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

christopher consultants Finds Lost Dollars in Just 10 Weeks

For over 33 years, christopher consultants (christopher) headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia has provided civil engineering, surveying, land planning, urban design and landscape architecture in the mid-Atlantic region. Founded by Christopher Brown (Chris) in 1982, the firm currently employs over 100 professionals and has five divisions serving a range of different industries. In 2011, Bill Zink took over as President and leader of the firm, and has been working hard to develop strategies to take the firm forward. He realized that though the firm had a long history of success, the firm’s culture needed some  adjustments in order to deal with 21st century economic pressures. As many firms in the A&E industry are now experiencing, going through a founder leadership transition is a slow and delicate process. It is important to protect the elements of success that the firm has built on for so many years, while at the same time, moving towards a workplace culture where technology is critical to growth and millennials are becoming a larger part of the workforce. Bill wanted to bring new ideas, transparency and increased focus on financial results to … 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

6 Ways to Differentiate Your A&E Firm

  Are you feeling the pinch of reduced fees and increasing salaries these days? You are not alone. Pressure on profit margins is causing many architecture and engineering firms to revisit their strategy and look for ways to differentiate from their competition. Competing against 5 to 10 other firms for work with smaller margins is not what any of us envisioned when we started our businesses, and developing a strategy to combat this state of the market is paramount to developing a profitable firm. The firms demanding the highest fees are the ones being sought out by their clients rather than the typical situation where you must fight to win every job. To reach the top of the fee ladder these days takes a specific focus on creating a brand that sounds, acts, appears and IS different from everyone else. Here are six ways to start the process of reinventing your firm to be able to garner the higher fees that the most successful firms are getting:   1. Develop a New Strategy The first step in the process is to figure out who you … 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

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

Why I Want My Firm to Be Like Tesla

    I started a new business last year which gave me a unique opportunity to figure out my new brand – how I wanted AEC Business Solutions to be viewed and perceived in the marketplace. It is very exciting starting a new business after 25 years doing the same thing. The new business is different, and the new image and “look and feel” of our online presence, messaging and other marketing needs to be aligned with how we want clients and potential clients to evaluate us. I gave this a lot of thought. I started with what I didn’t want: I didn’t want us to be the same as we were before I didn’t want us to look like our competitors I didn’t want to say the same old thing that everyone else is saying Then I tried to consolidate how I DID want my new firm to be branded: I want us to be relevant for the future I want us to be innovative and cool I want to offer more value and measurable results I want to have clients that are raving … 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

{Guest Post} Develop a Competitive Edge: Bring Your Marketing Team to the Table

    Competition in the A/E/C industry is fiercer than it’s ever been. Firms have emerged from the recession leaner, meaner and laser focused on bringing the most value to their clients. It’s no longer just about the best design, quality or service – because every firm provides this (or at least promises they do). Marketing teams must dig deeper to truly discover our firms’ competitive edge. What does this mean? It means in order for marketing teams to be successful in this endeavor, they need to be linked to all aspects of firm management: financial, operations, and HR. Here’s what this looks like: Financial The marketing team needs to understand the firm’s full financial picture in order to successfully pursue the best projects. What is your firm’s profit margin on a design-build project vs. a full-service CMGC project? On a full-service project, what percentage of fee is your firm getting vs. the consultants? If you’re teaming with another firm, what’s the typical split in work and fee? Do project type and location influence these aspects of a teaming agreement? A firm’s marketing team should … 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

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

Developing Superstar Project Managers

In looking at the operations of an Architecture or Engineering firm, it is evident that the project manager (PM) role is the key to success. In addition to their normal project management responsibilities, most PMs are also involved in many other aspects of firm management – from marketing and sales, to human resources (HR), recruiting and hiring, time management, billing, and collections. They are doing all of this outside of their basic functions of running projects and working with clients. Why have we overloaded our PMs with so much responsibility, and how can they be successful without specific skills and training in each of these areas? We often describe and even measure a “superstar” project manager, by rating technical skills and their ability to keep clients happy above profitability. I argue that for a PM to be a superstar, they need to deliver profitable projects, and help the firm to grow and prosper financially. Ultimately, if the client is happy but the project loses money, the project manager is not a superstar. This practice has developed because most architecture and engineering school curricul ums focus … 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

AEC Business Solutions Announces Launch of Innovative Training Platform with Three Days of Launch Events

Leading Provider of Profitability and Assessment Solutions for AEC Firms Launches their Proprietary Platform During Three Days of Events Spanning Two Cities.   AEC Business Solutions, a leading provider of profitability and assessment solutions for Architectural, Engineering, and Construction firms is pleased to announce the launch of their new online training platform and business management assessment. To introduce the platform to the A/E/C community, AEC Business held three days of launch events from April 28-30, 2015 at The Pyramid Club, Philadelphia, PA (April 28th) and The Tower Club, Vienna, VA (April 29th) followed by a live webinar event on April 30th. The launch events gave AEC executives an opportunity to acquire information and learn about the new “Find the Lost Dollars” online training platform and business management assessment – which helps firms increase profitability and save a significant portion of lost revenue. June R. Jewell, CPA and President of AEC Business Solutions, led both sold-out live events and the online webinar with a presentation of, “How AEC Firms are Finding the Lost Dollars.” Attendees of both live events and the online webinar received professional development … 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