Thursday, August 28, 2008

Roll with the changes

When times are tough, such as they are right now for some of you in the AEC industry, there's a mentality that often creeps up among firm leaders that "we need to get back to doing what got us here."

Sounds like a good idea on the surface, but you have to keep up with the times. What got you from a $1 million firm to a $10 million firm will not get you from $10 million to $100 million. Doesn't work that way. Sure, there are some basic principles that work no matter what size your firm or how long you've been in business (pay bills when they come in, get invoices out when the work is done, never stop marketing), but things change and you have to change with them or you will be left behind.

Take, for instance, the concept of marketing.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume you are a 55-year-old male CEO of a 200-person architecture firm. Now, if you want to market your clients the way your firm marketed itself when you were named CEO at 45, I've got a big bucket of cold water waiting to hit you in the face with a reality check. You can't do it.

Marketing is marketing, though, right? You are promoting your firm, building your brand, and developing relationships (which sort of blends into business development, but let's leave that aside for now), so why wouldn't the same marketing approach that you used 10 years ago work today?

Where do I start?

Fax machines are basically irrelevant at this point for marketing. Studies have shown that less than 5% of firms actively use fax machines for marketing efforts these days.

Even the seeming holy grail of e-mail (distributed immediately, costs virtually nothing) has been handicapped through overuse and hyperactive spam filtering. To make e-mail marketing work these days, it has to be part of an arsenal of marketing tools, not the only one.

There's still face-to-face marketing, which will always work, but the increasing demands on our time (not to mention the ramped-up pressure to validate your existence by bringing in more work through more proposal submittals and the growing trend of using the marketing department to help the HR department recruit employees) make it harder to get in front of clients. Plus, that's sort of a business development function.

Of course, technology has helped us all get more done in less time, but that's the fundamental reason why doing what worked for you and your firm in the past does not work today. The generational gap between you and your audience is greater than ever if you are over the age of 50.

Do the words BlackBerry, iPhone, LinkedIn and Facebook mean anything to you? That's how people are communicating these days, and effective marketers are adopting these tools and using them to their advantage. Everyone knows what a BlackBerry can do, and iPhones offer that functionality and the personal conveniences we've all come to enjoy in an iPod.

But what about LinkedIn and Facebook? Are you familiar with these tools?

Facebook has essentially replaced MySpace as the social networking site of choice for people under the age of 40. And people are communicating there both day and night. They might be doing it right now in your office, unless you have an aggressive spam filter that blocks it.

LinkedIn, however, has become pretty much the business networking site of choice in the United States today. You can do everything from download someone's contact information to your PDA (click the "download vCard" button on the bottom of the page) to post questions about issues affecting you and your business.

Trust me, people are doing this. My brother-in-law, who works in public relations, posts questions a few times a week and I just got off the phone this morning with an associate principal of marketing and business development at a Florida engineering firm who posts questions to help her with her new role in the human resources department.

You can also update colleagues on what you are working on, post your resume (great for job-hunters and employers alike), and extend your network by finding out who your contacts have added as contacts. You can also join groups of professionals with similar interests (i.e., who attended the same college or are members of the same trade association).

Anyway, the point of all this is there are constantly evolving means of communication and what was popular 10-15 years ago is not relevant anymore, so to think you can run your business the same way today that you did in the mid 1990s is similarly irrelevant.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a line or give me a call.



Anonymous said...

Great Article Ed. Keep 'em coming.

John P. Kreiss
President & CEO
SullivanKreiss, Inc.

Construction Marketing Ideas said...

Ed, indeed this is useful and I will reference it tonight/tomorrow a.m. on my blog.
Done right, the marketing power of the new resources is incredible -- we're seeing this in our own business today with a huge (for us) order that we can trace back to blogging, social networking, and relationship development. If you change/adapt to the times, you will succeed.

Anonymous said...

How do we get folks in A/E/C circles to participate in LinkedIn? Their tendency to be risk-averse to new things is actually hurting them by not using LinkedIn and blogs.

The firms that do use social networking are going to be ahead of the game and their competition.

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