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

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

Hot Topics at the 2015 Zweig Awards Conference

  For the 7th straight year I attended the Zweig Industry Awards Conference held at the beautiful Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. This event, previously held as three separate conferences, recognizes the Hottest Firms, the Best Firms to Work For, and Marketing Excellence in the A&E industry. This is one of my must-attend events every year, and my main reason for attending, besides presenting and networking with the most successful A&E firm leaders in the industry, is to gain valuable insight that I can re-purpose for my clients. As usual, I met lots of great people, like Gary Dahms, CEO of T&M Associates in New Jersey, Ted Bumgardner, President of Xpera Group in Solana Beach, CA, and Mike Fischer, Senior Vice President at LHB in Minneapolis. I always take lots of notes so that I can identify all the hottest topics at the conference and then do follow up research so that I can provide more solutions to the challenges faced by our clients. I have consolidated the myriad of topics discussed into four primary subjects that are front and center in the A&E industry, … 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

{Guest Post} 6 Steps to Holding Employees Accountable

  Ineffective communication is the root of all evil. Recent research has shown that the average employee in a professional services firm wastes 40-minutes per day due to ineffective communication alone. In the average company with an average payroll this equates to approximately $5,220 per employee per year in lost productivity. And, that is just wasted time due to ineffective communication. If you add low trust, low morale work environments with low levels of employee engagement, and the lack of consistent communication around managing job performance and behaviors, that $5220 per employee per year in lost productivity and under-performance goes up three-fold. There are a myriad of places that ineffective communication can be found – within teams, between employees and their supervisors, with vendors, subcontractors and clients, and between departments. Because there are virtually unlimited ways communication leads to low productivity and performance, companies struggle with getting a finger on exactly what to do and where to start. Many professional services firms struggle with holding employees accountable. This issue is often grounded in deep cultural foundations over many years. This problem not only affects financial … Continued

Top 10 Topics Discussed at the ACEC Large Firm CEO Roundtable This Year

In April, I attended the Large Firm Roundtable at the ACECNational Conference to find out what pressing issues are top of mind for our clients. ACEC defines a large firm as 200 to 500 employees, and we work with a lot of firms this size. These roundtables are mostly attended by CEOs, Presidents, and other top level executives in engineering firms. This is a brief outline of the questions asked, topics discussed, and some of the concerns these firm leaders expressed: 1. Do most firms have an in-house counsel? – There seemed to be some consensus that at a certain size, usually between 200 to 300 employees, most firms will bring in counsel to help them minimize risk and implement better contractual practices. Several leaders expressed how valuable this had been to their firm, and recommended doing it sooner rather than later. 2. Challenges of doing business in multiple states – Everyone agreed that it is getting harder to do business in multiple states. From compliance and taxation issues, to some states making the barriers to entry so restrictive that it impedes competition. They discussed … 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

AEC Business Solutions Partners with ACEC National to Provide New Educational Resources to the Engineering Industry

AEC Business Solutions, LLC is proud to announce that they have met the rigorous requirements to be able to provide continuing education credits and educational resources for Professional Engineers through the Registered Continuing Education Program (RCEP); administered by American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). The Find the Lost Dollars Business Management Skill Development for AEC Professionals online platform is based on the content in Find The Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms, authored by AEC Business firm President, June R. Jewell, CPA. The training provides Architectural & Engineering firms with the tools they need to successfully onboard new project managers as well as train emerging leaders. The training courses are proven to change behavior by adding goal setting and exercises that both engage employees and help them practice the behaviors your want them to learn. The platform introduces a new and innovative approach to business management training for AEC Project Managers. AEC Business Solutions also has signed an annual sponsorship agreement with ACEC and will be participating as an exhibitor at both the ACEC 2015 Annual Convention in Washington DC, 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

You Asked and We Listened: Find the Lost Dollars Training Courses Are Here!

Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms, authored by June R. Jewell, CPA was published in 2013.  Since its release many readers asked how June could help them take the book from information to transformation, recovering the much needed lost dollars in their firm. Many firms were developing their own training curriculum around the book and buying multiple copies for their staff. It soon became apparent that the subject matter in the book is being used by firms across the country for onboarding new project managers as well as training emerging leaders in the “business of an AEC business.” AEC Business Solutions, LLC was formed to answer the call to take the book further and help even more firms be successful! Our first project was the design of an online business management training program providing step by step instruction and measurable goals to implement the Find the Lost Dollars framework. It’s our goal to take the business management best practices delivered in Find the Lost Dollars, and prepare future leaders of AEC firms to maximize the win rate, utilization and project profitability. … Continued

Why I Wrote Find the Lost Dollars

I was accidentally “thrown” into the architecture and engineering (A&E) industry in 1989 when I worked for a CPA firm in charge of growing their management information systems (MIS) practice. My job was to help our clients determine their requirements and find the best accounting system for their business. Up to that point, I had worked with generic software systems that were focused on accounting features, functionality, and reporting. But when one of our clients, Gorove/Slade, a successful transportation consulting firm in Washington, D.C., asked me to help them find a new system to manage their 50-person engineering practice, I soon learned that vertical software, designed specifically for the A&E industry, was a much better approach. The difference was in how projects are handled in the software and the need to understand profitability by project rather than just departments or profit centers, which is the focus of most generic accounting systems. In the process of evaluating the top four or five systems on the market at that time, I helped them select the Wind2 system. We picked Wind2 because of its flexibility and deep focus … Continued

Implementing Accounting Software is Like Moving to a New House

If you have moved your home in the last few years then the pain of making the move is probably still fresh in your mind. For some, it is so painful that they pledge to never go through the process again. For others, the memories die away, and the reality of the next move is a hard reality check. For most business owners and accounting professionals, the thought of switching from one accounting system to another is just as daunting. However, if you look at the entire system implementation process from the same standpoint as a move, with a focus on the end result, you will find the workload and to be a little easier to manage. When moving to a new house, you need to go through the process of understand what you have now and what will fit in the new space. Some house moves are downsizing, where you will not have as much data (household stuff) and features (think of granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances). Other moves involve moving to a larger, more feature rich space. In either case, you … Continued

Architecture & Engineering Book, Find The Lost Dollars, Wins Global eBook Award

Reston, VA, August 22, 2013 – Author June R. Jewell, CPA, recently announced that her e-book, Find The Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms, won a Silver Award in the Business Non-Fiction category for Dan Poynter’s Global eBook Award. “I am honored to receive this award and thrilled that my book is adding value to hundreds of business people. This is an important topic and it is exciting to be recognized with a Silver medal.” — June R. Jewell, Author, CPA, and Profitability Expert After working in the Architecture & Engineering (A&E) industry for over 28 years, Jewell has learned how to uncover thousands of dollars of wasted expenses and hidden revenues.  In the book, she explains how to eliminate time consuming, ineffective business processes to leverage people, resources, and technology and increase profitability. Jewell describes the challenges that business leaders face, shares business management best practices, and reveals a six-step process that promises to help a firm find those lost dollars. The book has received positive reviews from top industry experts including Frank Stasiowski, Founder and CEO of … Continued

SMPS Build Business 2013 – Dream Big!

As in past years, the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) provided the perfect stage for marketers of all levels and from all over the US and Canada to learn, share and connect at their Build Business 2013 annual conference from July 31st to August 2nd in Orlando. This group of marketers from the architecture, engineering and construction industry celebrated a year’s worth of collaboration and hard work from SMPS chapters and their leaders. The tag line of this year’s event was Dream Big and the educational program made up of keynotes, workshops and breakout sessions definitely supported this theme. Over 750 came to hear experts speak on a variety of topics ranging from blogging and content marketing, social media, and of course, proposal writing best practices. But with over more than half of the workshops and breakout sessions focused on leadership of all types, I recognized a change in the focus of the marketer, and their role in helping their firms succeed. I recently posted a six-part series of articles focused on helping marketers in the A&E space to take a more strategic approach … Continued

The 5 Top Risks to Project Profitability

These days projects are hard to get and project profit margins are declining. With more competition nationally and from overseas firms, it is critical to manage projects with precision, and utilizing best practices for financial management. With some focus on those areas of your business where your firm is weak, and improving the systems and processes around these areas, you can start to increase your profit margins, and reduce losses from waste and inefficiency. In working with hundreds of A&E firms over the last 24 years, I have identified five areas that can cause projects to not perform as they should. As I discussed in my book, Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Firms, the job of a project manager (PM) is tough. They are given many responsibilities that they have never been trained for and are often relied upon to carry the success of the firm on their backs. By looking at the underlying problems that plague many firms, and improving the operational bottlenecks that slow work down, and cause budget overruns, you can gain a … Continued

Five Steps to Increase Profit Margins on Professional Services Projects

With competition tougher and margins smaller for professional services firms, we need to have every advantage to ensure our projects are profitable. Many things erode the margins on our projects including bad estimates, scope creep, poor resource management and issues with clients. By putting a few processes in place to eliminate the areas that give project managers and their teams the most frustration, we can control project costs more effectively, and start to realize greater financial success on our projects. Five Steps to Increase Profit Margins In working with hundreds of professional services firms over the last 23 years, I have found that firms that follow these five practices have seen the most success in their project management results: Create a solid process for developing project estimates Good estimates are the critical first step in assuring that your projects will be successful and make money. However, many firms do not have a standardized process for creating project estimates. If you are using excel for your estimates, there is a good chance that your managers are using old rates, inconsistent language, and poor assumptions in their forecasts. … Continued

Do You Have a Strong Project Management Culture?

There were many trends discussed for engineering firms at the national American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC) national conference last month in Washington, DC. I always pay close attention to these discussions in order to make sure I am on top of the latest issues, and prepared to address the concerns of our clients as they navigate the ever-changing business environment. One of the catch phrases that I heard a couple times was the idea of a strong project management culture. Since the topic of firm culture is one I have studied and written about, I decided to try and define what it means to have a project management culture and identify criteria for how do you measure the strength of your project management culture. What Does it Means to Have a Strong Project Management Culture? At it’s essence, the culture of project management in engineering firms today is varied based on the size of a firm and its ownership makeup. Older firms with older owners tend to be set in their ways, and slow to change or adopt new technology. Younger firms who are more … Continued

Find the Lost Dollars Successfully Launched

May 2, 2013 was a very exciting day for me as my new book, Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Firms was launched at a party at the Tower Club in Vienna, VA. I was able to celebrate the evening with my children, family, friends, and many loyal clients who have supported this project from the beginning. The saying, “it takes a village” was never truer than it has been for me as I have gone through this journey of becoming an author. Click here to see some of the pictures of the party. It takes many months of hard work, research, and learning to write a book. I like to say it is like giving birth; there is the conception, long gestation period and finally the book arrives into the world! The good part is that I am not 30 pounds overweight, and I am able to sleep at night as opposed to what happened when my kids were born. The most gratifying part of this entire experience has been the support I have received from so … Continued

Q&A with Author June R. Jewell, CPA

Why did you write this book? In working with hundreds of A&E firms over the last 23 years, I have seen patterns in the way that they approach their business management practices. I have developed many best practices that when applied, can save a firm tens of thousands of dollars. I wanted to put all of my knowledge into one place to give A&E firm owners, and their future leader, the tools to help them improve their businesses and increase project profitability. What surprised you the most as you researched or wrote it? I was surprised to see just how many firm owners and their employees can relate to the culture traps that I identified in Chapter one. These cultural issues tend to manifest themselves in bad business practices, and reduced profits. By looking at the firm’s culture, you can start to gain an understanding of how it got that way and identify where changes need to be made. What do you think will surprise readers the most? Many of the A&E firm leaders that have reviewed the book already asked me if I was … Continued

Find the Lost Dollars Launch Team

We wanted to extend our gratitude to the phenomenal group of individuals who are helping to make Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms an Amazon best selling book!   The following people graciously volunteered to be a part of the Find the Lost Dollars Launch Team. I wrote a post about this and we picked the following  people to form the team. They are doing an amazing job!   Team Member Company Twitter Facebook Karen M. Andrews Bowie Gridley Twitter Facebook Jay Appleton, PE Big Sky LLC Twitter Facebook Rachael Padavich River Cities Arnold Schneider R. V. Anderson Associates Twitter Facebook Josephine Evans Lehman Smith McLeish Sarah Thorp Lantz-Boggio Architects Twitter Facebook Ronald E. King, Jr. Paciulli, Simmons & Associates Facebook Eric Christensen Ethan Alan Group Twitter Facebook Greg Gearhart WGK Engineers Facebook Ted Maziejka IPRIST Sherry Sweetman ABHA Architects Tim Burkett Biohabitats Twitter Facebook Mark Smith Craddock Cunningham Architectural Partners Julie M. Bierlein ABHA Architects Ashley Tucker O.R. Colan Associates John Nelson Masking Networks Twitter Martha Shotwell Koontz Bryant Twitter Facebook Danica Lance Ebert & Baumann Consulting Engineers Larry Kirk AES Consulting … Continued

Profitability Expert June R. Jewell Raises Awareness of How Corporate Culture Is Stealing Profits from Business Firms

For Immediate Release Profitability Expert June R. Jewell, CPA, Raises Awareness of How Corporate Culture Is Stealing Profits from Business Firms Vienna, Virginia– April 26, 2013 A company’s corporate culture could be its own worst enemy, according to profitability expert June R. Jewell, CPA. The core values and beliefs of your workforce can adversely affect your bottom line. The key is being aware of costly culture traps that are holding your business back. If management is not aware of cultural beliefs of employees, they can turn a blind eye to contracts, budgets, and other project management best practices that affect profitability. “The culture of your firm directly impacts your profitability. How you look at money, deal with your financial management, and manage your staff directly translates into policies, processes and behaviors that cause projects to go over budget. Without a healthy focus on profit, an owner may find it difficult to grow the business.” June R. Jewell, CPA, Author In her new book, Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Firms, June exposes the ten cultural traps that are … Continued

5 Ways to Love Your Business Again

Do you remember when you first started your business? The excitement was overwhelming, and the adrenalin was flowing. The main thoughts that occupied your mind were around getting new business, and how to make ends meet. But as your business grew, you realized that you now had another role – CEO! No one trained you for this role, and you had to learn by on-the-job training, and making mistakes. Most of us have a technical background and detest the administrative duties of running our business. If you are like me, you have made some effort to get better at business management, but still find yourself caught up in the day-to-day details of running the business. As you grow, you bring in people to help you. Eventually, you may start to dread the monthly responsibilities that include dealing with people problems, disgruntled clients, and tax notices. As a technical or creative person we believe we have to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the business in order to be successful. In his NY time best-selling book, The E-Myth revisited, Michael Gerber discusses why many business … Continued

How to Manage Your Business Like an American Idol Competition

There are many popular reality shows on TV but American Idol has consistently ranked on the top of the charts for many years. Besides just the high quality singers, and celebrity judges, Americans are watching because of the desire to see unknown young people become stars. We also enjoy watching it for pure entertainment. When watching Idol the other night, I started thinking about how I could run my business to get the same level of loyalty, excitement, and involvement that American Idol creates. I realized that running a singing competition and running a business require the same type of organization, marketing, and resources. In making the comparison, the same components are required to be successful. I feel that by looking at your business this way, you may be able to bring another level of excitement to the table that you had not considered before. By looking at the following factors that have made American Idol successful, you can start to see some ways that you can potentially enhance your business practices to build the kind of brand loyalty that makes it so popular: Singers … Continued

Using Four Metrics to Analyze Performance of a Professional Services Firm

Sometimes the day to day demands of running a professional services business can be overwhelming, especially for creative and technical entrepreneurs and project managers that do not have a financial background. Trying to stay on top of administrative responsibilities, hiring and managing staff, and keeping clients happy can make it difficult to really understand how the firm is performing. Many leaders also struggle to understand and analyze reports and financial statements, and determine where to focus their attention to ensure success. While there are many important metrics and reports that you can look at each month to gauge your company’s health and profitability, you can get a pretty good understanding of the performance of the business by looking at just four metrics – the Win Rate, Utilization Rate, Project Profit Margin, and the Average Collection Period (or Days Sales Outstanding). By looking at just these four key performance indicators, you can simplify the process of analyzing how projects are being executed and managed, and help your project managers and leaders focus their attention where it will get the most benefit Win Rate The Win Rate … Continued