Have you ever wondered what makes one engineering firm more successful than another? Why is it that some just naturally win over more clients, and what is their strategy? As a growing engineering firm, these are the questions you are asking yourself, but the answer might not be what it seems.
The first answers that come up when asking these questions are almost always innovation, pricing competitiveness and talent, but they don’t hit the nail on the head. The difference between the firm that gets stuck by growth barriers and the firm the busts through them can be summed up in one word.
What they have discovered is that being too diverse in their growth strategy, and striving to reach out into too many directions can become one of their biggest, self-imposed obstacles. Clients want expertise, and specialization. That want an engineering firm that is different, and different definitely means better.
Digging deeper, not reaching out further is the secret strategy for growing your firm. Here is why.
Wide Vs. Deep… and What It Means for Engineers
To best understand the value of going deep for engineering firms, it’s best to look at an example
Let’s take a look at the auto industry. Ford is a corporation with a wide focus. People need cars, and those people will come from all socio-economic backgrounds and will have different needs. For them to thrive, going wide makes sense. But, they also have the benefit of size and money that helps to cushion their fall when going wide is less successful than planned.
Although Ford has a following, go up to someone who owns a Mustang and ask them what kind of car they have. Our money says the answer won’t be “A Ford”, but rather “A Mustang”. There are certain models in the Ford family that are more focused, that go deeper into what a specific niche market is looking for in terms of quality and performance. Those people recognize the Mustang brand as being more valuable than the Ford name alone.
How does this translate to Engineering? Even if you have one or two narrower focuses that clients recognize you for, going wide weakens your firm overall. Going wide only waters you down in an industry where clients are looking firms that are concentrated in their specialties.
How Going Wide Impacts Your Bottom Line
Going wide does encourage competition in the industry, but in a way that negatively affects your bottom line. In an industry filled with wide reaching firms, everyone is providing the same service, with no real variation from one firm to the next.
An environmental engineering firm that provides services for residential, commercial and industrial development along with other services such as land surveying and structural engineering doesn’t really have a singular market that they are targeted to.
On one hand this is great. More services equal more clients, right? Sure, unless other engineering firms are offering the same thing to compete toe to toe with you for the exact same client base. This means that you and the other firm must find ways to remain competitive with one another.
Where are they going to compete? Will it be in technology and innovation? It could be, but jumping ahead in these areas when you have a wide scope is basically an attempt to be the best at everything, and not only is that costly, but also near impossible.
So, these leaves only one natural place to set yourself apart from other cookie cutter engineering firms, and that is price point. Reaching wide in the industry fosters an environment where firms are in tight sector competition on price structure. This is great for clients that will obtain your services at rock bottom prices, but it does nothing for growing your firm.
Clients value specialization and focus, and they are willing to pay more for it. Digging deep rather than going wide builds trust and respectability for your firm while setting you apart from the rest, and this makes you more valuable to potential clients.
The Lure of Instant Profitability
The goal is to grow your engineering firm, but to do that you need revenue. To create revenue you need clients, and you need then quickly. To attract as many clients as possible in the short term, you need a wide reach. This is the growth barrier trap that too many engineering firms frustratingly find themselves caught up in.
Going wide instead of deep in the engineering industry is a move fostered by a sense of insecurity, or the feeling that unless someone throws you a life preserver right now you might drown. It solves an immediate problem but doesn’t address the long-term needs of your firm.
Instead of depending on a life preserver, you need to learn the specialized skill of staying afloat in turbulent waters. This takes time, which is something that many emerging firms mistakenly feel they don’t have the luxury of.
To grow your engineering firm, you need to look past today, even if that means that growth is slow in the beginning. The questions you ask yourself shouldn’t be focused on how to attract more clients, but how to attract the right clients.
- In what ways can you dig deeper in the services you provide to attract an underserved client base either locally or within your niche?
- Who is your competitor and how can you set yourself apart from them in ways other than pricing? What services are they missing? What does their client base need that they aren’t providing?
- How can you work on developing better client relationships rather than more client relationships? How have you built your team to provide a deeper level of service than typical industry standards?
- Is there a specific area of innovation that you are focusing in on? Compare the cost of implementing technology that covers a wide reach compared to investing in the latest technology and training for one specialized area. Now compare these numbers to potential revenue over the next 5 years? Does going wider really seem like the best strategy in the long term?
- Do you employ the right team to help you meet your goals? Are they specialized in their skill set? What are their strong points? Where is their potential?
For firms in the engineering industry, digging deep is the secret to setting yourself apart from the rest. It is the key to building your reputation and becoming a leader in the industry. Stop driving yourself crazy trying to figure out how to diversify and reach more clients. Instead, simplify, focus and dig deeper to grow ahead of the industry.