many times. If I have to, I might decide they aren’t worth fooling around with, and go to someone else!

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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What about us? The Future for Staff of a Selling Firm

M&A really isn’t all about the valuation and the payout terms. For sellers, there is usually a strong emotional attachment to the company that they’ve devoted years, resources, and their career to growing. A concern that we hear often from our sellers is how their employees will be treated after closing.

M&A-Infographics3-1-01The popular media depiction of M&A, much like the media depiction of almost anything else, is highly dramatized. Movies depict ruthless corporate raiders slashing the staff at acquired firms to boost short-term earnings, while the former owners sit in the corner, dumbfounded at the hostile takeover they’ve just experienced.

The truth – at least in the A/E/C industry – is significantly less Hollywood-worthy. Instead, this industry consists primarily of what would be defined as small and mid-sized, privately-held businesses, with very few large, publicly-traded firms. Many small and mid-sized businesses see their staff as family, recognizing the employees who have stayed with the firm through good times and bad. This appreciation is true on both sides of the table – for both buyers and sellers.

Buyers in this industry generally realize that the major asset in the A/E/C business is the people. Buyers are almost never just seeking to buy your receivables and client names. They need people on the ground who can continue to drive business and make their investment valuable. The seller’s staff hold the client relationships. They have the collective firm knowledge that makes the company attractive to the buyer in the first place. The selling firm’s staff understands the culture of the local market and the unique design challenges that the buyer will face. Perceived redundancies, such as accounting or other administrative roles, should be investigated to determine the extent to which the position overlaps with a similar job at the buyer’s firm. Despite the potential consolidation savings, many buyers choose not to capitalize on the opportunity for a variety of motivations.

For all of these reasons, it is important to build time into the transaction schedule to develop an employee retention strategy. Both buyers and sellers need to make time to properly announce the transaction internally to their own staff. The announcement should occur shortly prior to closing, and the message should be crafted and delivered jointly to ensure consistency and openness. Staff on the seller’s side need to hear that this ownership transition will bring them new opportunities for growth and development, as well as future job security. Key employees may need to be enticed with a retention bonus. Any employees that will not need to be retained should be given as much advance notice as possible as well as a severance package, if appropriate.

Sure, buyers care a great deal about the profitability, potential synergies, and expanded lines of business that the acquisition is intended to achieve. But most buyers also realize that their best opportunity to realize the benefits of the transaction is with the full support of the selling firm’s staff from day one.

Click here for a free report with more data on the current M&A climate:

More M&A Data

Jamie Claire Kiser is Director of M&A Services at Zweig Group. Contact her at

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Things are changing …

From the early responses to Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Survey, we can already see differences from last year, but there’s still time to have your data included.

A lot has changed in marketing approaches, budgets, and attitudes in the past couple of years, even in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry. Zweig Group’s 2015 Marketing Survey is still open for participation, so any recent statistics presented in this article are very much subject to change as more people give us their input. The following is an interesting preview of things to come and a look back at our quickly changing industry.

  • Most firms in the industry will already be thinking about or working on their 2016 marketing plan. Both the 2014 Marketing Survey and the most recent statistics indicate that firms in the A/E/P and environmental industry most often create their plans at least three months in advance of its use.In the previous version of Zweig Group’s Marketing Survey, the vast majority of firms reported creating a formal marketing plan. Though more than 80 percent of respondents to this year’s survey report creating a marketing plan, one respondent stated, “Not having a formal marketing plan or budget is disappointing. I think people want to see concrete evidence of what’s working.”Indeed, staff today are more marketing savvy than ever, and younger staff members in particular want to know what is bringing in results and what marketing investments are being made by the firm they work for.
  • The most common element firms include in their plans is a firm-wide marketing budget, with 44 percent of firms reporting this. In this year’s survey, already more than half of all firms have this element on their marketing budget. In 2014, 43 percent of firms said they planned to increase their marketing budget over the next year, but the overall predicted change in spending was a measly 1 percent increase. In 2015, so far, expected increases were reported by 50 percent of all firms in amounts ranging from 2-25 percent.
  • In 2014, personal selling and relationship building was the most successful marketing strategy. So far in 2015, most firms are reporting a combination of website, social media, and relationship building as their most successful tactics. Firms are reporting spending an average of 7.3 hours a week on social media, most often to stay in touch with clients and get insights into their needs. In the 2014 version of the Marketing Survey, nearly one-quarter of respondents said they were unsure if their clients were even using social media.
  • Marketing, research, and marketing insights are driving the industry. In 2014, just over half of marketing directors participated in the business planning process. So far, 88 percent of firms say their marketing director participates in the business planning process. Last year, close to one-third of firms reported they conducted market research to learn more about the market and clients or potential clients and about an equal amount used research for strategic decisions. This year, so far these numbers have nearly doubled.

Please remember this survey is still open, so many of these numbers may change. If you’re interested in contributing your views to the 2015 Marketing Survey, go to Survey participants get a 65 percent off coupon code that can be used on the full-price of any Zweig Group survey.

Download a more extensive report on this data here:

Click here to get the report

CHRISTINA ZWEIG is a Zweig Group marketing and management consultant. Contact her at



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Though it has been around for a while, email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; make sure you’re using it effectively.

Email is not going away for those of us in the A/E business – even though, I confess, I didn’t really see the need for it when Fred White first told me about it years ago and suggested we both get AOL accounts.

Email is one of those tools that we all use and assume our employees know how to use. The problem is they don’t always know how to use it (properly).

Here are my thoughts about email and how to make it better:

  1. Email isn’t always the best tool. Sometimes you have to pick up a phone and call someone. Or get up, walk down the hall, and go see them. Or leave your building entirely and go see them. Not everything can be done via email. Put a bunch of non-confrontational, introverted design professionals together and they will email the person in the desk next to them before having any other type of interaction. Not good!
  2. Emails can be misinterpreted. This is one reason you need voice and face-to-face conversations. If you are too brief, someone could accuse you of being terse. If you don’t use exclamation points, someone might think you aren’t excited (enough). There are many other signals one sends out when communicating other than what they actually say. Email doesn’t have these other signals.
  3. Signatures should be uniform within a firm. Everyone’s email signature should be the same and include their name, title, company name, logo, main number, direct-dial extension (if you have them), and cellphone number. The idea is to make everyone accessible to those who need them.
  4. Clean out your inbox every day. Show me someone who forgets to do things and I guarantee that they have an inbox that has thousands of emails still in it. It’s a discipline. Process immediately. The fact that we spend more time with our cellphones on email than our regular computers doesn’t help. I delete everything I can as it comes in and then go back and file the rest later (as in soon after!).
  5. Email folders really help. Get organized. Get file folders. Then you can find what you need to later. And name your folders consistently so this doesn’t become a jumbled mess, which is as bad as an over-full inbox.
  6. Respond quickly! Speed is everything today. Twenty-four hours is not nearly soon enough. A few hours might be too long. A few minutes is better. Lack of timely response implies lack of interest.
  7. Out of office assistant is bad. I’ve said it a million times. Do NOT let your people use this. It connotes poor service when you are telling the world you aren’t accessible.
  8. Acknowledge when someone responds to you. If you ask a question of someone and they respond, or if someone tells you something you need to know or gives you instructions, acknowledge it. Say “thanks, “ “got it,” or something similar. Saying nothing means “you didn’t get it” or aren’t thankful or don’t care or, worse, didn’t like the response you got. All of these are bad.
  9. Employees need training! Don’t assume your people know ANY of these things. Who would’ve taught them? You have to teach them, or they won’t know. It might seem hard to believe, as these things seem like common sense, but, as they say: “Common sense is not so common.”

MARK ZWEIG is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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Is Your Firm Giving Project Managers the Right Type of Training?

Training for Project Managers

Zweig Group’s 2015 Project Management Survey found that a little more than half of firms provide either mandatory (23%) or voluntary (33%) training to project managers. That leaves 44% that don’t provide project management training. When respondents were asked, “What is the most important thing your firm can do to improve project management?” the second most common answer was “training/mentoring” (23%). Only “staffing/accountability” scored slightly higher (25%).

5 graph 10.26

Types of Training

The most common types of general skills training are “preparation of project budgets” (51%), “preparation of fee estimates” (47%), and “client relations” (46%). The most common types of firm-specific training are “how to open a job number” (63%), “preparation of project budgets” (61%), “invoicing procedures” (58%), and “policies on charging time to projects” (57%). As for business development, the most common types of training are “client relations” (41%), “communication” (38%), and “none” (38%). (Respondents were asked to select all answers that applied for each of these questions, so percentages totaled more than 100.)

Challenges for Project Managers

Although “client relations” ranked as one of the most common types of training for both general skills and business development, “managing clients’ expectations” was the most common response (29%) when respondents were asked about their biggest challenges as project managers. “Managing my time” was the second most-chosen response at 18%, followed by “staying within budget” at 15%.

The biggest complaint of PMs? “Lack of time/workload” at 23%, followed by clients’ needs at 14%.

Opportunities for Improvement?

While “client relations” was the third most common type of general skills instruction, only 46% of respondents received training on this topic. Firms that don’t provide guidance on client relations may want to consider adding it to their training plans; those that do might consider giving additional education on managing client expectations.

Another area where firms might want to increase training: “Time management”, the second most common challenge for PMs, with only 29% receiving general skills training on the topic. When asked about the types of general skills training they needed most upon becoming a project manager, nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) chose “time management”, while another 75% picked the related topic of “scheduling.”

“Preparation of budgets” is the most common type of general skills training, and the second most common type of firm-specific training, but “staying within budget” is the third most common challenge for PMs. “Fee/budget preparation” is also the type of training PMs say they need the most, at 76%. While most firms provide some type of training about creating a budget, firm leaders may want to consider whether additional training about sticking to a budget could be helpful.

Zweig Group’s 2015 Project Management Survey contains a complete look at the data used in this article, plus a wealth of information about other project management issues, including PM structures, project management software, business development, and much more. Data is broken down by firm type, firm size, region, and growth rate so readers can easily make comparisons to firms most like their own. Zweig Group’s 2015 Project Management Survey will be released November 2, and is available for pre-order now at

Download a free two-page summary report on the 2015 Project Management Survey here:

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