To see how the new year will be used as an opportunity for change, ARCHITECT asked firm leaders what resolutions they're making for their businesses in 2015. Their responses range from the pragmatic to the aspirational, and they include tips for other architects and firms to better manage the business side of architecture in the year ahead.
Katherine Darnstadt, AIA, founder and principal of the Chicago-based architecture firm Latent Design, is hoping to beef up her firm's list of credentials this year as a way to help get more work. "In 2015, the firm will be expanding our 'alphabet soup' of credentials and transitioning to a design/build firm while finally applying for our minority and woman–owned business status," she says. The list of letters she's hoping to tag onto the end of her firm in 2015 will look like this: LD-GC-MBE-WBE-AIA-LEED AP. "This expansion of services and credentials supports our current growth and project demand while allowing us to increase our design control and craft."
Learn When to Say No
Architecture business consultant Jean Leathers of Practice Clarity suggests that architects "practice skillfully saying no as a means of cultivating relationships that are based in authenticity and integrity," she says. "Have the courage to set a minimum level of engagement—a threshold where it just doesn't make sense for your firm to take the project. If a small project comes in, let the client know you're not the right fit and then refer them to someone you trust, a firm who will refer projects that are too large for them to you. Or, let's say you receive an RFP from a potential client you've not met, about whom you know very little, and whom you know will have work in the future. Rather than submit a proposal for a project you've done no pre-positioning for (wasting both their time and yours), send a letter saying you're going to pass on this opportunity because you've not met, that you feel there's a potential fit, and…set up a meeting to explore whether doing business together makes sense."
Tackle the Important Documentation
Jenifer Navard, principal and director of finance at the New Orleans–based Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (AIA’s 2014 Firm of the Year), has made a simple yet daunting resolution for the business side of her firm to get on track in 2015: "Get caught up on all project and consultant contracts."
Michael Webber, head of the Downers Grove, Ill.–based consulting firm A/E Finance recommends a simple resolution for architecture firms to take on: go paperless. "Start with paperless timesheets, including approvals, then accounts receivable and accounts payable. Start developing an office-wide protocol for paperless project files, too, eliminating paper contract files, etc. This is not a novel idea," he says. "Some major architecture and engineering firms already have done this, saving money and gaining space from all those eliminated file cabinets."
Learn and Grow
Jack DeBartolo III, AIA, principal and design leader of Phoenix-based DeBartolo Architects, is using the start of the new year as a prod to encourage his firm to push its creative limits. "Every year we strive to improve, to learn more, to reach further. This year we already see several new opportunities that will stretch us as designers, as shapers of the built realm, and as curators of place," he says. "It is in this context [that] we are ever pressed to exceed the expectations."
Brad Tomecek, AIA, founder of the Denver-based practice, Tomecek Studio Architecture, has a standby resolution aimed at ensuring the health of his business and the quality of his firm's work. "One business resolution that makes the list every year is to promote the value of design and be compensated fairly for our services," he says. "Not only does it remind us to evaluate our most recent projects, but it plays a vital role in raising the design bar for all future work."
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