Perspective on 2013

Reflections and resolutions
Ben and Jeremy reflect on the past year in business and what they've learned, along with a few New Year's resolutions for 2014.

Benjamin Wills

A new year brings reflection on the old as well as anticipation of the new. 

AIE had a good year in 2013 for growth financially as well as knowledge and process maturity. 

As I look back on 2013, I reflect on the good and the bad. One of the few failures I feel I have experienced is in relation to technical training. I wish I could figure out what is the corporate responsibility versus individual responsibility in the training of technical people. I implemented what I thought was going to be a step in the right direction, online training, but found it not as helpful or relevant as I thought. For 2014, I hope to find a little more of an answer to this age old problem. If you have seen a good balance of training and cost effectiveness in your organization, I would be grateful for counsel.

We look forward in 2014 to keeping or even improving our growth trajectory.

As I look toward the year 2014 year unfolding, I want to really improve process within the organization. Last year, we built some nice business oriented process, but I am looking forward to having improved technical process for projects and client facing work. I believe a better handle on workflow would benefit us by enabling faster delivery to market as well as better communication to the client. I have to remind myself that most companies are defined by people AND processes. I have seen great people stifled in a crummy process situation. Solid processes turn mediocre skills and products into great businesses.

I wish everyone a 2014 worth living and look forward to seeing many of you in our daily business lives!

Jeremy Wills

According to a recent Constant Contact survey, 59% of small business owners think it is harder to run a business today than 5 years ago. 

Thankfully, we are in the other camp, experiencing an upward trajectory in our business. This past year was a continuation of “the year of the hockey stick.”  We grew. As a matter of fact, we doubled. And, we have experienced double-digit growth four years running. That is very exciting and I am very thankful for it. Still, it has not come without its own set of unique challenges.

In all growth, there is a measure of distance between that which is growing and its originator. 2013 was a year in which Ben and I positioned ourselves for that distance, through process development, adding a management position, and laying the groundwork for future office space.

Challenge #1: Process Development

To continue to experience peak performance, the best people, processes and tools must be in place. And for us, more than any year before in the business, we were able to leverage much of the hard work our employees have put in to become more efficient in our business dealings. We continue to rely more and more on these efficiencies as our client base continues to grow. Sometimes these processes feel like process road-kill, and talking and working through them ad-nauseam can get tiring. However, we have been emphatic that we are not building a three-flat, but rather the Willis Tower, and to do so requires the commitment up-front to lay a proper foundation.

Challenge #2: Adding a Management Position

In addition to making several hires this year, about half way through the year, we inserted a new layer of technical management into our organization. This move, like many before it, was done to help continue our growth and planning for the future. This exercise (of hiring) is easy when the job can be cloned and when workload is the primary factor determining when to pull the trigger. It gets more difficult when trying to create a new role or new layer within the organization. However, this needed to be done, especially once we realized Ben was performing eight different roles within the company. In order to create the new position, we identified and stack ranked the time demand of each role, placed a priority level on them, and finally determined Ben’s proclivity and capabilities towards each of them. Once this was completed, we identified our first manager within our company, and took him through a training period to help mature him into the new role.

Challenge #3: Moving Offices

We moved offices twice within one year. Moving becomes more difficult the larger a company becomes. And, this was certainly no exception for us, looking at the different experiences of the move in January versus the move in November. I believe we accomplished our first move in less than 24 hours. The second took 24 days (give or take).

The biggest challenge we faced was in determining the capacity for future growth. Inevitably, if we did not secure enough space, unforeseen growth could force us to have to consider alternatives for housing the additional staff. Too much space, and we could find ourselves biting off more than we could chew. In the end, we had to measure our current growth rate, the market’s temperature, and finally go with our gut on what we believed would happen over these next years.  And, like any move, the demand on additional resources to complete the move proved to be challenging for the business. We had to pull a lot of the staff’s time away to help build out our own infrastructure, while making decisions about what is needed for now, versus what is needed later. One piece of advice I can give is to not under-plan on any item whose cost to re-do is as much or more than the cost to do it right the first time. In our case, we doubled up on our wiring requirements, knowing that both the time and materials to expand later would be more costly than doing it right the first time.

There were so many other exciting things that took place this year.

Unfortunately, there is too little time and too much excitement. We completed our NOC (Network Operations Center), invested in many great tools to continue to enhance our client support capabilities, experienced a lost and found with our website, hired some phenomenal employees, added benefits for those phenomenal employees, and were blessed with many new clients and the privilege to continue to work with current ones.

I am hoping for great things in 2014. 

Now that our recent move is behind us, I am eager to parlay many of our investments in our own technology infrastructure into successful dealings this year. Ben and I set goals for ourselves and our staff at AIE that will be difficult, but achievable. These goals have become publically measurable for the first time in our company’s history, and I trust this will lead to a great team cohesion that will benefit everyone in and around our organization.

And, while I am admittedly emotionally invested in the opportunities that lie ahead, our recent success with some of our pilot plans in 2013 provide me much optimism as we roll them out this year!