AEC Coach: To get somewhere big, act small

July 2014 » Web Exclusive
Mark Goodale

It can be easy getting swept up in the excitement of stating a big growth goal and the idea of “going for it” — pursuing new markets, making acquisitions, opening regional offices, and even going international. I’m all for setting long-range goals; painting the picture of what a company will look like years from now is one of the healthiest things a firm in the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry can do. But when all the big talk is done and the PowerPoint charts punching holes in the clouds finally disappear from the screen, the only way to really start moving the needle is to act small and consistently nail the fundamentals. Sustainable growth is built on the solid execution of business basics. If they aren’t yet in place in your firm, get them tamped down before you light your rocket to the moon.

Here are a few places to start:

Keep the cash coming — You breathe air; your business breathes cash. You can be profitable and still go bankrupt if your cash flow seizes up. If you have a collections process, enforce it with your accounting department and managers. If your process doesn’t already include it, have your accounting department call clients 10 days after a bill is sent to make sure it was received and to answer any questions your client might have. And send those invoices electronically when possible. It’s amazing how many firms still rely on snail mail for billing. Finally, forecast cash-flow on a weekly basis — project what cash will come in and go out during the next four- to eight-week period. This will allow you to see where you need to speed up collections and/or slow down payments to avoid dipping into your line of credit. To fund growth, collect before you borrow.

Control costs, but don’t strangle investment — As the economy makes its comeback and the design and environmental industry gets back on its feet, stay disciplined about costs. You don’t need the brand new office, the fancy car, or anything else that does little else but feed an ego. If money is burning that big of a hole in your pocket, invest in your golden goose by increasing spending on marketing, technology, training, recruiting top talent, and other areas that will make the firm more successful in the long run.

Just win, baby — Maintain communication with your best clients. Find out what is critical to their success and draw on every bit of expertise your firm possesses to meet their needs. Cross-selling will be critical for achieving meaningful growth, so educate your seller-doers on everything your firm does. If your organization structure creates barriers to cross-selling for any reason, tear it down and build a new one that rewards individuals based on firm-wide performance. To reach new clients and reinforce your firm’s expertise and value to existing clients, start a high-impact, informative e-marketing communications program. It astounds me that more firms don’t do this. It flat out works!

Deliver — These days, most clients keep A/E/P and environmental consulting on a short leash; therefore, you must execute — every time. If your firm is sloppy about project initiation, closing out a project, or anything in between, assess the places value is actually produced in your firm, find the waste, and stamp it out. Set a clear expectation that managers and staff are responsible for continuously identifying problems and improving how work gets done — and train them on how to do it.

Play nice — If there is unhealthy friction within your leadership team, put an end to it. You cannot afford to hold onto anyone who puts his or her own agenda ahead of the team. To grow the firm, your partners need to be able to engage in healthy debate and make good decisions fast. And they need to present a confident, unified front to the rest of the firm to inspire great performances and boost morale.

When you talk big, the folks in your company depend on you to back it up. Act small and you will.

Mark Goodale is principal with Morrissey Goodale LLC in Newton, Mass. Morrissey Goodale LLC is a management consulting and research firm that serves the AEC industry. He can be contacted at mgoodale@morrisseygoodale.com


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