Springfield, MO

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Field Report

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by Joel G. Chamberlain

As 1990s American markets move ever so succinctly from product orientation to the provision of services, a critical need arises to promote your business and make the public aware of your firm's value and services.

The message goes by many names public relations, promotion, advertising. But whatever you call it, the basic intent is to inform the public what your business does and the value of those services.

We must clearly understand the power of self-promotion and advertising, especially to the consumers of our particular services. The message must be focused, get the attention of the focus groups and must be long-term in duration.

To be effective, the impact of our efforts must be measured: Are we reaching our audiences? Is our campaign convincing?

Professional groups, especially architects and engineers, often show a tendency to be ashamed of promoting themselves, as if it were not polite or really necessary.

It seems there must have been a time when the world was small enough that the word about who does what and who specializes in what just got around. It is surely clear to most that those days are gone, and getting your message clearly broadcast to the world will take active measures.

After all, if you don't beat your own drum, who will? Worse yet, others may move into your turf claiming to be the experts in some particular area that happens to be your specialty.

Your professional societies may take an active role in bringing the values of your services to the public eye, as the American Institute of Architects did in 1997 through a national ad campaign on television and elsewhere.

But no matter how sophisticated or successful the institute's effort is, it is still up to you, the local professional, to pick up the ball and run with it.

National campaigns can only reach the edges of our local market. At that point, your own state or local component must pick up where national left off. Your own business must transition from the national to the local thrust.

No one knows our local officials, business leaders and the market better than we do, and to be effective, our message must be consistent, repeated and focused on the same sense of value we all see in our professions.

The flip side of marketing our professions and selling services is increasing the profitability of your current organization. The following tips on profitability came from some notes I took at a presentation about managing projects by James R. Franklin, FAIA.

Ask yourself if your business is on top of the following:

?Have a profit plan and a marketing plan. Firms that do fare better financially than others.

?Spend more time on pricing and negotiation preparation. It's the best way to know when it's right to be assertive.

?Maximize direct (billable) hours. Keep your efficiency ratio as high as possible.

?Make direct hours productive. Keep work and people organized for best efficiency. Work from the general to the particular.

Remember the 80/20 rule: on most things, 80 percent of the job gets done with 20 percent of the effort. Always do the 80 percent first.

?Control indirect expenses. Ask yourself, will it: a. improve the firm's marketing ability; b. improve the quality of projects or services; c. increase efficiency? On the other hand, it's a lot easier to make money than to save it. Don't go to extremes.

?Make conscious decisions about uncompensated services. If you have a contract and you live up to your end of the agreement, expect the client to do the same. If there are additional services, get the client's agreement that's what they are and bill for them unless you both agree you'll provide them under some separate agreement.

There may be circumstances where free services are appropriate good marketing, a way to contribute your fair share, or a way to repay an obligation. But remember that even if you charge no fee, the standard of care and your exposure to risk are exactly the same as though you had. It's usually a good idea to be sure the beneficiaries know the market rate of what you do.

(Joel G. Chamberlain, AIA, is president of AIA Springfield.)


Remember the 80/20 rule: on most things, 80 percent of the job gets done with 20 percent of the effort.[[In-content Ad]]


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