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Friday, February 29, 2008

A lasting solution

We set up a meeting/business planning process with Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company. You should have a similar system in place if you want your business to survive hard as well as good times.

In my last post, I suggested some possible quick fixes if your business is caught in a sudden downdraft and you are in crisis. However, over the last few years (and my survival of a business crisis/decline more of my own making than the economies), I learned that quick fixes often don't work, are dangerous, and mask real problems and solutions. (I sought to suggest ideas that are safe and proven, of course, but many emergency fixes aren't so good.)

To achieve a longer range solution, you need to redesign your business systematically to combine consistent standards and an organized process to integrate/develop your employees' talents, foster loyalty and "pull up your socks" effort, and adapt in an organized manner to changing circumstances.

I've reviewed dozens of successful businesses and they all have a couple of things in common:

  • Employees have a stake in the business; not just superficial ownership, but a real sense they belong. They are often more skilled at their respective crafts/responsibilities than their supervisors but respect their bosses as they enjoy their own work and career progress.

  • The business has a disciplined and organized planning and "change management" system usually involving regular weekly meetings and bi-annual serious planning and integration efforts. Note this is not the bureaucratic "endless meeting" ritual that many governments and large companies observe -- our meetings are disciplined, short (regular meetings are never more than an hour) and encourage participation from everyone involved.
I cannot overstate the importance of building these processes into your business even though superficially, there are significant costs. After all, when your employees are meeting, you aren't working with clients or doing the actual work. So, in our business, the weekly sales meeting time is deliberately set for later in the afternoon late in the week, when few people are buying anyways. Our general weekly meetings (at 1:30 pm on Mondays) are designed to accommodate every one's schedule and allow for time zone issues as the business grows.

The bi-annual planning and budgeting sessions are more expensive and challenging because they require everyone to be at one location -- and that really increases travel and accommodation costs. Although we are still now a small business, we needed this year to buy plane tickets and find hotel accommodation for three key employees for our April planning session. I found relatively inexpensive plane tickets and accommodation in a comfortable but not-to-expensive hotel, but travel costs alone are going to be more than $2,000.

But that isn't the only expense.

We need a meeting facilitator and in my opinion, these meetings cannot be chaired/managed from within the business. The consultants are not inexpensive but are worth every penny. We use Caswell Corporate Coaching Company, but you may find your own consultants and advisers closer to home.

How important is all this stuff? It is vital -- to nip potential issues in the bud, resolve concerns and find answers. You'll often find short term solutions with lasting value are discovered at these meetings. For example, at a planning session two years ago, an employee suggested we review and sell our directory listings more effectively. We found a 'quick fix' with about $20,000 in revenue -- and best of all, this is a recurring revenue stream that does not require a dedicated salesperson to maintain. (Our administrative employee handles this responsibility -- and collects a truly satisfying top up bonus for her salary for her work on the project.)

If you haven't systematized this meeting/planning process, I recommend you make it one of your quick fixes -- it will become the basis of a permanent solution to your challenges. The biggest challenge, I think, will be finding your facilitator and consultant -- I had good luck with Bill Caswell, but you will find the options are hit and miss, otherwise (but especially if you are in the residential field, you might want to consider Michael Stone, or if you are an AEC professional practice, try Bernie Siben.)

P.S. You'll want to read Michael Stone's latest blog entry, especially if you are a general or specialty trade contractor facing payment problems within your community -- the nonsense he describes, alas, is a trait of a recession and screw ups and dishonesty unfortunately become glaringly apparent in hard times. I'll discuss these issues in the next blog entry.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

BNI has chapters around the world. Will this networking service work for you? It may be worth checking it out if you wish to expand the scope of leads available. You may wish to participate in other groups or create your own lead sharing group.

Is business drying up? Do you need a quick fix to bring cash in and live for another day? If you are answering 'yes' to either of these questions, you are like many people caught by the sudden downdraft in the economy. You need of course to quickly 'right the balance' but the problem is, can you do it without destroying the foundation of your existing business?

Quick fix solutions are dangerous because they are ill-planned and often mask the real circumstances you are facing. But let us be realistic; doing nothing is worse. If business is declining, you either need to find more business, quickly, or reduce costs sufficiently to restore balance. You may have to do both.

One thing you must be exceptionally careful about is lowering prices to below break-even to secure business. Sometimes this is tempting, I realize. You have fixed costs and equipment expenses, and anything that will generate some cash can buy you some time. But the consequences are costly long term.

Other, perhaps less than ideal, but more rational economically, ideas include:

Door-knocking is distasteful for most of us; and won't help very much if you are doing industrial or commercial work, but if your market is residential and you can sell smaller services, a good canvassing campaign may save your day and bring in much needed cash. See this thread on and this site from a canvassing consultant for ideas.

Revisiting old clients
Call them -- perhaps offer a maintenance service package. Depending on your level of trust and relationship, you may come clean and say the work is vital for your survival; some owners have deep pockets, and will help out if you are in a bind (and did good work for them in the past).

Free publicity and innovative (inexpensive) advertising
This is the stuff of marketing creativity -- if you can come up with a compelling story that the local press (or specialty press within your market area) loves, you could reap a windfall. Or maybe you can see an opportunity for signage, creative fliers, or other ideas. NOTE: I am not advocating expensive advertising campaigns as a quick fix -- first, effective paid advertising requires planning and thought; and second, it generally works only if you are consistent and patient -- and this blog entry, after all, is about the quick fix.

Leads sharing groups
You may get some great results by creating your own lead sharing group; bringing together a small group of compatible business owners or sales specialists with complementary interests. For example, you may know a commercial realtor, a banker, a complementary special trades person, or the like, and you can get together for a coffee, breakfast or lunch once a week. (There are also formal, existing lead sharing groups such as BNI you may wish to explore).

Some or all of these solutions may become a permanent part of your business. As you work through the crisis, you'll be stronger and leaner. Remember, even if the economy declines by 50 per cent, there still is 50 per cent of the work out there. You just need to get it.

Hiring from the competition

Is it good practice to recruit/hire your competitors' best sales reps? On the surface the answer may seem to be a no-brainer: You can collect intelligence and weaken your competition all in one shot. Sounds like a good deal, eh.
But the real world is never so simple, and the risks here are substantial.
Is the sales rep leaving the competition because h/she has weakened, done something wrong, or simply is not working out well? In essence, is the competition going to be happy with the departure?
If the sales representative is indeed talented, is the departure likely to motivate your competitor to more drastic actions: Will your own top sales reps be recruited, for example?
How can you properly check/verify references? Obviously it is rather hard to get a truthful reference by asking your competitor for insights.
How will the hiring affect your current employees? Will they be demoralized, angry, or will there be disputes about leads and territories?
Are you (and your new employee) walking into legal messes? Many companies -- ours included -- build non-compete and non-solicitation components into our employment contracts. While non-compete contracts are often difficult to enforce, judges would probably take more seriously the matter if you actively recruited or hired someone who works at the competition.
Is the prospective employee really leaving the competition, or a 'plant' to gather intelligence about your own business. The candidate can get insights, ideas, and inside information about your company -- and take them back 'home'.
Phew. Looks, indeed, like there are many risks here. So what should you do?
I think it is generally unwise to actively recruit reps from the competition -- you are better off finding your own candidates, training them in your methods, and minding your own business.
But what happens if you receive an unsolicited call from a competitor's employee? There's nothing wrong, in my opinion, in listening to the prospective employee, gathering intelligence, and communicating with your current employees about the developments. You can then apply your standard hiring protocol -- modified to respect business confidentialities and your knowledge of the potential employee. Then, maybe, hire the person. But proceed with caution.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The right way

This image is from the website of Baker Roofing Co. in North Carolina. I came across the company in little comment in Ed Fako's not-ready-for-public viewing blog, and queried my North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm about the company. He said: "They are the largest roofing company in the state…and perhaps the entire Southwest. Very tough competition for every roofing company that bids on work here." I sense someone at Baker Roofing was doing a little Search Engine Optimization by linking to Fako's virtually invisible blog. Guess I'm going to help them some more here, with a link back from my rather highly ranked blog.

In the last couple of days, I've enjoyed a rewarding email exchange with Ed Fako of Right Way Roofing Co. of Carpentersville, Illinois (a Chicago suburb). Fako is a frequent and incisive poster on threads. He sought out my advice on web links and some aspects of Internet marketing.

The challenge right now, as far as the Web goes for Ed , is that he doesn't have an active website attached to the domain he registered, and a blog he started would not reflect well on his business. I told him in emails that it wouldn't make sense to draw any attention right now either to his domain or his blog -- he needs to fix these things. I hope he does, soon, because his useful and intelligent postings on forums are of real value -- and with just a little work, he can connect these postings (that show his knowledge) with new client business development through the website, blog, and the magical power of search engine marketing.

Nevertheless, I would like to share some of Ed's gems.

This posting on Inspecting the World (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) takes a shot at "The Rationale for Getting 3 Bids or the Risks of Only Using That Method?"

Ed also has advocated a mentorship program within, "Mentoring an Underpriced Contractor".

So why should Ed Fako waste no time in completing the other steps to build his web presence?
First, with a little technical support, he can build a content and information-rich site/blog, one which could (after a few months) attract astounding search engine rankings. Then, with co-ordination, potential clients will be predisposed to call him and not two, or 10 others, for a quote. He won't need to spend a fortune on advertising; organic traffic to the website will get his phone ringing for estimates. And his solid reputation within online forums will really help his business.

But how can he set up a great site, quickly, and without too much cost? One option (probably one that won't work in the big Chicago area market because of exclusivity issues), is to use Footbridge Media, which I've recommended previously. But there are other specialists in contractor-focused web design and in a future issue of this blog, I'll list some of them.

This is NOT a do-it yourself project, unless you are comfortable and reasonably knowledgeable about these matters -- yes, Blogger and Wordpress can give you a virtually 'instant' blog (at no cost), but you need to follow some basic guidelines and processes to do it right. As I explained to Ed Fako, I would make a terrible roofer!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

About advertising

This posting in Michael Stone's blog: You Have to Advertise, will brighten the day of any media salesperson (including, I expect, my company's own employees). Indeed, a rational, thoughtful and planned advertising strategy can work wonders -- especially when combined with editorial publicity, good community relationships, and of course your doing your work so well that you attract referral business. Note: You'll especially want to read the comments in the Michael Stone blog entry.

Pictures worth thousands of words (2)

An example of shoddy work -- photo taken by Sonny Lykos. "Here's an example of the bath gut and remodel job we just started. Metal pan in the shower that only came up about 3" and stopped at the top if the curb on it's inside. One side of the shower butts into a platform tub, also rotted away."

Over at the Journal of Light Construction Online forum, in a posting in a thread started, by Sonny Lykos, Horror Stories & Photographs, Mark Parlee references back to this blog -- and an earlier posting where his effective use of photos is reported (and a sample is provided through a link to our server).

To aid in navigation, here is a link to the original entry.

Lessons learned

This Iowa blog entry offers another perspective on lessons learned -- and suggests some other good principals for business survival.

Back in 2001, as the technology bubble melted, I thought I had achieved the holy grail of business success. We were selling up a storm, profits were excellent, and (so I thought) my delegation was so effective that I had little to do -- so I could spend time on other fun stuff and leave the heavy lifting to employees, as the business raked in the profits.

Of course, things really weren't so good underneath the surface in 2001, just as they weren't really that secure back in 1989 and 1990 a few years after I started the business -- in fact I was setting myself up for the longest and most painful business implosion of my life. And, as things started falling apart, I attributed the problems to a variety of causes which may have contributed too the difficulties, but were most definitely not their sources.

Today, again, things look promising, but I have no illusions as I am well aware of the recessionary environment affecting much of the marketplace. In part, our current markets are not affected by the recession; as well, our business, by its nature, can do relatively well at the early stages of a recession only to hit the wall later if the recession deepens or lasts too long.
Nevertheless, while it is dangerous to prophesize -- things often turn out different than expected -- I think I can avoid some of the mistakes that got me into trouble previously, and remember the things that helped me out of problems twice in the past.

My mistakes:

Inconsistent hiring and business management practices. We had sales reps on pure commission; we had sales reps on salary; we had reps who worked as 'teams' but under different rules of engagement; and they were hired under different rules and contracts. When things were going well, this did not cause problems; but when things started falling apart, the pain spread quickly, with resentment, envy, and "protect your own hide" behavior. As an example, I hired -- without proper testing and evaluation -- a less than effective sales rep based on the recommendation of another employee; we paid a full salary to this person for several months; while another representative on pure commission, working hard, struggled.

"Disappearing" from the business; falsely thinking I was delegating effectively. With a hired editor, and sales team, I didn't feel a need to spend time with the clients; with the market, and with the employees. "I'm getting in their way; they are doing a good job," I thought. So I travelled, dreamed of new markets, spent hours thinking about complex forward thinking business plans, not listening to client rumblings about some of our business practices; not listening to internal dissentions and hostility; and not seeing the deep and underlying malaise affecting the business.

Failing to respond in a consistent and rapid manner to real problems. Sometimes I just 'left things alone' hoping they would get better; in part because we didn't have clear performance standards, but more because I feared that rocking the boat would turn things into a messy picture. At the worst stage, I increased my disappearance -- taking a long vacation as key employees were struggling, not sure what to do.

Failure to have a clear planning structure, system, and guidelines for business operations. We expanded through 'seat of your pants' philosophies, sometimes digging out of one problem, only to deep into digger ones. With all the inconsistencies in our approaches, when things started going bad, they went from bad to worse as no one sensed leadership, thoughtful response, and everyone felt panic.

So, that is what went wrong. How did I dig myself out of the mess, twice?

I knew my limits, and when I reached them, did what I needed to do. The cuts may have been mismanaged, they may have been brutal, arbitrary, and ill-planned, but I did what I needed to do as the wolf cried at the door. Now, of course, I realize, I could have taken measures much earlier, with less pain for everyone involved.

I hired really talented people to do the work; both rebounds occurred when I (often through luck rather than planning) hired truly competent people. In previous successful periods, these individuals propelled the business forward; in fact, even though these employees have left us; some of their contributions remain legacies to our current operations.

I took hands-on responsibility. I really focused on the basics; rolling up my sleeves, working hard and effectively, and connecting with clients as employees saw that I wasn't living the easy life as others struggled.

But the most important test of the current business rebound is ahead, and I think will be the solution when we hit bumps in the road. Everyone we hire must meet consistent (high) minimum standards; I am staying out the ivory tower, and in touch with clients and our employees, and we will make major decisions only after thoughtful and insightful planning. Will we be able to transcend the previous 'good times' and enjoy lasting prosperity? I think so, but experience will prove the point.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The top five marketing ideas

Image from -- publciity and communication skills will certainly help your marketing success!

This blog is an evolving repository of ideas and thoughts. Every now and then, however, it is good to summarize the basics. So I will outline what I consider to be the five most important marketing principals and ideas for the AEC community.
  1. Your brand is your clients' entire experience; and it is the essential element of your marketing. How do your clients find your service? Do you deliver the 'something extra' that turns them into enthusiastic supporters or, at least, do you avoid things that irritate, disturb and annoy them? This branding reflects the entire experience, and therefore relates to all the interactions between clients and employees.

  2. Do you get the basics right? Return calls (and emails) promptly; keep job sites clean and tidy -- every day? Have a simple, courteous and respectful communicating style with clients and employees? Have a basic dress code, neat, just a notch above what others expect?

  3. Is your Internet marketing strategy in order? Do you have an effective, highly ranked website; an e-letter, and (possibly) video or social networking links. Are you monitoring relevant internet forums such as or JLC Online (or this blog!)

  4. Do you belong/participate in relevant trade associations and groups; possibly your local home builders' association; maybe a specialized construction association or -- often most appropriately -- the associations where your potential clients are members? Consider the Society for Marketing Professional Services ( if you are in the AEC sector, as well.

  5. Do you track, assess, integrate, experiment, and explore new ideas, without losing touch with the foundations and the basics? Can you combine marketing methods and models in simple yet effective ways? Do you think through your marketing, plan and budget it appropriately, and then constantly evaluate what works best, and adapt it to your business?
Finally . . . don't worry if you don't have the answers to all of the questions I've posed here. Your story is an evolving one; your business will reflect your own passions, values, and perspectives -- and your clients will see you and do business with you for what you are.

Simply put, however, if you get it right, you will have a steady and satisfactory amount of business, and your clients will pay you what you are worth -- and that will be a whole lot more than most people in this industry earn.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The four point program

This contractor on the Journal of Light Construction forum has devised a simple self-management system to ensure he always has enough business in the pipeline.

I firmly believe you need to spend some time every day getting new business. I have a Four Point System that works something like this:
1 Point for getting a lead, referral, an introduction to a decission maker
2 Points for getting an appointment to meet the decision maker
3 Points for meeting the decision maker face to face
4 Points for getting a commitment to close (a job)
I use any combination of the above to achieve four points for the day. So one meeting with decision maker and one referral is my point quota for the day.

I think this is the best self-management/discipline resource I've seen in a long time, and will see if I can learn more from the contractor about its application in practice.

Friday, February 22, 2008

How much do you spend on marketing?

The question: (in a survey of about 100 architects in the U.S.) from The Whetstone Group in Iowa.

Approximately what percentage of your annual fees do you spend on marketing and sales each year?

When asked this question, 11 respondents (11 per cent) replied that they didn't know. Of those that answered, the average percentage of annual fees reported was 4.84 per cent. Larger firms (those greater than $15mm in annual fees) tend to spend a little more: 5.9 per cent of annual fees vs. 3.93 for firms under $15mm annual revenue.

There does not appear to be a correlation between the size of the marketing budget and annual growth rates.

This is interesting on several levels. First, if you are looking for benchmarking 'norms' on marketing budgets for an architectural practice; you now have a starting number. The suggestion is if you are doing say $20 million in annual billings you would spend on average $1.18 million on marketing and sales. Of course, note that more than 10 per cent of the firms surveyed don't even know how much they are spending on marketing.

But the remark "there does not appear to be a correlation between the size of the marketing budget and annual growth rates" is especially important. If on average there is no advantage in spending more on marketing and business development if you want to grow, then how valid is the expense?

My thought on this topic is that it is clearly what you do more than how much you spend (but if you are spending less than four per cent of current annual billings on marketing and business development you are either doing something brilliantly or may be restraining your growth -- possible, for example, if you are a one-person band with a solid client list and ability to drum up new business when you need it.)

Possibly larger firms spend a lot of 'wasted' money on things like paid sponsorships, brand development and image management -- of course they have the profits/retained earnings for this type of stuff; and once you’ve built a department/budget, you are typically loathe to see it reduced. So you find work for yourself/team to justify the numbers.

Maybe architects (like other businesses within the AEC sector) should look at another question within the survey for the answer. In order of effectiveness, the top five marketing resources are Referral Sources, Client Referrals, Speaking, Articles, Industry Groups, Social Events, and Seminars, with the first, "Networking with referral sources" ranked significantly higher than the others. So it seems you should spend most of your budget on:

a) Cultivating your referrals;

b) Keeping your current clients happy -- so happy they refer others;

c) Developing a solid PR/communications strategy to achieve recognition as the leader of expertise within your area, connecting writing and speaking with industry groups within your market area.

Thanks to Lisa Rhatigan, a shareholder and senior vice president of he Whetstone Group, for providing her survey results. She published her findings in The SMPS Marketer and can be reached at 319-447-6403 or

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The construction association meeting

The reception at the Ottawa Construction Association's AGM.

Daniel Smith and I attened the annual meeting of the Ottawa Construction Association tonight. For me, this event combines business development and news gathering -- I won't forget the time I attended one of the association's AGMs when, in reviewing some small print in the annual report, I uncovered a scandal involving the then-association president and the local labourers union that ultimately resulted in a major shake-up within the organization and the president's resignation.

At tonight's meeting, we gained some insights into the current scandal involving the local general contactor who decamped to Lebanon, after arranging to wire close to $2 million in cash to the Mideast; shortly after this, his company's payroll and subtrade checks started bouncing. The question, raised at our table, is why the bonding company granted surety to the GC, whose reputation, at least among the people around me at the table, was well known (and not positively) within the industry. I explained to my table mates that we are slow on this story because we will be covering its impact with care and depth long after the daily and general business press move on to other topics.

But the topic of this blog is marketing, and the question is, do these kinds of meetings and events help in the process. Certainly some businesses think so; and spent significant money sponsoring the event. The effectiveness of this type of sponsorship is debatable. In an article in the latest issue of the SMPS Marketer, Lisa Rhatigan, a shareholder ansd senior vice-president at the Whetstone Group, reports that virtually every architectural business her practice surveyed uses sponsorship, but this certainly not the most effective marketing tactic.

(Top of the effectiveness list on her company's survey is "referral sources" and "client referrals", with speaking, articles, industry groups, social events and seminars significantly less effective, but still much more powerful than a final grooup of options including direct mail, newsletters, telephone leads, and advertising.)

Equally, I'm not sure how much marketing value you are going to get when you -- as several companies did -- purchase a 'company table' at these events. Sitting with your peers at one table may help bonding and internal communication, but you sure aren't going to meet anyone new that way. But sitting at a 'general' table with a diversity of people from the industry produces interesting chemistry and results; but sales . . . I'm not so sure.

Networking value here is highest if we forget the sales pitch and focus on the community and relationships; I am happy to see Daniel has met some people and connected with them through the steering committee he joined; this is the beginning of relationship-building which, as noted in Rhatigan's article, is the most effective way to find new business.

Probably the highest marketing value is achieved when you can reach a level of active recognition and involvement in the community. At the meeting, the Ottawa Hospital's CEO thanked the association membership for supporting its fund-raising campaign, pulling in more than $9 million. This is good, but credit went to the fund-raising committee leader Robert Merkley of Merkley Supply Ltd. whose business has built a reputation for community involvement and service through active invovlemment and leadership. This is far more than the relatively ineffective 'sponsorship' described in Rhatigan's article -- it is the intense, time-consuming and highly visible leadership only a few achieve.

The sensitive story

A challenging story about an Ottawa-area general contractor has made its way into the daily newspaper here, along with the local business weekly. So far, we have not reported on the story in Ottawa Construction News.
Generally, I find it challenging to write negative stories about individual businesses; but this file of course goes beyond an individual company as it affects the entire industry; its reputation, bonding processes, and the allegations about a variety of dubious and unethical practices.
Equally, we should not write a story on this type of sensitive topic unless we are confident of our facts, have documentation, and the time and resources to do it right. So we may 'pass' on the matter this month -- however, after interest has 'died down' in the daily press, we'll look into the issues raised by the controversy in greater depth in future issues
Here are relevant links to the published articles in The Ottawa Citizen and The Ottawa Business Journal, however.
Bankruptcy Trustees Left Picking up the Pieces (Ottawa Citizen)
ICI demise teaches hard lesson about trust in the trades (Ottawa Business Journal)
Roland Eid speaks out about ICI (Ottawa Business Journal)

The real way to network

This image is from the North Carolina government Office for Historically Underutilized Businesses. The website offers a photo review for a 2007 Contractors Networking Reception and Expo. Something for our North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm to research.
My advance (printed) copies of The SMPS Marketer arrived yesterday, along with a kind hand-written thank-you note from Lisa Bowman. Almost simultaneously, Ford Harding called to thank me for my courtesies to him; in his voice message he asked if there is anything he could do for me. Lisa and Ford are of course practicing one of the most essential principals of effective marketing, by openly expressing their thanks. (In turn, I emailed Lisa to encourage her to introduce an essentially cost-free service that would provide real value to ALL contributors to the Marketer; and when I checked the blog, I discovered that I had inadvertently deleted the permalink to Ford Harding, and reset it. And I called Ford, and told him the only thing I needed in return is for him to continue doing his good work.)

Note that Lisa, Ford, nor fellow Marketer contributor Tim Klabunde (see below) have not sent any business to me, nor do I expect to provide any revenue-generating business or services to their companies in the near future. But we are networking the way it is supposed to be done and the rewards, if not immediate, will be found in the future.

Tim Klabunde, director of marketing at William H. Gordon Associates ( a Washington, D.C. engineering firm, writes in his SMPS Marketer Article:

Ask Yourself, "How Can I help This Person?"
The next time you head out to network, remember what you are really there to do. It is time to rethink how you perceive networking. No more collecting business cards, giving a sales pitch on your company, or thinking about who in the room can get you the next job. Instead, start by focusing on building meaningful relationships with others. When you walk up to someone, think to yourself, "How can I help this person?" When you learn how to focus on helping others first, the real networking begins.

Klabunde notes in his article:

Some of my most successful days networking I spend sitting at my desk. I don't attend a single association event, no lunches, and definitely not any speed-networking events. To succeed at networking, I work my computer and make phone calls with the sole purpose of helping other people. I make introductions, forward project leads, pass along information from a local paper, and laugh with friends about my two sons' most recent escapades.


Networking is not about the 'immediate', nor is it about 'take'. Effectively done, it is a long-term proposition. Note you don't need to spend long hours on the process and you can link your work on one thing to another.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Opportunity and business planning

In the past few days, I've received a business proposal that, on some levels, is highly appealing. If successful, the idea could accelerate our growth, expand our capacities, and allow us to develop exciting new markets, vertically and within our niche. And I sense the proposal's proponent is desperate; allowing (at least in theory) the opportunity for a good deal if we move quickly.

But I'll pass on the opportunity. I don't know the other party to the transaction at all. He initiated communication with me through a public portal; all his communications have been over the phone and some things he said left more questions than answers.

I, of course, think it is wise to keep my mind open to unsolicited external proposals; there can be a gem out there that we might otherwise miss. In any case, the openness of this blog and other external marketing is great enough to invite new ideas.

One thing you learn quickly in business is there is never a shortage of ideas and possibilities. Out of 100 idea initially, 10 might be worthy of further review, and only one is 'right' to implement. (The same ratio, it seems, also applies to resumes from people seeking employment!) Here are my screening criteria:

Is the proposal relevant to our business? We publish locally relevant construction industry news and information. If it isn't in that area, we should pass;

Is the risk worth the reward? This invites several other questions. Is capital required; and if so, how much? Will the project/initiative tie up management resources and time that can be dedicated to other opportunities? Is the payoff worth the effort? How likely is the project/initiative to succeed?

Am I comfortable with the other party(ies) to the project? This is both subjective -- a 'gut feel' --and objective. Are there warning signs like poor or non-existing references? Sometimes you can hold your nose and do business with people you don't like for transactional/short-term projects; but you wouldn't want to set up an initiative with anyone longer-term if there is any significant doubt.

Now, ideas that don't entirely pass this scrutiny can still move forward, but with caution, or if they represent exceptional opportunity or otherwise are very low in risk. And bigger direction changes and fundamental shifts in the business are possible, but these should be planned carefully and executed only after the planning is completed.

So the idea I heard yesterday might 'work' but only after we put it through our full-scale planning process. And if this means we miss a short term opportunity because of the desperation of proposal's proponent, so be it. The potential reward in this case is simply not worth the risk.

Small or big (3)

Ford Harding just posted this comment to my earlier posting "Small or Big". It is worthy of reposting here:

Dear Mark:

Your comments on my posting helped me realize that the piece is missing something. Some firms welcome a professional who sells many small projects.

For example, I know one MEP engineering firm that specializes in doing all the small projects that other firms would find to be a nuisance and give to their weakest engineers. They have built a strong niche by doing so. Others find it is not in their best interests to do small projects, excepting those that provide a portal to larger ones. Doing small projects is often less profitable, because leverage is lower. Selling costs can also be much higher per dollar of project.

Administering so many small projects is also expensive, especially if a firm is set up to administer large ones.

Our study of professional firms that experienced geometric growth for several years, revealed that many felt that turning away small work and small clients was one of the elements that kept them on a high revenue growth track. Firms like Accenture, CSC Index, and Diamond Technology grew extremely rapidly by turning away work and clients that would have distracted thier professionals from bigger clients.

One firm I know would only work for clients paying fees of at least $250,000 a month. During the go-go years they increased this to $450,000 per month. I also know the profitability of this firm which was at jaw-dropping levels.

Even with my own little firm, we found that profitability grew noticeably when we stopped taking small assignments that were in no way linked to larger ones. Pushing the minimum up each year has helped us grow. Of course what is large to us is still small to a big firm. I hope this helps.

Ford Harding

Ford's points are well taken. It can take courage to drop the small jobs, but in many cases this could be the key to growth.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What does Construction Marketing have to do with Wikinomics, Punk Rock and Copyright?

Punk Rock Your LIfe: The Simple Six Letter Word that Determines Your Success is a great piece of writing -- and is reproduced here free of copyright.


It can be a challenge to get around and understand the new marketing principals as the first millennial decade draws to a close. Some massively expensive models still work, sort of (yes, you can get a big 'hit' if you have the money to blow on Superbowl advertising) and some tried and true methodologies work better than ever, and are even less expensive than before -- like really WOWing your clients with great service and encouraging positive word-of-mouth promotion and repeat business.

So that is where this fascinating blog entry at Zen Habits (guest post from Brian Clark of Copyblogger) fits into the story. I think you'll enjoy the writing style, and rather clear and explicit message.

Once you've read the story, go to the Uncopyright link on the blog page. So, yes, I'm lifting the picture used in the article without any worry that I'm violating anyone's copyright.

Finally, go to the library, your local bookstore, or (if you wish me to earn a four per cent commission), to purchase Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, and you'll get a better idea of what is happening here.

Authors Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams point out how conventional barriers are breaking down; how the new culture of openness, sharing and collaboration are turning conventional business hierarchies on their heads, and how you need to understand these processes to succeed in the new era of business and marketing.

Of course, Tapscott and Williams' book is copyrighted -- as are our printed publications. But we have no objection to companies featured in the special profiles "lifting" the material and using it -- ideally with ads intact -- on their websites, e-letters, and copied into marketing materials and brochures (and we don't charge extra for reprints).

I don't worry so much about copyright for this blog, my newsletter and other electronic stuff (including our new websites, which we expect to be ready within three months). If you want to take stuff and use it, go ahead. I welcome source credit and linkages, of course, and might get a little annoyed (and claim copyright privileges) if you use the material in a manner that would cause offence to me and my business -- but you'd have to be pretty thick headed to try anything like that.

Most of all, however, I think the attitudes in the Internet space relate to the way we do business with friends and current clients on a day-to-day basis; we don't worry about whether they share their experience with friends, we welcome direct and immediate feedback (even if it is negative), and we communicate on wholesome, convincing and natural levels. In essence, the story here is that the new technologies really enhance and bring to a world scale the 'old' things you would do locally, day, to day, at your own business.

That is why Spam is so destructive, incidentally. Imagine someone at your door dozens of times each day bugging you to sell you something. Yuk. But equally, imagine a cubicle-mate at work, or a good client who you are currently collaborating with on a project. You can pick up the phone, or email, or send a text message, or just 'drop by' without intruding and connect the dots and build your relationship. With the Internet, you simply use and extend the traditional close and relationship-building models to a higher and more global level.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The rules of the game for Internet marketing

If you send out "e-blasts" you may end up in The Spamtrap. The person who invented this device grinds up all the spam he receives, and then sends out automatic notices to spam-watchdog sites; causing more problems for the spammers. To stay out of this pile, you need to monitor and watch promotional emails: I would use them sparingly, and only in conjunction with real value-added content and/or with highly targeted and specific lists.

This weekend, my leading sales representative asked me to send two"email blasts" to former advertisers of our publication, to encourage advertising in a couple of future special features. As I set to work to fulfill his request, suddenly, I realized that we were entering dangerous territory.

Yes, these are former and current clients, and they may be more receptive to marketing emails than conventional third-party clients. But I sensed we would not achieve our objectives -- blatant e-selling rather than sharing and giving invites spam complaints and doesn't generate much worthwhile business (with some notable and valid exceptions.) Especially dangerous, I thought, is the fact that we would be sending two promotional emails to roughly the same list, in short order. This is absolutely the opposite of the Permission Marketing advocated by Seth Godin and other new-era gurus.

I asked the sales representative to rephrase things; to suggest things we could give our clients without pushing them aggressively to advertise any more. He came up with some suggestions, which I will adapt and modify. The new "e blast" will be a gift; it will have valuable information and allow our clients to benefit from their previous relationship with us, whether or not they elect to advertise any more.

In fact, the more I study the new rules of the game, the more I am impressed with the simple principal that you only "sell" on the Internet by unconditional giving; if you do, and you thereby establish a positive relationship and brand, you'll get the order -- at your price.

These qualities, especially valid for bulk emails, also apply to blogs and websites, of course. My goal in writing this blog is to share insights and marketing ideas with you whether or not you respond, request a newsletter, or even have any interest in purchasing anything from us. Frankly, most readers are outside our current service areas, anyways, but we're happy to keep in touch -- especially as the business grows.

You might look at your own email and website strategies in this regard, as well. Of course, include your essential information; the website is a truly impressive 'e brochure' and it doesn't hurt to tell the audience how good you are -- sharing testimonials, excellent graphics and the like. But I think you'll gain an extra edge if you share useful insights and ideas with your viewers; your expertise, if you wish, without worrying about whether you are giving away your trade secrets. I think this advice should be sincere, open, and perhaps if you feel confident enough, you could defy some of your own industry conventions. Then, with your sharing, you can invite readers to respond, either directly or (more softly) for an e-newsletter which again should be soft on promotion and high on reader value.

Aha, but you noticed at the beginning of this entry, I referenced there are exceptions. Here is one we use in our own business. When we arrange a supplier-supported feature, and have a list of qualified potential clients, we'll fax and email the invitation to do business with us. Many people respond to one or another of the invitations; even though the communication is purely a selling message. Why does this work? First, the message is highly specific and relevant -- it is to a modest list, tied to a specific project and existing relationships. We aren't doing an 'e blast' here -- we are emailing to a very focused group. Secondly, we only send the e-letter where there is a valid and relevant relationship already established and clearly defined.

P.S. If you would like me to review/critique your proposed emails or websites, please email me at Unless you give permission, the observations will be confidential -- but if we agree publicity is worthwhile, I'll post the relevant story on this blog.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hvac service ideas (that can be extended)

There's a wealth of useful material in this report from The Service Roundtable. The article, here, of course, is somewhat dated in some important respects. Howevever the site appears to have useful and updated resources especially for HVAC specialists in the service area -- and the concepts, in many cases, can be applied to other construction sectors/activities.

Some thoughts about sales team motivatioon

This thread offers many answers to this question: "Do you have a successful case of the sales team motivation to share with us?" Lots of perspectives, lots of ideas. I'll share my own thoughts in a future blog entry.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The team and the individual

This image is from the Toastmasters International site. Toastmasters is a worthy organization that helps members develop speaking and leadership skills.

Some stories are too hot to handle because, even if you do your best to disguise identity, people involved might see themselves in the tale and assume, rightfully or wrongly, you are writing about them. The story which leads to this blog entry is just that type of experience; so I cannot even come close to telling it. But its importance is undeniable, because it shows to me how important it is to meld teamwork with individual performance; and having just one element right is a recipe for (near) disaster.
Since I cannot retell the story (which, to reassure my employees, has nothing to do with them), I'll have to resort to language that is a little forced and perhaps artificial.
Here are the elements:

  1. The team scored a victory over a lesser rival, but most of its members did not cheer; there were moments when the victory could have easily turned to a loss;

  2. One member of the team scored more points than any others in his team, an accomplishment usually worthy of commendation;

  3. But in this case, the other players expressed frustration, anger and disappointment, because the player did not work with the others; did not share, did not co-ordinate his activities with his peers; he played for himself rather than his team.

  4. They were unhappy because while the team won over the opposing team with less natural talent, if the team had been matched with any other team with the same level of talent, it would have been defeated handily. And everyone saw how the weaker team, for all its limitations, actually won the game by playing it correctly.
The example illustrates some important points:
In any organization, individual talent is indeed important, and in many cases an organization of talented individuals who don't play well as a team can do better than a great team with lesser individual talent;
But talent cannot exist in isolation; prima-donna behavior can quickly tear at the soul of a team, and destroy it; individuals need to work within the team if they are to succeed; and the team needs cohesion for success in the longer term.
Frankly, the story behind this blog entry will be much easier to retell a few years from now, when the risk of relating to someone real has disappeared. More importantly, then I will hopefully have proven the hypotheses that are driving my business right now. I sense these principals will work in practice, but haven't tested them long enough to know for sure they are valid. If they are, I'll be able to write a 'how to succeed' book with confidence and provide my services as a consultant at a high hourly fee. In the meantime, here are the working principals I'm using.
Recruit to your highest standards -- don't accept anyone less.
I've established a hiring protocol that requires a thorough and systematic evaluation of any potential candidate for employment within our organization, and for which we will not lower our standards. Each job of course has different requirements; but each potential employee must go through a self-selection screening process, followed by substantial testing. We cannot succeed as a team unless we have the best possible individuals on it.
Ensure your employees can connect and work well with others on the team.
We won't hire anyone if existing employees are not satisfied; and when they must work directly with each other, the peers have veto-power over the hiring. Equally, if employees fail to meet the standards of their peers, set out in our working performance standards and guidelines, they must leave, if they cannot improve within a reasonable time.
Superior performance should be recognized, but not at the expense of the team.
Not everyone is equal; and some people will assume greater responsibilities and leadership than others; and they may earn higher compensation, or be given greater responsibilities. But if they cannot also bring the team upwards with them, they must leave as well. These are the most challenging situations in business, of course, since it can be expensive to lose a top performer. But if the team is fraying because of the behavior of one successful person, we either need to realign roles to avoid the conflict, have the top producer change his or her ways, or ask the seemingly successful (but truly destructive) person to leave.
Leadership starts at the top -- implementation of these principals requires openness and fairness.
In my business, of course, that is me. When I lose touch of the team's goals and objectives; when I put myself first and forget the needs of others; when I am selfish, arrogant, and put on airs of the owner, I deserve to lose the trust and acceptance of my employees. This is the essence and challenge of Open Book Management; something I expect to learn and implement within the next six months.

Construction Netcast (Trauner Consulting)

Matt Handel posted on the SMPS Listserve an invitation to contribute technical articles to Construction Netcast, a blog/podcast from Trauner Consulting Services, with offices in Philadelphia, Orlando, and San Diego.
This is a well-designed blog, which makes effective use of podcast and video techniques. I have set a permalink to it.

Here is an explanation of the site's purpose:

The Industry’s Smartest Podcast/Videocast
Learn from experts with decades of experience who have taught thousands of construction professionals across the country. Each month, we will discuss the issues that affect your projects. Topics include project scheduling, claims avoidance, specification writing, alternative procurement methods, contracting best practices, and many others. You can enjoy these programs on your computer, pda, ipod, or other portable devices. You can also subscribe for free and receive these programs on a monthly basis. The result: training you need when it’s convenient for you. Both audio and video versions are available.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Branding, logos and image

I like the web page of DF Gibson Architects, P.C. in New York. Careful branding and design are important, especially for architects and other design professionals.

This posting on the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) listserve for Certified Professional Service Marketers (CPSM) raises interesting questions:

Good afternoon fellow CPSMers!
How often are people refreshing their brands?
We rolled out our new brand six years ago - new logo, tag line and colors based on market research results on who we are in the marketplace.
We are happy with it so we are not looking to do a major re-branding effort, but want to keep it current/fresh. Any recommendations on how often to tweak/update it? How to keep it current? Much appreciated!
Michael McCann, Director of Business Development at DF Gibson Architects in New York, filed two responses, both of which I found to be insightful:

Here is his first posting:

If you are happy with it and its recognizable (and successful), less than you think.
Look at the major companies that have been using their logo for a long time - Apple has been using the same "bitten" apple logo for 30 years, IBM has been using their logo for longer. The Yankees "NY" or the Cowboys Star are recognized by everyone everywhere. Many other corporate logos have likewise not changed much. Even the SMPS "box" logo is practically unchanged in 20 years. Of course there has been a couple of important changes in that time. It was once red and now it is blue.
Being said, it is good to revisit it every few years to see how effective it is. And, to make sure it is not overly dated.
This afternoon, McCann filed another response:

Was on my way out to a meeting when I posted yesterday, so I just wanted to add a couple of more thoughts. It sounds like your firm went through a very well thought-out and methodical plan when you created your current identity.
You should use the same approach to determine IF you need to update it and, if so, how.
The basic messages from my last post is that visual branding tends grow stronger the longer it is used. The basic elements should be timeless and reflective of core values. Any component of it should change only if there is a compelling reason - a "dated" look or change is company direction are examples.
I do feel that companies in this industry change their visual identity too often. And, while I have a few ideas why (and I have been guilty of this too), it is a topic that is better covered in different forum. It could present an excellent topic for a seminar, roundtable or article.

These are worthy observations. I wish I could say our own approach to visual identity branding has been so sophisticated! Before a recent update just a few months ago, our logo/design dated from 1996. The format had served us well over the years, but I thought it was getting a little dated, so asked our designer to come up with s ome options. He did, and we surveyed readers by email to attain a consensus on which of the alternative choices worked best. The entire 'rebranding' process took just a matter of weeks and I think we got it right.

Obviously, the process that is appropriate to a smaller business with limited budgets is different than a larger company with a sizeable, dedicated marketing department, but an argument can be made that simple is indeed effective and being overly concerned about logos and designs for branding is missing the point. I increasingly buy into Sonny Lykos's argument that the brand is the entire client experience -- how we treat, relate and respect our customers is what counts the most, and this is where we build our business.We're seeing how this works in practice with feedback and referral/relationships opening doors for new business in relatively new markets, even as established relationships are maintained.

Yes, refreshing the look of our publications (and soon, our website) are important, but I really think they are secondary to the way we conduct our business. And teaching your staff to return phone calls within the day is likely to be a whole lot less expensive than reviving a venerable and effective logo and graphic image.

Small or big (2)

Can 'thinking big' pay off? Searching for images to go with this theme, I found this interesting site/blog marketing magic tricks that motivational speakers can use to make their point -- here, a "dollar enlarging" trick.

Reading the relevant chapter in Ford Harding's Rainmaking: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field
as I prepared the review (due today) for The SMPS Marketer, I understand more clearly why Harding generally advocates AEC professionals and consultants to watch 'job size' and often decline to work on/bid the smaller projects. Simply put, the effort to win and manage these little jobs can be the same as the big ones, and the effort put into winning the smaller projects can detract from larger initiatives. Clearly, it makes sense for professional practitioners to set limits and controls on what they do.

Perhaps my perspectives are shaped from the industry I serve -- and my brief career as a real estate representative in the mid 1980s before I started my publishing business. Our office had a cross section of competence; from a failure who spent weeks only to lose the sale of a $30,000 mobile home, to top producers moving millions of dollars in real estate each year. I learned some basics, including how to watch out -- and avoid -- 'dreamers' in my office. These were sales reps that saw themselves as commercial specialists; and were working to put together 'huge' land/commercial deals. Initially I looked in awe at these purported super-stars; then I realized they were all talk and little action; living for a dream of success they would never achieve. Meanwhile, the representatives doing solid, middle-sized or simple residential deals earned sizable commissions and referrals for future business. My manager told me: "Watch out for the big stuff -- it tends to fail more often than succeed, and if you want to succeed in this business, don't live in the clouds."

Realistically, the selling cycle for larger projects is much longer, more complex, and subject to disappointment than small jobs. If you put all your eggs into one basket -- that big job you are hoping to win -- and it fails, you are going to have serious problems. And in a recessionary environment, where you need to find and scrounge up business, restricting yourself to big projects may be an invitation for disaster.

On the other hand, if you think small, you may end up small. Not having some thresholds and guidelines on how much effort you put into any individual initiative is inviting you to tread water, or sink under the weight of your mismanaged time/overhead. Certainly, in our business, our salespeople are told to focus on setting up features -- and use as much 'automation' as possible to sell individual one-time ads. (An in-person sales call cannot be justified for a transaction worth $350.00).

I think it is rational for you to know your optimal numbers, guidelines, and stick to your rules within these guidelines. Obviously, if you can raise the threshold and earn larger jobs without significantly stressing your time/risk, do it. For example, if you determine that your closing rate and effort to s ell an average job twice the value of your current norm is less than 50 per cent lower, then you should move to the higher-value threshold. As Harding suggests, you can refer the smaller projects to others -- who in turn will hopefully return the favour by returning referrals for larger projects they are incapable of handling.

So, in conclusion, it doesn't hurt to think bigger -- in fact it may be one of the smartest things you do. Just don't be like the disillusioned people I worked with in that real estate office; living in their clouds in their minds, but in the cellar in actual income.

(As I wrote this blog entry, Harding called me. I had sent him the draft review of the SMPS Marketer article for a last-minute check -- having previously informed him I would do that. In the previous communication, Harding responded he might not have time to review my review; and he confirmed that in the brief phone conversation today. Here we see the combination of time management and courtesy essential for success, on both our parts. )

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Small or big

Ford Harding in his latest blog entry, Why Peter Couldn't Bag an Elephant, describes the challenge of a rainmaker accustomed to selling small projects, going after 'big game' (or elephants). In composite story he describes the challenges of someone being pigeonholed into the little jobs -- and finding it difficult to break out for the bigger ones. The biggest challenge: The number of successful sales, and the time between sales, is much higher for larger jobs -- you might need to go six months before you get a commitment -- and that is too long for the person accustomed to closing a deal or two a week.

Frankly, I'd be happy with someone bringing in a steady stream of 'small work' and am not sure why small jobs cannot lead to bigger ones for the firm -- if the rep who brings in the small jobs is typecast in that role, presumably someone else could help or work with the rep on a transitional/business development scheme to bring in the larger jobs while the company is working with clients on the small projects.

Heck, if one of my reps is consistently successful in bringing in small jobs to the volume cited in Harding's blog (and they are profitable jobs), I'd make him partner, in an instant!

How open should you be?

Boise, Idaho remodeling contractor Jim Strite (photo lifted from Remodeling Online), of STRITE Design and Remodel practices open book management.

Sonny Lykos in a comment to a previous posting provided this link to a Remodeling Online article, "Open Up", which suggests that open book management is still a rarity in the construction/remodeling industry -- and the type of open book management practiced is not the extreme version practiced by Jack Stack, tied to employee ownership and equity.

The article touches on two of the most common concerns employers have about opening their books: The issue of salary disclosure (not!), and the threat that the data might find its way into the hands of clients or competititors. Renovators quoted in the article say they handle the latter threat by limiting the amount of paper actually distributed to employees (numbers are posted screens) or giving only the overall financial statements, not explicitly detailed versions.

The cornerstone and rationale behind the open book concept is that it is a necessary supplement to any profit sharing plan -- without an understanding of the books, and how the comany achieves profitability, the profit sharing system would not have any meaning to employees, the article says.

I enjoyed the story but right now am tending to think of Open Book in the bigger picture. In June, I expect I'll be in Springfield, MO with a key employee to learn how the system works -- and in the meantime, will be preparing the implementation with our accountants and business consultants, tied in with the bi-annual planning meetings where, indeed, employees see and participate in the number crunching exercises.

An interdisciplinary perspective

This blog, and our regional publications, deliberately look at the construction industry from an interdisciplinary perspective. I am interested in the marketing challenges of residential sub-trade contractors serving small communities, and giant international conglomerates bidding on -- and hoping to win -- multi-billion dollar projects. These varying interests are rarely covered under one roof, er, blog. I think, however, the limitations of reporting on matters of interest to only one part of community are more than offset by the cross-fertilization of ideas across sectors and segments within the industry.

The foundation of the approach here relates to the characteristics and objectives of our local publications. Reflecting the community orientation, we are interested in anything that impacts the construction industry within the area. Our approach in fact mirrors that of many general contractors in rural areas. In smaller communities, the successful contractors build out a generalist business; doing work that would normally be only handled by specialist contractors in larger markets. (And these generalists must compete -- and win against -- the specialists, or engage in joint ventures with them, in their local markets.)

I also see how various professions and trades work together and, when things aren't perfect, overcome conflicts. Sometimes the biases and tensions are obvious; sometimes hypocrisy is blatant. Relating to the blog's editorial philosophy, I report here on the "good" but not so much the "bad" and "ugly" -- instead, taking the behind the scenes stories I hear about the less-than-perfect aspects of our industry to find examples of where problems are overcome, and things are done properly.

One important additional element completes the picture. With a local focus, across different markets and circumstances, sometimes I'm able to drill down and find ideas in one place that can be shared elsewhere, such as Mark Parlee's innovative presentation materials. We all are richer by sharing ideas, insights, and observations.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Home again (at last)

It's good to be home again -- after the weather-related flight delay, we ran into another snag, mechanical, in Toronto, but I finally made it back.
Lots to catch up on now -- reports from employees, business planning, and my commitment to write a review of Ford Harding's updated version of Rainmaking: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field for The SMPS Marketer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The essense of sustainable success

David Allen Company CEO and Chairman Robert Roberson (left) shows his company's offices in Raleigh to Bob Kruhm, publisher of Triangle/Triad Construction News and Charlotte Construction News.
Well, I'm in Raleigh, North Carolina, a little longer than planned. Air Canada cancelled the flight home because of bad weather in Toronto, so instead of being on a plane right now, I'm in a hotel room, blogging.
Somewhat rested, with a room service meal covered by the Amex Flight delay/cancellation insurance, I have a little time to think about the day's visit, especially our visit to the offices of David Allen Company, an incredibly successful marble, granite, terrazzo and tile contractor.
Chairman and CEO Robert Roberson showed me and publisher Bob Kruhm around the company's offices; an astounding demonstration of skill, workmanship, and creativity in stonework.
How, I asked, could this company be so successful -- thriving to become the leading contractor in its field in the southeast. "Because all our employees are 'owners' -- they think and act like they own the business, and they are also taking real ownership of the company," Roberson answered. (This direct quote, I hope, is an accurate paraphrase; I didn't record his words with a tape recorder.) Roberson noted that the company's founders and leaders know and understand the trade and specialized skills necessary for the business, but the up-and-coming employees and managers can do the work better than their predecessors.
There is more to the picture, of course. David Allen Company has taken the lead in community and business organizations, including the founding and support of the Carolinas chapter of the American Subcontractors Association.
The result is the company has outlasted virtually all of its competitors in its 80 years in business room.
Roberson's observations echo the ideals I'm hoping to achieve for our business, and those of Jack Stark. On the flight down -- and after I'm finished this blog entry -- I've been reading his The Great Game of Business -- outlining how he and his employees have been able to unlock the power and profitability ofo open-book management and employee participation/ownership.
I certainly do not purport to know all the answers to successful business practice, but it seems that if anyone wants to build a really great business, we should look at the companies who have succeeded in thriving, adapting, and progressing through generations, to lead their field. For that, I'm thankful to Bob Kruhm for making the introduction today; and for Robert Roberson to show me at least part of the way to success.