Building the heart and soul of your practice:
The best architects and designers will simply have nothing to do if they cannot successfully manage and market their talent. It would be nice if there were some college classes regarding how to start and run a successful architectural practice. Unfortunately, when most students graduate, they may be terrific architects, or interior designers, they may lack skills or training in the business side of an architectural practice. The AIA and the state conferences have wonderful peer to peer CEU's however, when gathered in that manner,it can take years to accumulate enough usable information. Often time is in short supply when principals are under pressure to make firm specific decisions. Sometimes you just might need a boost from someone who's "been there, done that".
This is where guidance and advice from an experienced professional come into play. A mentor can provide listening and advice on urgent issues and the best recommendations for long term planning. Here are some areas I'm often asked for consultation:
Contracts and Fees - Profitability begins with well written contracts and competitive fees, whether you choose to write your own or use a standard form like the AIA Standard Contracts. The next steps in securing profitability for the firm is a good, reasonable competitive fee with a fair exchange of service for money. The basis of any contract is that fair exchange.
Document Standardization - One of the best ways to eliminate duplicity and wasted effort is to create standard documents where all the required standard data is pre-set and only the unique project items are drawn and detailed. Returning at each project start to the up to date standard start-up set keeps the firm from replicating out of code work or problematic details.
Process Standardization - Create your document package in the same manner each time, teaching all staff to follow the same procedures. This cross-training of staff is critical to maximize the use of all staff.
Focused Practice - If a firm can specialize into one or two areas it further simplifies the process of document standardization and process standardization. There is great financial benefit in this level of specialization. The key is not specializing on design elements but rather to standardize on the simple repetitive areas so that the fee dollars can be focused on unique design elements that express the client needs.
Staff Training and Development - The importance of cross training and training depth of staff discussed earlier also plays a role in client relationships, client communication and marketing. Each staff member working on projects can become a key element of the client relationship. An elements of staff training is the creation of a professional ladder to management and leadership. Becoming a partner in a firm should be much more than a perk of longevity or technical skills.
Managing Expenses and Understanding Profit - If a firm is starting from scratch, one would think it would go without saying, BUT design the overhead items as lean as possible. Business naiveté and ego will drive young entrepreneurs to take on debt or spend available cash without regard to business preservation. It is impossible to know how a firm is doing without good detailed financial records. Define income, account for all expenses and measure profit.
The Rainy Day - Professionals that start their firms during a boom cycle may see month after month of new projects and after a while it appears that this is the life of the self-employed. When the slow down does come, be prepared in advance with a plan of action. Business is always cyclical. This city has experienced a boom bust cycle every decade, some severe and some milder - some short with quick recovery some deeper with slower recovery. The only certainty is that what goes up WILL come down.