How a sizeable firm can still deliver the goods with personal touch of a small company Featured

7:01pm EDT December 31, 2011
How a sizeable firm can still deliver the goods with personal touch of a small company

Curt Moody was finding it tough in a down economy to find construction projects for his architectural firm to design. And the competition was like none he had ever seen before.

“One of the difficulties in this market is the small firms are doing everything they can just to survive ? and the large firms are doing the same,” says Moody, president and CEO of Moody-Nolan Inc. “The large firms are coming after the smaller work. A lot of times, clients are looking to say, well, they would prefer the personal touch of a small firm on a certain project type.”

So to address this challenge, you need to set up your firm to respond to both ends of the spectrum.

“We build our practice around being able to service and give the personal touch by having our project teams small enough to be able to respond in that way,” he says.

“But there’s the understanding that, let’s say, when a schedule gets pinched, you need to be able to add personnel quickly, so you need an approach that allows you to augment your core teams with other staff members when necessary.”

It was even more of a challenge since he built his company over the last 30 years, and to his credit, it is now the largest African-American owned and operated architecture firm in the country ? 162 employees work at the $26 million organization.

You’ll find that restructuring is not magic in itself, and it will still take you some solid selling efforts to overcome what might be assumptions about a larger company.

“When you reach over 100 employees, clients just look at you as a very large company and impersonal,” Moody says. “So work very hard to show that with your past clients, what you committed to them you fulfilled.”

You will need to explain to prospective clients that you will do that for them as well. Make sure you focus on how well past clients of similar size were satisfied.

“You will have good client references if the new clients want to dig into that,” Moody says.

The composition of the project team is important. To maintain the small company feel, you should have the team that presents the initial sales pitch be the same one that carries out the project. If your company is divided into specialty areas, you can make the head of the particular division the point person to serve as the project’s executive. He or she would name a project manager who would choose a team of very experienced people in that project type.

“They are all going to have the skills that any of your competitors will also propose ? but you’ll have them,” Moody says. “The team is built around those skills but the responsibility is to service the client. Therefore, they have the responsibility of getting to know the client more than just as a project, so you can address their overall needs, not just the specific needs of a one-time project opportunity.”

When you discuss the client’s needs and budget during the sales pitch, again use a small business approach.

“What you should try to say is that you can fulfill those base needs, making sure you give them the full program, that you meet their budget, meet their schedule, and by the way, you are going to be as innovative as they desire,” Moody says. “So it’s basically the client’s determination how far you go, not your own, because you can go from one extreme to another.”

In other words, you should show a client what the client has asked you to do, and then show what you can do that expands on what they asked for.

“Try to show them that you can meet their basic criteria ? here it is ? but they have an opportunity to go beyond that and here’s how you can still meet their criteria and go beyond what they might have been thinking,” he says. “And by doing that, you are giving your clients more choices than some of your competitors. That gives you an edge. You have to have a strategy that is going to work to help you be successful no matter whom the competition is.”

How to reach: Moody-Nolan Inc., (877) 530-4984 or www.moodynolan.com

Getting that next project

When Moody Nolan Inc. opened a new office in Dallas, Curt Moody knew one of the first orders of business would be to impress upon his staff the challenge of getting the next project.

“You can be very solid for the present,” says Moody, president and CEO. “But when you finish that work, what is next?”

If you don’t have something following quickly, you’re either going to have a large payroll expense during a time when you are not generating sufficient revenue for it or you are going to have to reduce expenses.

“A lot of firms are going to cut positions,” he says. “The problem is that you have gained some experience on that project and now you are letting it step away because you are waiting on another opportunity.”

You need to try to stay away from that and be in environments where you don’t vary your staff levels. Build upon the skills that you retained, keep the skills of that environment, and you can do better by maintaining a healthy workflow.

“You have to know when somebody has a dream,” Moody says. “You have to know when somebody says, ‘We are growing, we have a need. Should we consider building or expanding?’ You’ve got to hear about those things; follow it wherever you can find it, then follow up: ‘You know you are thinking about this ? can we help you?  Can we do an analysis or some planning to see what might be in your best interests?”‘

How to reach: Moody-Nolan Inc., (877) 530-4984 or www.moodynolan.com