Currently and uncharacteristically, most of my colleagues in the AEC industry are experiencing a rare and joyous period of marketing by answering the phone. What is a boon to architects, engineers and contractors can also be a boon to the marketing folks who serve them.
Throughout my career in this industry I’ve spent most of my time trying to fit in what’s important (strategy, social media, efficient and effective work process development, etc.) between the urgent tasks that need to be done by a specific deadline (e.g., proposals, award submissions, interview prep.) Yet while reviewing my tasks assigned and accomplished over the past 90 days, I realized that I have been able to devote an unprecedented amount of time to things that will allow my entire team to work smarter when the urgent again takes center stage. Not sure how to explain how satisfying that feels.
To those of you who find yourselves in the same boat I’m in, here are my recommendations for how to prepare now to work smarter later:
1) Ensure you have an effective system and process for gathering, tracking and retrieving project statistics. Having good data and a solid system to manage it will substantially reduce the amount of time you have to spend looking for information when you’re in a hurry to have it. If you have a system that doesn’t work all that well, now is the time to tweak it.
2) Check and update your references, testimonials and standard collateral. When you’re in the throes of a proposal deadline one task that often goes by the wayside is calling the references you’re including to make sure they’re a) still employed there, b) still accessible by the numbers and e-mail addresses you have and c) still willing to provide a reference when asked. It’s also a good idea to look at the age of your testimonials. Even the best reference letters don’t age well.
Likewise this is a good time to make sure that current project sheets for jobs that were completed last year don’t still have language in them that suggests the project itself is still a work in progress. It’s also a good time to look over your standard firm introduction and other often-used tidbits of information that nobody has looked at in years to make sure they’re still valid, accurate, useful and representative of the firm. One caveat: while it’s a good time for you to update resumes, it’s probably not a good time for your practice staff who are slammed with work.
3) Teach yourself something new that makes you better at your job.
Want to know how to measure the effectiveness of your social media? Wonder if HootSuite or Marketo or SurveyMonkey or MailChimp or BatchGeo would help you market better but don’t know how to use them? Want to hone your management or negotiating skills? Want to get in the trenches with your practice professionals and shadow a project to learn how they do what they do? Now’s the time. Do it.
4) Figure out the most informative and efficient ways to market marketing. When firms are not flush with work, staff who aren’t billable are under increased scrutiny to ensure that they’re delivering value that exceeds their cost. If you have an ongoing and effective way to let the firm know what you’re doing, how it’s benefiting them and why they should care, you go a long way toward ensuring you’re “at the table” rather than “on the menu”. If you don’t, now’s a good time to create one.
5) Ensure that your brand promise is consistent across media. When was the last time (since you first started your job) that you had time to verify that the essential messaging that underpins all of your communications media is expressed across those vehicles (website, collateral, mailers, social media, signage, etc.) in ways that are working in harmony if not in unison? I’m going to guess maybe never. You are unlikely to have this kind of time again anytime soon, so go for it.
After the uphill slog through the mud that was the Great Recession, it’s refreshing to have the time and opportunity to make hay while the sun shines. Don’t squander this chance to prepare wisely for whatever comes next.