Welcome to “Small Business, Big Mistake” where small business owners face up to their biggest blunders and share advice to help your company steer clear of the same fate.
Mitigating risk is an important part of my company’s brand. When we are planning their projects, our clients expect us to look at every little details that could possibly go wrong and ensure that we deliver on time, on budget and without any hiccups. Of course, the bigger the project, the greater the risk.
However, we became so focused on looking out for our clients and their risks that we failed to look out for ourselves.
How did that happen? It started when we teamed up with a large corporation as a subcontractor on one of our industry’s biggest projects in the region. For small businesses like ours, teaming represents a potentially lucrative growth strategy, as 61 percent of small business contractors involved in teaming arrangements reported a boost to their bottom line, according to an American Express OPEN survey. It’s also been a great way for us to expand our network of potential customers.
As part of our collaboration, we outlined a plan that allowed us to meet our goals for the client and still bring the project in on time and on budget. We considered all of the things that could go wrong, except for one small detail – albeit, in hindsight, an essential one.
We overlooked adding to our subcontracting agreement how we would calculate costs on contract modifications if another subcontractor delayed the project. Because the large prime corporation dictated how much they would pay for our additional work, we did not have the option to later enter into a negotiation with them. We were forced to take what they wanted to pay us or default with a major customer and risk tarnishing our reputation.
The lessons learned? Look out for yourself as much as you look out for your client, and never assume that another business will look out for you. True to our brand, we were good at anticipating all of the things that could go wrong while performing the work to please the client, but we had overlooked a small detail on our end that hit our own company financially.
After the experience, we started doing things differently.
First, we added a new column to our project management risk chart to include any hidden costs, paying special attention to those mistakes caused by others. This is a guide we reference when preparing our bids. Second, after every project, we create a formal list of lessons learned. Each team member creates a personal list and then we discuss them all in a team meeting.
Lastly, we include all of the key lessons learned in our negotiations. Specifically addressing those items reduces risk for our clients’ projects as well as for our own brand and profitability.
This has become and important and formally documented procedure that has already paid dividends in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in profitability. We now make sure that all of our teaming agreements, whether as a prime or subcontractor, clearly spell out all details of the work being performed to include what we would charge for any modification or change.
As a result, our business has entered into successful teaming arrangements, which have been a large contributor to our company’s growth and success.
Doña Storey is the chief executive and president of Quality Technical Services, Inc., a project management firm in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
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