Maximizing the Lull

Invest the extra time in your practice, and let the lull end on it's own schedule.

Invest the extra time in your practice, and let the lull end on it’s own schedule.

August’s frantic busyness resulted in an unsurprising shortage of billable work earlier than we had hoped, well before we head into the Holidays. This is not our first lull, nor will it be our last. As consultants whose revenues depend on other people’s projects, I believe that gaps of various severity and duration are unavoidable. The issue is not whether or not you’ll have slow periods, but what you do with your time when you catch one.

Most of you have experienced slowdowns of various severities, and we’ve all been able to continue our practices smarter for the experience. Our time is valuable to our clients, and it’s value is not diminished when we work on our own behalves. From that perspective a lull is an opportunity to invest, to improve, to emerge on the other side better prepared to solve cool problems and deliver excellent service.

Irv Olsen was a Dames & Moore partner and Portland’s leading geotechnical engineer in the 1960’s and 70’s.  His marketing advice (related to John Martin, another remarkable GT) is a touchstone of Atlas’ practice: “If things get slow in the office, go see a movie.  When you get back, someone will have called.”

Of course that’s not a panacea for all workload problems, but rather a charming  acknowledgement that no specific action is required for a lull to pass. There’s no magical rain dance, and frantic short-term actions generally do more harm than good. Assuming that your group is implementing an effective marketing strategy you should stay the course; the lull will end much as it began impelled by forces outside your control. Irv and his 40 years of experience encourage all of us to take a moment for ourselves while the wheel turns, sharpen our saws so that we can start the next engagement with alacrity.

Here at Atlas World Headquarters we’ve been trying to seize this lull and maximize the value through long-term investment in our practice. These are the items that will benefit Atlas the most when the tide turns, when we’re busy again like we were this past summer, and when we can’t tolerate the distraction of being unprepared:

  1. Dispute resolution marketing materials are finally progressing. Explaining Atlas’ business model and expertise is never simple, and well-considered written materials are proving to be very helpful. We expect significant growth once we earn a foothold.
  2. Mathematica.  Finally, Mathematica.  The automated algebra software has such potential, and yet still befuddles me like a new language.  A little extra time working through tutorials and developing templates is going to save a ton of time on shoring and ground improvement designs when the heat is back on.
  3. Relationships. Those of you who read these musings know the importance of relationships to Atlas, and likely to your practice as well.  The other day I finally caught up with an old friend and collaborator, a call that was long past due.  I’m making one of those calls every day.
  4. Project Descriptions:  All the fantastically interesting experiences that we earned over the summer are now a part of our offering to existing and new clients. We need to convey that expertise through brochures and resumes, and we never seem to make the time required for thoughtful writing when we’re grappling with a complete workload.

Most of us can count on the predictable restorative period during the Holidays, beginning in about 2.5 weeks. I hope that  you’re able to maximize the value of that lull as effectively as we are here at Atlas. It’s going to be an interesting, and hopefully prosperous, new year, and we fully intend to greet it well prepared.