Tough decisions

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Algerian sahara wilipedia

north carolina blue ridgeAnyone who has been in business for a while knows that the experience can be like a roller-coaster. Sometimes everything goes right; sometimes everything goes wrong; most of the time, there are both good and bad things happening, and you need to balance things.

When things go not-so-well, there can be natural tendencies to react in certain ways. In the AEC world, for example, when order volumes dry up, there are often desperate attempts to answer RFPs that wouldn’t make sense to consider; or for fixed bid work, to reduce prices to the unprofitable levels; perhaps with the faint (false?) hope to make it up on change orders; or maybe to generate enough business to keep the doors open for a while longer.

Marketing gets caught in this stuff, of course. Often marketing expenses and marketing employers seem like overhead — deadly to a business struggling to earn enough billable hours or profitable contracts. Marketers would perhaps be heroes if they could bring in new business like rabbits out of the hat, but the marketing/business development cycle within the AEC space hardly moves at the speed of light. If you need to develop relationships well in advance of generating RFP responses, you won’t be able to prove your value when the budgets dry up and work dies.

There are solutions to these problems, but you need to have a very different mind-set to make your way through them. The difference between an employee and entrepreneurial mind-set shows up most clearly in difficult conditions. The entrepreneur will be quick to adapt, observing the realities, and perhaps curtail expenses as needed to bring fixed costs under control — while thinking through (often on an urgent level) new and enhanced marketing and business development strategies.

Sometimes, the answers may be counterintuitive. Could raising, rather than lowering prices, make sense?  Maybe — if you provide a service of real value, that isn’t easy to replicate within your customer base, and ideally isn’t a huge part of your clients’ budgets.

Could exploring a communication strategy with your current and former clients make sense, with new offers, innovations and maintenance services?

As well, you may have the difficult challenge of culling employees. I think this is the most difficult challenge for any employer. In many situations, the cuts are easy. A salesperson, mandated to achieve certain results, and failing to come close — despite constantly providing enthusiastic (unrealistic) projections, might well be asked to work on pure commission, or leave.

What do you do about administrative/marketing staff who don’t actually bring in new business, however, especially when they are talented, hard-working, sincere and dedicated — and would be invaluable to you when your order book fills up again?

Short hours? Job sharing? Reassignment temporarily to “yucky” work that brings in revenue (maybe some cold-calling or follow-up inquiries?)  None of these are really good, nor laying off or dismissing employees who really do the best work they can (and are good at what they do) and have families to feed.

I don’t have all the answers, here, alas. Some business decisions  are simply not easy, nor simple, to make.

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