By Patrick McConahy

Probably one of the biggest challenges a boutique firm faces is the bottom line. Salaries are typically 75 – 90% of the firm’s annual operating cost. Some clever business practices to ensure that a firm of this size stays afloat are a diversified client base, high velocity output, and a crystal clear understanding of the scope of services it offers. However, no matter how hard a boutique firm tries or how well it operates, projects can arise that simply cannot be completed without the firm losing its shirt.

How a small firm deals with these situations, however, is an entirely different story. When a project starts to head south, most people tend to feel an elevation of annoyance and malice towards the project as a whole. Many people take the stance that “this is nothing but a waste of time and money.” Continuing to work professionally and diligently can become harder because of the negative feelings associated with the project.

“Giving Information Meaning” is Whittaker Associates’ motto. While an occasional project may turn out to be financially unprofitable, as long as we have been able to learn, Whittaker Associates still considers the project beneficial. There is always something to be learned from every situation. The trick is remembering this fact when things seem to be going by the wayside. It’s often the meaning we give to a situation that can make it either unbearable or profitable.

One project comes to mind in which a miscommunication arose between us and our client. It wasn’t a giant miscommunication, but it was enough to put both parties on edge for a couple of days. In the end we worked out a solution, but it resulted in us offering a much larger scope of services without receiving added fees. I’ll admit it was a bit frustrating to continue working on the project because it seemed like such a daunting task. However, we continually looked at the project as an opportunity to learn something as opposed to a waste of time and money. By looking at the project in this positive light, we could keep working diligently and professionally until it was completed. Not only did this result in a happy client, but we’ve now added this type of project to the services we offer.

It is never a waste of time or money to take the opportunity to learn. Problems and issues you can’t control will always arise in your everyday life—things go wrong whether you’re at home or at work. What you can control is how you respond to this adversity. What view are you going to take, giving in to hopelessness or seizing the opportunity to learn? Martina Horner said, “What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers.” I’m proud to say that I work at Whittaker Associates, an organization that jumps at the opportunity to learn.