Know your purpose, intent, and philosophy of business, but be willing to change if it becomes prudent to do so.
As an owner or leader of an A/E firm, you have a tough job. You have the responsibility of making good decisions in a very unpredictable and unstable environment. It’s hard to predict exactly what is going to happen so you can prepare your business and people for it.
You have to tune into what is happening in the organizations (clients) you serve, along with what is happening with the overall economic environment. Here are more of my thoughts:
- Knowing what is happening with your current clients is most important! In uncertain times, you have to know what is happening with your clients. That means you have to get on the phone or Zoom or whatever you and your clients prefer to talk to them about their business. What problems are they having? What do they have coming up? What services are they buying and what do they think their future needs will be? Are they needing something you don’t currently provide, but could if you wanted to? Can you get any commitments from them that will solidify your relationship now, such as an annual service agreement, open-end contract, or contracts for specific projects?
- Knowing what is going on with the clients you want to work with is also important. You can’t just focus on current clients even if they are the most important to you. Some of your current clients may drop off. That means you will need new clients to replace some of that lost business. And there could be better, more profitable clients to serve. So see my questions above. Add to them a question or two on who these potential clients are working with and what they like or don’t like about them, and what, if anything, would motivate them to change horses. You never know, you may pick up a new client in the process!
- Knowing what is happening in your client industries is essential, too! This is one of the (many) reasons we have been so fond of market sector-based organization structures for A/E firms for years – so there is a person or place in which to concentrate knowledge about an industry. You may be able to educate your clients/potential clients on industry developments even they weren’t aware of, which makes you more valuable to them.
- Tuning in to local, regional, and national events is also critical. Read and watch the news from multiple sources. Stay informed. The market landscape is shaped by current events. Everything that happens is either an opportunity or threat. Figure out which it is and act accordingly. Only a fool is blissfully ignorant. Not a good place to be if you want to be a trusted partner/advisor to your clients (where you are most valuable), instead of just someone who does tasks for them as you are told to do (where you are least valuable).
- Deciding what your response as a firm is going to be and then implementing all that needs to be done is your responsibility! Someone has to process all of these inputs and make decisions on how the firm will respond. Will you pour on the gas and go full speed ahead with new key hires and expansion of capacity and additional investments in your business? Or will you slam on the brakes and hunker down with reduced overhead? Fundamental strategy and action is the role of top management, so do your job.
- Monitoring what is happening and adjusting accordingly is also your job. Just because you set a course doesn’t mean it can’t be adjusted. Be smart. Be flexible. Know your purpose, intent, and philosophy of business, but be willing to change if the information you are getting indicates that it may be smart to do so.
So, there – I summed it all up in my last sentence. Be smart; your survival and prosperity – and that of your employees – depends on it!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.