Connecting the Dots

Design Management

When I started my first practice our small two man firm offered multiple services.  I wish I could say we were so smart and business savvy and understood why we provided six different services to a variety of clients.  The truth was that we relied on our mixed bag of offerings to keep food on the table and pay the office rent - it was as simple as that.

Here is what we offered:  Architecture, Space Planning, Interior Design, Scale Model Building, Graphic Design and Photography.  It was pretty much a series of skill sets that we learned and perfected during our University of Houston Architectural education.  We may have been as many as five or six years into the business when the light came on.  And when it did, it was as bright of a light as we had seen.

We connected the dots.  Buildings and homes needed an architect.  The Interior needed planning and designing and we were early purveyors of "branding" before branding was a thing.  The first of many building booms in Houston took us into scale model building, then photography and finally putting all of that into the design and production of leasing brochures.

In those days our connected services were a survival tactic.  Today, connecting a firm's unique services to improve the customer experience with one-stop shopping for design is a recognized strategy not just for survival but for capturing greater fee income from a single relationship.  The difference today is that firms need to promote their connected services  with bona fide experts in each field.  Changing hats simply isn't credible.  Clients love specialization but they really love specialization with convenience.   This expanded client relationship also can mean that you are delving deeper into the client organization creating relationships with many divisions and departments as well as counterparts in multiple cities.  Now you are expanding both breadth and depth with a single client group - very valuable indeed.

Firms today combine diversity of project types with diversity of geography, and ice the cake with research, change management and branding.  They can master plan acreage, deliver mixed uses of office, retail, residential with a side of resort amenities sprinkled with green space and plenty of parking, and it can be delivered in more than one city.  That's connecting the dots on a huge scale.

But it still works at a smaller scale, like simple Programming and standards, Interior Architecture, Finishes, Furniture and yes, Branding.  All in a tidy package of one-stop shopping.  If you need some advice on how you might explore the concept of connected services for your growing firm, give me a call.  I've got more than a few ideas 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 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