Diversification: Good for clients - good for firms.

When you have a young start up practice, most are anxious to take any and all projects. Managing diverse projects can make your head spin.  Unique planning and cost parameters; building code differences; dissimilar permit issues and processes; not a lot of overlap on consultants - it can be exhausting. But rewarding.

As a long term strategy diversity can be a powerhouse tool for spreading risk and maintaining forward motion in a variety of markets.  As firms grow to a level of maturity they often see the merits of market segment diversity.  The main difference is that they grow, develop, hire, acquire or merge their way into that diversity.  I'm convinced that the best firms sell diversity with experts in each field they represent.  There is an appeal for clients to continue a good relationship with a firm by learning and appreciating the leadership diversity that enables the client to develop diverse projects within a firm they respect.

Here is my take on market diversity:

  1. Don't do it all yourself.  Explore staff resumes and experience to flesh out your firm's natural diversity.  This can help build new leadership and strength from within.
  2. Partner with other firms on projects to learn the skills you will need in new markets.
  3. Look for linkage between Market segments such as Commercial Office buildings and Corporate office design; Professional Buildings and Doctors Offices; mixed use development and multi-family design.
  4. Treat market segments as profit centers; don't accept loss leader work.
  5. Build your firm around principals with strong, diversified experience

When building a diversified firm keep in mind to capitalize on the blending of the diversity, to cross-train support staff to work in various project types, and to understand the synergy that diversity can bring to a firm. 

Simple diversity can begin with adding one new service such as interiors to a commercial practice  another could be to add an architectural graphic or signage designer to staff to integrate branding into each project.  There are many ways to start down this road and  developing the practice will provide rich benefits to practice leaders and your clients.

Marketing your new diversity will take new skills and teamwork and the sensitivity to weave an excellent story of purpose and advantage to your new skill sets.  If some advice from someone who has embraced diversity and been down the road would help kick start your diversity or if you just want to bend an experienced ear with your idea, give me a call.  I've got lots to share.

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