Quickfire with James Potter

James Potter is MD at Superstructures, a structural engineering design business with offices in Ipswich and Cambridge.
Published in Suffolk Director Magazine, Winter 2021|22

The structural engineering consultants at Superstructures undertake design for a variety of projects, ranging in size from £100K to £15M. Working across East Anglia, the team is focused on design-led structural engineering, producing excellent solutions, as well as providing great value for client investment.

We spent five minutes with James and asked him some questions about running a business.

How do I engage and motivate employees and keep them?

Now the business is larger, my focus tends to be on long-term personal development of the team. I share as much information as possible about our future plans and how as individuals they can progress in their roles and grow with the company.

How do I maintain and enhance margins?

It’s imperative that there is a clear dashboard of KPI’s showing efficiencies and performance across the company. Never be afraid to politely move away from client relationships or sectors that aren’t successful for you. Delivering at the highest quality tends to return a higher margin. Focus on what you’re good at and look for workstreams that will complement this.

How can I put my prices up and keep my customers?

Customers have to see clear value in what you provide. The construction industry is renowned for being cost driven and this is a constant challenge, especially when we are operating at the top end of value and quality. Strong client relationships are key to success. We always aim to save our clients considerably more than the difference between our fee and our cheapest competitor.

I’ve got this great idea – what do I do with it?

First decide where you want the idea to go in the long term and what will it actually provide for you? It’s straight from the book, but ‘begin with the end in mind’ and work back to the current day to compile a list of simple actions. Don’t just blindly try to develop an idea for the sake of it.

How do I protect my reputation and enhance it?

Integrity is essential. Be open and honest with everyone you deal with. Everyone makes mistakes and in construction every project is different and has its individual challenges. If on occasions you don’t deliver to the desired standard, understand that this is an opportunity to shine by putting the situation right.  

What can I do about competitors who have an unfair advantage?

It’s important to be aware of your competition, but not to obsess about them, or feel hard done by. Concentrate on your business, your USP and play to any advantage you may have. Make changes if you need to, but only if they’re good for your business.

How do I network to my advantage?

Don’t network just for the sake of networking and choose your events wisely. I try to attend events that are relevant to my industry and my specific target audience. Try to think of the events as how much revenue they will produce per hour of you being there.

How can I manage the work/life balance more effectively?

Balance is extremely important. I’m a competing cyclist and therefore have a strict training plan. This gives me something else to focus on and a clear end to the working day. Long hours are seldom effective hours…apart from when you’re starting out. Ensure you maintain your hobbies and interests and be strict about making time to do them.

How do I cut my overheads and outgoings without negatively impacting my business?

List all of your outgoings over a certain period. Then sort them by size, and work on the ones where you can make the biggest impact. Always consider the value to the business, not just the actual expense. Make sure you understand every single line of your P&L account. If there’s an expense you don’t know about, then get to the bottom of it.

How can I move my business to the next step? 

To stop working in the business, you need people to replace you! To do that you need a clear 3-5 year plan setting out where the business is going. Once you have a picture of the future you can start to build your team. Over time you need to delegate the day-to-day tasks, and this means you have to enjoy the business side. Delegate well, trust your team to deliver and check in from time to time to make sure everything is on course. Review your goals….repeat!

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