Design is design is design - is there more?

Design brings joy to life.  There will always be new ideas and new designs.  If you're old enough you remember when open plan design shook up the business world in the 60's with "cubicles", or perhaps you watched as Post Modern Architecture swept the nation (thankfully briefly), or enjoyed the introduction of Super Graphics of the 60's, or even the day that dot coms lived in de-constructed offices.  Many of us have seen design trends, material trends, and furniture trends come and go and come again.  It's interesting to note that corporations have willingly engaged in many of those trends to improve their business or bottom line based on keeping staff happy and productive, a desire to project a style-forward corporate image, or occasionally because they wanted an image aligned with their corporate values.  

"Design firms that look beyond the clever trends to deliver beautiful impactful architecture that people want to experience become the go to firms that stay around year after year for one reason - problem solving through culture driven design excellence."

The designer's role is to bring a wealth of ideas and experience by presenting solutions to the client that meld together the corporate culture and values, good design sense and even sometimes bit of trendy thrown in for interest.  Good design offers up solutions that fit today but project an eye to the future.  Great design does the same AND engages and inspires the people who intersect with these designs that improves their community.  Design firms that look beyond the clever trends to deliver beautiful impactful architecture that people want to experience become the go to firms that stay around year after year for one reason - problem solving through culture driven design excellence.

"The only thing better than going out and getting clients is inspiring them come to you."

Regardless of design styling and playing the trends, design firms recognize that quality, meaningful design, regardless of the budget is what engages clients and wins projects.  As good as we may be as architects and designers, without clients most of us have very little to do.  And without repeat clients we are lost forever in the hunt for the next deal.  What does all this have to do with anything?  It's about building a sustaining practice.  Creating your vision of your firm with your bullet-proof approach to design takes discipline, purpose AND focus.  

With meaning and direction clearly defined by your practice, a good next step is to invest your time on an inbound marketing to bring the world to your doorstep. The only thing better than going out and getting clients is inspiring them come to you.  A well conceived inbound program informs, educates and excites the reader, bringing them to you to see and learn more about your ideas.  This type program takes more planning and thought than you might imagine as well as one other commodity - time.  It works best over a sustained period of time with consistent delivery - but it is well worth the effort.

Inbound marketing should be one of several items in your marketing toolbox. As you would expect, all your tools should work together . If this could be a solution for your firm, give me a call.  I'd enjoy a discussion of ideas and how best to introduce this idea into a balanced program of marketing and 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 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 

 

Expert: How to strategically plan your reputation.

It's powerful.  You've built your professional career on it.  But somehow practicing in that area of expertise isn't enough.  Other firms with less experience in your project type continue to be invited to compete in spite of your knowledge and clear expertise.  Their success can be disturbing to you.  What are your competitors doing? What are you doing? Or, perhaps what are you NOT doing, that may serve to position you and your firm as experts in the clients mind?

Certainly peer acknowledgment is wonderful - comrades and co-workers who recognize and respect your knowledge.  But comrades and co-workers aren't signing your contracts or writing checks to the firm.  Earlier this year I penned an article titled "The Cloak of Invisibility: Hiding in plain sight."  about individual professionals in a firm and what they can do to propel their career.  But this is a larger issue, certainly more of a principals issue but a firm issue as well.  The list is not that long and most professionals do a few, some do all:

Enhance your Marketing elements and use.  Based on a solid foundation of knowing your expertise and target clients, provide insight to your knowledge by:

  1. Send images and stories via email and even snail mail that speak to how a project solved a clients or user problem.  All projects have stories - tell yours.
  2. Start using your website as a communication device by directing social media stories, publications and articles to your website.  Cross traffic works.
  3. Elevate your presence and key principals expertise through articles on solutions, and case study comparisons that discuss trends or new developments and how your firm distinguishes their projects with solid research and knowledge.
  4. Publish your own work and make available to former, current and prospective clients.
  5. Speak at client, association and organization events on the topic you knowwell.  Speaking is easier when you speak from a position of strength.

Strengthen your Business Development.  Ultimately clients buy from people.  Face to face is your ace-in-the-hole and here's how to play the card:

  1. Shorten time between visits with former clients.  They liked you enough to hire you before, so maintain the relationship and avoid competing for work you already won once.
  2. Take time to deepen your relationship with current clients, do more for the same client and study their plans for growth and expansion in other cities or states.  Let them know that you know their plans and can help.  This is relationship marketing versus transactional marketing at it's finest.
  3. Cross sell your other firm services to existing clients by connecting the dots in a holistic solution.
  4. Hang out where your prospective clients gather.  Join and participate in their associations, organizations and even their charities.  It's good for the community and good for everyone.  Sponsor and speak at their luncheons. 
  5. Play your "hole card" by becoming visible.  You are the ace-in-the-hole.  There's no one like you.

Where many firms fail is that they wait until they need work to start this process. Needless to say, it's best applied when things are busy and the firm is humming. The other typical failure is what's called the big push. Firms start the process, push hard to get the ball rolling, but too quickly let their foot off the gas and lose momentum.  These programs are not instant.  Don't expect contracts to immediately fly into the window, however steady consistent application of these ideas, over a 10-12 month time frame can completely improve, alter or re-direct public opinion about you and your firm.  Build a habit.  I favor programs that can be simply run and are easy to maintain because they are foundational and likely to be kept going than more complex and involved programs.

If this is just too much to think about and the energy to begin the simplest program is simply not there, consider hiring a consultant to organize, write, and execute the effort.  If you want to hear more, give me a call.  I'd enjoy discussing  a strategy idea over 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

 

Increase my fees? How is that possible?

We were walking out of a clients office when I heard something I never thought I would hear.  Here's the story.  One of my referring brokers and I were meeting with his client to program and plan their new space.  A typical scenario.  The client was an engineer and as engineers do, he peppered me with questions on whether they should do "this" or "that" as he worked his way through his decision process. 

All along the way, with each question, I would respond with the cost and timing impact on making either choice, then make my recommendation to him on the choice to make to meet his goals of design, budget and timing.  It was a good meeting and we left with decisive information and were able to move quickly forward with his planning and design.

"It was as simple as that.  Within a short time frame, I had moved from Architect to trusted advisor with this client."

In the parking lot my broker looked at me and said, "You know, you should consider increasing your fee based on the service, information and knowledge you impart that help my clients make educated choices and great decisions."  I am pretty sure I have never heard those words used together in one sentence before.  But, that message was strong and clear.  Clients will pay a premium for quality advice and sincere unbiased professional recommendations.  It was as simple as that.  Within a short time frame, I had moved from Architect to trusted advisor with this client.

I have mentored many young professionals who have excellent experience and offer clients options and choices, but stop short of making the recommendation needed to guide the client.  I worked with a very savvy building owner who had replaced their designer because he lacked the ability to advise.  He was a good designer and prepared ample design sketches and variations but lacked the confidence to actually recommend the best option and properly advise the client.  I took over and the client was greatly relieved to accept my recommendations each time I offered.

"The flip side is that clients may ask for recommendations as a way of testing our skills and experience.  Don't second guess their questions, just let your experience be your guide."

Part of the process that makes providing recommendations so valuable is the early programming and visioning discussion with the client.  This is where the designer listens to the client and prompts questions that delve deep into the issues that need solutions and how those solutions will work.  It's a conversation that allows the designer to see inside the clients mind and gain insight into their culture and style .  I like to share stories about other clients and best practices we applied to their solutions to test the waters of each client's tolerance for accepting more innovative design.

As a result of all this we doubled our fee over a short period of time, testing the water with each increment of increase.  We lost no clients and in fact often incorporated recommendations about design and process to clients right in the interview for the project. The flip side is that clients may ask for recommendations as a way of testing our skills and experience.  Don't second guess their questions, just let your experience be your guide.

By the way, that client became a long term multi-project client over the next 7 years until he sold the business as planned.  If I can help you understand if improved fees might be in your future, give me a call.  It could have a major impact on your firm.

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

 

Don't be the smartest guy in the room, be the guy in a room full of smart people.

I am a voracious reader.  Books, magazines, blogs, posts, newspapers, web sites - honestly, it's not the source its the content.  I read it.  I am an idea junkie.  I was apparently born with one of those brains that feeds on connecting the dots, finding trends, commonalities.  Drawing from a vast array of ideas is the fodder for much of my  writing and I combine them with my business experiences so they make sense to me and my profession.

I follow my clients.  I also follow people from many vocations.  I call the professionals I follow, my "virtual Board of Directors".  So imagine my excitement and pleasure at finding someone staring at me from my virtual board table, who projected 6 actions businesses should embrace for success.  He is not an Architect.  He is a Accountant by profession but a thought leader in business by his writings.  There was simply no need to paraphrase his words or even attempt to make them more clear, so here they are:

Tom Hood, CPA, CITP, CGMA

Anticipate: Learn the critical competency of anticipation Only those who constantly try to anticipate change will survive when change happens.

Collaborate: The collaboration curve is quickly replacing the experience curve. Who you know is replacing what you know.

Learning is the next competitive advantage: As editor Robert Safian wrote, “the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.

Embrace digital: Learn how to elevate and accelerate your job using technology and to race the machines, not against them. Think SMAC - Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud.

Protect the core: When everything is changing, it is important to know what should not change. Core purpose and values for individuals and organizations should serve as that anchor or grounding.

Make time for the future: Your time and those of your people will be your No. 1 challenge, and nothing will change if you are overwhelmed and too busy. Smart organizations will be proactive and make time for the future.

This list is taken from Tom's post "Why Accountants must learn to ride these Big Waves of Change".  Tom's comments support my theory that the digitalization of business is bringing many businesses together - at least in how they may choose to office, how they promote collaborative staff workspace and how their clients think about the way they manage and deliver services.  Digitalization has leveled the idea of officing to the common denominator of people, regardless of the service provided - empower, collaborate, communicate and think.

Again, I read a lot not only aboutarchitecture but all businesses because the gems of wisdom and logic can often apply to any profession - and I need all the tools in my toolbox that I can possibly have.  So if you are like me, enjoy the discovery of gems of advice give some thought to following Tom.  

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 

 

When Good Enough isn't Good Enough!

The drawings were bloody.  They were practically redrawn over entirely in red pencil.  It's what I do.  Details exploded in all the margins and elevations were extended off the page with sketch paper held on with sticky dots.  My firms name and reputation was based on the quality of my documents.  I am the Architect.   I expect it, my clients expect it, my consultants expect it and my general contractors expect it.  For many, it's about getting the drawings out, meeting the deadline.  Not for me.  I have a penchant for accuracy and zero tolerance for ambivalence.

Over time, the nature of my obsession with clarity and correctness extended to marketing materials, writing, spelling, punctuation and grammar - and emails.  We, and I'm speaking of the greater WE, meaning professionals selling to professionals, should draw the line at our level of acceptance.  As a group, we are only as good as the simplest error.  Of course the content should be terrific and compelling, but the delivery should be flawless.  

One of the founding partners of a firm that I was privileged to join, required that all correspondence be copied to him to keep him in the loop.  Letters, transmittals, meeting notes not only provided him a steady update on the 300 man firm's activities with the client base, but did so without attending endless meetings.  He read each piece of paper once.  Then one of two actions took place.  It went in the trash, not a file, or it received a spelling, grammar and punctuation mark up and was returned to the author with a strong hand written note.  Two such returned notes required a personal meeting with this man and it was a meeting that one wanted to avoid at all costs.

"Given time, under this mentoring and process, our documents began to improve to such a degree that our clients had minimal exposure, our consultants documents were better coordinated and our GCs had better coverage from their subs."

My own employees failed often to understand the gist of this idea.  They failed to differentiate between complete and correct.  Not just in timing and writing skills, but in architectural content, connected details, thinking around corners, clarity of use of materials, constructability and countless other attributes.  This was the cause of endless bleeding.  It also led to the establishment of very high-level master set.  After all, if a detail was ever drawn correctly and thoroughly, why re-invent the wheel?  Given time, under this mentoring and process, our documents began to improve to such a degree that our clients had minimal exposure, our consultants documents were better coordinated and our GCs had better coverage from their subs.  And my employees learned, grew and have developed into incredible professionals.

All because good enough was not good enough.  As professionals we need to elevate our standards, mentor our staff and not accept mediocrity or complacency.  Most important is to teach why this is important.  Whether staff stays with you or eventually leaves for broader horizons, the lessons you teach them will stay with them for a lifetime.  

If another set of eyes can bring clarity to your process, give me a call.  I'd enjoy a visit over coffee to learn more.

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 

 

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 

 

It's your client to lose!

It was our meeting.  We called the team together, including the client, to kick off the project.  Our GC surprised us by taking control with a couple of very insightful questions.  He asked of the client, "What are your expectations for this project at the close of the job?", "Describe your ideal communications from our team to you to keep you informed during the project." and "Discuss the greatest worries you face with this project."  Wow.  I was at once pleased, but keenly aware that it wasn't the design team leading and asking these important questions.  I love an epiphany.

"Our favorite way to close out projects involves all parties that helped our client, our firm and our team reach a successful conclusion."

These questions and answers were dutifully recorded in our meeting notes, and the project was launched and under way.  We plowed through the project, completed the work and executed a beautiful new facility for our mutual client.  The whole team was happy.  Now it was our turn to turn the tables.  Our favorite way to close out projects involves all parties that helped our client, our firm and our team reach a successful conclusion.  We invite everyone to an appreciation dinner, held nearby after work, at a wonderful restaurant. 

Our format begins with the client and contacts from the project including facility, IT and others. We invite their real estate and brokerage team to join our team plus engineering.  Our General Contractor and key vendors such as furniture and special product representatives round out the event.  It is always a fun time sharing the experience all around not to mention how the positive vibes send a clear message that we all appreciated the opportunity and the chance to work together.  Best of all, our GC used the opportunity to close on his earlier questions and ask the client about our success on meeting the project goals discussed in the very beginning.  Of course, the entire team worked hard to meet each one, right down the list.

Interestingly,  our design and engineering team, vendor, sub and general contractor teams began to look forward to our appreciation dinners, even sharing in the event cost.  The events were renown.  And it became a point of pride to be included.  

"If a key client contact moves, and a new person comes in, we can find ourselves competing in the future for a client that had already been ours."

In my experience the close out event is a method to eliminate buyers remorse or that feeling of sudden abandonment from having spent the better part of a year of longer with a team. The change in attention can breed minor discontent leading to apathy on behalf of the client. Projects close.  New projects begin.  Time moves on.  It is so easy to find yourself out of the loop.  If a key client contact moves and a new person comes in, we can find ourselves competing in the future for a client that had already been ours.  

I like to pre-calendar a 4-6 month post occupancy meeting to check on things and when followed by the contractual 11-12 month post occupancy warranty review you have a meaningful continuance of the relationship.  If there are also some annual lunch or follow up calls, you can beat the competition to the punch when they try to sneak in the back door. 

When engaging the client in the subsequent years after occupancy bring something to the table besides a smile and a handshake.  Keep your eye out for new developments in the clients industry.  Are they collaborating more, is technology impacting their business, did you read about an acquisition or merger? Bring some benchmarking information to share. You want to continue to appear to be the expert they hired and you will find yourself the expert they continue to work with because you expressed concern, knowledge and importantly personal interest.  Once you learn the client is starting another project - it's not too late, but the client may think of you as a transactional firm not a relationship firm.  

Repeat and referral business is the holy grail of professional firms.  Surveys indicate that if you aren't attaining 75-80% or higher repeat and referral you may have a client service problem. Not attaining a high percentage means you have to be ultra diligent about finding new clients all the time - a time and funds devouring effort at best.

Build your future on the work you have done.  Leverage those initial transactions into relationships.  Call your client before that new opportunity develops because your competition may have also heard and they may just be a little more aggressive and a little more hungry to win the client.

It's never to late to start and if I can help you build an internal process to streamline your relationship building, let me know.  I'd love to visit.

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

One step ahead of the Monster

The monster would eat me alive if it caught me.  If I relaxed, if I took my lead for granted, if I let my confidence allow me to slow down - it would win.  As a young practitioner I had more than one bite taken out of my backside by that monster.  The monster was nothing more than voracious competition.  It was always hungry.

I would be awaken in my sleep by fear of the monster.  Just the thought of it instilled heart pounding, sweating in your bed fear in me, but it was a powerful motivating fear. I was building my practice and we were young, idealistic and full of ideas to bring to the six different service areas we offered.  In those early days what we lacked in marketing or financial training, we made up for with a virtual fountain of ideas jam packed with creative thinking. Our investment was energy and youthful exuberance.  We studied our services, and what our clients wanted.  We kept looking for things that the client didn't know they wanted - yet.

As we pushed these new ideas out, sure enough, the monster picked up on our move and emulated our services and offerings.  However, just as he stepped up, we changed the game and moved ahead two steps to his one.  The monster was so busy figuring out how to match our service and creativity, that he couldn't implement this own innovation and creativity.  They were followers, we were the leaders.

Our secret weapon was a two edge sword.  One edge was knowledge.  We analyzed each area of business and what made the client happy and learned how to relieve their anxiety by stepping up our game on knowledge and service.  The second edge, was systematizing our delivery.  We standardized our document package never drawing the same line twice.  This provided us the dual benefits of improving our profit or allowing profit at very competitive fees.

Keeping the monster at bay is a full time job.  Small firms, medium firms and large firms all fight the good fight.  Think about it - no seriously, think about it.  Clients love a thinking firm.  They want designers who think around corners and bring creative ideas and experience to the project and exceed their expectations and performance goals.  There are plenty of firms that just want to meet the minimum, get in, get out, done.  Own the project with your client, think about what would take the project up a notch, be more competitive, more successful, add analytics, know the market, do your homework.  You won't be seeing any monsters except in your rear view mirror. 

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

 

The Next-Gen office - are we there yet?

As an architect working with a range of corporate clients designing new offices, it was not uncommon to hear our energy clients ask, "what are the latest trends in energy firms?" and of course we entertained similar questions from our consulting, accounting, finance, engineering, law and real estate clients.  Today, the pendulum has swung.  Clients in most business types are not asking about peer office design, but rather they are asking about the office and work style of the future and what should they be anticipating in design regardless of their profession.

What has happened? 

  1. At first it seemed that the digitalization of business was ushering in the change. 
  2. Added to this was the influx of younger tech-savvy employees who personally work with more advanced technology and software at home than was possessed by their offices.  
  3. Then as businesses diversified and became more complex, the need to connect the dots accelerated the drive to more collaboration in the work place.
  4. Clients once seen as single event buyers are being developed into multi-service, multi-project, multi-city prospects.
  5. Paper slowly began to give way to wireless data distribution that allowed anyone to work anywhere with any data - securely.
  6. Aging senior staff begin moving down the path towards retirement and are taking their knowledge and experience with them, out the door.
  7. Upcoming younger staff are moving into leadership roles with different mindsets on workplace standards and utilization - and they may not work at their desk.
  8. Conferencing is a multi-media data driven, 3D, touch screen voice and video experience.
  9. Wireless connectivity with raging bandwidth pulses throughout every office and often throughout the entire building.

What does it mean?

Office space is becoming more universal in design based more on the principals of officing and delivery of professional services with the highest level of efficiency, employee development and client satisfaction. There is less specialized space.

  1. The logo in the reception room - now a multi-screen cross-selling, brand enhancing experience.
  2. The law library - going or gone digitally replaced on the Internet. 
  3. The central file room - scanned and in the cloud. 
  4. The long corridor lined with private offices - replaced with inside positioned glass front work space and open plan collaborative areas along the exterior. 
  5. The coffee pot in a closet -  now a "Starbucks" style refreshment center as a part of the work environment and collaborative area.
  6. Hard walled departments - lines of demarcation  are blurred and there is more blending with other departments. 
  7. Costly storage of paper oil and gas files - all available all the time on demand and digital.
  8. Chunky desktop computers - replaced with powerful laptops will full mobile capabilities and solid state hard drives.
  9. That huge data center - shrunk and floated up to the cloud.
  10. War rooms and other specialized meeting rooms - expanding into a suite of focused work rooms, team rooms and collaboration project rooms.
  11. The "big" conference room - evolved into a functional well appointed skills training and learning facility. 
  12. Expanded customer and staff training facility to enhance use of products, teach, and develop ideas.
  13. Internal office moves - clients prefer box and personnel moves to hard construction and re-configuration.

What stays the same?

Clients are embracing the future and asking the right questions.  Architects are not only innovating but propelling their clients businesses along the way.  The future is bringing many businesses together in the search of excellence for staff and the best customer experience. WHAT these businesses do and their branding, continue to be the differentiator, HOW and WHERE they do it is becoming now more and more similar.

Receptions are still first impression spaces.   Private office are still important. Likely there will always be the need to have the large CEO office and other personality driven items.   Paper just won't completely go away.  Vendors still bring donuts and kolaches on Friday.

If you are planning your office of the future today, I would enjoy providing some insight as to what ideas might make sense to your business and culture.  Call 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 

 

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 

 

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 

 

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 

 

Small Pond + Big Fish = Happy Client

For almost 6 years I ran a singular service practice.  I built a boutique Corporate Interior practice.  We had one product.  Nothing else.  But it was Corporate Interiors soup to nuts, meaning we programmed, planned, designed, produced, furnished, branded and delivered to our clients spaces that defined their corporate vision and culture.  It was one of the smallest yet most exciting practices I had operated.  

I had a vision of great design, efficient delivery, well trained staff and a process that consistently delivered excellence.  After my experiences with large firms, middle sized firms and huge firms, I was really looking forward to having no partners, no committees, and no frills.  If it didn't contribute to the bottom line we didn't have it.  Here was the blueprint:

  1. Master set documents.  Every issue, code item, detail that didn't pass muster in the field was adjusted on the master set after every project.  Each project manager went back to the master rather than adjust any previous similar set. 
  2. Thorough staff training.  We knew we would be only as strong as our weakest employee so we mentored, trained and reviewed every page of every project together until we held a reputation for error free documents.
  3. Select Consultants.  We utilized a group of 4-5 consultant over and over.  They knew our documents and expectations as well as our team.  We knew how they thought and only used consultants that began every project with excellence in field site review.
  4. Select General Contractors.  We invited the same 4-5 GCs to bid every time. They knew us and we knew them.  We had preferred field superintendants at each.  We understood their estimating methods.
  5. Select Subs and Vendors.  So much Interior Architecture success depends on detailed execution and engaged subcontractors and vendors, so we built a preferred list to deliver excellence.  Our GCs supported our choices. 
  6. Project Meeting Control.  Each weekly meeting followed a tight agenda and notes followed.  We did not skinny down attendance but rather asked all parties to attend all meetings.  We did not want to hear from anyone that any anomaly was not clearly identified and understood.

You can quickly see that we intentionally kept the pond small.  Full of only the best, proven and most trustworthy support that we in turn could trust with our clients.  Keep in mind that small and big are relative terms. To some GC's we would have only qualified as bait fish at best.  They were not in our pond.  To some consultants we were big and they worked hard when on our team.  They were definitely in our pond. 

Our clients benefited with superior results, and since we trusted our support to offer viable cost options, we often delivered on time and at or below budget.  Our firm was the common denominator. The client was always the winner since we treated his project as we would our own, his time as our own, and his money as we would our own.  Our project delivery model created the highest client satisfaction and repeat and referral business I have ever experienced.

For more insight into how we pulled off this concept, see my blog http://www.burwell-consulting.com/blog/2015/4/29/death-of-vision-and-rise-of-the-manifesto.  If you feel it might just make you a big fish, 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