Are Your Clients Taking Advantage of You?

    In today’s post we’re sharing a podcast of an interview of June Jewell by STEVE GORDON on The Unstoppable CEO. >> Click HERE to listen   If you have a professional service firm… you can’t miss this one. Have you ever done a project and ended up making less than you estimated? Maybe even lost money? The project went off without a hitch. In fact, you over-delivered. It may be hard to believe… but that’s where you went wrong. June Jewell of AEC Business Solutions shares the dangers of “culture traps” that allow professional service firms, to flounder financially even while providing great service. June also shares a business model that gives your business a guaranteed income every month. Listen now and you’ll get straight talk from June about… When – and how – to turn down a client request Ways to guard against the dreaded scope creep How to make sure “technical” people keep profitability front of mind The training your team needs now that could save your business How to guard against the biggest “money drains” The importance of estimating – … Continued

Building an AEC Firm: It’s a Business, Not a Hobby

After 30 years as a Principal in the firm KCCT Architects in Washington, DC, Tom Twohey recently retired at the age of 79. Tom was one of the founding partners in the firm, and my client for the last 22 years. Unlike most architects, Tom had a business mind, and managed the firm’s finances as they grew from four partners in John Chapman’s house in 1983, to a successful Connecticut Avenue firm of just under 50 employees today. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to sit down with Tom recently in his South Riding, Va. home, and record the fascinating story of his career and world travels. After graduating from Berkeley in 1957, Tom got an entry level architectural job making a few bucks an hour. He worked in several places, including a period of time working for himself. This was his first exposure to business management. In 1969 while working at Rex Whitaker Allen in San Francisco, Tom was sent to Cambridge, MA to start a new office. Rex Allen was teaming with Hugh Stubbins to renovate the Boston City Hospital. That is where Tom met his wife and life-long companion … Continued

How to Strategically Grow and Retain Your Best Clients

  Trying to get work in the door can be a challenging process for A&E firms, and many may be missing the easiest opportunity of all. Getting more work from existing clients! You may assume that your clients are giving you all the work they have, but what if they aren’t? What if they don’t even know everything your firm is capable of? Are Your Business Development Efforts Strategically Focused I frequently see business development effort focused on getting new business while ignoring the greatest asset the firm has – it’s existing clients. Research done by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company (the inventor of the net promoter score) shows increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. And it is well known that it can cost 5 to 10 times more to acquire a new client than it does to retain an existing one. While many A&E firms rate themselves as having excellent client relationships, the truth is that much of that is by accident. Only a small percentage of firms actually have a documented and strategic initiative to retain and grow … Continued

Improving the Business Side of Engineering

    Today’s post is by our guest author Becky White, Vice President/Organization Development of Sain Associates, Inc. Becky has more than 26 years of project experience in transportation planning for public and private sector clients. In her Organization Development role, she leads Sain’s Strategic Planning and Leadership Training initiatives. She is a certified Professional Transportation Planner   Engineers in the private sector often complain that their college curriculum did not teach them anything about the business side of engineering. Typically they have to do that type of learning on the job. At Sain, we take seriously the responsibility to provide business-related training to our staff. Not only does that sort of training help us run a more efficient and profitable company, but we find that improved business skills help us deliver better quality services to our clients. In preparing our strategic plan for 2017, we decided to take the commitment to business skills training to a higher level. To accomplish that goal, we contracted with June Jewell, a CPA and author of Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering & Environmental … Continued

6 Steps to Find the Lost Dollars in Your A&E Firm

In my book Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Firms, I conclude with a final chapter that outlines the six steps that can guide you towards increasing your firm’s profitability. This article will summarize that chapter, as well as give you some success principles for ensuring that desired changes and improvements do not lose their momentum and die before being implemented. Change is inevitable and necessary in all businesses. If you are not able to adapt to changes in the economy, marketing, technology, and availability of human resources, you will find your profits dwindling, and your ability to retain your most talented employees diminished. So then why do 70% or more of most change initiatives fail? I argue that the foremost reason that A&E firms fail to grow and improve business operations is lack of a detailed strategy and plan to improve. This article will summarize the six steps that can help you start to identify and implement business improvement initiatives to help you find and recover the lost dollars in your business. 1. Calculate your metrics … Continued

Top Ten Reasons Change Initiatives Fail

    Over and over again I have seen major change initiatives fail. In fact, studies show that over 70% of most internal initiatives fail to meet stakeholder expectations. Whether it is implementing a new system, a merger or acquisition, business process improvement, opening a new office or pursuing a new direction, these major internal projects meant to help the company grow, improve, and thrive are derailed due to issues that could have been planned for, but weren’t. The cost of these failed initiatives, beyond the obvious inability of the business to grow and flourish, is hard dollars and time invested and lost. Hard costs include outright purchases of software, products, travel and outside services. There is also investment of time of employees and leadership wasted or misused. But there are also many “soft” costs such as lost confidence in leadership, missed opportunities or loss of competitive advantage. These costs can ultimately far exceed the tangible measurable expenses. In working with clients through the six steps to increase profitability outlined in my blog and detailed in my book, Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to … Continued

AEC Business Solutions Announces New Canada Affiliate Partner

A&E Industry Experts Join Forces to Provide Additional Training Resources in Canada RESTON, VA (PRWEB) APRIL 10, 2017 AEC Business Solutions, LLC has added a new Affiliate Partner effective immediately. Based out of Toronto, Canada, AMR Group Limited will provide the facilitation of the Find the Lost Dollars Training Program to Canadian clients. The Find the Lost Dollars Online Business Management Training Program is the leading group training course in North America teaching business skills to A&E firm professional staff. It is designed to change the mindset and behavior of technical staff in order to maximize project profitability. Delivered as a 10-week group training course combining online content with group discussions, it is based on June Jewell’s best-selling book, “Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms.” Canadian clients will now have expert coaches and consultants available to help them implement the best practices taught in the training and will benefit from the industry knowledge of AMR. June Jewell, President, AEC Business Solutions welcomes this new firm to the team: “We are thrilled to have Barry and his … Continued

5 Ways to Increase Accountability in Your A&E Firm

If there is one issue that I have heard repeatedly in working with A&E firms over the last 27 years, it is the difficulty of getting employees to fully accept responsibility – to be held accountable for their actions and performance. This issue goes so deep, that some business owners shy away from putting policies in place for fear that they won’t be able to get their employees to follow them. This practice often has the negative consequence of inconsistent quality control, compromised employee safety, and reduced project profitability. Another very damaging and frustrating result of not enforcing company policies is the constant frustration felt by your compliant managers and employees. When employees are consistently showing up for work late, not following company processes, or not responding to requests in a timely matter, it has a detrimental effect on every one of your employees. This frustration flows down to the lowest levels, resulting in a decrease in confidence in leadership, and creating dissent among those employees who are behaving well and following the rules. What is accountability and what isn’t it? Webster’s Dictionary defines accountability … Continued

5 Crucial Steps for Project Manager Success

The success of your Project Managers (PMs) can make or break your firm. Right? Considering all of the tasks that the typical project manager is required to perform, it is no wonder that many PMs get frustrated or even lose money! I did an assessment of the typical duties of the PMs that work for our clients, and here is a comprehensive but not necessarily complete list of the responsibilities that get thrown at PMs on a daily basis: Responding to RFPs and creating proposals Estimating project fees Documentation of work product Managing subcontractors Scheduling and using resources effectively Maintaining high utilization Solving client problems Budgeting and planning projects Project financial management Project quality control Management of the project timeline Reviewing and approving employee time and expenses Reviewing and approving client billing Collecting Accounts Receivable (AR) Nurturing client relationships Recruiting and interviewing new hires Mentoring and training staff Managing staff performance, and dealing with performance and behavior issues Managing contractual deliverables Avoiding scope creep and/or billing for extra services Preparing for and attending internal and external meetings Business development and networking (including events, social media, etc.) … Continued

3 Estimating Lessons to Boost Project Profits

We have all had projects that for some reason did not meet our financial expectations. Overbudget projects happen for many reasons, including bidding on the wrong projects to begin with, underestimating the number of hours needed to successfully complete the project, failing to allow for delays and problems, or just not knowing the client well enough to anticipate what they really wanted.   Not only does your firm lose the profit margin associated with budget overruns, but overruns can also have a negative impact on client relationships and cause stress for your teams as they try and minimize the losses.   A great deal of value can be gained by analyzing past project failures to understand what went wrong, and designing safeguards, processes and approvals to minimize the chances they happen again. The following are three of the most common issues with developing accurate estimates, and some structure and practices you can put in place  to turn prior past project disasters into lessons that add protection for future jobs:   1. Understand the Client’s Expectations One of the most common problems in accurately developing a … Continued

10 Ways to Prosper in the Uncertainty of 2017

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – John F. Kennedy If there is one thing we all know about 2017 it’s that we have no idea what is going to happen. This will be a year of change and possibly, more surprises. Many of us will be nervous and even fearful of making decisions and investing in growing our businesses as the uncertainty of what lies ahead can be paralyzing. My whole career has been based on helping A&E firms implement change, deal with resistance and determine next steps when uncertainty exists. In fact, I would argue that this is what architecture and engineering are all about – progress, innovation and change. Yet when faced with figuring out how the new world order will impact our companies, many executives play it safe. But is “playing it safe” really safe? The firms that are embracing the new technology focused environment we live in may have an advantage. While the cost can be high, getting ahead of the curve can be … Continued

Reinventing Your Culture to Enable Growth

  The drive for progress doesn’t wait for the external world to say “It’s time to change.” – Jim Collins, Best-selling Author, Good to Great Recently I was talking with a prospective client about challenges they were facing with their project management. They are a 50-person Civil and structural engineering firm that has been growing but not achieving the level of profitability they wanted or planned for. While their projects were mostly profitable, they were still realizing profit margins of 5 to 8% rather than the 10% to 12% they needed for sustained growth. They realized that their culture was holding them back, and told me they were trying to “reinvent” their culture. Always focused on technical skills and client relationships, they had neglected developing business acumen with the project managers and other leaders that were controlling most of the money. This is a common issue that I hear about on a weekly basis in architectural and engineering firms of all sizes. It is something you would expect from the smallest firms, but even plagues the large firms as they grow, integrate acquired firms, and … Continued

10 Tips to Survive the Next Recession

Another recession is coming. It is inevitable. Based on past history, it should be next year. But these things are hard to predict, so all I will commit to at this point is that another dip is coming. And we don’t know how bad it will be. What I do know for sure is that a lot of our clients are not thinking about it too much right now. The Architecture and Engineering industry is doing very well. Our clients are growing and hiring and profitability is up for the first time in many years. But it feels like a bubble to me and that is why I am worried that our clients are not doing everything possible to prepare for the eventual downturn. So what can you do to prepare for the next recession? I believe there are at least 10 strategies that you can focus on that will make your company financially and operationally stronger, and enable you to survive possible tough economic times ahead – regardless of whether that is next year or five years from now. Enabling a number of these … Continued

Time is Money: Improve Your Employee Time Management

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.  ~Jim Rohn, American Speaker and Author In a professional services business, the expression “time is money” is truly accurate. Your employees’ time is the greatest asset your business has. It needs to be managed with great care, as if each hour of their time is a valuable piece of inventory. Certainly, if you were selling diamonds for a living, you would build a secure storage facility, get armed guards, and buy insurance to protect this valuable asset. However, most firms do not protect their greatest asset—employee time—with this level of care. Employee time is often the most ignored asset in the company. Employees are notorious for complaining about having to do timesheets and often look at it as a cumbersome requirement. I regularly hear that firm principals, even ones who are highly billable, are the biggest violators of the firm policies, and cause the accounting department extra work and little support in trying to get employees to submit timesheets on time. Employee Time Management is Critical to Your … Continued

How to Save your Project Managers Two Hours a Week

  The main complaint I am hearing from A&E firm leaders these days is how they would love to “find more time” for their project managers (PMs). With workloads the highest they’ve been for many years, and talented and experienced PMs difficult to hire, asking PMs to work overtime has become a necessity. The average PM is working 45 to 60 hours a week, and many executives are worried about them burning out and considering leaving for a less stressful position. Multi-faceted Role of Project Managers The PM’s job is a difficult and often frustrating role. More and more responsibilities have been piled on the backs of our PMs as business has become more competitive and great people harder to find. A PM is no longer just responsible for managing the day to day and contractual obligations of the contracts, but also has to help bring work in as a seller-doer; manage the time, billing and collections of the work; and maintain happy client relationships. Many PMs face frustrations in trying to be great in all of these areas, and many others lack the business … Continued

How to Get the Most Value from Investing in AEC Project Management Training

There is a growing trend in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industries to train project managers (PMs). Reasons include the obvious goal of improved performance – both qualitative and financial. Other reasons are grounded in the many challenges faced by firms today to grow and retain staff, and develop future leaders for eventual leadership transition.  There are many different forms of “Project Management Training” being offered in the AEC industry: online training, classes, seminars, bootcamps, etc. Most of what’s offered to your project leaders and management teams is being grouped into this overall bucket of “Project Management Training” but it isn’t all the same and won’t all add the most value to your firm. Project Management Training is a broad term so when you are looking to purchase or sign up for training, it is important for you to first determine what skills you are looking to teach your staff and to understand the different types of training on the market. Not all training is focused on the same skills – some courses teach technical Project Management skills and others will teach Business Management skills. What is it you want to accomplish? What do your managers need to … Continued

Gannett Fleming Launches “Change is Good” to Spur Increased Growth

  I was fortunate to get the opportunity to sit down with Gannett Fleming President Bob Scaer to discuss the January 1st launch of their major reorganization which he has endearingly named “Change is Good.” As bad a connotation that change has in the A&E industry, Bob has managed to successfully pull off a major re-engineering of the firm’s reporting structure and process, and garnered buy-in at all levels of the organization. This was an 18-month effort that included a large number of Gannett employees, and largely driven by strategic initiatives to grow the firm over the next 10 years. It is easy to instantly get excited when talking with Bob about this huge initiative. Bob has been the major force behind “Change is Good,” and staked the future of the firm’s success on its adoption. His passion for successfully leading this enormous project is contagious – making what is obviously a very complex venture seem optimistically doable. This success would not have been possible without the total buy-in, commitment, and tireless hours by key leadership in the firm to help shape and drive this initiative. This massive reorganization involved realigning all of the … Continued

3 Reasons Why A&E Firm Owners Can’t Retire

“The exit that many leaders had thought would take place in their mid to late 50’s is now getting delayed to 65 and older.”     As I enter my mid-fifties (never thought it would happen) I have become privy to many private conversations from my age-related peers at A&E firms around the subject of retirement. Many business owners my age thought that by the time they had been working for 25 years or more in their architecture or engineering firms that they would be in a great position to retire in the near future. They are now discovering that this great dream of retiring in a warm location after the kids graduate from college is not going to be as easy as they thought. The rise to the top has not proven to deliver the golden handshake they thought they had earned by now. Because of tough economic realities and the lack of resources to take over their roles, the long awaited retirement plans are going to require much more planning, effort and financial consequences. In looking at the current state of the A&E industry, … Continued

How to Get Leadership Buy-in for Business Management Training 

  Many of our clients see the need to improve the business acumen of their project managers (PMs) and other technical staff. Even the project managers themselves, many of who have come up through technical ranks and have little to no formal project management training, are begging for it. But, it’s difficult getting firm leaders to agree to the best approach and take action. They know on some level it will probably payoff with increases in profits, higher customer satisfaction, etc. But how can they be sure? Different options include 2-day bootcamps out of the office, in-house training, bringing in outside consultants to customize training for your firm, or industry-specific online training. Each method has it’s pros and cons but most firms agree that the training needs to address the key issues that are causing dollars to get lost, causing lower than expected profits. Having trouble getting leadership buy-in for business management training?  Without leadership buy-in, support and the very important (but often overlooked) aspect of also participating themselves, your training program can fail to gain momentum and acceptance throughout your firm. Studies show that when leaders get … Continued

How to Make 3% More on Your Next Project

  In my book, Find the Lost Dollars, I focus on the impact of just a 1% increase in profits in nine areas of your business. The reason for focusing on such a small increase is twofold – first – it sounds easy. Most employees will gladly step up to help the company improve just 1%. Second, it is usually much more money than most business leaders realize. The power of just a 1% increase in profits in several key areas of the business can be thousands to millions of dollars for most A&E firms. But the reality is that most firms that focus on improving their business practices actually increase profits much more than 1%. For many of the clients we work with, we target a profit increase of 2% to 5% which is a substantial increase. Many of our clients tell us that their projects are profitable, however, they are not earning the level of profits they desire. For example, when you bid a project with a 10% estimated profit margin, but actually end up with just 6%, what happened to the other … Continued

Hillmann Consulting Finds Lost Dollars with Innovative Business Management Training Program

“We are making Finding Lost Dollars part of our culture now. That’s the way we want it, that was the whole idea of choosing the Find the Lost Dollars training. We have systems in place. We have processes. We have happy clients and are more profitable.” – Michael Gerasimenko, Controller     Hillmann Consulting, LLC is a successful Environmental and Engineering consulting firm. After all, they have been in business since 1985 and have been recognized by Zweig Group as one of the fastest-growing firms in the industry for the past 3 years. Your Property. Our Priority is their mission. Their commitment to service is clear and has proven to be one of the major cornerstones of their success. They build long lasting relationships with their clients, offering them the peace of mind they need when environmental concerns arise or the unthinkable occurs. This dedication to their clients was part of their culture, yet certain business practices regarding keeping clients happy as well as some inefficient business practices came at a high price. They were not as profitable as they desired – like many other firms … Continued

Are You Blowing Through Yellow Lights?

  As we drive along the roads each day we make split second decisions. These decisions can have zero or life changing consequences, or anything in between. A cautionary yellow light can occur when driving slow or fast, far from the intersection or right in it. Once in a while we ignore the warning signal and blow through a “risky” yellow light and pray for the best. Yellow lights occur in your work and business every day. Your employees often make similar split second crucial decisions that impact the risk, profitability, and health of your organization without realizing it. This is because we don’t like to rock the boat, question our clients when they make a request, or even follow instructions that just don’t seem right. Very often it seems much easier to ignore these questionable situations – we don’t have time, we don’t want to appear untrusting. But we all know that a yellow light can turn red at any moment. Yellow lights in business come in many forms but all have something in common – they all have potential consequences that are unknown. … Continued

Turning Around an Underperforming Team

Are you frustrated because not every team in your firm is hitting their goals or performing at their highest level? Unfortunately you may have groups that struggle to be profitable, have high turnover, or don’t embrace your firm’s culture. It can be difficult to hold remote offices and project leaders’ accountable, and even figure out what is going wrong. There are many options to attacking the problem of an underperforming team including replacing team leadership, closing a remote office, or other intensive measures. Very often an office is opened or a new team assembled in order to accomplish one of the firm’s strategic goals such as breaking into a new market, geography or client. Depending on how the group was created – from breaking off from another successful division, to an acquisition, to a key strategic hire, many things can cause a group or remote office to underachieve. Measuring Team (Under)Performance In measuring the performance of our groups or teams, we often look at revenue or profit goals, but it is also important to understand the other key metrics behind the scenes that are causing the group … Continued

6 Steps to Win on Value Instead of Price

We’ve all been there, sitting in front of that client we know we don’t want to work with. But the fear takes over. The fear of not having enough work. So we don’t walk away. We succumb to the pressure and lower our fee. Or maybe it is our best client, and he is threatening to go to one of our competitors, telling us we are too expensive. What do we say? Do we just agree and go ahead and give him a break on his estimate – know we will lose money on the job? Situations like this are happening every day and slowly killing the architecture and engineering services industry. The problem is, we really do start to believe that we can’t get the kind of fees that we need to be successful and profitable, but we still don’t know how to turn down work. It is just against our nature. As our employees navigate these difficult situations every day, small amounts of money are being given away. Rather than believe we are adding additional value to our clients’ projects, we assume we … Continued

The Elusive “Right” Conversations A&E Firms Frequently Miss Getting Right

Conversations fuel A&E firms’ success. Conversations are taking place all day long at A&E firms, yet 75% are the wrong conversations. Most conversations in your company are killing productivity, utilization rates and ultimately profits. Did you realize there are only four types of conversations you and your personnel can possibly engage? That’s absolutely true. Whether the conversations are between a team member and a prospective client, a team member and a current client, two staff members, a partner and a staff member, a manager and their direct report, there are still only four possible conversations. And, it’s vital you and your staff understand that three of those four conversations are the “wrong” conversation. By “wrong” I mean it is not a conversation that drives a desired outcome or brings to resolution an issue that needs resolving. The Four Conversations is a workplace communication model created in the midst of facilitating a workshop for a client in 2013. The four conversations are: The wrong conversation with the wrong person The wrong conversation with the right person The right conversation with the wrong person The right conversation … Continued