When you look at principals of firms in this business who are really happy and successful – who have growing, profitable companies – you’ll see certain common traits that emerge. Here are a few of them:
- They think it is possible (and okay) to do well in this business. It really all begins here. When I started teaching business stuff to fifth year architectural students I became painfully aware of a fact – most of them had been told they could not do well in this business, that it would basically require a vow of poverty from them. How terrible that is for young people to be programmed to think that real success wasn’t even possible! So much in life is a function of what you THINK is going to happen. You have to believe you can do really well or you never will!
- They don’t give it away. The tendency of most people in this business is to give their time and expertise away at too low of a price in order to stay busy. Yet, that could be one of the biggest mistakes you could ever make! There’s nothing quite like working like a dog for low pay. Better to have less work but when you do work you get paid well. The rest of your time you can spend on making your business better.
- They have a really good handle on their finances. This is so important and so much more than project cost reports! It is understanding the firm’s balance sheet, having good mechanisms in place to project future cash flows, and a whole lot more. You cannot succeed in business without really understanding your numbers and performance metrics for every aspect of the firm.
- Their employees have good morale. Nothing good is going to come from having unhappy employees! Happy employees treat each other better and even more importantly, treat your clients better. You just can’t establish the real value of happy employees – but they are worth a lot to you.
- They don’t see marketing as an overhead cost to be minimized. So many small operators or owners of truly stagnant A/E firms think all overhead is bad and since marketing is a part of overhead, their goal should be to keep it minimized. The successful firm owners don’t look at it like that. They see brand-building marketing expenditures as “off balance sheet investments,” i.e., ones that may not be reflected on your balance sheet yet have huge value to your bottom line.
- They spend money on recruiting and training. You want to be the best but spend no money on finding and developing the best people? That makes no sense at all. The successful companies are investing in both because they realize that this is an extremely tough market for us to hire people in right now.
- They can make decisions quickly. Not everything “goes to the BOD” for a final decision. Slow decision-making hampers more companies in this business than anything else. It seems like everything has to go in front of the board, and then the board is too big and meets too often as it is already. You don’t need to join hands on every single decision. Determine who can make what decisions and let them run with it!
I could go on but am out of time. There will be more later!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.