A/E firms are fragile things. When things are going well, they grow and make decent profits. The people who work there generally feel good and the future seems bright.
When things aren’t going well, morale stinks. Money is being lost, not made. The firm is getting smaller instead of growing. And the future seems cloudy at best, doubtful at worst.
What are some of the factors that lead to that unhealthy condition – the things that really hurt your business – and darken your prospects – and how can you avoid them? Here are my thoughts:
- Dangerous employees who do stupid things. I’m talking about the employee who risks the entire firm’s reputation to steal $1,500 worth of concrete from a client’s job. Or one who charges a pizza from Domino’s, eaten at home, to a client job just because they felt they deserved it. Or the one who is a hot head and writes hostile emails to your best client over the slightest little disagreement. These people cannot be tolerated and you’ll never have enough time to effectively police them. They need to go!
- No attention paid to marketing, so when work is needed, the pipeline has lost its “prime.” It’s so easy to delude yourself that this easy-to-get work situation will continue forever. While I am generally bullish on the business and the prospects for virtually any firm to differentiate itself and do better than its competitors, I know for a fact you cannot stop marketing. And by “stop” I mean you can’t stop spending money on marketing. If you do, you’ll have a hard time getting it going quickly enough to make things work when you need them to. Consistent marketing efforts (i.e., expenditures), are essential to your survival.
- Unhealthy partner relationships at the top. When the top people don’t get along well – or worse, are openly fighting with each other – irreparable harm to the firm can be caused. It makes everyone uncomfortable and on edge. These relationship problems crop up for any number of reasons – jealousy, perceived slights, favoritism from the senior partner, and on and on. But no matter. They must be solved or someone has to go.
- A lackadaisical attitude toward the numbers. This is always a cancer. Maybe everyone has it too good. Maybe people are getting lazy. Maybe success has come easily so no one worries about it. Maybe people don’t know the numbers to track. Whatever the reason, a rigorous discipline to track/report/analyze the numbers on how the business as a whole is performing is essential to continued success. Not having this discipline almost always precedes big financial problems.
- A lack of interest in, and attention paid to, the business by the people at the top. Sometimes the owners get burnt out. They lose their enthusiasm for the business. Some even lose their enthusiasm for life. That results in inattention. They work less. They think less. It hurts the business. Growth stops. Profits evaporate. Energy dissipates. Problems ensue!
There are other things that can hurt your business but these are the “biggies.” Any of them sound familiar to you?
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.