How to survive in challenging times for the construction industry

Posted by Derek Mason

5th January 2021

Photo credit: Nitin Tulswani on Unsplash

The prognosis for our sector could be seen as fairly grim. According to the RIBA Future Trends Survey for 2020, the Future Workload Index fell to zero back in November. This means that the same proportion of architecture practices expect workloads to decrease as increase.

Private housing looks like the most promising sector, with an anticipated increase in levels of work. Levels of commercial, public sector and community work are expected to fall.

On the other hand, we all know that you can find statistics to back up almost any point of view. And the silver lining for our industry is that construction sites remain open, even while 78% of England is living under the strictest Tier 4 “stay at home” rules.

As a sector we’re well placed to bounce back rapidly. But what can we all do right now, in the face of very real limitations to running our businesses to the best of our abilities?

The most sensible course of action is to carry on doing those things that we all know work to bring in clients, while paying limited attention to the stats, and the ups and downs of the news cycle.

Last year was challenging, but we are lucky – the majority of us do not work solely in the events industry, or theatre, or any of the other sectors where carrying on regardless is not an option. Consequently there is much we can do to ensure we survive these times. And the reality is that as people spend more time at home, including working from home, this triggers people needing more space – something that can lead to additional residential work that may not otherwise have occurred.

A positive start to 2021

Here’s how myself and my team – four engineers and my personal assistant – are approaching this year. I am sharing our plans, in the hope that you can take what’s useful and apply it to your own business.

Every year we sit down as a team and set goals. We each choose one professional goal and one personal goal. For example, last year my PA, Jennifer, had a personal goal to improve her photography skills. And her professional goal was to become proficient at using Google Analytics – so that we can tackle things like reducing the bounce rate on the Super Structures Associates website. Helping her to achieve both those goals benefits us as a team, while helping Jennifer develop both personally and professionally.

With each of us setting these kinds of goals, we can ensure that we’re all continuing to “sharpen the saw” professionally and also achieving goals that are personally important to us. It may seem frivolous in challenging times, but I believe it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re all working towards something more than just financial growth. We are human beings, not robots, and we need to prioritise enjoyment as well as work.

The other things we’ll continue to do this year, no matter what, are listed below. When you’ve been in business for a long time, you gain a deep understanding of how important these “foundational” elements are.

When a business fails, sometimes there was nothing that could be done to save it. But often these basics are not happening. So while the economy, COVID-19 or Brexit may end up being blamed, the truth is that the business could have continued had these elements been in place.

It’s more important than ever to be doing the following:

  • Keep doing the things you usually do to generate leads – networking, staying in touch with referral partners, meeting new contacts for a virtual coffee
  • Ask existing or recent clients if they know anyone who needs your services
  • Follow up with every enquiry or lead, more than once
  • Ask happy customers to leave a 5-star Google review – this should boost your rankings on Google as well as reassure potential clients they can trust you
  • Post about your work on social media, to reach a wider audience
  • Consider adding a new marketing method to the mix – for example, direct mail to suggest a virtual coffee with potential clients or referral partners
  • Respond to media requests – search #journorequest on Twitter
  • Start a regular blog and email, like this one, and add an opt-in to your website so people can sign up to hear from you.
  • Don’t forget the business aspects such as keeping an eye on the cashflow and chasing outstanding invoices, to keep the cash coming in, as more businesses fail due to lack of cash than any other reason.

All of these things take time, but they’re essential to business survival in challenging times. I expect you’re doing some of these already, but I hope there is something there that you can add to help keep the work flowing into your business.

In the meantime, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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