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Mon 27 Dec 2010 12:00 AM

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What’s the big deal?

If the big deals aren’t around, look for smaller quarry.

What’s the big deal?

I spent last week at The Big 5. My perception of the event
was coloured by the fact I spent most of its four days watching people walk by
in front of me, as the CW team was hurriedly putting together the show’s daily

As the stories came in they fitted the usual trade show
format – great expectations, expansion, new distribution deals – but there was
something missing. Where had all the money gone?

A few years ago, these shows, touted as a forum for doing
business, were as much a platform for announcing deals as doing them. For many
companies they were little more than an elongated PR stunt. With big number
contracts kept in a drawer until the show week arrived, at which point everyone
shouted it from the rooftops.

Times change and if there’s a contract win to announce, few
people would hang on to the information longer than absolutely necessary. We’ve
even seen a few companies land themselves in hot water, so eager are they to
announce their success that they forget the non-disclosure agreement they
signed with their client.

With the glory seeking announcements consigned to the past,
this year’s event reflected an atmosphere of hard graft. There were obviously
people systematically circulating, on the hunt for the right kind of business.
I had several calls from a well-known machinery manufacturer, which was keen to
talk about the solid, but quite modest, deals it had done.

Fair enough too. Every deal counts; every deal brings
something to the bottom line and reports about them don’t all have to start
with some one liner about a preposterous ‘world record’. This is a point that
has been made again and again by those who know a thing or two about survival.

Smart GMs have spoken about chasing up the small deals, just
to learn more about their customers and to stay in front of mind, should the
time come to do more.

The value of any business at all is not to be discounted.
Speaking to a project manager at our Construction Week Awards the point was
made that anyone who had work they were being paid for should be pretty happy
about it. This same conversation turned to tenders and the usual contractor
grumbles about the difficulty of producing a winning bid.

Developers want to see more and more up front, requiring a
considerable level of commitment from contractors, before a single dollar has
been promised in return, let alone paid. The pressure this puts on contractors,
especially the smaller ones that operate without massive cash reserves, has
increased the cost of doing business to levels that are becoming difficult for
many to manage. This makes a selection of smaller deals all the more
attractive. Smaller jobs will hopefully translate to swifter completion and
thus payment. Get a few of them in the bag, from different sources, preferably
in different sectors, and your risk is spread too. It’s easier said than done
for most companies, but it’s not all about the big deal.

Stuart Matthews is the senior group editor of ITP Business' construction & design tiles.

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