Category Archives: Project Management

Reviewing Insurance Coverage

When was the last time you reviewed your insurance coverage’s?

We all know it is a pain in the butt to meet with different providers when looking at either health insurance or liability insurance. However, failure to do so on an annual basis can cost you either hundreds or thousands of dollars in higher premiums.

It is worth it to take the time on an annual basis to shop around. Now if you have a great relationship with your insurance provider, I don’t know if I would be jumping ship to new provider for 1-2% saves. But if you shop around, there is a very high probability that you are going to find better rates somewhere else.

You may want to look around for a provider that specializes in provided coverage for architects and engineers.

Just make sure, that you are dealing with a reputable company and you are getting a quality plan to back you up.

Cut Five Percent

Whether you are sitting around the conference table of the office or the kitchen table at home, if you look at your budget of the last year, almost always you can find 5% that you can cut on your spending.

The challenge is… do you ever do this exercise?

When was the last time you reviewed your companies’ expenses? Did you look closely at whom you spend money with and ask if there was room to cut? Here is what you need to do.

Categorize your expenses by whom you spent the money with. Then sort the list by the amount spent so that the largest at the top and the smallest is at the bottom. You want to work with the vendors whom you spent the most money with, as there will be more room for trimming.

Here is another reason to focus on the larger accounts. If you cut 50% from an account that you do $500 per year with you will have saved $250 but if you could 5%, one tenth as much, from a client you do $20,000 per you with you will have saved $1,000 which is four times the amount but a much smaller cute percentage wise.

So what you want to do is look at where you spent you money and see if there are any areas you can cut and/or negotiate with your venders and suppliers.

There may be an opportunity for you to consolidate what you’re purchasing. If you are getting your plotters supplies from one company but you are doing all of your printing with another company, you may be better served and get better pricing if you did all this business with a single vendor.

Here is a reminder. DON’T BE A CHEAPSKATE.

You want to negotiate but you want to treat your venders with respect and fairness. Just as you expected to be treated from the people that are paying you. There is nothing wrong with asking for a discount, but be kind about it.

True Story… when I started my engineering practice, we just started getting our printing done at one of our local reprographics companies. Being an engineering firm we didn’t have nearly as much volume of printing as an architect office did. However, we had a project that came up where we were going to be doing a lot of printing so we went in and were talking to the manger about it. They pulled out this magical book that had these huge discounts. This pricing book is for their professional clientele not the people that come in off the street. We were paying the off the street price rather than the discounted price that had about a 40% savings.

We could have asked for better pricing two years early, had we done that we would have saved a lot of money.

So, there may be discounts out there that you just haven’t asked for.

So just ask!

“Do you have any discounts for the people in the industry?”

Again, just remember, nobody like cheapskate but you have the right to shop around because it is your money we are talking about.

In another upcoming post, we will talk about other areas that you probably have not looked at in a while that you could grant you a great deal of savings.

 

Billing Reimbursable Items

When billing reimbursable expenses there is a chance that a client, from time to time, might dispute one of your reimbursable expenses and hold up paying the invoice until the dispute is resolved.

A client of ours once had an invoice where the design fees represented about $60,000 on the invoice and the reimbursable expanses represent about a few hundred dollars. But because one of the reimbursable expenses was disputed, the entire invoice was not paid for several months until the dispute was resolved.

Had this firm submitted two separate invoices one for the design and one for the reimbursable expenses, then the design fees could have been paid more promptly and only the invoices with the reimbursable expenses would have been delayed.

This depends on you client and what the rules and operating procedures are. But some clients won’t pay any part of an invoice if a portion of it is in dispute.

So, if that’s the case, you may want to separate your billings into two invoices:

  1. Fees that most likely will not be disputed
  2. Reimbursable or other items that could become disputed

Hopefully, you will not have to deal with disputed invoices and will have happy cash flows.

 

Dating Your Invoices

No, I am not talking about taking them to the movies and buying them a tub of popcorn, I am talking about the date you put on your invoice. Here is a little un-known trick that won’t work for every client but it will work in some instances for you.

If it is April 3rd and you are doing your invoicing for work you completed in March date the invoices March 31st rather than April 3rd.

But why? Because then for the person receiving the invoice they will read it as a March Bill and most companies will pay their March billings in April., but if it is dated April, even early April, it becomes a May payable. So instead of receiving your money in April you do not get paid until May.

So you may be able to accelerate the payment by a month simply by dating it the last day of the prior month rather then the first few days of the current month. This is probably going to happen more when you are billing larger organizations or agencies because they have accounting departments who often function on the monthly cycle. If you are billing a small company or a homeowner this probably will not have the same affect, but it never hurts to try.

So if you are issuing invoices for your engineering or architectural service within the first couple days of the month try dating the last day of the prior month.

Key’s to a Successful 2015

2015 is here and so are New Year’s resolutions. There are the typical lose weight, save money and volunteer more, but what about for your business? Have you set any initiatives for your business for the new year?

I was scrolling through the Zweig Group’s blog and came across “Keys to success in 2015”.

Setting goals for your firm is a great way to have a successful year for your firm.

In the “Keys to success in 2015”, some of the “keys” I will be mentioning are some I think are important for any business.

Communication.

Not having any can lead to “misunderstandings”. Having good communication with everyone involved in your business can eliminate problems and lead to a thriving business.

Having Purpose.

Employees should have the purpose to create quality work they are proud of. Having a purpose can lead to an overall positive effect on individual motivation.

Working Together.

In the A/E field, working together is a big part to success. By not having a “solo performer” and having “team players” projects can get done more efficiently and your business can run more smoothly.

Of course there are more factors to running a prosperous business, but these three really jumped out at me. Running any type of business is not just about making money, its important but being proud of your work as well as helping others is really what matters at the end of the day.

With running a successful business, working together, communication, and having purpose are important factors; however having a “well oil machine” requires everyone in the office to be organized. Meaning, keeping track of money, time, and schedules is how your firm will run smoothly, and having software to make keeping track of necessary things is always a must.

With Praesto AE, keeping track of when things are do, who is doing them,how much is spent, and have we been profitable is easy.

Praesto AE allows you to keep track of everything from money; contacts, and building materials to ensure your business can run more efficiently and effectively.

 

 

Happy New Year!

Project Data – Your Institutional Memory

As your firm goes through time you work on more and more projects with a wide diversity of requirements, features and challenges. Before you know it you have a history of projects with all kinds of useful information that can be used as a firm resource.

This experience is used to win new work, to illustrate your expertise to potential clients. It can also be used and applied to new projects. Rather than re-inventing things you can pull past items forward.

The question comes is how do you capture this information and which information should you capture. Our experience shows that it is only captured in the memory of the old dogs. That is, most firms use the “Hey Charlie” method of archiving and retrieving information. You know the drill. “Hey Charlie, do you remember when? or do you remember where?”

And to be honest logging this type of data can be overwhelming. Unless you have a custom database that is. This is one of the key features of Praesto – it captures your institutional memory.

What is the institutional memory of an Architecture or Engineering Firm?

Well is it all the project data that tells the story about your projects. Things like materials or features. Typically you would not have a need to know how many project you have completed with gypsum wall board, however you may need to know the last project with a Terrazzo Floor. So when logging information think about the types of things you would be asking Charlie about.

I doubt you would need to research on building with restrooms. However you may want to know about waterless urinals. Or perhaps projects with elevators, swimming pools or data centers.

By adding tags (key words) to your projects in a database you will have the ability to search through your history of work and find what you need – even when Charlie is not around.

Are project data gathering tools available?

Project Data, Tags, Keywords and Institutional Memory

Project Tags and Keywords

There are very few project management software solutions designed specifically for architects and engineers. And even fewer that have the data tracking features we are talking about here. So if you are in the marked for a solution make sure to ask if the one you are reviewing can capture your institutional memory.

A sound solution will not only allow you to track projects with tags but will also let you categorize your project into countless categories. By using categories for projects you can compare and contrast things like labor requirements and profitability. Imagine comparing your design-build work to your plan-spec. Or your office buildings to retail or religious to educational.

What is the profitability of projects with elevators compared to those without elevators? Without capturing the institutional memory on your projects you will have no way to identify your best projects.

Having a searchable database does more that just let you report on projects. It also enables you to leverage past designs which in turn saves time and money. If your architects and engineers can quickly find past projects with a particular feature they are integrating into a new project, they can save a great deal of time by coping details, specifications, and schedules. This time savings will add dollars to your bottom line.

In a nut shell…

Without a doubt it is worth the time to log your projects and capture their information. Now you just need a tool to help you do this.

Invoicing Follow Up

It is an important step to get your invoicing out the door, but it is equality important to keep up on status of the invoice.

How long has the invoice been out?

Has the client actually received it?

Do they have any questions about it?

When do they think they are going to pay it?

Now the follow up can be woven into the conversations that the project manager is already having with the client.

First, the project manager needs to be in the loop. They need to know the payment status of every invoice; they need to be able on a simple dashboard or simple report to look at their projects and see what the outstanding balances are and to know where that project sits. Then when they are having a conversation with the client and they happen to have an outstanding balance or the balance is starting to get out there past say 30 days (if you do billings in Net30) you can begin to ask questions and drop hints to the client such as: “I am just following up on the last invoice we spent out, did you see any challenges with it, or do you think there will be any problem with getting that paid?” If the client says there will not be any problem, then once again they have made the subconscious contract and commitment to you to pay their bill. Secondly, by just having these conversations or asking these questions you become squeaky wheel -hopefully a non-annoying one, but it is a fine line!

Think about it, they have five companies they owe money to and you are they only one asking about it, whom are they going to pay first? Most often they are going to pay the person asking about the money first. They want to get you taken care of so they can stop answering your questions and avoid the embarrassment of telling you no or that you can’t get paid right now. If the other folks are not going to ask for their money, that’s fine. What you want to do is get your money in as fast as you can.

So just follow up with the client by asking simple questions:

“Did you get our bill?”

“Do you have any questions about our billings?”

“Are you going to approve it for payment?”

You can also put it on yourself:

“I know I didn’t clarify a reimbursable and I just wanted to make sure you didn’t have any questions about it?”

“Did you need to see backup for the time that we spent?”

It is critical though that you put this information in the hands of your project managers so they can have these conversations. In most cases there doesn’t need to be a direct phone call to deal with invoice payment unless you have a slow payer or other issues (that I will cover in another post) however, it is very simple to just bring this up conversationally when you are already discussing other items on your projects.

 

A Day in Winnipeg

From the desk of Doug Rawson, PE – founder of Base Builders.

I recently spoke at the 2014 Festival of Architecture in Winnipeg, Canada. This annual conference is put on by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. My session was all about business and practice management ideas.

Principals for managing a business cross all borders whether is it in Canada or the US, because the basic principles are the same.  Businesses have to run an effect and efficient operation if they are going to make profits. Which are key to running a successful and long-lasting business.

The audience in Canada was awesome; we had a large group of enthusiastic architects all looking to enhance their revenues and increase profits. We covered company profits, cash flow, and techniques for improving both. Overall I believe it was very well received and I am hoping that those who attended will go back and improve their operations at their offices and hopefully will be in business for a long time.

One of the keys to running a great business is measuring the success on your projects and comparing projects against each other. You need to analyze how and where you are making the most money. Do you do better with a certain type of project or perhaps a particular client type? To do this analysis many firms duck tape a bunch of spreadsheets together. What we do at Base Builders is take all the information that you need, and put it into a database software solution so that it does the analyzing for you. Our solution, Praesto AE, empowers you with the information you need to make the right business decisions.

“Keeping Client Promises” = CRM in the AE Industry (even for small firms)!

“Having a sure fire way to track and keep client promises” is my favorite way of describing the need for a CRM (client relationship management) system.  I know that the topic of CRM has been beaten into the ground — with much of my 25 year career in this industry having been spent selling CRM software, I know I have talked about it until I am blue in the face.  But it is a personal passion of mine to help firms make sure they do just that, keep client promises.

I love that phrase, I love helping people realize the true meaning of CRM.  And client promises encompasses so many things. Let’s break it down:

1. Tracking an important interaction such as a phone call or a meeting.

2. Keeping track of due dates on everything from proposals to drawings.

3. Having a place to track thoughts and ideas revolving around a project so you can share them with your prospect or client at a later date.

Sure, CRM systems can have elaborate tracking components and reporting capabilities but what it really comes down to is a simple need to record important details that you don’t want to slip through the cracks. It’s making sure that you know more information about your client than your competitor does.

And sometimes in the AE industry it is also being able to cover your “assets”.  By date and time stamping your entries you can also go back to a client with detail when issues arise and this can be important if you are in a “scope creep” situation where you need to resolve a time or billing issue on a project.

So does a small AE firm need a CRM system?  You bet they do.  Even if it is just a simple integration into your overall project database that lets you record a note and schedule a follow-up task, an electronic diary of sorts.  We all want to keep our client promises and it doesn’t hurt to have a few reminders.

Take a look at www.basebuilders.com to learn more about Praesto AE, the time/billing and project management system for small AE firms.  And, yes, it includes an integrated diary to track those client relationships.

What can an AE specific project management system do for your personal life?

Tags: Project Management | Date Posted: | Author:

I am getting ready to walk out the door for a short vacation, a 4-day weekend.  I am hustling and bustling around the office making sure everything is in order.  As a sales/marketing associate I need to have a good handle on my pipeline, proposal deadlines and client promises.  I also want to post a quick blog so I keep up with my weekly commitment.  This got me thinking about what Principals of small AE firms need to have in check before they can get away for a vacation or time away from the office in general.

I am sure this is not all encompassing but I know that you need to make sure that you have a good handle on project deadlines and client promises as well — but that can mean a great many things when you have constantly moving parts and pieces.   It doesn’t matter the size of your firm, even the smallest of organizations can know where they stand with project tracking if the information is organized efficiently and readily available at your fingertips.

Wouldn’t you be more relaxed when you are away if you can first do a quick rundown on your projects to view project deadlines, project fees and even run a profitability report to see where your gross/net fees are at overall? Maybe take a look at a forecast report to ensure the cash flow keeps moving while you are enjoying yourself.

While you are taking a look at your numbers you should also be able to run a list of tasks from a client database so that any outstanding phone calls or follow-ups are handled appropriately.  Also scan through your proposal deadlines to make sure nothing will fall through the cracks.

Day in and day out a project management systems can do many things for an AE firm to help improve productivity and profitability and considering the peace of mind it can give you while you are on a well deserved vacation – maybe it is time to consider how it can help your personal life as well.

As we head into the spring and summer vacation – I encourage you to take a look at your systems and consider all that an integrated, industry specific system can do for you!  Learn more about Praesto AE at www.basebuilders.com.