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Business Strategy

What doesn’t kill a company makes it stronger: inside CannonDesign

Imagine that a senior manager in your firm and an external consultant were engaged in activities that did not just cross an ethical gray area — they were illegal.

It’s unthinkable. Yet it happened at 950-person A/E firm CannonDesign, and today, the firm is a better business partner because of it.

In this issue of The Friedman File, I’m sharing their remarkable story, one that I believe every A/E/C and environmental consulting firm can learn from. Whether your firm is involved with government contracting (as CannonDesign is) or not, read on to learn why transparency, communication and professional ethics must be baked into your firm’s culture — and how to make that happen.

In 2013, CannonDesign made headlines when they became publicly embroiled in a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office into an external consultant they had worked with for 18 months in 2010 and […]

By | 2017-07-18T15:14:11+00:00 December 2016|Business Strategy, Case Studies|

A traditional firm breaks the mold with a bold new growth vision

Can you teach an old firm new tricks? One firm’s story…

Across the A/E/C and environmental consulting industries, firms that have been around a long time get lulled into doing things the way they’ve always done them. That’s not always the best path forward — even when it’s working well enough. In this issue of The Friedman File, I’m sharing the story of what happens when a firm that’s been around for 120 years starts thinking very differently about its future. (In the interest of full disclosure, the firm highlighted is a client of Friedman & Partners.)

Alden Research Laboratory (Holden, MA), a 100-person hydraulic modeling, flow testing, fisheries biology and engineering firm, has a clear market niche. Just 2 or 3 private firms in the U.S. do what they do and their workforce is comprised of highly specialized technical experts. For more than 100 […]

By | 2017-07-18T15:19:04+00:00 June 2016|Business Strategy, Case Studies, Leadership|

Market research words to the wise

In this issue of The Friedman File, business partner Jerry Guerra of The JAGG Group shares his candid thoughts and advice on the much-debated topic of market research. Jerry is a skilled researcher, writer, and PR/communications specialist who has collaborated with me on many projects for architects, engineers and environmental consultants. —Rich Friedman.

In many A/E/C firms, market research is a wasted activity driven by ignorance, cursed by laziness and devoid of any understanding of where its true value lies. The inevitable result is a massive gap between the promise of an intelligent market research program that helps a firm succeed and grow, and the futility of the actual market research efforts that far too many firms pursue.

We pay for expensive online services, scour the business papers and trade journals for long-range leads, hire ex-government employees to identify and harvest opportunities, sit through economic […]

Getting out of a market: when to say goodbye

In an ideal world, the marriage between a firm and its favored markets would last forever. However, in the real business world, sometimes large-scale changes are needed.

It might be that the phone has stopped ringing due to an economic downturn in that sector. It might be a new development that changes the competitive landscape. It might be that the market is the same, but it’s your firm that’s changing.

Jettisoning an entire market sector is not a light decision. It’s one that should be made only after a clear analysis, including external data gathering from clients and prospects. That said, sometimes, the soul searching required to change course is necessary. In this Friedman File, we look at two examples of when “goodbye” was the right move.

When transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard (San Francisco, CA) was getting started in the early 1990s, the rural public transit […]

By | 2017-06-12T10:05:06+00:00 June 2015|Business Strategy|

Is commoditization a problem? Or a potential opportunity?

Everywhere I go, it seems, I’m privy to what is becoming a never-ending debate: whether A/E/C and environmental consulting services are becoming commoditized. In this issue of the The Friedman File, I want to explore this topic in a different way.

First off, when we say the industry is becoming commoditized, what do we really mean by this? Is it a perception that clients see firms and services as identical except for the price? Is this true, and if so, is standardization always a negative thing? More important, is this ongoing debate on whether we are in a race to the bottom helping — or hurting — the industry?

Dan Rowe, president of 95-person Treanor Architects (Lawrence, KS) doesn’t think it’s helping. “I think our industry’s preoccupation with commoditization has turned into a crutch for some firms,” Rowe says. “It’s an excuse for losing and a […]

By | 2017-07-18T15:19:39+00:00 April 2015|Business Development, Business Strategy|

Value: the A/E/C industry’s biggest blind spot?

The Friedman File readers know the importance I place on asking clients and prospects probing questions — whether it’s to:

  • Learn more about their organization and role, their greatest challenges, and trends and drivers impacting their success
  • Determine how they define and measure value from a firm like yours
  • Identify who they view as your most potent competitors and why
  • Assess how you’re performing on a project
  • Better understand why you won or lost a recent project pursuit

In this issue, I want to focus on a key area — eliciting client feedback to enable your firm to assess the value you bring to the table. As a strategy consultant to the A/E/C industry, I see far too many firms struggle with determining and articulating their differentiators, benefits (not features!), and value. All too often, expensive off-sites are held where principals, marketing staff, and […]

What makes you different? It’s time to find out.

Now more than ever, firms are struggling to determine what makes them different in the eyes of their clients. For clients, when multiple firms appear to be equally technically competent, it can be difficult to distinguish one firm from another. Many firms spend countless hours trying to determine their differentiators, value, and benefits — with very mixed results.

In this issue of The Friedman File, business partner Sally Giedrys of Artisan Communications shares a wonderful, effective process for tackling this difficult task. Sally is a deft researcher, ghostwriter, and PR/communications consultant who has collaborated with me on numerous projects for architects, engineers and environmental consultants. — Rich Friedman.

During my many years of working in the marketing realm, there have been three mainstays that infuse everything I do — from coaching to copywriting to assessing and reviewing communications efforts to setting strategy and developing […]

By | 2017-07-31T13:30:23+00:00 April 2014|Business Strategy, Marketing & Branding|

You lost. Find out why!

In the business development realm, it can literally be the $1 million question: “Why did we lose this project?”

“We’ve been scoping the opportunity well in advance of the RFP, and we thought we were well positioned.”

“We knew the competition and thought we’d answered the questions, ‘Why us? What value do we confer?’

“We thought our presentation was solid.”

To learn more about why you lost, you attempt to gather feedback from your prospective client. And that’s where the wheels come off for the majority of A/E/C firms that don’t have a steady stream of sole-source work.

Anyone who’s conducted a loss debrief knows how difficult and inherently awkward they can be — for you and for the prospective client — if not done well.

Why Debrief After a Loss?

I’d like to think that firms attempt to conduct loss debriefs at every opportunity. However, this is not the […]

I’m losing clients and I don’t know why

In this December issue of The Friedman File, I’m thrilled to have guest columnist Shari Harley share her insights on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart — creating candid relationships with your clients.

Shari is the author of How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide for Building Business Relationships that Really Work and is founder and president of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace. 

We’ve all had clients we thought were satisfied, and yet the next month, they’re off our books and we don’t know why. Your clients are under no obligation to tell you why they replaced you. In fact, they have no incentive to give you feedback at all. It’s easier for clients to disappear than to tell you what they don’t like about your services.

It’s fine to get fired […]

By | 2017-07-12T14:32:22+00:00 December 2013|Business Development, Business Strategy|

When “free food” isn’t free

Folks who’ve worked with me know I’m fond of using the term “free food” to refer to RFPs that you had no prior knowledge of, or a call from a partner firm asking you to team on a project opportunity that neither firm has tracked or is pre-positioned for.

Firms that are facing fierce competition and a dwindling backlog are regularly tempted by these “opportunities”. They’re tempted to prepare quals packages and proposals for prospective clients (and sometimes clients) even though their firm:

  • Was unaware of the project opportunity until the RFP hit the streets
  • Knew about the opportunity, but for whatever reason is not effectively pre-positioned
  • Knows that their chances of winning are slim, and in fact, the project may be wired for an incumbent or another firm

Of course, some firms don’t have to worry about this temptation because they’re magnets for sole-source […]

By | 2017-07-18T15:23:49+00:00 February 2013|Business Development, Business Strategy|