BY STEPHEN METZ, PRESIDENT SMBH, INC.
We are now five years since the onset of the Great Recession and most of us are seeing a comeback, whether minimal or significant. Unfortunately, for many, our busy ways will replace the memory of the tough times and the lessons will be quickly forgotten. After all, economic booms are typically followed by recessions, and then the cycle repeats itself every eight to 12 years. When times get tough we tighten our belts, and when the rebound occurs, fees are plentiful.
However, what if this time is different? Many will argue that with the advent of technology, generational differences and a global economy, we can't simply return to business as usual. Instead, what if we applied what we learned during the recession to the good times as well?
As workload and revenues have increased steadily during the last two years, SMBH has added staff as well as resources to remain competitive. However, I dare say we are now doing it through a different filter and prism with a commitment to three key areas of focus:
1) Commitment to communication: In all aspects of our business, we are communicating with our team members and clients now more than ever. Transparency results in trust and can be a rallying point for change. Be open about cash flow, workload and other challenges. With increased workload, it is often tempting to cut back on communication, meetings and even skip steps in our defined processes to optimize our working hours. However, once transparency and trust is established, it shouldn't be removed from the culture.
2) Engage your entire team in cost-cutting measures on an ongoing basis: By looking at all of your expenses that you take for granted as fixed costs – everything from office supplies to the cleaning service – you'll find areas for adjustment and continual improvement. For example, you don't have to cut out your training budget entirely, but find a way to deliver educational programs in a different manner, such as employees having to brownbag lunch instead of catering the meal. In terms of maximizing cash flow, get better at collections.
3) Keep marketing: There has long been an adage that those who continue to market during the tough times will come out strong when the economy rebounds. Although we certainly made cuts related to marketing expenditures because of our decreased cash flow and workload, we didn't stop promoting our firm. Our tactics may have changed – such as decreased consultant costs or less sponsorships -- but we replaced these costs with grassroots efforts and communication with our clients. Today, as we begin to spend more money related to marketing, we look at all expenditures through the new prism.
Our team looks at decisions not simply in terms of the implications on tomorrow, but long-term. This approach helped us navigate the tough times, but it also is helping guide our decisions today when we enjoy a healthy backlog and great optimism for the future.
Stephen Metz is president of SMBH structural-engineering services firm. He can be reached at email@example.com.