Firm owners need to be thinking about and planning for the huge wave of business that’s coming just around the corner.
Some of us older people who have been in this business for more than four decades remember when architecture and engineering wasn’t so lucrative. Heck, I’m so old, the first company I worked for and became an owner of in the early ‘80s had a major internal debate about whether or not it was morally right to charge more for our highly in-demand asbestos abatement consultants than the 2.6 multiplier we got for structural engineering services! Can you imagine that happening today? I cannot.
In any case, if I owned an A/E firm today I would be thinking about and planning for the huge boom I can see coming just around the corner. Not only is there tremendous pent-up demand for residential healthcare and warehouse/distribution facilities of all kinds, there is also all manner of roadway, bridge, water treatment and distribution, alternative energy, and other infrastructure projects that are badly needed.
We are likely to have a huge, more than $3 trillion infrastructure bill get through Congress in the near term. That, along with pent-up demand in so many vertical-construction categories is going to be throwing gasoline on a fire that is already burning, and create unprecedented demand for A/E services and opportunities for those owning and working in these companies.
In light of the super-boom that I can see headed our way, here is what I would be doing:
- Tune up your recruitment, hiring, and on-boarding processes so you can be ready to quickly staff up. You will not be able to capitalize on the coming boom if you aren’t ready to hire the people you are going to need. It’s already a really tight market in terms of supply of talent and it is about to get much worse. Is it realistic to keep recruiting on an ad hoc basis as you most likely have done for years? Or is it time to appoint someone in-house to manage your processes firm-wide and commit to devoting some real money to recruitment?
- Figure out what you are going to do to help keep the people that you have on your team right now, because if you have anyone who’s good at what they do they will be aggressively getting recruited by other firms in this business. What is your stated mission and vision? Do people get excited about your purpose? If not, they need to be or you will lose the best of them. Also – pay IS critical. How do you stack up compared to the firms that will want to hire your people. It is important. So are benefits, work hours, open-book management, well thought-out incentive plans, quality leadership, and much, much more. Don’t allow yourself to put off the changes you need to make to make your firm a better place to work. You have to get on it immediately.
- Staff up your marketing department to get ready for the onslaught of RFPs needing proposal and qualification document responses. Yes, I know marketing for an A/E business requires a lot more than responding to RFPs and RFQs. But those things DO take a lot of time to do properly and you already have a lot of them. Imagine if the volume went up by a factor of two or three! Better be ready for that because it very well could.
- Get your systems and processes for performing remote work finely tuned because it is going to be even more necessary than ever. I think most firms in this business did a pretty good job here over the last year, but if not, now is not the time for foot-dragging on this important initiative, at all!
- Get your credit facilities ready for unprecedented use, because your coming growth is going to require more working capital availability. That means you should get the largest line of credit you can before you need it. Growth sucks up cash. You have to hire people, outfit them, pay them, and then bill your clients for their services. That can take multiple months. This means you will need more credit available to float all that. Get it now while your business doesn’t need so much of it!
- Take a hard look at your future facilities needs and be ready to expand your space. Sure, we will undoubtedly still have a lot of people working remotely after COVID-19 is long-gone. But we will also be having meetings and other gatherings for your people that will require space. And those who do come in the office aren’t going to want to be packed in like sardines and will want more space and more privacy.
- Model your pending ownership transition to see if you are going to be able to afford the stock buybacks coming your way as turnover increases and retirements go up. This is so critical, and it is so rarely done in A/E firms it’s almost shocking. Ownership transition is going to be a bigger problem than ever compounded by firm values that will be growing off the charts.
So, what do you think? Are we headed for a boom? Will you be ready to “catch a wave and be sitting on top of the world,” as the old Beach Boys song went?
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.