President of Choice One Engineering (#1 Best Firm Civil for 2016), a 37-person firm based in Sidney, Ohio.
By Liisa Andreassen
“We have to be out there selling ourselves as much to our clients as to our next employees,” Hoying says.
A conversation with Matt Hoying.
The Zweig Letter: What’s your philosophy on fee/billing and accounts receivable? How do you collect fees from a difficult client?
Matt Hoying: Our philosophy is that happy clients will pay sooner. We have an aggressive aging goal, and all of our project managers know it. Each project manager is responsible to follow up on accounts receivable that are greater than 30 days, to understand the reason for the aging, and what we can do to make them more likely to pay quicker the next time. It’s really about the relationship you have with your client, and so with difficult clients, we have to find the opportunity to build that relationship further so they want to pay.
TZL: What’s the recipe for creating an effective board?
MH: We have a board of advisors as our outside board. We look for board members who are not related to our company or business, so the emotion is taken out of their input. When searching for new members, we take a good look at our strategic plan and business model canvas to see where we could use the most input in the next couple of years to reach our plan/goals. We then go in search of people who have succeeded with those issues with their own companies.
TZL: Is there a secret to effective ownership transition?
MH: The secret is to have a plan, and to make that plan known to everyone in the company as soon as possible. With clarity and direction, the entire company can then work towards making the transition successful. For example, we had a transition plan for president that we made people aware of seven years ago. This past fall, that transition occurred smoothly because everyone had been working towards that transition. There were no surprises, no loss of knowledge (experience yes, knowledge no), or interruptions in the day-to-day activities of the business. There is also no jealousy or hurt feelings of employees who felt like they were passed up for the position.
TZL: How do you go about winning work?
MH: Through building relationships. Yes, we have to submit proposals and RFQs/LOIs, but we win work because clients enjoy working with us. We go out of our way to extend our culture to our clients so that they feel comfortable working with us and choose to do so time and time again.
TZL: What’s the greatest problem to overcome in the proposal process?
MH: Making ourselves stand out as not only capable of the technical aspect of the project, but also highlighting the intangibles that we can bring to the project and project team. Getting the client to see the value in what we can bring, in terms of the specifics, that other firms may not be able to is important and challenging.
TZL: Once you’ve won a contract, what are the “marching orders” for your PMs?
MH: Get to know the client. Understand how they like to operate and find out what we can do to make their project the least of their worries. Once we know that, we can better schedule our work, assign our design team, and carry out the scope of the project successfully.
TZL: How does marketing contribute to your success rate? Are you content with your marketing efforts, or do you think you should increase/decrease marketing?
MH: Lead generation is certainly important to our success rate. We have an excellent in-house lead generation team that really understands who we are and who our clients are. With that understanding, they are able to prepare our desired messaging and deliver that message in a way that will be effective to our clients.
TZL: What has your firm done recently to upgrade its IT system?
MH: We have recently outsourced our IT to a company that is experienced with helping companies with multiple offices run as one cohesive unit. This investment in a new server system allows us all to work congruently and also gives people the flexibility to work remotely.
TZL: What’s the best way to recruit and retain top talent in a tight labor market?
MH: We have to be out there selling ourselves as much to our clients as to our next employees. We attend career fairs and get involved with local schools to attract our talent early. We are able to sell not only the work we do, but also the culture we have and who we are. People want to be a part of something that is focused on more than just the bottom line.
TZL: What’s the key benefit you give to your employees? Flex schedule, incentive compensation, 401(k), etc.?
MH: Treating everyone like owners. Nobody here gets special treatment or a more flexible schedule than anyone else. Additionally, we not only share our financial numbers with employees, but we educate them on what the numbers mean and how they can impact those numbers, as well as provide them a share in the success of the company through bonuses and ownership opportunities.
TZL: How do you raise capital?
MH: Employees who have been with us for three years have the opportunity to buy ownership in the company. We set our profit sharing plan up to encourage employees to make the investment.
TZL: What’s your preferred strategy for growth, M&A or organic? Give us a synopsis of how your firm effected growth in the recent past.
MH: We prefer organic growth. Culture is extremely important to us, and we feel the best way to control that culture is to grow organically. Many of our full-time hires have been co-ops with us for three or four terms, which gives them a chance to get to know our culture, and us an opportunity to gauge their fit within that culture.
TZL: What’s the greatest challenge presented by growth?
MH: Ensuring that we are enhancing our culture. We can’t just maintain our culture, otherwise it will begin to erode. As we grow and add more people, we need to remain focused on how we realize the benefits of our great culture though our company is different than it used to be.
TZL: What’s your prediction for 2017 and for the next five years?
MH: We are anticipating 2017 to be another great year for our company and industry because the first quarter has been a record one for Choice One. We are planning for continued growth through the next five years and are excited to see how our company will change in the process, as we continue to extend the Choice One culture to more clients and employees.