Database:  Who has time to update that behemoth, and why should we? 

"Our database of clients and contacts is so out of date, I'm not sure who uses it any longer.  Clients move, key contacts change jobs - our vendors may be the most up to date group on the list.   Most of us use our cell phones anyway."

Why should your Contact Database be an active piece of your Business Development and Marketing plan?  As most use them, they are the record of who liked you enough to pay your firm for service and include not only the main contractual contacts but sometimes the many others on a given job that lent a hand with IT, HR, or Facilities.  The project consultants of engineering, design, furniture, construction, AV and IT are likely in that database as well.   And you are correct in assuming that all these connections move around as their careers ebb and flow along with the general business climate.  Included in most databases are also vendors to your firm like landlord, utilities, your phone, IT and AV folks and many more.  Here's why this should be valuable to you:

  1. Former clients - With estimated cost to acquire a new client at 5X the cost to retain a former or existing client, why not?  They liked you once and may be inclined to use you again in the future, especially if they feel like you still have an interest in their business and the work you did.  Keep up with their professional activities, who moved where and what are they doing now.  Express your interest in their personal careers as well as the work you did together.
  2. Current clients - there is no one more important than someone who is currently writing checks to your firm.  But genuine interest goes beyond paying your invoice.  Explore their corporate cultural and community interests and support them in return.
  3. Consultants - typical project work includeslots of collaboration and close work together and builds terrific relationships and can lead to new referrals.  We hire our consultants because they treat us and our clients very well.  Make them a part of your program and notice how it extends the power of your marketing.
  4. Vendors - recognizing that vendors are people just like you, not in your field but who connect with many others outside of your circle and may be an influencer or possible referral source if nurtured. My favorite treat is to "take a vendor to lunch" to cement the human and personal side of the relationship and discover how your circles of influence may cross even deeper. 
  5. Employees - often this is your lifeblood, your delivery team.  They spend many hours helping you please your clients and often have surprising relationships with clients.  Including staff in your marketing material distribution is the first step to engaging in your marketing.  Pride of authorship and involvement is a powerful motivator.

Maintaining a current database, tagging or categorizing as appropriate can provide you a way to do very specific and targeted marketing.  Of course it works for the "tell everyone" communications but it's nice to be able to single out clients on specific type of work.  Letters, emails, eBlasts, updates that continue the positive feelings and good will of a recent project can be invaluable in eliminating "buyers remorse" and in securing future referrals.  Since so many A/E/C firms are small to middle sized, I am not a proponent of CRM systems believing that the more complex the system the less likely it is to be maintained unless there is a specified and accountable person - so much can be done with simple Outlook, that so many use anyway. Simple is good.

This topic spurs as many concerns as it does revelations.  I want to show you how to elevate your contact database into a powerful selectable source for targeted marketing in support of your active business development.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting providing Business Development and Marketing Guidance and to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years. Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas: Entrepreneurship, Business Development and Marketing. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Leadership Council. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com .

Momentum, how can I avoid running out?

 

"We are on a roll. It seems like the more we design the more clients take notice, the more work seems to come our way.  I wish there was a way to bottle this success and keep it going forever!"

It's like a flywheel that seems to spin by itself.  To maintain momentum, that constant spinning has to be fed small bits of new energy regularly or it slows and threatens to stop.  For professionals, those small bits of energy come in the form of your business development activities supported by strategically planned marketing elements.  

For the recently formed firms still operating with strong momentum and a good dose of adrenalin, it can seem taxing to begin a program of BD and Marketing that seem to take away from the busy, heady times and the pleasure of your successes.  But it's a growth experience.  Just a little more time juggling on your part, perhaps some help from your young staff which will serve both you and them greatly.  

For the 5-8 year firms  who have somewhat mastered the art but don't feel they are getting value for the time spent, you may need to ramp up activities but in a more targeted manner. Feeding the BD flywheel has to be done often but with planning it can be worked into a typical business day limiting after hours activities to only once or twice a month.  The idea is to attend the events that matter most and build a set of marketing tools that can take your place in your absence.  More advanced firms could also benefit from engaging younger staff as well.

I have ideas that could work for firms in various stages of growth and momentum and with unique time and staff situations. I want to work with you to develop a personalized plan. You may benefit from a staff training program. A great way to start is for us to spend an hour together at your office and discuss over coffee.  Keep spinning and give me a call.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting providing Business Development and Marketing Guidance and to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years. Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas: Entrepreneurship, Business Development and Marketing. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Leadership Council. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com .

 

QUICK, we need some Marketing - where do we start?

"Things are slowing down.  Projects are going on hold.  We aren't closing on the work like we have done in the past.  There seems to be more competition and fees are dropping.  We need to do some marketing."

A Chinese philosopher had it right.  "The best time to plan a tree is 25 years ago. The second best time is today."  So, lets start now, but lets start in a way that we get the best results with the least time and least money.  The greatest value come will from marketing with intent. Here's what I mean.  Marketing supports your strategy, and strategy supports your vision.  To understand where to begin, let's take a look at powerful internal thoughts to consider and decisions to make:

  1. Vision is based on who you are, what you do best, and what services will provide fees to support your vision and therefore your staff and office.  Do this first, as your Vision is your beacon, the guiding light for all subsequent decisions.
  2. Strategy is how you will accomplish your Vision.  Ask yourself where do you find your clients and prospective clients.  How can you get in front of them to tell your story and let them see your Vision.  For each client type, there will be a unique approach that works best.  
  3. Design comes into play only when you have identified the marketing tools that will support your strategy.  In many cases the marketing tools you need will work ahead of your personal activities, some will work simultaneously, and some will be designed to work in your absence.  Having a clear strategy allows you to choose the tools and only the tools that support your strategy.

The next items are external processes and their place in your marketing system. Now that we have established marketing's place in the tool kit, it is important to understand how marketing fits into the daily processes that lead to sales.  

  1. Marketing provides the tools that explain to your clients who you are and what you do best, and sometimes it shares the knowledge you have gained to establish your position as the expert in the field.  It is what you say about you and your firm.
  2. Public Relations is an often underrated and misunderstood tool to inform the others of your professional successes by seeking publication by media, news outlets and peer or client organizations.   It is often a first step in building trust with clients.  PR is what others say about you and your firm.
  3. Business Development is the act of building relationships, with former, current and prospective clients. We know that people don't buy from brochures and websites, they buy from people.  You cannot have a relationship without meeting people.  This is a trust-building effort and will be one of the strongest elements of your program.
  4. Sales is the final act of trust in the relationship.  You have done all the right things (in order) and your client goes "all in" by signing your contract for service.  All that remains is for your firm to perform as you can and will.  And that's what you do best, isn't it?

My process is designed to keep you on track. We will work in the order needed. I'll help you think about the tools you and your staff will need to drive your success as a team and as a firm.  The tools need to be selected with intent and with respect to your firms time and resources. If all this sounds like a discussion that could help build and train your team for greater success, let's plant that tree.  I'd enjoy a chance to visit and to discuss details.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting providing Business Development and Marketing Guidance and to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years. Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas: Entrepreneurship, Business Development and Marketing. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Leadership Council. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com .

 

I want a "purpose driven" firm. Where do I start?

"What I want is a company that sustains itself on quality design and client service.  I want my employees to genuinely feel like family.  I want to work together for the greater good of our profession, our community and our families as we grow." 

It's more than a trend - it's a noble and important goal for business owners. Respecting your profession, collectively supporting a purpose, and bringing work/life balance goals to a firm is driven from the top down.  Firm leadership must define what "purpose driven" means to them, how it fits into the firm's workday and how it can mesh with the client's day and process. Your staff will appreciate your commitment and, more importantly, so will your spouse and kids.  Those goals are wonderfully achievable today.

How is this done?  Step one is for principals to voice a real commitment to their profession.  The passion that you felt in college and while interning with others is a fire that should not be quenched.  The fire should be fed and ignited in those around you.  This is it, it's your life and it's not a drill.  Details matter, process matters, communication matters and error free work matters.  When the principals think and act in this manner, it's contagious.  Hire graduates that burn with the same fire and passion as you. Engage younger staff and get them involved with projects, site visits and the client.  Develop whole professionals.

"Build your office around your process, not your hierarchy.  Be flexible, allow movement and foster cross-communication of experience, problem solving and idea sharing.  Shed those good old bad officing habits."

Now think about home base.  We spend a good part of our lives in our professions.  Our home away from home should be just as inviting, comfortable and accommodating as our actual home.  It should be a place where everyone is respected for their best efforts and contribution.  Recognize that the work environment is changing at an accelerating pace.  Likely, between the time you started college and started your firm - a new business world evolved.  Build your office around your process, not your hierarchy.  Be flexible, allow movement and foster cross-communication of experience, problem solving and idea sharing.  Shed those good old bad officing habits.  Still confused?  Visit the Top 10 Best Places to Work in your city to learn how others have approached this topic.

With the physical facility reflecting more of your operational personality, give your staff the same respect you expect to receive from them.  Build a strong policy of work/life balance allowing staff to have the opportunity to refresh, rejuvenate and come in fresh and spirited each day. It is well known that given a choice of extra pay for extra work, more flex-time or expanded PTO, staff may often prefer time away from the office.  Great firms manage a little of both.  They build strong teams.   Of course, professional goals and commitment to client must always be honored.  Without successful projects and satisfied clients, your work slows, projects end and you may have to shutter the business. Espresso machines, bean bag chairs and foosball tables can become irrelevant overnight.

Finally, supporting the community with purpose may be easier than it sounds.  Back 10 or 20 years ago, professionals were asked (told) to pick a charity and go to work with fund raising as a civic duty. Today these choices seem to pick us rather than the other way around.  While it might not be obvious, your personal concerns for feeding and housing homeless people and pets, your family's fascination with animals in the zoo or enjoyment of the park system, or active involvement in the performing arts like ballet, live shows, music and dance, could point the way.  A little soul searching and conversation could lead to conclusions that could be deeply personal and rewarding.  Discover in-kind contributions and teach the art of participation, as support is not always about money.

It can be helpful to have guidance from someone with no connection and an outside perspective to help your firm launch into the future with a purpose.   Give me a call and we'll plan the strategy together.

William M. Burwellis a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Business Development and Marketing.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"What I Want:  8am to 5pm Ownership"

"I have 8 hours to sleep, 8 hours to work and 8 hours with friends and family, and that's about it.  Between dropping the kids at school, putting my projects together, managing the business of the office, and getting home in time for family dinner, providing some homework assistance and possibly some "me time" - there simply aren't a lot of extra hours in the day to do much more."  

The opportunity to start a practice can come suddenly.  The nature of a start up is that they often are not carefully planned, not well thought out, and many times are businesses of opportunity.  A client calls with an offer you can't refuse.  The firm you've been with for 10 years has suffered devastating layoffs and you find yourself looking for work.  The market was so good that it seemed like a great time to strike out on your own. Before you know it you are thrust into ownership and all the responsibilities that a young firm entails.

"Keep in mind that in year three, 50-55% of start ups fail.  Your firm does not need to contribute to those statistics."

The first few years are incredible.  There is an adrenaline rush of excitement. The market is up, clients are calling.  Life is good.  But slowly, almost imperceptibly, there is less and less work.  Business seems more competitive than ever. You can't sustain your recent hires.  Cash flow is tighter than expected.  This is a new experience and one that is very far from your picture of where you thought you would be at this time in your life.  Keep in mind that in year three, 50-55% of start ups fail.  Your firm does not need to contribute to those statistics.   

Business owners have so many demands on their time.  One of the first things important to understand is the tenor and pace of an owner's day.  How are their personal and business hours invested each day?  And further, what happens between arrival and departure at the office?  What type of program can be effective in their particular circumstance?  It may be a different answer for principals within the same firm.  Regardless, we must find slivers of time to aggregate to make a difference.  Our intent is to introduce a few significant changes in the status quo to change their future.  This is the beginning, but only the beginning.   

Let me help you discover a path through the maze that leads to your success.  We can build a program of Business Development ideas to maximize the time you have, and put into operation a series of marketing elements that can act as a surrogate for you when your personal time is pressed or limited.  

If you are concerned about the future or simply want to re-ignite your firm to a sustaining level, or maybe your experience has given you a new perspective on your practice that you would like to explore, I'd enjoy visiting with you to hear your story.  Give me a call.  The path is there, and we can discover it together.

William M. Burwell  is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting, a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

"Nooooo.....I'm not good at talking to strangers!"

What is it that scares the bee-jeebies out of most of us about networking?  Call it what you want - glad-handing, meeting and greeting, smiling and dialing, business development, relationship building - it's all about meeting people with some intent to persuade them to discuss new work with you.  It's certainly easier with folks you already know, but how in the world do you speak to total strangers and convince them of the merits of you, your practice and your talent?  I'm not going to tell you as they do in public speaking 101 to imagine your audience in their underwear, but I am going to give you some tips and training to make the first time (or 100th time) just a little easier to break that ice and make your point.

"Go often, listen, ask meaningful questions that engage your prospects and one of the most valuable pieces of advice - follow up."

If you are a newbie to the networking world, here are two hints and one tip:

  1. Do not arrive unprepared, or as they say "preparation prevents poor performance".  Know the audience and carefully select 10 people - 5 you know well, and 5 you don't know at all but who you would like to know.  Call the folks you know to see if they know any of the other 5 and ask if they will provide a casual introduction.  Research something about each of the 5 "target candidates" such as others you might know in their firm, what projects they are currently working on, recent news, recent hires - all great ice breakers.
  2. It's going to happen, as soon as there is a lull in your questions. The target candidates will ask, "So what do you do?"  This isn't the time to drag a 50 page brochure out of your pocket or to ask for his signature on a contract.  It's a conversation.  Have your short form answer ready.  Rehearse it ahead of time.  Do not let the first time you say it be in front of a real client prospect.  As smooth and as naturally as you can, say "I'm an ______ and my firm recently completed _______, you may be familiar with it."  (You selected a particular project to tell this client about because you know he does that type work and he is very likely to have heard of a competitor's project.)

TIP:    Ask the target candidate how their project (the one you researched) is coming along and what have they found has been the biggest challenge on the project.  Again, we don't learn by talking, we learn by listening.  

If you are a more seasoned professional but have not logged time in the networking arena, here are a few more advanced ideas:

  1. While following the newbie hints above is a great idea, a more seasoned professional might consider having some focused tri-fold pocket folders in your jacket pocket that deal with two or three specialty areas of your firm and be prepared to offer to new contacts in lieu of a business card exchange.  Since the handout is pocket-sized, the prospects can also transfer to their inside pocket and not feel like they have to hold it or set it down.  This is a tool used by many firms attending seminars or conventions and can be an effective tool to illustrate expertise without becoming too burdensome for the recipients.  Simple and effective.
  2. If your target candidate seems genuinely interested, ask about continuing the conversation at their office or invite them to your office or to lunch.  Many clients enjoy learning new approaches to their project type so be prepared with a white paper for knowledge sharing like, "Top 10 elements that can make Healthcare more Patient Friendly", or "Five Amenities that accelerate learning in K-6th grade children." and hand it out when you meet.  Don't forget to bring one of your senior staff along to meet the prospect.

As a professional who was always responsible for keeping my firm(s) alive with a steady flow of projects, I had to master the art of meeting people and making a good impression at a young age. The best thing about networking is that it gets easier with experience.  Go often, listen, ask meaningful questions that engage your prospects and one of the most valuable pieces of advice - follow up.  Build a series of personal letter / email follow-ups to speed the process, but personalize before sending.  Every follow-up should have a call to action for a next meeting, lunch or even a site visit.  Sound like a skill you could develop? I'm sure it is and I can help with this and dozens of other ideas if you are interested.

 

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting providing Business Development and Marketing Guidance and to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years. Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas: Entrepreneurship, Business Development and Marketing. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com .

 

"Meet the people, meet the people, meet the people."

I didn't coin this phrase. Nor did I ever use it when I was younger and building my practice. I heard it recently quoted by a LinkedIn connection and it resonated so loudly, it was like having my head inside a cathedral bell. Powerful and simple.  He attributed it to Jack M. Raines, a co-founder of 3DI Architecture as a 3 step marketing program for any who would seek to grow their business. No big secret, no magic formula, just common sense.

"All elements together intentionally position the principals in front of former, current and prospective clients."

The difference between Jack's wisdom above, and my version, is intent. Here's mine: Vision, Strategy and Design. Same tripartite form, but each component relies on information and analysis much of which comes uniquely from each client to form their vision. From this evolves a custom strategy that fits your time and professional experience and goals. The final element is the design of a selection of marketing tools to touch clients in ways impossible for a principal to attain personally. Each element supports the next, beginning with the tools that support the strategy and the strategy that support the vision. All elements together intentionally position the principals in front of former, current and prospective clients.

I talk to lots of firms, some are 3 to 5 year start-ups and some are mid-level firms with 8 to 12 years of operation who ask, "What can I do to jump-start my business? In the early years we were firing on all cylinders but now it's like we're running out of steam." It's confusing to owners when faced with time and money constraints and it's perplexing many firms, especially younger firms who do not have the advantage of the strong brand and momentum of more established firms. That's when my phone rings and I share my version of Jack's wisdom with my callers. The principals are seeking answers they can use, as simply and effectively as "Meet the People".

The best play is to combine ideas and strategies blending your best time frame to "meet the people" along with a supportive strategy of web, social media, direct mail and other ideas to be present when you cannot. My idea is a combination of Business Development and Marketing that recognizes today's principals rarely can be dedicated to outside sales. Many of today's principals need to run a lean operation which can place them in that role of "Seller-Doer". Attaining Work/Life balance splits their day into work, family and rest, and by definition means most of the operations of their firm has an 8 to 10 hour window to occur.

If you are finding your time constrained and your firm in need of a custom vision and strategy to lead you out of the fog, give me a call. I'd enjoy a visit to discuss process and options to see if there is a fit. I'll bet there is.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting providing Business Development and Marketing Guidance and to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years. Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas: Entrepreneurship, Business Development and Marketing. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Leadership Council. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com .

Plan your future: who else is going to do it?

It's going to happen anyway.  Luck can change it.  People influence it.  Your FUTURE is an ethereal, hard to grasp, slip out of your grip, often elusive element.  And yet it's real.  You made the decisive step to start up your first firm or maybe you have just been promoted and invited to become a principal in a firm in which you've invested some time. Whatever the path, it's still YOUR future and it belongs to no one else.  Sure you share it, and engage others along the way but it's yours to envision, build, directand control.  We'd all like to think that if we just work hard, do good work and wear a smile, that great things will happen.  Maybe, maybe not.

"If its already 5 or 10 years down the road and you are stepping into a principal role in an existing firm, it's probably time to ask some deep probing questions about the future."

If you are just starting out, start dreaming and build a personal vision of your firm in 5, 10 or 20 years.  Here's the interesting part.  The vision rarely evolves perfectly as imagined.  Why?  Fate, luck, people and your own actions and reactions will literally alter the future as you live it.  Your job is to keep your vision firmly in your mind, constantly scanning the future with one eye on the past.  Personally I had two early brushes with failure on my part to move my early firm to success.  The first brush was mostly due to my non-existent skills at age 28 to understand about cash flow and how it is the life blood of any firm.  My Mom always said, "if you get to choose between being good looking or lucky - pick lucky".  And a little luck served me well as a major project came to me just at the right time and saved the day.  My second brush at age 35 was economic.  Just when the economy went bust, one of my clients began asking me to solve problems where they hired another firm who had  blown both the fee and the schedule, leaving me with only a little fee and less time - but desperate time require desperate actions and I delivered against most reasonable odds.  So much so that the client firm doubled down on my team and again I was rejuvenated with cash - the breath of business life.  Within 6 months, they purchased my now successful firm.  Whew.

If its already 5 or 10 years down the road and you are stepping into a principal role in an existing firm, it's probably time to ask some deep probing questions about the future.  I had this opportunity twice in my career.  Believe me, the first time was a real steep learning curve.    This first time, I had a mentor in the firm working together with me on the firm's Management Committee.  His senior guidance was critical to my success.  I had a job to do and with his support I put my head down and developed my studio into the largest and most aggressive component of the firm generating 20% of the firms income in the first year and for the next 3 years in a declining economy.  My reward was stepping into a larger corporate world than I had ever worked in before.  I had always had the tools but not the access.  The second time, I had greater confidence and maturity on my side.  I was able to better control my destiny while at the same time leveraging my experience with the larger firm's reputation to win prestigious clients and projects for the firm.  In both of these cases, I had mentors and aligned my goals with those of my other principals.  It was not an accident.

But these are my stories, your stories will be different.  Regardless of the economy, or luck, or the effects of age and maturity, take hold of your future.  Create the dream and accept that you can affect the future.  If and more likely when, the future presents you options outside of your personal vision,  look hard at each opportunity and make bold decisions.  You might be facing some of those life changing decisions today and if I can help you understand the options and which way the paths ahead lead you and your firm, give me a call.  I'd enjoy swapping stories and providing evaluation and guidance that perhaps you may not have considered. 

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture through his sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas: Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Practice Management. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com .

 

The intern years: What can I offer my boss or his client?

Attention.  Offer your attention and interest.  If you've already read my previous blog "This is my first job, what else should I be doing?"  you read my thoughts on personal branding and personal awareness at the beginning of your career.  The next period of your career, the intern years, represent a different sort of challenge.  On the other hand, you are obviously up for it since you made it through college and now have sweated out your first couple of years at your first job.  So what's a young professional to do now?

Certainly the tendency has been to show up, keep your head down and get the work out.  Every now and then you let one eye look around at the other activities taking place in the firm and wow, it can be exhilarating and even a little confusing. Ask your principal if you can sit in on the next presentation on your project.  Ask him to introduce you to the client as an intern and someone the firm has chosen to mentor in the business.  Then sit back and soak in the experience.  If the meeting is out of the office, ask to ride along with the principal to discuss ahead what the meeting is about and the issues at hand.  On the way back, debrief with your principal and discuss the client attitude, the sub-consultants and contractors efforts and the progress of the project.

"So, what's the take away here?  Clients appreciate knowledge, experience and your confidence to have an opinion and guide their decision making.  They also appreciate your willingness to find a solution when one may not be apparent."

Young interns are typically shy around clients, its normal.  After all, right there seated at the conference table is someone who can hold the firm's future in their hands.  If they like your design, if they like the process and if they like the results, they can propel the firm forward.  Surprisingly, they are just people like the principals of your design firm that have a business, a product and customers to serve.  Clients are much more like peers than superiors.  Sure, they may know their business better than anyone else at the table, but your principal knows his own business in the same manner.  It is an exchange of equals. 

There are two bits of advice I can offer:

First, know what you know.  When your experience has given you the right answer, don't be afraid to voice that experience, even if it's a qualified but firm answer .

Second, know what you don't know.  It's not a guessing game and not knowing every answer isn't a bad thing.  Admit it, express your ability to research and provide the correct answer, or defer to your principal to allow their seniority to answer and learn from the experience.   

Know that you are not expected to lead the meeting, you are there to listen and learn, your first two priorities as intern.  Those are your most powerful tools - ears and brains.  But also use your eyes to note the attitude of the meeting attendees.  Know their positions and interests in the project, from client, to landlord, or designer, engineer, contractor or sub-contractor.  Knowing the players will put their comments into perspective for you.  At the beginning or end of the meeting, exchange business cards (if you are lucky enough to have been provided them) with all present.  See where this is going?  

So, what's the take away here?  Clients appreciate knowledge, experience and your confidence to have an opinion and guide their decision making.  They also appreciate your willingness to find a solution when one may not be apparent.  Being studied, doing research, knowing what others do or have done all provide valid references for your client relationship.  As an intern, this is doubly difficult.  You have two "clients", your boss and his client.  This is what makes interns nervous.  Having said this, do your best to contribute to every meeting.  Make your presence known, even if it is asking questions of others.  You may discover that other's may have had the same question but were hesitant to ask.  Not bad.

To me, interns are special people deserving of great attention and respect.  I always see myself in my interns, recalling the day I was so honored to sit in the presence of our clients.   It completely altered my personal and professional conscientiousness about the client / professional relationship.  Give it a shot.

William M. Burwell  is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Design, and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

Are you herding cats?  Managing the Marketers.

Anxiety.  Lethargy.  Stress.  Procrastination.  Fear. And sometimes outright laziness. Yep, those are the cats many marketers have to rustle every week just to make forward progress with their firms marketing and business development.  Marketing leadership must be part manager, part cheerleader, part coach, part guidance counselor, part psychic reader and on any given day the mix of these duties varies widely.  Failure to herd the cats can lead to simply showing up and hoping to get through the day with the off chance of putting at least one mark in your to-do list check box. But you know that isn't good enough or where you want to be.

"Marketing is not easy and done correctly, it never lets up.  The better the team sets goals, and demands accountability and takes a realistic view of their processes, the more satisfying the results."

The enemy of this crippling and stagnating situation isn't simple, but the solution is not overly difficult.

  • Clearly define the goals.  An overarching target that is well communicated is more likely to succeed.  As the saying goes, "When you are up to your a** in alligators it's easy to forget the original objective was to drain the swamp."  Post goals and milestones visibly, boldly and update frequently.
  • Demand accountability.  The whole team needs to be responsible for carrying their portion of the load.  Suffer no slackers and reward excellence.
  • Check progress and be agile.  Review results daily.  Do not wait until a deadline approaches to find out adequate progress hasn't been made. This allows quick shifts in assignments or extra help to stay on track.
  • Plan contingencies.  No plan or schedule is perfect nor beyond being subject to change.  It's an undeniable fact and to think otherwise is folly.  

Not all work of the marketing and BD team is inside the team.  There are principals, and senior associates and many other players who want success and need to contribute to the work.  Bring them into the fold and assign their tasks while holding them accountable.  BUT REMEMBER - they are your client!  Sometimes, this is overlooked in the big scheme, but marketing and BD serves the firm.  The firm is the client.

Well programmed Marketing and BD teams have many tasks and all need to move forward all the time.  Here is what I mean:

  • Marketing Programs - Inbound and outbound programs keep the firm visible in the market and re-affirm the marketing position of the firm and its various component specialties.  These include web, social media, direct mail, brochures and many other programs of systematic distribution of the firms story.
  • Public Relations - Focused and timely 3rd party recognition, endorsement and publication create undeniably positive peer and client relationships.  This includes calendared delivery of articles, awards, and community engagement.
  • Business Development - Encouraging, training and mentoring well below the first line of ownership into the ranks in the skill of face to face interaction with clients, prospects, referral sources and influencer's is where the real action happens.  People buy from people and the power of meeting and greeting is one of the most overlooked resources a firm can muster.
  • RFQ's, RFP's and Contracts - This is it.  This is what it's all about and why the first 3 items on this list exist.  Marketing, Public Relations and Business Development are the map to the mine and RFQ's, RFP's and Contracts are the gold and diamonds of the effort.  If the team keeps these processes moving forward, the firm should strike gold.

Marketing is not easy and done correctly, it never lets up.  The better the team sets goals, and demands accountability and takes a realistic view of their processes, the more satisfying the results.  But it is a moving target.  Of course, processes erode and distractions set in.  Even the best leadership needs guidance and reorganizing periodically.  Few leaders can keep things on track, all the time.  When you need it, I'm available to evaluate and provide this third party observation to help your team stay on point.  Meanwhile, keep herding those cats!

William M. Burwell  is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Design, and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

This is my first job, what else should I be doing?

Sure you're new.  And you don't bring a lot to the table except maybe that hard earned degree and some youthful enthusiasm. What could this successful company want from you other than your 8 to 5 work?

"Just like a business' brand, your personal brand is not what you think you are, it's what you do."

The truth is probably not a lot other than that will be asked of you.  HOWEVER, you can offer significantly more.  You could bring some excitement and passion for the profession.  You could ask a lot of questions regarding not just your job but of those working around you.  You could begin to piece together how your cog on the wheel fits together with your bay-mates cog.  You could also move outside the box and do some personal networking.  I know you aren't a partner (yet) but like our Mom's often told us, "it's not what you know, it's who you know!"

There are some to whom this kind of discussion will bring sweat to their brows, so maybe they're just not quite ready yet.  But others would jump at the chance to grow professionally, to see and understand the big picture, and they just might build their "personal brand" in the process.  

Just like a business' brand, your personal brand is not what you think you are, it's what you do. What you do is what others see and experience when they intersect with your circle of influence.  Are you engaged in the profession?  Are you inquisitive? Are you helpful?  Do you listen?  Do you ask the right questions?  Do you bring some unique skill or technology that the firm needs but doesn't know it?  Do you participate?  Do work to expand your contacts to a diverse group of contacts?  

As your career advances, you may see some staff being held back by their own inactions or those flying past you into the stratosphere.  Somehow either their passion quenched after college or it ignited with their first opportunity to perform.  There is a saying in the Internet community, "Move fast and break things!" And it can apply to your personal career.  Carefully bend the rules, make waves, change the paradigm, perhaps not with reckless abandon but certainly way off the status quo.  

Here's a real life story:  A young man landed a terrific job at a large oil service company as a graphic and web designer after a career in a completely dissimilar industry.  His company was entertaining firms to design their new global website.  He was on the interview team and quickly saw that all the professionals were simply missing the mark, failing to enhance the existing brand and failing to deliver a client-centered approach. The professionals were timidly staying the course of status quo. On his own time he developed his own entry into the competition and approached his boss with the results. That is the site design they chose and use today.  Listening, understanding, applying his talent and experience, and presenting fearlessly were his brand.  

Grab a hold of your life, you will be building your personal brand.  What could be better?

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years with the A/E/C community.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

Why "outside the box" influencer's are important?

One word.  Balance.  It's a big world out there.  Many of us live in a small corner of our world and seldom move outside to stir up a little dust and fresh air.  Why not?  Are we so focused on the world we know?  Are we uncertain who lies just over the horizon?  Introducing new people and new ideas into our professional world is a way of bringing balance and relevance into the equation.

"But there is another element that is often overlooked and it can be the flame that tempers the steel of our professional experience."

As an Architect and young professional the greatest influences on my professional life have been a Grocer, a Teacher, a Banker, a Steel Importer and Developer.  An unlikely group to seek out for support but each of them touched my life at a time critical to my professional development and when they did, they left a deep impression.  Of course Architects and Designers made their impact on me as one might expect being in the field.  However it was this diverse group enlightened me to the outside world.

Now fast forward to my 40's and 50's during the time most of us understand to be the sweet spot professionally.  We now have the education, experience, and patience that forms a basis for our professional wisdom and we are operating "in the zone".   I've written often about bringing focus to our professional lives.  Focus in process, design, in marketing and in business development.  But there is another element that is often overlooked and it can be the flame that tempers the steel of our professional experience.

These influencer's bring breadth of experience to our world.  They are much like the intent of our higher education when we studied history, physics, psychology, math or geography that taught us the how and why of life and the intertwining nature of knowledge.  When we encourage these new relationships and open our minds to other professionals we amplify our earlier education.  

"This is more like tossing a handful of pebbles into the lake and watching the circles intersect. "

I have created a "virtual" board of directors in my professional life.  Some are friends and acquaintances, some are professionals from other disciplines, some do not know me at all but are known to me only by their writings.  What I enjoy is the discourse and the discovery that it brings.  Listening to their professional experiences with an open mind has exponentially improved my vision of the world of business.  It allows me to live in a much bigger box and see the world not just through my eyes but through the eyes and experiences of others.  One source of new influencer's are my clients.  Each of them is a person like me that has achieved some level of professional success in their industry and while they are looking to me to provide a creative solution to their business needs, I need to know as much as I can of the road they have traveled that caused our paths to cross.  I view them as a repository of knowledge of accounting, banking, oil & gas, insurance, real estate or technology and by exploring their experiences I am able to add to my personal experience in the same way.  I have often felt that it was my empathy for their position and experience that allowed us to connect quickly and to feel comfortable about doing business together.  It's not a bad habit to develop.

Another source can be networking groups, properly developed and managed.  Bringing together diverse professionals in a way that isn't just a "you hire me and I'll hire you" arrangement can be equally rewarding.  When these groups promote education, sharing, charity or any of many other social elements, the entire group benefits.  As we've been told the first step in successful networking is asking, "is there anything I can do for you?"  

For those of you that read my posts often, this blog probably steers your thoughts in a different direction than I typically present.  I'd encourage you to examine your lives and see who might be in your circle that would be good to get to know better.  Consider expanding your circle or creating new circles of connections.  We're familiar with the analogy of tossing a pebble in a lake to see the concentric circles form.  This is more like tossing a handful of pebbles into the lake and watching the circles intersect.  Remember that it is a two way street for knowledge sharing, so be prepared to be forthcoming with your own story and experience.  The effort can be substantially rewarding.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years with the A/E/C community.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

I meant to do that: Purpose driven marketing.

I started a blog once.  I sent an e-blast once.  I loaded news on our website.  I posted some project images.  I handed out some business cards.  I even mailed holiday cards.

All good starts, but only good starts.  This is what firms do when things slow down and their minds turn to marketing to increase the flow of new projects.  Sure, they will check out a business lunch or two for a little meet and greet.  There might be cocktails or golf involved if time permits.

"There is a lot of smoke and static, random marketing, diluted messages, glad-handing, back-scratching and eye candy by the competition that can confuse your prospective clients."

Yes, marketing involves sending out information and materials to prospective clients.  Good marketing does it all the time, the good times and the slow times.  Great marketing is an understanding of who your market is, what your strengths are and the value you bring to your customers, then sends materials on a continuing  basis to targeted and select former, current and prospective client with that singular message.  Successful and great marketing, adds the element of human contact to the mix for the simple reason that clients rarely buy from websites or announcements.  Clients buy from people - and clients prefer experts and people they know or know of.

Purpose driven marketing is such a program.  Intentional targeting of a client group with the sole purpose of letting them know you and your firm are absolute experts in your subject and can bring greater value, experience and knowledge to bear on their next project than your competition.  But it is a crowded field out there.  There is a lot of smoke and static, random marketing, diluted messages, glad-handing, back-scratching and eye candy by the competition that can confuse your prospective clients.  Your job is to clear the air and our job is to help you do just that.

Such marketing takes time.  It isn't done in a day, or a week or in a months effort.  It is a habit and a process that yields powerful results when managed continuously over a long period of time. I'd welcome a visit to your office to show you how we can help you initiate such a program and how you can execute and maintain the program on your own.  There are lots of effective tools in my toolbox and we both want the same results - the success and growth of your firm.  When you are ready to start a serious program of successful great marketing I’d enjoy a conversation.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years with the A/E/C community.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

Marketing: Are you looking for a bigger pond?

More projects from new clients - who doesn't want that?   When I interview my clients, I hear the same puzzled question over and over.  Our discussion often reveals that firm principals often press their connections and attain some great results but after a while the initial robust response seems to fade perhaps not from failing to deliver, but rather from simply from needing a greater number of clients.

 "Establishing these highly effective programs can broaden your exposure, deepen your client relationships and even reposition your firm to build your practice."

What is going on?  Well, it's a little like throwing that fishing line in a pond over and over not realizing that you may have fished out that pond.  You might need a bigger pond - and more clients.  Some market research can tell you a couple of things:

  1. How big is your market?
  2. What is your estimated market share?
  3. Is the market increasing or decreasing?
  4. Who is your competition for your specialty?
  5. Are there new firms entering your market?
  6. Is your specialty growing in other geographic areas?

Now you have some information that can help guide you through the next several steps.  This has to do with services and client relationship questions, such as:

  1. Are there peripheral services related to your specialty that you could add?
  2. Are there logical pre-design services to offer?
  3. Are there logical post-occupancy services to offer?
  4. Do you maintain relationships with former clients?
  5. How do you promote your expertise?
  6. Do you take your expertise to the client base?

Where is all this soul searching headed?  Marketers and Business Development will recognize the process while firm principals may be too close to the business and the work to see alternative ways to improve their market position.  There are so many tools to consider and this is only one path.  Laying down a program of Inbound marketing with tools like web and social media, or an Outbound program or client survey can reposition your firm to a greater expanse of clients.  Establish Business development programs where you move closer to the clients arena through their organizations and associations or with client surveys and direct contract. 

Establishing these highly effective programs can broaden your exposure, deepen your client relationships and even reposition your firm to build your practice.  I build custom programs for my clients using my 45+ years of experience.  As in any successful practice, it is focused effort expended over a period of time that does the trick.  If I can work with you to develop a program for your firm, give me a call.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years with the A/E/C community.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

It's not a date, it's a relationship....wait...what?

There is often a gnawing familiarity each time we see an attractive opportunity approach.  It's magnetic. The siren call of a new project can be hypnotic.  Right about  now you should be getting that familiar feeling of butterflies in your tummy.  Once the opportunity has been identified and acknowledged a clear plan of action is needed.  As they say, you will know it when it's right and the time to make your move.  Here's my take on this process:

Dating

     Marketing

     Business Development

The Romance

     RFQ / RFP Response

     Follow-up Calls

     The Pitch

The Wedding

     The Award

     The Promises

     Contract Signing

The Reception

     The Design Presentation

     Production

     Bidding and Construction

The Honeymoon

     Occupancy

     Appreciation Event

The Long Kiss Goodbye

     Post Occupancy Evaluation

     Warranty Inspection

     Performance Survey

This tongue in cheek analogy, beyond it's humorous nature, shows a way of thinking about new prospects and taking the long road to relationship success.  By hook and crook we all will have those new opportunities to pursue.  Whether or not you get to the alter is up to your talent and experience as well as your selling and presentation skills.  Now once the dancing has stopped and the party is over, maintaining your relationship with your new client is up to your skills at listening, staying connected, and expressing a genuine concern for the long term success of the project and the client's satisfaction with your work.  Sound familiar?

"Developing a structured approach with each client in former, current and prospective categories can build your practice on a solid foundation of long term relationships and repeat work."

Now go back up and look at my analogy.  Do not skip the Honeymoon - it's important.  If the relationship falters after the honeymoon there can be feelings of abandonment (you didn't call, or write, or send flowers).  In the worst cases there can be genuine buyers remorse and resentment.  You don't want that.  The counter-action is to continue the courtship with targeted outbound marketing and selective business development contact that keep the relationship alive.  Further, it is not uncommon, after a large corporate expansion or relocation project, that the client contact (project manager) can be lured away by another company to do something similar.  With a little luck and persistence a firm could end up with two clients where there had been one.  Pretty nice wedding gift.

Developing a structured approach with each client in former, current and prospective categories can build your practice on a solid foundation of long term relationships and repeat work.  You won't find yourself losing projects to interlopers, or competing for work with a client that you had previously won.  This is exactly the type of program I help my clients build and execute and there are dozens of ideas.  If you would like a further discussion, give me a call, I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts.  I'll buy the coffee.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Design, and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

Why can't FOCUS be your marketing "superpower"?

Some say that multi-tasking is a highly sought after skill, often touted on resumes.  In fact, I envy those who can be buried in a project, then stop on a dime to take a call, redirect to respond then in a Nano-second be right back on point with their original mission.  And they can do this repeatedly throughout the day.  A valuable skill indeed.

Although I have wondered, can they really come right back to the same spot and pick up where they left off?  Personally I have to freeze the movie when I need to run to the fridge for a snack or beer, otherwise I have to rewind to refresh that minuscule amount of lost memory the break forced on my viewing.  Actually, I'm not alone in this thinking.  Studies show that it's the same for most office workers.  Interruption, even movement outside their workstation or office caused a mental rewind with an associated time loss to re-focus back on the subject at hand.  

Marketing efforts are not exempt from the same loss of focus.  Our clients build an image of our work and our firms while we are working together and even maintain that image through our rhythmic and periodic marketing efforts.  Each mailer, each call, each blog post, connects the dots in their mind as to who we are and what we do.  It works - unless we send different messages, with different thoughts and different purposes scattered randomly on an irregular basis - then I believe we can disrupt our clients focus on our firms.  It can be the unintended consequence of breaking focus.

"Properly designed, a focused marketing program will be a link to former clients, a continuous connection to current clients and a steady drumbeat to prospective clients."

Focusing on continued marketing including personal contact by way of targeted business development programs creates a steady and continuous connection to our former, current and prospective clients.  So it's two-fold:  first to focus on what we are offering to what clients in your location, then; second extend that focus into a systematic, even automatic, marketing and business development program to extend the relationship on into future work with prospective clients.  Properly designed, a focused marketing program will be a link to former clients, a continuous connection to current clients and a steady drumbeat to prospective clients.

Creation of this type of custom focused marketing program is my specialty, but it's not based only on my ideas, it gets it's purpose from you and your firm derived through an intuitive visioning and strategic approach.  The elements of which can be delivered entirely through my efforts or split in any percentage that works with you and your teams talent, time and ability.  Together we will target a goal of building your independent operation once the program is underway.  Now you're flexing those marketing muscles of steel!

I'd enjoy a short visit over a cup of coffee to learn more about your firm.  If this is an idea you might find interesting to strengthen your practice, give me a call.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Design, and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

Leadership: So, what am I doing wrong NOW?

Leadership is waking to a new day and to a new way of running a business and performing their service.  "What got us here, won't get us there." is yet another brilliant observation by my virtual board member, Tom Hood CPA.  It's an idea perfectly suited to Leadership Transition today even though the ideas was crafted back in 2011.  

As I interview clients and principals this theme continues to evolve, not always so succinctly as Tom said it but in words and phrases that somehow bring me back to his idea.  I see it in behavior patterns that are so difficult to change.   They've worked well for 40 years, so why won't they keep working for 40 more?  I think it's because the rate of change itself grows exponentially.  Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel with Andy Groove said that, "...the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years."  The curious will ask what this has to do with Leadership.  It was precisely this exponential explosion in the digital world that has led to the empowerment of the individual.  In simple terms, each of us has tremendous power in our hands that only 40 years ago were only available in massive building sized computers.  

"There has been a breakdown in trust and a there is a belief that a better way can be found."

To me, this resulted in opening up the world through faster processing, data compounding and mining, and of course the Internet itself - all in the hands of any individual in the world.  This slides the bargaining chip, if not in favor of the energetic youthful computer savvy, at least closer to center between this employee and employer.  It's just not the same world in which most of us grew up.  But, it is also a change in attitude, perhaps fostered by loss of credibility in corporations, banks and even the government.  There has been a breakdown in trust and there is a belief that a better way can be found.

I think we can't lead in the same manner any longer.  Surely, some will.  But many are finding resistance to the old methods.  This head butting will lead to defection in the ranks, to say it politely. Leaders of the past 30-40 years will need to open their minds and hearts to the new generation of workers who envision a more collaborative future, where business is won through team efforts, where ideas are discovered through the synthesis of many minds in order to overcome the  competition and win the day.  Future leaders are not emulating the habits and work styles of the older leaders.  Rather, they are clearing their own path to success. (See my article, "When Hindsight isn't 2020: how to move forward with confidence (anyway)" for my take.

It starts with communication, listening, open discussions with no fear of repercussion.  Both generations need to listen to learn.  Then comes collaboration to build a win-win solution, or process that respects the needs of leadership and future leaders.  Progress will not happen without creativity.   Youthful exuberance needs guidance from the voice of experience to avoid unintended results and to anticipate reactions to any decision before implementing.  The results can be positively inspiring and can motivate a team and all those who surround and observe.  I'm not the first person to acknowledge that there are many paths to success.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

Marketing 101 in 3 easy steps.

No time.  None.  It's not possible given my schedule. Time is one of the few elements that is simultaneously a preventer and an enabler.  It's precious and should be well spent.  You know the firm needs work and you sense that the market is changing or at least shifting away from your main strengths.  What can you do as an owner practitioner, to break the cycle?  How can you possibly find the time?

Good questions all.  Not to kick that dead horse BUT....as we all know, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results...you know the rest.  So what is the best way to slip into the marketing and business development mindset without killing your project schedules or wiping out your family time? There are lots of ideas and philosophy's regarding building new habits.  And while most habit changing ideas are valid, I still like my version to ease into the new behavior as you retrain yourself to include marketing and BD as a part of your business day.  It can be an effective way to use marketing and BD to provide the set up and do a lot of the initial heavy lifting while minimizing your personal time during this adjustment period.  Here is one approach I feel can be a great way start.

First - if your firm really has not been engaged in any marketing program for a while, select a base line approach to inform your former, current and prospective clients of what you have been doing and keep them up with current work and events.  This could be staff news, project news, or trends.  

Second - make an effort to create a minimal, low cost Inbound marketing program through your website, eBlast, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter etc.  Open your accounts if you don't already have them and plan to produce one to two posts a week.

Third - make a list of former clients from the past 24 to 36 months.   Call one a week based on a priority of importance.  Make the purpose of the call to schedule a walk through your mutual project to see how it is performing, holding up, leasing, etc.  Make it easy and low key.  You are really just interested in the client, the project and re-kindling the relationship.

This idea is based on your firm having some basic level of marketing and BD staff, or a savvy administrator that can help you with simple activities like sending eBlasts, posting to social media.  Your total involvement is making one call and making one future appointment to go see one former client weekly.  Your new In(bound program should be timed to land in your client's inbox anywhere from 3-4 weeks ahead of your calls.  This is what turns your last 24-36 months of inattention from what in a practical sense might be a cold call, into a warm call. This can make the difference between the client taking your call or just not being available.  

"As usual, it's not magic and there's no silver bullet.  But the one certainty is that it won't happen by itself without you."

For smaller firms, there might not be marketing or BD staff.  You could be running lean on administrative support as well.  This leaves 3 choices.  1, carve our more of your precious time to do the marketing and BD tasks yourself;  2, hire a young support staff who is Internet and social media equipped, maybe a part-timer; or 3, hire a professional who can take on your marketing and BD tasks, assist with writing and composition and provide you some advice on who and when to call and what to say when you do.

As usual, it's not magic and there's no silver bullet.  But the one certainty is that it won't happen by itself without you.  It's important to run a program like this for 90 days then see how 144 (2 posts x 6 platforms x 12 weeks) web and social media notices, 12 ( 1 x week) phone calls and 12 (1 x week) personal visits have moved the needle.  The first 90 days should set some habits, perhaps enough so that we can step up the program in the second 90 days.  I've got lots of variations on this theme, anyone of which might suit your schedule very well and over a 12 month period should have a positive affect on your firm and your firm's presence in the marketplace.  Now imagine this same scenario executed with a strong program behind it based on a vision and mission plan for your firm and a team to help you deliver with intent for the next 12 months.  Powerful indeed.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

Passion, Engagement and Professionalism

It's palpable.  You know it when you find it or more likely when it finds you.  I meet with many different firms and interview with principals, partners, owners, managers and I often interact with all strata of staff in many of those firms. I think we recognize our own traits in others. I identify with the passion of those who are engaged in their profession. 

As a young graduate it led me to self employment at age 24 to be more in control of my career.  It wasn't a money move, especially since we made none for the first year and subsistence level income the next 2-3 years.  I worked for several firms during my apprenticeship and was fortunate to have several passionate mentors and even one boss that was the catalyst for my start-up. Regardless of your career, from Starbucks Baristas to car mechanics, whether Architects, Engineers or Contractors - passion has a powerful effect on the businesses where passion and engagement live.  And it leads to strong professionalism.

The first thing I notice is that I'm doing more listening than talking when in the presence of an impassioned professional.  Their deep interest and engagement brings thoughts and ideas to their mind with both speed and clarity.  It's infectious and you can see it in people around them in how they react and begin to reflect that energy.  I think this is what makes good teachers and mentors great teachers and mentors. 

"Teach why you do what you do, what your drivers and motivations are for constantly improving your service and product to the client, and why you believe in your firm."

If you could bottle it or put it in a box, you could make millions - unfortunately it is not so. Passion and engagement are more intrinsic like DNAbut that DNA can be passed on by professional association and perseverance.  If you could sprinkle a few motivated and engaged folks into an office full of staff, their passion acts like a pebble dropped into a lake, with ripples of engagement larger near the epicenter of the drop - the passion is contagious.  Research shows that in most offices only 15-20% of staff are engaged.  Just imagine if we could bump that percentage to 30-40%.  It boggles the mind.

This is where staff training and education comes in.  Not the formal brick and mortar, what size nails and bolts to use type CLU education, but more top-down teaching and mentoring regarding the work of the firm, your work.  Teach why you do what you do, what your drivers and motivations are for constantly improving your service and product to the client, and why you believe in your firm.  Teach your vision for your purpose-driven firm.  Bring them into your story and be the pebble.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com 

 

When hindsight isn't 2020: How to move forward with confidence (anyway).

Even the youth are confounded.  Who wouldn't be?  Sometimes those of us with some years on our clock are finding the old adage isn't holding up 100% in all cases.  Humans are thinkers.  We learn through our life experiences.  Burn our fingers on a hot stove and you can bet we will think twice before touching that stove again.  But it's the anomalies that throw off even the wisest professionals.  And the greater the frequency we observe anomalies, the more we challenge our historically accurate hindsight.

How do you dress to go to work?  Hindsight tells us that you dress for the job you want, or you emulate your boss or the firm's clients.  Not so fast there old man, today's workers are dressing for comfort and a long day at the office.  Today, too casual is the only breech of etiquette frowned upon.

How do you get to work?  Hindsight tells us that you drove in, parked nearby and walked into your office.  Nope. Today, folks enjoy living in the urban environment, close to work, walking a few blocks or minimizing the commute and maximizing their time off.  If not, it may be by bicycle, with UBER, on the bus or light-rail leaving the driving to someone else altogether while we deal with morning email.

Where do you do your work?  Hindsight tells us that you work in your office or workstation, you know, where the pictures of your family and dogs are placed, right next to the Star Wars action figure of Boba Fett that says, "Trust me, I'm still cool....."?  Wrong again, today the correct answer might be "it depends, am I doing focused work? collaboration? teamwork? or brainstorming?"  I might be outside all day working in the shade on the office deck area if the weather is nice.  You might find me at home and connected.

How about that Internet of Things?  Hindsight says caution, it's not allowed or not available, or not encouraged.  Today most folks find the Internet their primary research tool and method of marketing and communication.  It brings the world to your desk(top) or mobile device. Anywhere, anytime is the mantra.

While the situations above are personal and part of the evolutionary workplace, some of the more interesting hindsight shifts might be better filed under the label paradigm shift. As a retired Architect for Corporate Interiors with 45 years of private practice in my rear view mirror,  I see many, many changes sprouting and growing tentacles into the workplace.  Many of these ideas were spawned in the dot com era,  when 24 year olds created empires out of their garage or their bedroom at their parents house.  It grew with the delightful discovery that OPM could purchase a lot of toys and tricks to share with co-workers.  It matured when savvy investors learned to carefully guide those businesses to profitability.  Now it is spreading to mainstream, engineering, legal, accounting and so many others as employers embrace the meaning of productivity and creativity over conformance and formality.

Change.  It scares the h*ll out of most, including younger staff but especially the middle management and executive leadership.  My city is not a technology driven city.  It's a large and substantially old school business climate and ownership, the wonderful people we call clients and who we hope will write checks to our firms for the services we provide, have not all turned the corner yet and must be shown the way.  There are plenty of guides out there willing to lead those traditional clients to the light.  On the other hand, it's likely they will not eat the entire elephant at once to cite an old proverb.  They must eat it one bite at a time.  Here is what I see that could drive our clients towards the change makers amongst us:  

  1. Clear thinking firms need to explain (perhaps slowly and in old school language) what is transpiring in the workspace.  Education is far better of a tool in this case, than slapping clients with a 2x4 and screaming, "why don't you get this?"  It's not magic, and there is no mystery.  Smoke and mirrors only confuse the issue.  There are benefits and measurable metrics that can illustrate beneficial results.  
  2. Understand that many client decision makers are not quite yet getting all their news through social media.  Teach the lessons where the students live.  Snail mail, email, brochures, case studies and the absolute best method - face to face.  Better yet, show them your ideas in action at recently designed work places where they can kick the tires and get questions answered.  These actions remove the fear of change and replace it with familiarity and understanding.
  3. Survey your recent clients after 12-18 months in their new environments and share the findings in white papers. This interaction can reveal the success of intended consequences and exposes the unintended.  Exhibit passion.  Become the expert.  Speak to the client at their peer organizations and associations.  
  4. Learn change management.  Back to that elephant proverb.  You need to be sure the client is hungry, but understand their limits of taking in new information and change.  Change is rarely happens suddenly.  Hold their hand. The clients first project may not be 100%, but if you have done your homework, you will have a client for life who appreciates your future vision of his workspace today.  

I attribute much of this workplace change to the digitalization of absolutely everything. This phenomenon is having the effect of removing many, many differences between dissimilar businesses and rendering them more and more similar, except for the data on their screens.  See my earlier blog post (The Next-Gen Office:  Are we there yet?) Now it's all in the process:  Sell, design, produce, deliver, invoice, collect the money.  Lather rinse repeat. 

"Only human interaction can bridge the gap between neurons and electrons."

For me, I have observed this digitalization initially reducing the human interaction as programs, computers and devices replaced slow, inefficient humans.  Then hindsight struck again.  It's has come full circle.  Only human interaction can bridge the gap between neurons and electrons. Only a human can create a relationship between staff and management bringing focus to a solution over a cup of coffee or a beer after work (OK, during work).  Humans buy from humans.  People love to work with people.  Just when it seems everything has changed you realize that nothing has changed.  What a wonderful world.

As someone whose career spans multiple cultures I can help you guide your firm into this new world and capture the work you need for sustenance.  I'd enjoy touring your place of business and learning something how you innovate.  I may just have a key to unlock a few mysteries.  Give me a call. 

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas: Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com