Monday, May 2, 2011

Eight Tips on Going It Alone

Going it alone in the A/E/C industry demands focused attention, courage and the skill to control the urge to do what others “appear” to be doing. Here are eight tips on how to prosper as a sole practitioner.

Your firm needs a robust BD plan for many reasons:

- Define your purpose for being in business. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Are you driven by money, by controlling your own destiny, by a need to express a design philosophy? Write it down succinctly, in measurable terms. Read it daily.

- Define what you are selling. Are you selling a client service, a “style,” or a philosophy? Nothing happens without a sale. As a sole practitioner, you can’t be all things to all people. Limit project types too. No one is good at everything.

- Define your business philosophy. Decide how you will charge, how much you will charge, how you will invoice, how often, and what form of contract you will use. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Stay consistent. Above all, enforce your rules, or you won’t get paid.

- Control overhead ruthlessly. No fancy office, no secretary, no company car, nothing that does not directly get you work. Ignoring this tip is where most small firms fail. We’re all suckers for great furniture, great spaces, and perks. If you want all that, go to work for a big firm and give up control of your destiny. Work out of your house and thrive. Rent space and you must support monthly rent. If you need a meeting space once in a while, rent it by the hour.

- Network, not brochures. When first starting out, don’t waste money on fancy brochures. Focus your entire sales energy on developing a mailing list of contacts. Network diligently through friends, acquaintances, professional client associations, political activities, volunteer work, or other avenues. Give every contact your business card and always get theirs.

- Contract labor exclusively. Avoid hiring employees at all costs. Instead, use part-timers, or subcontract part of the work. Employees get perks and benefits— that’s overhead. Be sure to work overtime yourself long before you hire your first person.

- Improve yourself regularly. Never stop learning. Never stop re-inventing your business. Instead, study something that will add value to your business. Learn what it is that your clients really want on top of what you now do. Then, go get the skill. Also, never stop improving your writing and communication skills.

- Work fast. Anyone can complete a project given unlimited time. The magic of this business is to work well, FAST. Generally by the time clients hire you, they already want their project completed. Slowness aggravates a client. Missed deadlines wipe you out. Remember, no project is perfect. Work quickly with 80 percent perfection, and your clients will love you. Complete 100 percent of your projects perfectly, but late, and your clients will hate you.

The other very important thing you should do when starting out on your own is make sure you have someone on your side who can give you trusted business advice. At PSMJ, we have been giving A/E/C practice advice for over 35 years. With a 1-year subscription PSMJ’s flagship monthly newsletter for design for leaders, Professional Services Management Journal, you’ll get all the information you need to become a great success.

Every issue of Professional Services Management Journal packs dozens of fresh approaches and proven-effective strategies to help you lead your growing practice to its maximum potential. This newsletter is a must-have for up-and-coming firm leaders. Go to our website to start your subscription today!

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