Posts tagged ‘Marketing’
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This is the time of year when many civil engineering and A/E consulting firms start pressuring their employees to complete outstanding projects for invoicing by year’s end. Now is the time of year when companies start pressuring their business development folks to bring in more work, win more contracts, make appointments with more people, talk to somebody, anybody who appears mildly interested in doing business with your company. It’s also the time when management simultaneously starts to threaten and cajole employees to become more productive and generate more revenue…. “or else.” It’s the time of year when we sometimes sit with our collective heads in our hands and wonder how we ever got ourselves into all this.
OK. Time to climb off your mental ledge and get your feet firmly back into the building. While I am not about to wave a magic wand and tell you that all will be OK, there are some things you should think about doing if you haven’t already started. Regardless of whether your corporate fiscal year aligns with the calendar year.
Some thoughts for teeing up for this fiscal year’s end and beyond….
- Next year’s business development campaign starts January 1 of the previous year. Clients’ and prospects’ sales years and cash flow simply do not align with your or your company’s need to generate revenue. You work for them, not the opposite. As you identify prospects and projects, put them into your “mental file folder:” is this particular project or client worth your time and effort, should they not be in a position to move forward for, say 12 months? Some of the big projects are won in this manner. You have to work differently with these types of clients and develop a strong understanding of how decisions are made within their corporate culture and infrastructure.
- Providing value to your clients doesn’t involve constantly jumping through their hoops. Some clients are sadistic: they treat all of their vendors in this manner, constantly changing their minds, upping the ante, and expecting not to be charged for their indecision and vanity. (You are not an advertising agency which self-selects for individuals who like living on the edge like this). Perhaps these are not the types of clients your company should be pursuing, even though they may offer the potential for landing big, juicy, high-profile projects. They may not treat you very well, while expecting you to put up with them and rack up a huge amount of non-billable hours in the process. If all of your clients are like this, how compromised and exhausted do you feel by the end of the year? Perhaps it’s time to clean out your client closet.
- Best may be better than optimal. While you pursue your technical quest for the optimal solution, how much is it costing your company? Unless you are an architectural or engineering genius and are the only reason your company was awarded the contract in the first place, you are part of a collaborative team effort. So communicate and determine whether the optimal solution really is optimal in the long run, before you pursue that design path. Depending on where we sit around the table, we see the same thing differently. Make sure you validate your ideas along with everyone else’s perspective. The best solution may be the most robust, in the long run.
What is your strategy for finishing up the current fiscal year? Let me know.
Featured Guest Blogger: Anthony Fasano, P.E., CPC, LEED AP
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I have given many surveys to civil engineers through social media with regards to career development and advancement. Lately I have found that due to the economy many companies have been making changes with their staff in any way possible to stay as efficient as possible. This has resulted in many engineers having been forced to take on roles that they may not want or enjoy.
Many engineers have been asked to relocate to other office locations based on workload, increasing their commute and putting them in an uncomfortable atmosphere. Other engineers have been transferred to other departments based on workload. So you may have been working on private development projects for the past 5 years and all of a sudden you find yourself out doing bridge inspections.
How do you maintain productivity and passion in your day-to-day career when you are taken out of your desired role and/or location? Here are a few recommendations to keep your attitude and energy up while going through this situation:
- Be thankful for your job as there are currently many people without one. This doesn’t mean to be happy with your job, you don’t want to create a mindset that this job is “good enough” for me or that you are just going to accept it, the truth is you don’t have to.
- Paint yourself a very clear picture of the job you would eventually like to have. Be specific by listing the type of projects you would like to work on, your role on those projects, the general location of the projects if that matters, etc.
- Review your current day-to-day activities and see where the experience you are currently gaining will be helpful in your ideal role, once you achieve it. For example, if you have been re-assigned to manage something other than your ideal role, take the time now to improve your managerial skills which will apply in both situations.
- During these times, strengthen existing and build new relationships both within your company and throughout the industry. Take advantage of any downtime you have to re-connect with existing and prospective clients as well as other industry professionals. Attend more professional society events, with the idea that the more relationships you build, the more opportunities that will be available to you.
- Do one thing each day, no matter how small that will help you in achieving your ideal job or role. This might be an e-mail, phone call, internet research, read an inspirational article or quote, etc.
One thing that a professional coach helps people to do is realize the opportunity in every situation. Every time something you perceive as “negative” happens, ask yourself the following question, “Where is the opportunity in this situation?” You will be amazed at the list of positives that you will draw from a perceived “negative” situation.
The key is not to give up on what you’re passionate about doing, just because of the current industry situation or economic climate. Yes things are tough and we all have financial responsibilities and this is the time when we may have to accept roles that we aren’t comfortable with to survive. However the job that you want is out there somewhere until you decide that it is not!
I’ll leave you with a quote to help raise your attitude and energy up a level…..
So one of the headlines from CNN.com on Wednesday read “Economists: Recession To End In 2009.” Reading this article got me to thinking that, now that we are beginning to see a little light at the end of the tunnel, what are some of the lessons that the civil engineering community has learned at the hands of this recession?
If you jump on the band wagon, be sure you pack a lot of padding for when the wheels fall off.
How GREAT was the land development boom in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and the greater Washington, DC area (just to name a few)? Engineering firms were actually turning away work from developers (or, working 90 hour work weeks because they couldn’t say “no.”); engineers of all levels were relocating to these “hot spots”; Professional Engineers were starting their own firms because they saw the dollar $ign$ that were there to be made; every engineer I spoke with was chomping at the bit to work for a home builder or developer, and vying for those positions was like trying to get into Walmart as the doors open on Black Friday. You don’t have to look very far to see what has happened in the wake of this recession. Home builders and developers are selling off land (if they can) and running on skeleton crews at best. As a result, many of the civil engineers who were living the high life during these boom years have since been acquainted with acronym “RIF.” Knowing where the market was in those regions during the real estate boom, check out some of the headlines from the Las Vegas Review Journal for 2009: http://www.lvrj.com/hottopics/housing.html. Did you know that average price for a single family home in Phoenix for 2009 is $103,953.00 vs. $283,472.00 in 2008 (Source: Realty Times – Phoenix, AZ). To see the effect in the outlying suburbs of Washington, DC , take a look at the Housing Market Outlook For The Washington, DC Region as prepared by Robert Charles Lesser & Company. My hope is that everyone who reaped the rewards of these robust land development markets was able to tuck away some of those lucrative bonuses and put them to use to help cushion their fall.
Diversify. Diversify. Diversify.
If you have stuck around long enough to read through the paragraph above, you know where I’m about to go here. How many firms do you know put all of their eggs in the land development basket? I guess you can’t blame them, right? That’s where all the business was and it did not take long to be completely bogged down with lucrative land development work. To come up for air and even consider anything else was nearly impossible. With all that money floating around, that would have been the best time to hire some key players in water/wastewater, municipal infrastructure, transportation and other areas of specialization in order to begin establishing a presence outside of the land development arena. All good things come to an end, so when they did, by diversifying you would have had built established relationships and developed a nice track record within the municipal sector that would have helped ease the pain of the real estate bust. Unfortunately, many firms failed to diversify and by the time they realized they needed to pursue work in other areas, it was too late…in fact, pursuing work with public and governmental agencies these days is like trying to get into Walmart as the doors open on Black Friday (yup, I used that analogy again). Everyone is lined up looking for a piece of the action, but only a few will be fortunate enough to walk away with that nice plasma television.
Beware of “Best Firms”. Are they only the “Best Firms” during the best of times?
Don’t get me wrong, there are many firms out there that deserve all the awards they receive for ethics, management style, benefits, employee training, employee incentive programs, employee retention, state-of-the-art technology, exciting projects, work environment, etc. In fact, there are many firms that would likely win those types of awards but just choose not to submit themselves for consideration. The best firms to work for, as I see it, are the ones that have strong business plans with strong leadership and that have had a fully executable game plan in place for when the market turned as it did. They produced high quality work at a reasonable price with a diverse client base. They stocked away some cash and had good working relationships with their bankers. They are coming out of this downturn with minimal damage. They way I see it, the firms that rise out of this downturn and recession with the least amount of collateral damage to its employees, they are the “Best Firms” to work for.
The best marketing is producing a quality product. True, but lose the crutch.
It has always been said that the best form of marketing is developing a quality product, which in turn will produce great returns as a result of repeat business. How true this is, not only for civil engineering, but for many industries. But avoid using this as a crutch. What happens when your client’s well runs dry? Be prepared to put on your sales and marketing cap and start pounding the pavement. To better prepare yourself, make sure you take some classes and seminars on this topic of marketing and business development in the civil engineering industry; or even better, find a mentor within your company. And then once you learn some of the strategies, don’t let them become dust collectors – make sure you put them to practice. Keep in mind, just because the repeat business keeps repeating itself does not mean you should not be “out there” in the mean time marketing your services to other prospective clients. This way, when your backlog runs low you will have a head start on the process, and your cold calls will now be warm calls.
Keep your resume polished up as often as your shoes.
Treat your resume as you would your finest pair of shoes. Imagine a pair of dress shoes that have not been polished up in a long time. They look fine when you finally get them done, but if you had kept them shined and polished regularly throughout the years they would remain in top notch condition. Top notch condition is the way you should also keep your resume. Every time you get a promotion or receive an award, update your resume. Everytime you speak at a conference or write a paper, update your resume. Everytime you complete a project, update your resume. This way, should you roll into work one day after 20 years of loyal service only to be greeted with a cup of coffee and a pink slip, you will not be scrambling.
There are certainly many other lessons to be learned as we scratch and claw our way back into multi-year backlogs, and these are just a few. What other lessons have you learned that you can share with our readers?
Prior to this current economic downturn a MAJOR topic of discussion was the lack of civil engineers in the marketplace. It did not matter if I was executing a search for a Project Engineer who was an expert in hydrology & hydraulics and flood control, a Project Manager who understood advanced water treatment, a National Program Manager with P3 or Design Build experience as it related to toll roads or a Land Development Department Head; no matter how you sliced it, the pool of civil engineers was shallow. Engineers at all levels throughout the civil engineering community struggled with same dilemma. They were working ridiculous amounts of hours, weekends included; their employers became stagnant in their plans to diversify into other civil engineering disciplines; and principal level engineers were rolling up their sleeves and cranking out construction plans themselves. When the economy eventually picks up, the civil engineering community will be treading in that shallow pool again wondering ‘where are we going to find the right engineer with the right experience?’
The other evening I was at home watching the NCAA Tournament and a commercial came across the television screen that caught my attention. It was all about traffic and transportation and the technology that is being utilized to help ease traffic congestion, which would help cut down on fuel costs as well as free up more time for people all over the country. The average commute time in most major cities across the United States, according to a Time Magazine report in 2007 is +/- 30 minutes. Many folks I know spend at least 45 minutes each way on their commute. And if there happens to be an accident on the LBJ Freeway in Dallas or the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, well then you can just forget about getting to work on time or home for dinner. Thank goodness for the hard working civil engineering consultants and DOT engineers who are putting in countless hours and lending their skills to help make the necessary improvements to our transportation infrastructure that will help cut down our commute times and allow for us to do fun things like play with our children, spend time with our friends and families or be able to get to our softball game before the 4th inning…right? But wait…this commercial I saw was not for a consulting engineering firm or a PSA type commercial from ASCE…it was is an IBM commercial.
So, if I am a college student pursuing a degree in civil engineering and I want to specialize in transportation, you can be darn sure I am going to check out IBM. To answer the question as to ‘where are all the civil engineers?,’ maybe they are all working at IBM. Is it even possible to fathom the AECOM’s and URS’ and CH2M Hill’s of the world to advertise in this manner? Are there opportunities for ASCE to advertise like this? Or are those avenues of advertising just a pipe dream for the traditional civil engineering community at large?
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By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com
Are you a member of the “Good Ol’ Boy” network in the civil engineering industry?
For decades, whether you are consulting to land developers or DOT’s, cities or counties, the most successful consultants have been part of the “Good Ol’ Boy” network. Making regular appearances at networking functions or pre-proposal meetings, shaking hands, following up with a nice note and meticulously putting together well thought out proposals just did not cut it. Above and beyond preparing a strong technical presentation and proposal, and beyond following all the “rules” of being a professional, other steps had to be made to really “get in” with the clients.
To “get in” requires not only an investment of time both during, and outside of, regular business hours, but money as well. Maybe it is taking the client and his wife out to a nice dinner. Maybe it is investing in a pair of box seats at the ball park or football stadium. Maybe it is becoming a member of the local Country Club in order to take clients out on the golf course. Maybe it is making strategic political contributions. Maybe it is sitting down with a client at the local watering hole and sipping on some scotch & water. Maybe you fund these options yourself, maybe your firm foots the bill. Most of you “Old Schooler’s” out there know what I am talkin’ about; but I wonder if this is the approach that today’s, and future generations will take when it comes to developing the client?
I suppose all of the extra-curricular activities shouldn’t matter when marketing a client, as the “proof-is-in-the-pudding.” But in days past, though you may have the recipe for the best pudding, you couldn’t even gain access to the mixing bowl unless you played the game.
I am certainly not talking about anything that you are not already aware of. And this whole concept of course is not inclusive to the civil engineering industry alone, as it is played out through many professions across the board.
Will this way of doing business in the civil engineering industry continue to carry on from generation to generation? Or have things changed?
Is being part of the “Good Ol’ Boy” network still the M.O. of the most successful firms in your city? And how difficult is it to break into this network and be successful for professionals who come from out of town, or out of the country? How difficult is it for women or minorities to become a “Good ‘Ol Boy” ? According to Wikipediea, the “Good Ol’ Boy” network can be exclusionary.
I suspect that the “Good Ol’ Boy” network will contine to exist at many levels, but with the changing mentality of today’s generation, maybe the definition of what it means to be a “Good Ol’ Boy” will change as well.
However you cut it, there is an old business adage that will continue to remain true:
“All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things NOT being equal, people still want to do business with their friends.”