Risk, reward and the balancing act in construction marketing

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victoria falls
That's me, at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. I had the opportunity last summer to return, after more than three decades, to where I achieved my first dream.

trust jumpSome people and businesses are able to dance on the tightrope — carrying risks and achieving greatness. Most of us are more cautious, most of the time. Yet the balance of risk and reward I think is one of the most intriguing and challenging aspects of architectural, engineering and construction marketing.

If we stay on safe ground, we are unlikely to stand out from the crowd and thus we are unlikely to differentiate ourselves enough to attract business and a reputation. Yet, if we head too far over the deep end, we’ll either be putting our finances at jeopardy or (paradoxically) scaring away current and potential clients who would like to see less risk and more comfort in their relationships.

I mean . . . if you are a client, would you want to work with a contractor who simply “wings it” and stretches things outside of safe limits.

When you fall off those limits, things can be ugly, indeed.

How, then, do you find the balance?

The answer is to look at fear, courage, and how you can take on challenges that might scare others, but are relatively safe, nevertheless. These risk-reducing (yet seemingly daring) strategies can put you in the forefront without blowing your budgets.

Partnering (through relevant association and community contacts)

You may have geographical knowledge/connections or specialized expertise. The challenge is to leverage these advantages to win the specialized projects within defined communities or interest groups. The answer: Relevant specialized client-focused association participation will almost inevitably lead you to networking opportunities with teaming partners, where together you can put together really powerful proposals/strategies. If you want to take things further, these partnerships and joint ventures may allow you to play in the public-private-partnership area, where sometimes you can create a project from scratch and have it approved. (Nothing like having no effective competition.)

Speak up, speak out (with authority and preparation).

Most of us are afraid of public speaking. Quite a few people who talk too much have little worthwhile to say (and can be truly irritating). Your challenge is to become good at speaking, with expertise, and then to speak in front of relevant audiences, especially at client-focussed events and activities. Great speaking provides the perfect opportunity to connect that one-on-one human touch at a one-on-many level — and you’ll see you’ve succeeded after your presentation when several audience members approach you for more information or (even better) to do business with you. Investing time and effort to be good at public speaking is worth every cent, especially if you are a professional.  Consider commercial public speaking courses or, if you want to connect at a community level, organizations such as Toastmasters.

Play the long game (and allow time for real results.)

The world isn’t fair. I cannot prove it — and probably no one will ever get the real number — but very few competitions are truly “free and fair.” Usually there is some story behind the scenes but the people involved in the game-setting won’t go out and broadcast the special rules that apply to the special few. You can’t change that fact, but you can change your position from passive and late to active and early. In other words, you need to be able to give time to invest in relationship and community building, and this may seem to be risky when you are looking for ways to meet your payroll next week.

Understand the difference between perceived and real risk.

Everything is relative. Undoubtedly, I learned my most important perceived/real risk as a young adult when I went off to Africa and lived as a journalist through the end of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe war. Sure, this activity to most people at home in Canada or the U.S. would seem to be risky. But I was single, young, and I listened to others on the ground and who had been in the area, who guided me on where things were really risky, and where they were reasonably safe. Undoubtedly, the afternoon shift as a sub-editor on a daily newspaper in Bulawayo provided some challenges (and plenty of opportunities for alcoholic indulgence) but I wasn’t in the bush, facing down black guys with AKs.

Where appropriate, look for situations which may appear to be daring and risky to others, but are really not that dangerous. But remember: sometimes the perception of riskiness itself is risky. Use common sense and thoughtful strategies.

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