Headshot of Leah Boltz
Leah Boltz
Principal of Marketing, Bettisworth North
The Associated General Contractors of Alaska logo
Building Up
Ten strategies for growing sustainable architecture, engineering, and construction businesses in a dynamic economy
By Leah Boltz

he $1.2 trillion federal Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021 is expected to bring billions of dollars to Alaska over the next five years.

Many architecture, engineering, and construction, or AEC, firms are already seeing their best years on record. However, we cannot get complacent on business development. Though more work is on the horizon, the national economy shows indicators of recession, so we are also reminded that nothing is certain, and we must prepare our businesses to capitalize on federal investment while continuing to build a sustainable project pipeline.

Do Your Research
At a recent Society for Marketing Professional Services, or SMPS, Alaska Chapter presentation, US Senator Lisa Murkowski advised AEC firms to study the bipartisan infrastructure law diligently, understand congressionally directed spending (the process that allows Congress members to request federal funds be set aside for specific projects in their state), and to be familiar with the opportunities for Alaska.

Clients statewide are navigating this influx of funds and learning how to capture them. The grant mechanisms, criteria, and programs are evolving, and understanding these opportunities provides great value to clients.

Attend grant symposiums and federal presentations. These give you valuable knowledge and connections you can apply directly to getting your project pursuits funded. Helping your client solve their funding challenges in creative ways builds an instant trust that positions you for work in the future.

Ask lots of questions. Understand your client’s business or organization. Where do their projects come from? Who is setting the priorities? Where does the funding come from? What are their funding cycles? What do their stakeholders need? Who is your competition, and why?

Cultivate Meaningful Connections
Reach out to your network, even when you are busy.

Contractors, connect with your design partners. Relationships with the client are key, but architects and engineers are helping clients create the visions early on. Clients in every sector are spending millions on planning and design with these firms to apply for federal funds. Remember too that design firms influence your client when it comes to recommending a contractor.

Designers, connect with your contractors. More clients are using alternate delivery methods, so contractors are often already working with the client before you get the call. Be top of mind when the client asks for a recommended design firm for their next project.

Follow up
Follow up, then follow up again. If you don’t, someone else will. Trust me, you are not pestering that client as much as you think. It can take an average of eight to twelve touchpoints with a new client before they try your company. Proactive communication will put you top of mind when they choose their project team.
Build and Market Your Brand
Be known for something, so when your target client is looking for that something, they know to call you.
Focus on client service and quality work. Constantly ask, “How can I help THEM?” Make quality work your number-one priority. And remember “the work sells itself” is not a sound strategy for winning more work on its own.

Focus on your strategy. Don’t chase everything. Firms that are not focused and selective overcommit and overburden their teams, over-promise, and under-deliver. Use a disciplined go/no-go process and stick to pursuits for key client targets or ones that meet strategic firm goals.

Stick to a Plan
Business development without business planning in this environment is a lot like flooding a car engine. You give it too much gas too quickly, and your engine seizes up. Similarly, too much work too quickly can lead to burnout of your staff, mistakes being made, diluted and less impactful BD efforts, wasted spending, and missed opportunities in core business areas for your firm. Create a list of target project types, services, and market sectors or industries that are your strongest. Consider focusing on key geographic regions or communities.

Most importantly, develop a list of your top ten to twenty best clients (and potential clients) to pursue. Analyze revenue and profit potential, potential for future work, ease of working with them, strategic reasons for pursuing, impact of the work, and even which clients are the most fun to work with.

Approach New Target Clients Today
Many local clients are expanding their consultant pools to meet increased project demand and workforce shortages. There are more opportunities now to connect with clients on your target list. Call them and show your interest—sometimes, a single call is all it takes to win work with a new client who may have been working with your competition previously. Action item: Call one client who’s been on your list as soon as you finish reading this article. You never know where it might lead.
Play the Long Game
Focus business development efforts further into the future. Going into 2023, many firms had the largest backlogs of work they’ve ever had. Focusing business development and marketing further into the future and looking to projects that are two, five, ten, or even twenty years out creates sustainable work.

Remember this is a five-year infrastructure law. It is not too early to position your firm for work over the next five to ten years, which sets you up for long-term revenue and sustained success. You will also be ahead of your competition for that work when it does come out. Looking out on the horizon and filling your long-term pipeline of projects will also help prepare you if a current project is put on hold or canceled.

Remember Business Development Is a Team Sport
Every person in your firm plays a role in business development. From ensuring a positive client experience to providing quality work to developing that reputation as the go-to or the trusted advisor, every employee influences whether your client hires you for that next job or goes to your competition.
Use Your Professional Organizations
Engaging in SMPS and Associated General Contractors of Alaska provides a great education in business development and marketing specific to our industry and builds invaluable networks within the building industry. Their programs put you in direct contact with clients and information about their projects.
Leah Boltz, FSMPS, CPSM is principal of marketing, business development, and community outreach at Bettisworth North Architects and Planners in Alaska. With 20 years of communications, marketing, and strategy expertise in architecture, engineering, and technology, she was named a principal/owner of Bettisworth North in 2020. Boltz is an Alaska Top Forty under 40, a 2022 Society for Marketing Professional Services Fellow, and a 2023 Distinguished Alumni from the UAA Journalism & Public Communications department. Boltz strives to be a community builder, innovation driver, and connector, and she serves on multiple community boards. With her four partners, she helps lead a highly collaborative team of 40 architects, landscape architects, interior designers, and planners providing commercial design for Alaska’s communities.
Here are some additional business development, marketing, and construction industry links that might be useful in growing your business sustainably:
Society for Marketing Professional Services:
Annual Conference
Business development and marketing podcast for the AEC industry, Professional Services Marketing Show:
AGC 2023 Construction Industry Forecasts: