Marketing

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"Our database of clients and contacts is so out of date, I'm not sure who uses it any longer.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 .

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 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 

 

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 

 

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 

 

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

 

Fear of Failure: How to learn to love Marketing.

Even worse, you really dislike the idea of Marketing.  Not a mixer. Not a glad-hander.  Hate the idea of selling.  On the other hand, you love design and turning ideas into projects.  You made the leap.   You designed a terrific office.  You selected designer chairs, artistic tables, designer coffee mugs and imported coffee to be brewed.  There just aren't any clients.  Very few, and it can threaten you and your firms' existence.  But if there were, wow! Let the party begin.  But there aren't.  

"Marketing is one of the four legs of the table that supports your practice.  It's not an option."

Marketing is a learned skill, just like design.  And just like design there are those with some natural talent or connections, and then there's the rest of us.  But there's hope for all of us.  And the first, most important step is realizing that marketing is a key element of design, as are project management and firm management.  Marketing is one of the four legs of the table that supports your practice.  It's not an option.

While it's true that people buy from people, not websites, advertising or blogs - these elements, done well, can smooth the way to your firms' recognition and can turn those cold calls into warm calls.  Marketing can turn, "I'm not familiar with your company." into, "Didn't I see your (project, community service, charity service, arts support) on line (in the mail, in my in-box, at an event) the other day?"

Now, here's the hard part.  The process takes time - calendar time and your personal time.  The best marketing programs, consistently delivered with a strong client centered message and absent any other activity, can take a year or more to take root.  Your personal time, invested wisely in high visibility activities can amplify the success of your marketing program and accelerate the results.  There is magic in the combination of both elements.

"Idea:  seek qualified help to create and set up a marketing and BD program that will do the yeoman's job at spreading the word, reaching new people and developing a positive market presence for you."

No system is perfect, guaranteed or instant. On the other hand sitting alone in those designer chairs drinking coffee out of those designer mugs may not be doing anything for you either.

I'd enjoy a conversation and working with you to create a marketing plan to help put some wind in your sales.  A great plan won't be free, but it doesn't have to break the bank either, and there are elements that you can self-produce.  Let me help you use your design talent to sell your ideas while growing your business and reputation at the same time.  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 

 

Zen and Marketing Karma

ZenBilly is my pseudonym.  This factoid has not been previously published or acknowledged in any of my writings.  What started me on this path was a strange phenomena from my youth.  I don't have a marketing degree - admitted. But I had a "need to eat and pay my bills" drive that lit a fire in me to learn how to support my firm, and my employees with continuing projects and income.  Necessity is indeed the mother.

Not having a marketing plan or other more formal strategies or devices, I just did all the things I saw others doing, but each time trying to better my competition - joining more associations, attending more seminars and conventions, speaking publicly and more often about what I did, sending more direct mail and engaging cutting edge paid advertising which was something no one was doing at the time.  Honestly, I did more in order to make up for not knowing which one would work or how any of it might help.  I just figured that if a little was helpful, then a lot should be very helpful.

Here is the Marketing Karma part of the story.  While I couldn't pin point any one or two things I did that helped my business, somehow it all helped.  I called on many, many client prospects, I sent mailers and photos of our wonderful work.  Of course, a few responded but most of the time they either didn't respond or gave me that diagonal nod that's neither a yes or a no.  However, others that I hadn't contacted at all did call and my business inexplicably grew in volume and reputation as experts in the field(s) I promoted. The phone was ringing off the hook.  Soon, folks that I had called on the year before, started calling and complete strangers from other cities who saw my repeated advertising began called.  It was as if in answer to my marketing prayers, I was getting the response I needed to not only keep my business alive but to actually grow my business to unexpected levels.

I had tapped into a big ball of self-created karmatic synergy.  It was a "what goes around, comes around" type force.  It was intangible.  It was nothing I could touch or define except by way of the results of my personal energy and motion in a positive direction that yielded tangible results.  That's where ZenBilly comes in.

ZenBilly learned to tap this intangible source.  I experimented with counting and measuring the results.  I learned what resonated with my clients and prospects.  I could see in their requests what elements I had promoted that caused the phone to ring.  I found that when I touched a nerve of desire, I could begin to elevate my fees out of commodity levels - especially if I stayed creatively ahead of my competition with ideas and results.

In today's terms, I had created a Brand.  And a brand is a powerful force.  But it is as fragile as it is powerful.  Karmatic synergy must be fed.  It is fed with your firms energy and creativity and then it provides energy and creativity back to the source.  This force, however is not a circular force always returning to the beginning, it is more like a spiraling force that pushes one along in an exponential manner, first 1x, the 2x, then 4x then 8x.  Likewise, the spiral will push it's energy source forward forcing a greater and  greater level of engagement and action.  

Someone once told me that in business, we are either growing or dying.  It is virtually impossible to stay flat and to try to compress that spiraling energy back into a circle. It will wither and die as we tell ourselves we are now too busy to market, to prospect, to grow our relationships like we did in the past.  ZenBilly learned the importance of marketing when he was the busiest, when he was cash flush and ahead of the spiral.  The force taught me to survive downcycles and market shifts. The force is a teacher of hard and wonderful lessons.

Truthfully, only you can create and build your own Karmatic Synergy force.  But if you need a jump-start or even just a little encouragement give me a call, let's talk.

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 

 

Process: Selling your System

I love this story.  It's a David versus Goliath story.  My small firm was presenting to a large financial service company whose national market was exploding and they needed to find an Architect to take them to the next level.  As I walked in, representatives from a large national design firm walked out.  My interview might be a daunting experience.  My pitch centered on how I intended to take the client from point A to point B and except for a few selected design images the entire focus was engaging the client in my process, virtually leading them by the hand from start up  to occupancy.

I got the nod immediately upon completing my presentation.  I was stunned. Pleased but stunned. So I asked the obvious - what did I say or do that won the day?  Their answer was surprising as my victory.  The competition focused on their design portfolio with little emphasis on process, even to the point of handing over a thick book of similar national financial institutions their national firm had designed in the last 18 - 24 months.  My new client felt the firm spoke over their head and gave them the impression that if they didn't like the design work they presented the client probably didn't understand good design.  

Funny thing was that, because of what I heard from that client, 100% of my presentations were process driven.  One rather painful loss where the client only wanted to see design caused me to slightly modify my pitch to include very large color images of design that I used to illustrate process results.  From that point on, my success ratio ran close to 90% when we competed against competition large and small.  

Design, even exceptional design, is not really a mystery to most clients. The client expects good design.  To the client, the mystery is how to solve complex issues of programming, planning, density, flexibility, managing and controlling construction, and meeting schedules and the ever present budget.  Most clients have a genuine concern with the quality of the process.  This is where our core values and humanity come into play - and it can be a differentiator.

Believe in your process.  Write it.  Diagram it.  Chart it.  Sell it.  Then watch as your clients become engaged in your story. It is compelling.  If a visit with someone who has experience selling "the process" would add focus to your next presentation connect with me.

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 

 

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 

 

Marketing isn't for everyone.....or, is it?

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

Marketing Post 4.10

"We are soooo busy!" - "I don't have that kind of money." - "There is no one here that can write." - "We have plans to get our marketing started."

Excuses - we've heard them all and likely said them all.  But you know, at the end of the day, it's what makes the world go around.  I have friends that started their firms a decade ago and are now booming, and I have others that did the same but are struggling between boom and bust cycles unable to sustain a steady work flow.  What's the difference?  It may be that one principal made marketing a priority from the beginning and the other did not.  It may be that one started in a down cycle with nothing else to do but market, and the other started in an up cycle where it appeared they did not need to market.  Good habits are hard to start and bad habits are hard to break.

In a small to medium firm, the principals have to wear a lot of hats and execute most of their implied responsibilities fairly well. The principals have to take ownership of Design, Marketing, Project Management, and Firm Management.  These key elements of all practices insure the work comes in, the work is well designed and well delivered and that the firm grows into a solid platform for this process.  Does it all begin with marketing?  Certainly not - it always begins with talent.  But then, marketing comes into play.  That college degree will provide you skills that allow you to use your talent in extraordinary ways - but if the world is not aware of that talent, you may not have anything to do. Unfortunately college may not have provided a foundation in business or operations.  Almost to the opposite, colleges often position the designer to believe that if they simply design the better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.  This may well apply to mousetraps, but there are hundreds and hundreds of design firms out there competing for business, a significant number of choices for any customer in any area of design.  

What is a young practitioner to do?  The adages abound - "Market when the market is up." - "My plan - see the people." - "If I don't shamelessly self-promote, who will?" - "Never eat lunch alone." - "Get on as many dance cards as possible."

A real difference between firms is action taken.  Some firms do, some firms don't.  Action is a key to success, and I'm not the first one to say this.  One other thing you're going to need is a plan.  In simple terms if you want to move your firm north - you need a plan, or you may end up heading south.  Read up on it, make a plan, bounce it off your staff and understand that the end game is to get work.  Marketing will position your firm.  Public Relations may gain 3rd party recognition for you.  Business Development leverages marketing and PR into personal contacts and relationships.  Sales closes the deal.

The reason this is important is clarity and focus.   Marketing is NOT Sales.  Business Development is NOT Marketing.  PR is NOT Business Development.  There is an order and sequence for the system to work.  Each element supports the next.  Also, since business cycles, your plan must run consistently over a period of time to be successful.  So create a plan and make it happen.  Take it a year at a time, make a big bold plan and check your progress quarterly.  Set goals and measure results.

The good news is that Social Media provides multiple platforms that simply take thought and time to generate a considerable amount of marketing without a lot of expense.  Create a mobile friendly website.  Invest your time in LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and others that can penetrate the in-box of your potential clients and contacts.  If it is still overwhelming, give me a call and we can talk about it.  I've got a lot of ideas.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content Marketing: Build the habit.

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

Marketing Post 4.9

I admit to having a hesitation on content marketing until I realized that back in 2004 I had begun writing an annual series of "White Papers" that were nothing more than content marketing before LinkedIn (2003) or Facebook (2004) oreven Twitter (2006) were in high gear.  As a business owner, I simply wrote about what I knew and my experience delivering that knowledge to my clients learned through many projects.  I mailed between 400-500 a month in the form of a one page personal letter.  No, I didn't invent content marketing but I professionally benefited from my own simple version - and that's when the light came on.

While for many practitioners, "Content Marketing" is a somewhat ethereal process. However, content marketing is simply what I had been doing but now with an updated, highly leveraged electronic delivery system. Today's practitioners have so much to do that it can seem impossible to deliver design services, keep clients happy go get the next job, and still find time for writing.  And yet the value of marketing isn't in getting the web site up, or the next bit of news posted, or that next luncheon.  The value lies in putting out a consistent message, telling your story or spreading your knowledge, one nugget at a time - over a long and sustained period.  It is this time factor that places the author in the position of a seasoned expert, and who do client want to trust their project to? - the seasoned expert.  And today the practitioner has sophisticated systems that leverage that knowledge over various platforms. 

Getting Started

My favorite approach is to plan an annual week or long weekend away from the office and home, squirreled away in a quiet serene place.  A fall time-frame allows for some substantial hindsight on the years activities and a small window of corrective time ahead before year end.  The system works best to jot down things that happened; progress made; goals achieved; trends observed; best and most unusual projects - you get the point.  Creating a simple numbered list and putting it in some order of priority or newsworthiness or isolating those gems of knowledge based design or practice gives the practitioner clear direction for writing.  Next,  go down the list and outline the main 3-4 talking points of interest for each topic.  Then, take time to flesh out each story making certain to include the "So What?" so clients quickly understand the relevance and rationale.  Write in your own voice, and make certain to think from your client's perspective. You want them to find themselves or their project in your writing.  Take time while your are away, to write the first 4-6 so that you are ahead of the publishing dates. This gives you time to work on the next series. 

Small Firms

Keep the process simple, do your own writing have a friend or associate do editing and manually post to your blog and LinkedIn.  That seems to be what most do.  Small firms have the ability to keep the posts both personal and meaningful as well as the ability to post at a steady frequency if the principal plans well and since small can be agile, there can be additional posts as circumstances dictate.  Most of the time these posting are in the name of the principal and serve to build his presence and trust in the marketplace.

Mid-Size Firms

Certainly the idea is the same, but these firms typically have at least one administrator or social media guru that can help.  The writing may still need to be penned by a principal, but can be edited and calendared by the Administrator and uploaded by the I.T. or social medial guru.  A little staff help really improves the program flow and relieves the stress.  The principal may also interview key staff to gain insight into issues in addition to their own experience but will still pen all the articles for a consistent voice.  The media accounts may be in the name of the principal or in a firm account.

Content Marketing is NOT an optional activity

It is as critical as cash flow, paying taxes, finding clients and delivering the work.  Placing content marketing, writing and social media accounts in a priority is often the difference between a static, complacent firm and a dynamic hard-charging firm regardless of size.  It can set the stage to take any firm to the next level given time and perseverance.

If all this makes sense, but you are still in a quandary regarding any element of who, what, where or when, consult an expert that can rein in the anxiety and facilitate the process to make Marketing an everyday habit.  A consultant can write from your ideas, or can let you know if your ideas have merit, or they can help you understand where might be the best posting opportunities.  A consultant can give you the confidence and prompting to get it done.  It is an investment that will pay off in spades.

 

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.

Stall-Out: What's a mid-sized firm to do?

In support of Burwell Consulting, 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

Marketing Post 4.8

While the giant firms rage on with momentum, excellent marketing staff and budget, and small firms use their acumen and agility to gain a market foothold, what does the average, mid-sized professional firm do to make the leap, not necessarily up to big firm levels but certainly to greater success and market share?

Interviews reveal that as firms grow, the founding principals get very busy doing what they do best, design and delivery of projects.  Time that used to be able to be carved out for marketing, business development, firm management and sales succumbs to the simple need to get the work out the door.  Principals wrestle with hiring in fear of future layoffs, and burnout leads to stall-out and the loss of their innate creative edge and intensity of management.

Here are three important steps to help you break this cycle:

  1. Stop and take a break.  Do some honest introspection as to what you are actually doing.  Remember, you are not what you think you are, but rather you are what you do day to day.  As business volume grew, did you back off your participation in marketing and BD activities just to control the projects?   Do you feel like you have earned your wings and shouldn't have to do that any longer?  After all, can't the younger guys do that now?  Analyze how you have been spending your time as principal.  Remember that the culture of change goes from the top, down.
  2. Analyze the recent past. Note the changes, study your projects and profitability and understand YOUR market share.  Did you take work because of the opportunity or because it fit your business plan?  As your firm grew, did you adequately hire staff between you and everyone else.  Are you a "flat" organization or an efficient "pyramid" of operational delegation.  Most principals and managers can handle about 10-12 staff before a second manager is needed to effectively take care of business.  Do you have adequate administrative support?
  3. Create a map to the mine.  Likely you know where the gold lies but you've been distracted and your energy diffused.  Bring a consultant / facilitator on board to ask the hard questions and direct the activity.  Bring in your management to add their observations to the mix and understand what they are experiencing. A third party can often read between the lines of frustration and stall out to help your team with creative solutions.  Create a annual plan of action, keeping what works and dumping the marginal work and unnecessary distractions. Re-focus your energy on the plan and what you and only you as principal can do.  Begin a process of delegation to the next level of management. Engage everyone.

For some, the task of following 1, 2, & 3 above can be daunting, especially if your head is underwater. An annual business plan puts your team in a position of strength and will serve as the ray of sunshine that lifts the fog.  Take time to do a mid-year course check, monitor progress, be nimble and adjust on the fly. Next year at this time you will be smiling and looking up.

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.