I’m constantly reviewing best practices and continue to struggle with the challenges in my own business. We know the refrain: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (or a single client), “work on the business, not in the business” (have systems and processes to ensure reliability and avoid dependence on a single person/supplier/employee), and “do what you love, because if you can’t fulfill your passions, you won’t have lasting success.”
Sometimes the advice is incongruent, and other times, we take short-cuts. Then things happen.
As an example, our long-term (25 years) design/production contractor has been reliable through good times and hard. Yet, we were aware of the risks of over-reliance, and so asked the contractor to develop a contingency plan should he not be available. We programmed it into our weekly action item/meeting review system. He continued to have reasons for deferring the work. We accepted the deferrals, though didn’t lose touch with the need for action.
Then, just before Christmas, I learned he had been admitted to hospital with a serious infection. On Dec. 23, he managed to get an email out saying that he was being moved to the ICU because the infection had spread to his lungs. At 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, he sent a follow-up email, saying he would survive; that the doctors had managed to control the infection. But he isn’t out of the woods yet. And how much communication can you expect in this circumstance?
I’ve of course considered the options and realize that other services/resources are available to replace the contractor, if necessary. We may have some delays, but will continue. The situation would be much more grave if we had only one customer, and that client bailed.
In the AEC space, many successful businesses start when a tradesperson gets the business bug, or thinks success is possible by starting out independently. Successful professional practices often combine the technical and selling skills of the rainmaker, or seller-doer. These combined skills are rare, and valuable. But what happens when your rainmaker leaves? How do you really plan for succession. It is always easier said than done.
Nevertheless, undoubtedly the most successful businesses are built on sustainable systems that allow for profitability, innovation, have some redundancy and back-up, and combine process with human respect. If you can build your marketing into that process, you’ll be far better off, of course.