Dreaming of a small firm?

In support of Burwell Consultants, William M. Burwell writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas: Design; Marketing, Firm Management and Project Management.  Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com

Practice Management Post 1.9

It's not a complicated story.  I wanted a simple practice - sell the work, personally do the design, and by carefully controlling expenses, drive profitability to beneficial levels.  I designed an office to handle 6 positions plus an Administrative Assistant - no offices, an open conference area and a team collaboration room with a work/plotter/coffee/storage area.  With 2,500 RSF in a historical building we kept expenses either low or non-existence where possible.  If something didn't contribute to the bottom line, I didn't need it.  Lean was my  buzz word.  

We started with 3-4 and grew into 6-8 at peak. I carefully mentored my staff.   We had one service only - Corporate Interior Architecture.  Around us we formed a small team of skilled and reliable consulting engineers, finish and furniture vendors and a limited number of General Contractors.  I wanted this firm to be the big fish in the small pond.  We specialized in projects from 5,000 RSF (start-up businesses or well connected clients) to 120,000 RSF (mature businesses).  Our average client was 20,000 to 40,000 RSF and because of this the firm flew well below the radar of our larger competitors.  

Our mantra was - if you called me, you got me.  Again, I did the work and ran the meetings from programming to occupancy.  This is a practice profile simply not possible in larger firms where the principal is forced to skim daily project involvement to maintain the flow of new work with time taxing marketing efforts.  Personal involvement was both appreciated by clients and noticed by my referral sources.  That ability to show up personally every time, was key element in our office culture.

I see young practitioners right out of college with this same idea or like me, later in life after years of more complex practices.  If you've dreamed of a similar story, or you have already created a start up with thoughts along these lines, I can share some meaningful experiences to give you confidence for the future.  Yep, I have some stories to tell. 

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 a Small Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence.