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 business management improvements will also help your firm to grow and thrive even if there is not another downturn (but there will be):
1. Get a steady flow of work in the door
I know this is obvious but it is crucial in good times and bad. And I’m sure you are already working very hard to make this happen. But sometimes when times are good and we have too much work, we lose focus on expanding our client list, diversifying our services and broadening our client base. Improving our seller-doer results through sales training and processes is a great way to improve competitive results.
2. Retain your best people
Retaining your best staff is critical to firm success, yet I don’t think that the industry overall is very innovative in rewarding, developing and recognizing our top performers. A few trends I’m seeing in this area are broadening the net of ownership in the firm, investing in developing future leaders, and improving the performance management process and approach. A more professional approach to employee success will help to keep employees satisfied and committed.
3. Differentiate your firm
Breaking the commoditization trap is something that many A&E firms are struggling with right now. Even though work is plentiful, pricing your services based on the value you offer clients is still a new concept for the industry. By exploring where your firm is better and saves your clients’ money, you can start to put together messaging that is different than your typical competitor.
Read more in 6 Ways to Differentiate Your A&E Firm.
4. Explore different strategies
Many firms meet on an annual basis to discuss strategy but either don’t explore new options, or fail to implement the ideas from these retreats. Deciding to pursue a new strategy – whether it is a new line of business, client industry, different services or geography, requires sticking with a plan and refusing to pursue work that is not in line with the new strategy. Make sure your Go / No-Go process is in line with your strategy and communicated to your entire team.
5. Improve automation
In the event of another recession, being efficient and automated will give you a competitive advantage and allow you to be leaner. Technology is cheaper than human capital, and optimizing the use of the systems you have already invested in is a great start. Those firms that use their systems, and especially those systems that improve project management, already have a competitive advantage.
6. Improve business management processes
Many firms are still doing things the way that they have been done for years. Unless you are constantly improving how you manage your business, you are falling further behind and will experience waste. Inefficiency comes in many flavors including redundancy, non-integrated systems, spreadsheets and inconsistency between offices, and teams. A business management assessment is a great first step to understanding weaknesses in business operations and provide a clear path for improving.
7. Operate as if the recession has already happened
Many firms wait until it is too late to make the needed changes to their spending, hiring and investing practices. By operating as if work is hard to get you will position your business for more fiscal responsibility and lean operations. The only caveat to this advice is to ensure that you continue to invest in areas of the business that will give you leverage and improve project performance.
8. Focus on client relationships
Your existing clients are your source of future success yet not all clients are created equal. Make sure you are focusing on those clients that provide the most profit and growth potential for your company. Many firms do not intentionally focus on how to grow their business through existing client relationships. A client retention plan for your best clients is a strategic way to ensure your business will thrive during an economic downturn.
9. Create financial rituals
One of the challenges that many A&E industry leaders struggle with is holding project managers (PMs) and employees accountable for hitting goals and achieving financial results. When I explore further, I often see a lack of financial rituals, including regular meetings, to keep focus on metrics and financial progress. Your teams are very busy and often we fail to pay attention to key numbers until it is too late. A regular rhythm of meetings and reporting will create better habits and serve to change your culture to one that will benefit you greatly during a recession.
10. Train staff to improve project performance
Many firms lose money on projects because of all the gaps identified above that lead to scope creep, inefficiencies and lack of accountability. By training PMs and other technical staff about the importance of profitability and financial best practices, you can set your firm up for better financial success and eliminate costly budget overruns.
By increasing the operational and financial performance of your firm, you can make your firm more valuable, efficient and better prepared for any economic climate. Whether the next recession is big or small, long or short, having a lean and operationally optimized business will go a long way towards long term survival and growth.
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