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

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

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

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

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 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

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

Are You Eligible for Federal Research Tax Credits?

There exists a clear and present disadvantage within the 4 walls of your business. Your competitors are aware of the Research Tax Credit and earning an additional $50,000, on average, in tax credits that are available if you know how to get them. This is one of the few tax perks of being in the design industry.  The Federal Government has established this tax credit for architecture and engineering firms – yet most firms don’t know it exists and don’t even attempt to apply for it. Even if you have looked into the federal research tax credit in the past, some major changes were implemented to the tax laws.  Many more small businesses can receive tax credits that were not previously able to. It’s time to reconsider what working smarter and not harder actually means in this day of competition. The tax credit has been around for a long time but was never made permanent or beneficial to small and medium sized A&E firms. In January of 1981, we saw the fully winding down of the cold war and the new Reagan administration looked for … Continued

Holding Project Managers Accountable for Profitability

While most A&E firms expect their project managers (PMs) to deliver profitable projects, many have not put the appropriate measures in place to ensure that it happens. Accountability at the PM level is often vague and unstructured, which can lead to several different consequences – but not the ones we want! Part of this issue has to do with the many responsibilities given to PMs, and a lack of true visibility into what they are really doing every day. This leads to PMs being given many tasks and little guidance as to how to be successful. The other big challenge is measuring results. The majority of firms that we work with are not tracking individual performance, or worse, failing to implement consequences even if it is being measured. This has the unwanted effect of grouping good and poor performers together, and the less desired result of passive aggressive behavior on both the PM’s part and the firm’s leadership. Common Practices that Undermine Profitability Goals The following are practices that I often see in many A&E firms that undermine their ability to achieve profitability goals. If … Continued

10 Ways to Make More Money in 2016

It is hard to believe 2016 is here. I always get excited about the beginning of a new year – I look at it as an opportunity to start over, correct the mistakes of the past and achieve some of the goals that eluded me in the previous year. For most of our clients, 2015 was a good year for business. We saw a growing number of projects, expanding revenues and larger backlogs than we have seen in a long time. But with growth there are also challenges – a war for talent, increasing competition and with it, a resulting increase in salaries. More than ever we need to be innovative, efficient and run our businesses smarter than our competitors. We face many unknowns for the future including declining energy prices, fall elections and continued technology advances. Every year I attend 8 to 10 industry conferences in order to take the pulse of the industry, as well as understand the challenges that our clients face. Based on this last year and various expert’s predictions for 2016, Here are my top 10 recommendations for how your … Continued

6 Keys to Building a Profitable Culture

Increased competition in the Architecture and Engineering (A&E) industry is driving down fees and making it feel like a buyer’s market. This is putting a squeeze on A&E firm profits, and forcing many firms to re-evaluate their strategy including how they go to market, what services they offer and how they can run more efficiently. I am seeing an evident trend for firms to look at their business management practices, and how they can increase project profit margins, with a strong emphasis on project management success. The old ways of doing business are being challenged, and along with it, the long established practices stemming from the firm’s entrenched culture. So what does it mean to build a profitable culture? I have developed the following definition which can require a radical shift in thinking and behavior, and could be a game changer for those organizations willing to take a critical look at all of the long-held beliefs and practices that work against the firm maximizing its profitability. While the business school definition of corporate culture is “Patterns of accepted behavior, and the beliefs and values that … Continued

Making a Difference – One Client at a Time

We all work hard every day and hope that what we are doing is adding value to our clients. We usually don’t get much feedback about whether our work is making an impact, although occasionally something happens that puts a smile on your face and makes it all worth it. That happened to me today. Out of the blue, I received the this picture in my email. It was from my client Geralanne Maglione at Hillmann Consulting in Union, New Jersey. She knew I would love it. For the last year I have been working with the employees at Hillmann to transform their culture into one where everyone is focused on profitability. After reading my book, Find the Lost Dollars, a couple years ago, Chris Hillmann, CEO, signed up 10 of their key staff for our Find the Lost Dollars Pilot Program to test out our new online training platform. This training is focused on teaching employees business skills and creating a profitable culture in which project managers and other key employees are looking for many ways they can help increase company profits by 1% or … Continued

Leveraging the 80/20 Rule in Your Business

I recently had the privilege of spending two days strategizing with Google Adwords and 80/20 guru Perry Marshall near his home in Oak Park, IL. I was part of a 4-man intensive designed to focus Perry’s expertise in sales and marketing on how to take my business to the next level. Perry started his career as an engineer, but quickly learned that he had more value to add to business owners by helping them focus on the few things that will deliver the biggest results. Perry is an amazing coach and mentor, and I am working hard now to implement the “jewels” of knowledge I extracted from my time in the “hot seat.” I found Perry a couple years ago when I read his book 80/20 Sales and Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Working Less and Making More. This book gave me a completely different paradigm about understanding how to target buyers that are most interested in the products and services that we are selling. Whether you are selling auto parts, NFL game tickets or professional services, there are many people that will spend a few … Continued

{Guest Post} The Power of 1%

  We have all heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder” and yet I would venture to guess that few of us really understand how to do just that.  There is however, a very simple concept that demonstrates the critically important issue of how to constantly improve efficiency and effectiveness. June Jewell, a professional colleague of mine, has written an excellent book, ‘Find the Lost Dollars’ that encourages firm leaders to enhance the best practices of their firm and with it, the profitability of their projects and businesses.  The book is filled with excellent, easy to understand recommendations for improving the way we go about the daily tasks involved in running an organization, regardless of its size.  And, as good as all these recommendations are, for me, it’s the clarity of each chapter that provides insight to working smarter. Not to oversimplify the effort and time it takes to learn how to discipline oneself, about anything, June has nonetheless brilliantly introduced logical, easy to comprehend method and means for enhancing a firm’s revenue, which might otherwise be overlooked or lost due to the lack of … Continued

How Accountable Learning Can Improve Financial Results

    In looking where to invest limited dollars these days, it is critical that every penny spent provides a return on investment (ROI) above what other investments could deliver. Every dollar spent on one part of the business takes away investment in another. Each employee hired must contribute to the bottom line of the business, and measuring how they contribute can be a difficult yet critical aspect of successful business management. Improvement in employee skills can provide a significant improvement in profitability if combined with a program of business management improvement and learning methodology that ensures that the employee is employing their new skills on the job. Profitability by Project Manager can be measured – yet many firms don’t track individual performance, or teach project managers the skills necessary to deliver profitable jobs. Where money gets lost is often elusive – it is often in many small places every day. From poor estimates, to scope creep – not recovering contract extras – to poor control over subcontractors– money gets lost in many phases of the project lifecycle. What is missing in many cases is … Continued

New Industry Conference Launched – Aimed at Increasing Profits in Architecture & Engineering Firms

  Industry leader AEC Business Solutions, LLC is launching a new conference aimed at helping Architecture and Engineering firm leaders to improve business management practices with the primary goal of increasing profits.   The inaugural AEC Profitability Summit will take place September 24-25, 2015 in Tyson’s Corner, VA. For the first time ever, the entire conference will focus entirely on profitability in A&E firms and utilize proprietary templates and other tools to guide attendees towards development of a 12-month plan to improve their firms. A distinctive line-up of industry experts will offer fresh content and specific hands-on solutions to put participants on the road to increasing profits. “We expect this Summit to be the beginning of a one-year journey for each participant, that will allow them to learn and implement several key initiatives,” states June R. Jewell, CPA, President and best-selling author. “Our Summit is an excellent opportunity for forward thinking leaders interested in taking their firms to the next level by transforming employee behavior.” Planned sessions include: “Leveraging Your Strategic Plan for Improved Firm Performance” where Ray Kogan, AIA, and President of Kogan & Company, along … Continued

3 Steps to Increase Your Fees Now

In a recent survey of our clients across the U.S., one of the most pressing concerns noted was how to raise fees. While the economy is improving, faster in some sectors and geographies than in others, fees for Architecture and Engineering firms are not increasing across the board. During the recession from 2007 to 2010, most firms saw their average project revenues and multipliers decrease, along with corresponding hourly rates. Most of this was caused by competition, a reduction in available projects, and a glut of available experienced talent. Now we face a period of increasing volume of work, a potential shortage of human resources in some areas with resulting growing salaries, yet fees have not increased at the same pace. The average firm fears “not winning” and so they sabotage their own success by reducing fees in order to win work. So how do you get out of this vicious cycle? Here are 3 steps that I have practiced myself and witnessed personally among several successful architecture and engineering firms over the last several years that can allow you to transform your firm into a … Continued

Your Profitable Journey – Kickoff a Transformation in Your A&E Firm

  As I speak to our Architecture and Engineering clients around the country, the common goal is always how to maximize profits. The daily demands of running an architecture or engineering firm can be overwhelming. And the day to day demands of growing while still maintaining “squeezed” profit margins is becoming harder to accomplish. This is where the AEC Profitability Summit can give you specific tools to implement significant change over the next 12 months to increase your bottom line. Join us on a journey to find an extra 1% to 3% profits in your business. How many times have you spent valuable time and money attending a conference or seminar and come away thinking, “Hmm, some interesting info, but now what do I do with it?” All the business and financial management theory is great, but once you get back to your “day job” it is difficult to implement significant change without a plan. It has happened to me and my clients more times than I’d like to admit. When our team at AEC Business Solutions first started talking about putting together the upcoming … Continued

Too Busy to Work ON Your Business?

Too Busy to Work ON Your Business? 3 Steps to Ensure Important Change is Happening   Many of you have probably read or heard of Michael Gerber’s best-seller The E-Myth which introduced the concept of working ON your business not in your business. This how-to guide for entrepreneurs popularized the recommendation that successful business owners need to focus on running and improving their business operations rather than doing the work themselves. This is a common problem in the A&E industry where most business owners are technicians and often love doing the work themselves more than managing their business. This practice can be to your detriment, however, if not enough care is given to ensuring that the business’s goals and strategic objectives are met, and the often challenging process of change is implemented. As I work with A&E firms to help them improve profitability, the number one challenge with firms achieving their goals is that they are not getting the important but non-urgent initiatives completed. These are the types of internal projects such as business process re-engineering, improving the use of systems, establishing new performance management / accountability processes, developing better project management practices and skillsets, and … Continued

Guest Post: FTLD Book Review

Today’s post is by our guest author Scott D. Butcher, FSMPS, CPSM. Scott is Vice President of JDB Engineering, Inc. and President-elect of the SMPS Foundation. He has more than two decades of A/E/C marketing experience and is a Fellow of the Society for Marketing Professional Services.   BOOK REVIEW OF FIND THE LOST DOLLARS: 6 STEPS TO INCREASE PROFITS IN ARCHITECTURE, ENGINEERING, AND ENVIRONMENTAL FIRMS   It’s not often that you read a book and think, “Where has this book been?” Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Firms by June R. Jewell, CPA, is one of those books. If your firm happens to be rolling in profit and doing everything exceptionally well, there’s really no reason for you to read this book. But for the rest of us—that is, almost of all of us—this book will serve as a critical desk reference for years to come. In the A/E/C industry, we have this modus operandi whereby we reward exceptional technical people with positions in management. Unfortunately, they rarely have any training, much less formal education, in business management. And while project management is often … Continued

8 Ways to Make More Money in 2015

I can’t believe it is already 2015. The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to gain a different perspective and a more effective business management strategy. While we are all in business to make money, it is amazing that we persist with business practices that do not optimize our employee productivity, project profits, or marketing success. Change is hard for every firm. We all suffer with the same issues – fear of and resistance to change, limited time and resources, a fast changing economic and technology environment, and limited expertise in financial and business management. With our economy improving and firms growing again, there are more challenges in trying to ensure that our growth is profitable. Some firms are better run and more profitable than others. I believe even the most successful firms can run better. In my book, “Find the Lost Dollars,” I show the financial impact of just a 1% increase in your win rate, utilization and project profit margin. Do you know what your 1% is? This is the perfect time to put a plan in place to make … Continued