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October 28, 2010
If you have ever played at a black jack table in Las Vegas or any casino worldwide, the odds are you bought in and had a chance to cut the deck when you played. You should also remember that the dealer keeps hitting until a 17 or better is made or they bust their hand. What is not so simple is how you play your hand. Knowing when to hit or stay is very symbolic to many firms’ decisions to invest for growth in today’s economy. Here are a select few of the 21 ways to secure the value of your firm.
Share your vision
There must be alignment of core strategic direction among principals. There are several ways to do this. The most cost-effective is weekly updates from every principal to the group via e-mail or posted on collaboration worksites. Another is planned retreats on a quarterly basis to a secluded location so the day-to-day tasks will not distract from the higher level of thinking required.
Fly low on a weekly basis and fly high every few months to make sure you’re not missing the big picture. Pay for the retreats with your departmental budgets, so everyone has buy-in, and give different people the choice of venue on a rotating basis, so everyone has ownership.
No one likes to be passed over when it comes to deciding on your firm’s fate. Make your principals players, rather than bystanders, in your firm’s success.
Market your peeps
Place your bet here. The firms that are the most successful will tell you how important it is to promote one another relentlessly. Bill can tell you he can design the best high-speed rail system in the world. It sounds much better when his partner John says it.
Promote one another with true belief in the quality of the work and the value to the clients.
Add the human touch to your people on a personal level: “Bill completed the design for the new Lagos railway with stellar reviews and the firm treated him and his wife to a two-week Safari. He’s a big wildlife junkie, so the gift was so much more rewarding to him than another project bonus check. What was even better, he got both!”
Treat your people well for work well done and they will be your greatest testimonial.
Dare to dream big. Then, take care of the small details for every client impression. If you are struggling to land more notable projects, take pride in every job you have with a guarantee to the client that they will be satisfied beyond their expectations. Believe in yourself and your team.
Perception becomes reality. One or two notable projects are all it takes for many firms to guarantee themselves future backlogs of work for years to come.
You need to double down on your efforts as far as client satisfaction. Conduct follow-up interviews or have the client fill out a questionnaire regarding your various service levels throughout the engagement. Know that all your efforts could be for nothing if you close out an account with an unhappy client who will never recommend you.
Your people within your own firm and your client’s companies are your biggest asset when it comes to testimonials so take great care of them to secure the value of your firm.
Find the right partners
How often do we wish we could be working with those guys? They always land on their feet with the best projects, on time, and, under budget.
It takes working with a few schmucks to appreciate true talent. I saw an architect once who closed a guy on his design by drawing it on a cocktail napkin at a bar. He must be a great salesman, so perhaps there’s a chance he would be the right partner for you and your firm, where sales-minded architects are in short supply.
Analyze your strengths and weaknesses across your firm and find a partner who will balance you out and ultimately bring you out ahead if you were to combine your shops. Cultural fit is crucial.
Have an exit strategy
Never second-guess the old saying, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” Hire an advisor to help you with this.
To ultimately secure the value of your firm, you need to have a way to realize it and liquidate your assets at some planned event in the future. Having a plan in place at least three to five years ahead of time is highly recommended. Most buyers will want to see at least three to five years of positive trends for top line revenues and earnings.
Getting a valuation done on your firm every year or two is worth it. Ultimately, finding the right suitor to take over the business either from within or from outside of your firm could make the difference between a successful exit and a difficult departure.
Jeff Clark is managing director and principal of the Mergers and Acquisitions team for ZweigWhite.