Entrepreneurship

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 .

 

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 

 

"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 .

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 

 

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 

 

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 

 

How to build processes you and your clients will love.

From people to process.  April saw me post blogs about people.  In May I moved on to processes. We work hard to build our practices.  We are good -  no, make that great -  at what we do.  We want more.  More work, more clients, more success.  

"Fear of Failure:  How to learn to love marketing" deals with the day to day stress of doing our job and still having the energy to get up and get out to meet the people that might just hire us.  There are processes we can engage to represent us out there in our markets while we are building our practices.  These same processes can steer clients to your knowledge, your projects and your expertise 24/7/365.  They can tip the balance in your favor.

When your client does bring your firm into a project, how your process delivers the work will come under his scrutiny.  How you work with others and develop his project as though it is your project will be noticed.  "THINK:  How to become ONE with the client" takes you into the clients mind and discusses what's important to them in the way you think and act.  Read about it.

"It's so hard to win clients, why give them away?"

You won!  Actually you won a year or two ago and honestly you've been too busy moving on to the next client and project to call back to that wonderful past client.  Don't let it happen to your firm.  "It's your client to lose" offers ideas on how to keep the competitions clammy hands off your hard earned clients. It's so hard to win clients, why give them away?

These topics are deep and rich with ideas you may want to use.  Give me a call to help you build a program to market, think and keep the best clients you'll ever have.

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

 

THINK: How to become ONE with the Client.

All it said was, "THINK".  In the late 50's my mother presented me with a small plaque for my bedroom desk.  It was completely disassociated from Thomas J. Watson or even IBM - two entities that occupied no presence in my young mind.  However, the message was clear. The word was both simple and profound.  That may be why it inspired me and spawned a huge media campaign for IBM, and later the "Think different." campaign of their upstart rival Apple.  Fast forward a half century and the word "think" still exudes all its original power and respect.  Maybe it's the digitalization of everything that can seem so far from human thought.  Maybe it's the sheer speed of human activity that would belie thinking.  Thinking is a precious commodity.  And clients respect their consultants who think.

"On the best teams, the consultants become ONE with the client melding their ideas into a formidable reality.  How does this happen?"

The clients very success or failure rests on the ability of their architect not to just design the solution - butto create a desirable human experience.  The engineers aren't just creating systems and structures to support the building, they are creating methods that conserve energy or speed construction by understanding future consequences of decisions today.  The contractor is not building a project but masterfully selecting means and methods that will return value to the client year after year.  On the best teams, the consultants become ONE with the client melding their ideas into a formidable reality.  How does this happen?

First - pop the identity bubble.  It seems simple, but every fiber in our being, starting with our education, seems to work against it.  We worked hard to differentiate ourselves from the world by choosing our education and profession in architecture, engineering or construction.  We can be proud of this bubble we have around us.  But the bubble that sets us apart, can also insulate us from the needs, concerns, fears and sensitivities that drive our clients.  The most creative teams pop out of the bubble and become thinking team members.  Sometime in our young professional careers we are exposed to other consultants who think.  I was, and I remember working with older engineers or contractors who knew as much about architecture as most architects.  When it happened to me, I was inspired because it showed me how the fields intersected.  It expanded my world and in turn expanded my success with my clients.  Clients began to see that I valued the other consultants and engaged the entire team to solve problems and yes, think on the job.  

"Again, clients respect consultants who think, think like a client - and they want them on their team, over and over again."

It's this big picture thinking that wins over the day.  It's evident in your initial presentation to clients.  It can be a differentiator that wins work.  It's evident in your process.  It's evident in your delivery and approach to problem solving.  Again, clients respect consultants who think, think like a client - and they want them on their team, over and over again.

Think about it.  If I can help you build a new campaign around your ability to think, 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 

 

Old dogs / New Tricks: Sustaining the practice.

"No one....not a soul.  I can count on one hand the likely candidates who might possess leadership skills AND a solid business sense to run my business". 

Founding Principals looking forward to sharing or transitioning leadership frequently and painfully observe that few staff think and behave like them.  Often as those entrepreneurial principals begin to grow their support staff, they hire excellent, skilled staff but not typically entrepreneurial.  The founding principals provide the drive, the relationships, the energy to propel the firm and they look for staff that can run projects and deliver the goods.  As life moves on, firms can find themselves very well supported as the firm becomes a virtual machine with excellence in project design and delivery.  Its a winning formula except for one thing.

How businesses move themselves forward is really not a mystery.  Working for large corporations like Lloyd's Register, GE, JPMChase, Diamond Shamrock and others,  I noticed a common thread.  My division or headquarters contact, sometimes during our project, would be reassigned from one role to another, sometimes in a different city but certainly in a different division or operating unit.  When I asked the inevitable question, the answer, without hesitation, was that they were being groomed for a larger role but had to bring deep, across the organization experience, up the ladder with them to insure future corporate success.  Rotating experiences, cross-division or departmental knowledge creates richer, better balanced leadership with sensitivities to the entire business.  Even my law firm clients rotate principals as Managing Principal to grow a team with a strong understanding of how things work.  It's a leadership track. This is business sustainability - with intent.  

But what does this mean to a 10 or 20 person service firm?  Or, even more dramatically, a larger 30-50 person service firm with 20 years under their belt?

  • Small practices may have a single service - Warehouses, or Civic Buildings, or Interior Architecture like my specialty has been.  In these firms cross-training would include Practice Management, Marketing, Design and Project Management.  Even with a single design focus you can see there is a lot for a younger staff practitioner to learn if they are ever to co-manage or take over your practice.
  • Medium to large firms should consider horizontal movement from practice area to practice area as a requisite for young staff practitioners to gain sensitivities to drivers, markets, project design and delivery and clients in all the firms specialties.  This should be blended with mentoring in critical Practice Management areas including Marketing.  What an immensely valuable person you would be developing as a future principal or leader.

Younger practices might forecast a solid 20 years out while mature firms may see some type of horizon around 5-10 years.  Regardless, the measure of the plan is whether it meets the needs of the firm and contains a strategy for attaining the desired results. A successful plan is much more about the people you hire than the type of practice you have created.  As my version of the Chinese proverb goes, "the best time to plant that tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time is today."

It's complicated.  And, while it may seem that the easy path is just to keep working, if you end up happy with the results, luck was on your side.  But I am a believer that we make our own luck by setting forth with intent.  There is a reason the big boys do it the way they do.  Lesson learned.  If you are thinking about planting that tree, give me a call.  I'll buy the beer and bring a shovel.

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

Path to Engagement / Ladder to Success

I distinctly remember my internship at the two firms I tasked for the opportunity to teach me what I would know to become a well rounded architect.  Although it's been over 45 years, I recall the experiences as polar opposite experiences. 

In my first position, I was all eyes and ears.  The "drafting room" was full of young bright aspiring interns, from a sophomore in college to recent graduates to a couple of folks with some years on their resume.  I was there to learn and not expected to do much else but absorb the work, gain an understanding so I could repeat the task on similar projects with less instruction each time and grow my value to my employers. In turn they took me by the hand and taught me a whole lot about architecture.  I was thoughtfully moved from partner to partner to learn each area of business and how they managed their process.  I really treasured m time in this firm.

After 3 years, it was time to move on and I found a promising opportunity with a diversified firm where my many interests might be utilized.  Sure enough I had flexibility and variety and I took full advantage of this BUT my employer was more interested in my production than my creativity.  He promised a reconsideration of my meager wage only if I could bring in some work to the firm.  Fair enough I thought, and soon I successfully landed my first project.  But to my dismay, I found it had little impact on my status in the firm or my wage.  I began to challenge the opportunity at this firm.  After all, if I could bring in work to a relatively thankless employer, I could do the same for myself, right?  My six month stay seemed like an eternity.

I think young staff today are significantly wiser to the ways of the world than perhaps I was.  Maybe it is the Internet, a more broad education, the fact that they are children of the boomer generation or now children of the children of the boomer generation, the so called "X" and "Y" generations.  What I experience in the workplace of today is that there is a yearning for a path to be defined, a ladder to climb to attain their goals.  They are not happy being the cogs of the machine, rather they look for opportunity and recognition and perhaps as important, a sense of purpose to their work.  That purpose might be to engage in sustainable architecture, or bring civility and pride to a community through design of a school, park or playground, or to deliver projects that inspire others to teach and learn through collaborative spaces that elevate excellence.  Given this, they will climb.

It is engagement that lights the fire.  More specifically engagement with purpose.  It is an ethereal formula, but once developed will catch fire and burn brighter and brighter as word spreads and young staff become engaged and invested in the opportunities you present.  

It is entirely different from the motivations that rocked me and my world into taking entrepreneurial action by starting my first firm.  Or, is it?  I left because I didn't see that path, or that ladder to climb.  Maybe we're not so different from the youth of today at all.  In fact, except for our ages and all the media hype telling us we're different, maybe we are more similar in spirit than we might believe.

This timely and meaningful conversation would make for an engaging lunch or dinner topic.  If you'd be interested to continue this discussion, give me a call -  I'll buy.

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

 

Is your mentor hiding right in front of you?

I've now been through 4 or 5 of Houston's famous boom-bust cycles, driven by everything from fast money in oil, real estate, dot.com's and finance.  But, back in my 20's or early 30's those cycles hit me like a freight train.  My early mentors were like a light in the darkness.

At my first real job with an Architect, my boss, Mr. King, took me on and must have seen something in me that was a little different from the room full of interns and recent graduates and seemed to offer me opportunities that really opened my eyes to the practice.  At the age of 20, he took me into meetings, let me spend time with clients, carefully taught me responsibilities beyond my years.  While he worked tirelessly to catch my beginners errors I still failed occasionally.  As embarrassing as that was, it was never catastrophic but the lessons I learned were supreme.  I vowed to pepper Mr. King with as many questions and adopt him as my professional mentor.  It was a brilliant decision, but as I later discovered, he was way ahead of me and had placed himself in that role for some time.  

It wasn't too many years later that I was a self-employed Houston Architect and struggling again to survive the cycle. Someone I admired for their business acumen, Mr. Glaser impressed me as he seemed to move outside the box, and outside the influence of the market ups and downs.  He was not in my industry.  In fact he was importing steel wire and rods from France.  But he was so smart - not just business smart, but street smart.  I decided to ask if he would spend some time with me to help me gain the kind of confidence I admired in him.  He helped me review my numbers, discussed my finances and profit and taught me some basic rules that made a huge difference in my outlook.  It allowed me to deal from a position of strength and confidence with my clients and helped me turn the corner professionally.

As you can see, some mentors put themselves in your path and other are there just for the asking.  Either way, allowing someone with knowledge and experience beyond your own to provide you guidance, can be the best way to increase your professional growth while avoiding the inevitable pitfalls.  Look at your life, your family and your work and pick out those who are successful in ways you admire and ask them to walk along side you for a while.

This is the basis of why I formed Burwell Consulting and why I volunteer in organizations like the SMPS One2One Mentoring program.  Teaching is it's own reward.

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 

 

Your inner entrepreneur: Wait - what ? You mean me?

What exactly do each of us see in ourselves that suggests, "I could do that!"  I've  read several posts recently that offered circumstances, personality traits, financial situations, training, or education that might lead someone to take on the risk and stress of self employment.

I think most will say that it is all of the above - at least back in the day.  In today's world of start-ups and GoFundMe accounts, angel investors, and shared liability, some of those entrepreneurial traits seems to have evaporated.  It was precisely the anxiety of circumstance or lack of funding that kept some from even testing the waters.  On the other hand a strong wining personality coupled with a little money in the pocket or a helpful client were all others needed to give it a go.

Regardless of what you particular path might have been, fairly quickly the strengths and weaknesses of your situation will begin to manifest themselves.  Unless the patron saint of endless projects comes to roost on your doorstep, marketing will be one of those issues.  Another might be the Project Management side of the profession.  Our college education generally brings out our design talent so well that other than having too much to design at one time, it is usually well understood.  The most common shortfall seems to Practice Management in that most Architectural degrees fail to include business practices - and it is not on the Intern Development Program agenda.

The brightest among us will find the missing talent and support their on-board skills for a well rounded approach.  Some, like my own naïve approach will struggle and study and given a mentor or two, may get it all together against the odds.  One of the most obvious omissions I see in young practices is a lack of a business plan or strategic plan of where they intend to take their enterprise.  Will it be a diverse practice, or aspecialty boutique practice, local only or geographically spread, venture into design-build or a blend of architecture and engineering?

Regardless of how you started, where you are in the process, or what level of success you are experiencing, you might benefit from visiting with me to perhaps discover some new ideas and important options.  If you feel that way, give me a call.  I'd enjoy a visit over lunch or after work to hear your story.

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 

 

Excuse me, Sir, but what does this job have to do with anything?

I was 17 years old and counting all the cash in a small suburban bank vault.  Before that I was running the days' receipts on a desk size proof machine.  And the day before that, I was in the loan department posting note payments.  Through my high school Distributive Education program I landed a great job at the bank and best of all, I landed a mentor like I've never known since.  Mr. McGuire was VP Operations, and made certain that I worked in every facet of the bank and knew how they interconnected.  He put so much trust in me and in turn I worked very hard to absorb every lesson.

Only two years before, I was sacking groceries at our local Belden's Supermarket.  This was probably the primo job for a teen since we were paid a dollar for every hour we worked.  If we developed a friendly personality and had half a memory we knew the big tippers and how they liked their groceries bagged.  Believe it or not, that trait right there could net a good sacker another dollar an hour in tips alone.  My boss, Mr. Atkinson liked me and my older brother - we both worked there.  We were good, honest and most of all reliable when he called us for extra help.  We worked hard, learned the merchandise, and could stock, sack groceries, and on busy days we could run a cash register faster than most adults could spin a slot machine.

Truth be known, I was a future Architect destined to become self employed at age 23.  For years I relied on my quick wit and personality, honed while sacking groceries, to win clients and my 2 1/2 years in banking to keep me out of financial trouble.  Most of all, Mr. Atkinson's understanding of staff management and instilling loyalty andMr. McGuire's lessons in work ethics and process served me very well throughout my professional career.

Even our earliest jobs can, in some ways, prepare us for our professional lives that lie ahead.  These lessons embed themselves in our young DNA and seem to stick with us for a lifetime.  It's a good thing they do.

Flash forward 45 years and I am still learning.  I learn from clients, from my employees, my consultants and my friends.  Here is the fun part - now I'm teaching and mentoring by sharing my experiences with others and encouraging excellence through a scholarship program for young talented students at University of Houston College of Architecture and Design.   Now I'm someone else's Joe Atkinson or Bill McGuire.

If I can help you gain a better understanding of your staff, what they need, or how to cultivate loyalty and success at your firm, give me a call.  A lot can be learned over a cup of 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:  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