How to become a more profitable design firm?

It’s a tough business, let’s not kid ourselves.  But there are ways to success, and I want to offer some ideas.

If you are already a Maloney & Company, LLC client, you may already know that I earned an MBA in Finance/International Business from the Stern School of Business at New York University.  That was a great place to absorb the lessons of how to be successful, and in this article I boil it down to a few concrete ideas.

You need to maximize your income, minimize your expenditures, and guard against a major loss (like a professional liability claim) that could set you back.  Simple idea, but how to find the right balance?

Bring in more money

  • Improve marketing and branding: A strong brand and effective marketing strategy can help attract new clients and increase revenue. Smart firm owners hire marketing people to keep their names out in front of potential clients, in newspapers and magazines, they have staff focused on creating top-quality RFP submittals.
  • Expand services: Offering additional services, such as consulting or project management, can help increase revenue streams and attract new clients. Consider offering pre-design services to clients, and post-construction consulting.  Generally firms are judged on location, type of services rendered, and experience with specific project types.  You can try for a project further away, as long as you can prove that have excellent experience providing mechanical engineering on emergency room projects.  You can try for a new type of project as long as you can show you have local expertise and a solid resume of the same or similar project types.  You can reasonably hope to offer related design services if you are an expert in the project type and are familiar with the local rules, codes, regulations, and have worked with locals subs in the past.  Try to expand by bidding on projects where you have two of the three components, don’t waste your time trying to win a long-shot project on which you try to win a new type of project, in a different city, that requires a new set of services for you.  Seems obvious, but you would be surprised at what projects some firms go after…
  • Focus on high-value services: Consider specializing in areas where the firm can provide high-value services, which can command higher fees and improve profitability.
  • Develop strategic partnerships: Collaborating with other firms or businesses can help expand services, reduce costs, and increase revenue.
  • Focus on high-value services: Consider specializing in areas where the firm can provide high-value services, which can command higher fees and improve profitability.

Develop and monitor your infrastructure to deliver excellent services at less cost

  • Build a strong team: Hiring and retaining talented staff can improve the quality of work and lead to more satisfied clients, which can help attract new business and increase profitability. Think outside the box.  Can any of your administrative work be done by a virtual assistant, or an outsourced employee from Panama, India, or the Philippines?
  • Invest in technology: Utilizing technology such as design software, project management tools, and virtual collaboration platforms can help improve efficiency and productivity, reducing costs and increasing profitability.
  • Utilize data and analytics: Analyzing data on client needs, project outcomes, and financial metrics can help inform business decisions and improve profitability over time.  There are many great software applications available to you.
  • Increase efficiency and productivity: Streamlining processes and improving workflows can help reduce costs and increase productivity, allowing for more work to be completed in less time.  Use a software package to see your internal workflow and see where duplication can be eliminated, where time can be saved.
  • For architects and engineers, insurance is one of the top costs (along with payroll).  Work with an experienced professional liability broker that can get you the coverage you need at a price you will like.

Don’t get blindsided!

  • Work with your accountant to make sure there are no nasty year-end surprises.
  • Engage your attorney to review your internal contract.  Have him or her prepare a general conditions document that you can utilize giving you the best contractual protections that will ft in a three-page document.  Have him or her prepare another such document, but designed to be used when you retain consultants.
  • Make risk management a priority.  Take advantage of the webinars offered by Maloney & Company, LLC (six each year) plus the email blasts we send out with important risk management tips.
  • Be smart about your risks.  Try to determine the type(s) of claim(s) you are most likely to be hit with by reading a claims study of the most common claims against large architects, or small structural engineers, or firms that work primarily on schools, whichever group you are in.  Forewarned is forearmed, you can then take steps to prevent the most common types of claims against firms like yours.

Then, regularly review and evaluate business operations, identify areas for improvement, and implement strategies to increase profitability.