This is the transcript from EntreArchitect Podcast Episode 222, The First 500 Project with Tiara Hughes of NOMA.
Mark R. LePage: 00:00
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Mark R. LePage: 00:21
Hello, my name is Mark R. LePage and you are listening to EntreArchitect podcast where I speak with inspiring, passionate people who share their knowledge and expertise to help you build a better business so you can be a better architect. This is episode 222 and this week we’re talking about The First 500 project with Tiara Hughes of the National Organization of Minority Architects.
Mark R. LePage: 00:52
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Mark R. LePage: 00:52
Tiara Hughes, welcome to EntreArchitect podcast.
Tiara Hughes: 01:37
Thank you so much Mark for having me. I’m super excited to be here today.
Mark R. LePage: 01:40
That’s great. Great having you here. I learned a little bit about you, but I want to share who you are and what you do with our audience here. I’m going to start with a quote that you sent me: “If there is no well to drink from, dig until you create one.” I love that quote. That is a quote by you and this is the philosophy that Tiara lives by, from currently serving on the National Board for the National Organization of Minority Architects, also known as NOMA, as the public relations chair to launching First 500, a national research endeavor focused on highlighting African American women architects, the hard work and dedication behind this belief. Basically the philosophy of if there’s a problem, then let’s create the solution for that problem has lead Tiara to serve on these roles.
Mark R. LePage: 02:27
In addition to leadership and research, Tiara is a strong believer in giving back through volunteerism. She dedicated countless hours to mentoring black underprivileged high school students all year round in the NAACP ACT-SO program. Tiara equally volunteers her time to INOMA’s project pipeline every summer. INOMA organizes a week long camp devoted to introducing minority junior high students to the AEC construction or architecture construction, engineering industry. They continue their efforts throughout the year with continuous exposure to ACE through field trips and workshops. That sounds like a great program. I think more we should do that in every city. As you can tell, she is very passionate about architecture and youth development. And I love this and I want to talk about it today.
Mark R. LePage: 03:28
I want to talk about First 500. I heard about it on Twitter. I was super interested, super excited about what you’re doing. I love that you’re taking a leadership position and saying, okay, this is something that needs to be done, let’s go do that. I want to share you share with my audience what you’re doing and how they can help you get there. But before we do that, we want to know about you. We want to go into your origin story. We want to know when you discovered architecture, what inspired you to becnme an architect and share that story to where you are today.
Tiara Hughes: 04:02
Thanks again, Mark and I always laugh at my origin story because it’s a little cliche. Back when I was in elementary, I was actually selected as one of the students into a gifted arts program and every year we would do a fundraiser to create a bunch of art art to raise money for whatever purpose. One particular year I was in third grade, it was the holiday fundraiser. We had to produce a lot of artists who basically buy gifts for all of the kids in the school and the art instructor basically said, “do what you want to do, do what you’re good at, figure out something”. And so I realized very quickly that I could draw buildings from the books pretty well. Shortly after that, I discovered blueprints, which, we don’t really use blueprints per se anymore. I connected the dots that I was looking at the footprint of a building, you know, the little swings where the doors and the walls and, and I was so fascinated by that and I knew from that moment on that on.
Mark R. LePage: 05:16
How old were you when you discovered that?
Tiara Hughes: 05:18
I was in the third grade, so, yes. And the following year a lady actually told me, “you want to be an architect”. So that was the first time I heard the term and I’ve clung to it ever sense. Then fast forwarding forward, I continued in an arts program, and in high school I actually was selected to go to one of the better high school in St Louis, it was awesome. We actually had an engineering and architecture program. That was my first real exposure to the courses and what it would be like, and I’d have to say Mark, I was the only African American student and the only woman in all of those classes, the only female in all of those classes. It never dawned on me that the industry would be similar. So, I stuck with it.
Tiara Hughes: 06:16
My professor was, my teacher at the time was very supportive. From there I transitioned into one of not very many schools that offer the five year master’s, so I was able to get in there and do that. And that’s in Springfield, Missouri. And when I got there, there was one other girl that looked like me, and she was actually in the graduating class and I went up to her. I was so enthusiastic, you know, young freshman me, I was like, you know, “can you help me? what advice do you have?” And she was just like, “I’m out of here. Good luck.”
Tiara Hughes: 06:16
Being the first in my entire family to go to college, everything was new, there’s no manual to how to do this. And to finally see someone who’s sort of fed up at that point. She told me that she was finishing architecture school to prove a professor wrong that said she shouldn’t do it. I noticed that early on as a problem, at least with my small school experience and starting there, all of the minority students that came after me, all students period, but particularly ones that look like me, that were serious about the program and they were interested. I made sure I served as a resource to them.
Mark R. LePage: 07:50
So you changed the pattern?
Tiara Hughes: 07:52
I try to, yeah.
Mark R. LePage: 07:56
Did you experience in school, and I know you’re still on your origin story, but in school, did you experience challenges like that? Did you experience the things that, that other student experience that sort of put her in that position of wanting to just get the hell out?
Tiara Hughes: 08:15
Absolutely. I had a lot of challenges financially with school. It was private, it’s more expensive than a public school. There’s only two schools in Missouri that offer the masters and that’s US and Wash U, and Wash U was much more expensive. There was several breaking points that I had where our professors would say, “are you sure this is for you?” You know, and it’s different hearing that from from Charles Brown, which is an African American adjunct professor at Wash U, it’d be different hearing that from him then someone else who’s saying, “this isn’t your calling”. It’s a question that always happens if do you have my best interests at heart, but I stuck with it and there were some hard times back to that financial key. I had an entire semester where I was homeless. It was my passion for architecture that drove me and kept me there until I got to the finish line.
Mark R. LePage: 09:27
What fed that passion? Why was it so important for you to achieve this?
Tiara Hughes: 09:31
I want it to change the world. Every person says that, but I’m from the environment that I came from, never owning a house. I’m always renting and not having the readily available amenities to my demographic and my areas. I wanted to get into a field where I could change that. I can create community centers, I can design safe environments for people to feel comfortable with. And again, going back to that kid in me that realized I could draw buildings, not just draw buildings, but I can design solutions. I can fix some of the aggregation and some of the challenges that my demographic deal with.
Mark R. LePage: 10:22
So where are you now? So you went through through school, you had a challenge challenge in school, but you achieved school and got your degree. So what happened after that?
Tiara Hughes: 10:37
A month later, in June, I moved to Chicago because I was like, “I have to get to where there’s more diversity,” right? Need to be here in Chicago. And I ultimately felt like if there was a place for change, you know, New York, Chicago, LA, those are the catalysts, change starts there and then it starts. Right? So, I came here and there was the same thing in the firm as far as not seeing a lot of diversity around me and I wasn’t introduced to NOMA right away. I was lost a little bit and I was sort of searching for a black women architects, particularly to see how they did it and what guided them. I started digging and I started doing research. I asked a few of my peers around me, you know, “do you know any black architects?”
Tiara Hughes: 11:41
Other architects will say, “yeah, I know a few are, I know one or there’s one here”, and so I’m digging in and doing some research. I realized that of the 110,000 plus licensed architects at that time, less than 400 of them were African American females. Did you hear me, Mark? Less than one percent are African American females. I was baffled and not only that, it was really hard for me to find information on these ladies on a consolidated reference standard somewhere.
Mark R. LePage: 12:22
I apologize for interrupting, but those are the ones that made it through because there are so many that probably hit that barrier in architecture school and said, I’m not dealing with this. I’m going to go do something easier. I’m not going to go through all that. And so the women who did finally make it through, in not only architecture school, but then to get their license right?
Tiara Hughes: 12:48
Our industry is relatively young as far as licensure, compare it to doctors and lawyers for instance. We’re so far behind, 100 years behind, in that sense. Architects in general, there’s not as many licensed architects as there are in the other professions, but the statistics still is that we’re less than one percent, which doesn’t stand in those other industries.
Mark R. LePage: 13:17
Were you surprised when you dug deep and found that? You knew that it was small, but did you realize that it was that small?
Tiara Hughes: 13:24
No, absolutely not. Reflecting back, it caused me to do a lot of reflecting on those experiences being the only one at my high school being one of two at my college. I just thought I was, in the small town areas where there’s not many of us, but it’s definitely a reflection of the industry. You know, it trickles down into the elementary and college education as well.
Mark R. LePage: 14:00
Where did it take you next? You dug deep, found that there was less than one percent then what happened?
Tiara Hughes: 14:10
I guess simultaneously around that time was getting involved with NOMA more and more stepping up. So locally at the INOMA level I was our marketing director for some time and our national NOMA president, Brian Hudson, was the person that really spearheaded it, connecting me with some of the references, for instance, African American architects directory, a resource online that list all of the African American architects and it divides it up by state, by male, female. So you sort of can filter and find what you need there. But again, that resource didn’t tell me about these women and their stories. So that was a start. Then connecting with some other leaders in the industry, like Roberta Washington and just doing some research sort of led me, because those other leaders too, they have their own endeavors and projects going on. So I wanted to make sure someone else wasn’t doing the exact same thing as far as 500.
Mark R. LePage: 15:14
Do you know at that time that you wanted to create First 500?
Tiara Hughes: 15:17
I did not. Once I discovered the number, that’s when the conversation started. I was like, well, you know, what’s out there for these ladies and, and where is the information stored and is there a database somewhere or an online resource or where is this information? And I found out that it doesn’t exist and not in the compiled format somewhere for someone. So, that’s when I started talking to a lot of the leaders, I developed a team, sort of a board, and that’s when First 500 was born.
Mark R. LePage: 16:05
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Mark R. LePage: 16:05
Before we get into First 500, talk a little bit more about NOMA, what their mission is and how you know, how that works. And then, and then let’s talk about First 500 just for people who don’t know.
Tiara Hughes: 20:37
Absolutely. NOMA is the National Organization of Minority Architects. We have chapters in lots of big city states and our mission is to increase diversity in architecture, and that’s at all levels. So, we have the project pipeline, which you mentioned before in my bio, it’s a camp. It started out as a camp, but it’s spread to sort of a mentor / mentee ship program for students of all ages in elementary and high school. So that sort of leads at our local NOMA level. We have that camp for junior high which leads those children into the ACE program, which is late high school. We’ve introduced a design build series, we were sort of stepping down into the youth and introducing them to the ACE industry because a lot of those students like me had no idea what architect was in elementary school.
Tiara Hughes: 21:37
So we’re changing that slowly and getting into those areas where it’s just not talked about and it’s not introduced at an early age. So that at a youth level, we also offer resources for people like myself who are working professionals who aren’t licensed yet. So we have access to resources, I actually have a NOMA mentor, Thomas Allen, who is incredible. He helps guide me. You can create those relationships, that those lifelong relationships, that obviously lasts a long time, lasts a lifetime, and then also moving up into leadership. You also mentioned I’m the National Public Relations Chair, so just promoting our mission, promoting our message, connecting with AIA and other big entities, NCARB, in the industry to promote our mission, which is increasing diversity in architecture.
Mark R. LePage: 22:41
How long has NOMA been around? When did it start?
Tiara Hughes: 22:47
That’s a good question. I don’t have that exact date.
Mark R. LePage: 22:51
We’ll put it in the show notes. We’ll find out, put it in the show notes. Okay. One other question about NOMA, because you said that you’re going down into the elementary schools and you’re in the profession. Is there also a component that’s helping students at the college level? When you hit those barriers, were those challenges first introduced to you or is there a support and resources for you there as well?
Tiara Hughes: 23:20
Yes. And thank you for asking that Mark, because I totally skipped over our NOMAS chapters, which is the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students and those, again exist at the collegiate level, and they are able to be supported by their local state chapters. We have five NOMAS chapters at the different universities throughout and we serve as their support system. We serve as mentors to them. We invite them to different events. They get to volunteer, they get to intern, have internship opportunities with us, and have a better reach into the professional industry before they enter.
Mark R. LePage: 24:07
Yeah. I love NOMAS. No, no more. We’re not going to do that anymore. I love that. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but that’s awesome. So that’s NOMA. So, let’s get back to First 500. So you’re inspired. You did this research, you’re inspired that the information is there, but the information that you want to compile, there’s no composition compilation of all of this information of all the data resources that we have on the Internet. There’s no data resource for this specific group. Right?
Tiara Hughes: 24:46
That was the consensus from all of my digging and speaking with some of the other leaders. Is this even a good idea? Would people be interested in this? Is this a need? And everyone across the board said yes, unanimously, yes, yes, please do it. We would support you, our organizations will support to please do it. That was sort of my boost to get it started.
Mark R. LePage: 25:13
What’s the mission? What is it at a basic level?
Tiara Hughes: 25:18
It is to provide the information of all of the African American licensed architects to have it compiled in one location and have it readily available for people like me.
Mark R. LePage: 25:28
So you’re going to have a database essentially online and you’re going to document every female architect from one number one forever and yes. And then the place that you’ll be able to see to learn about them and learn their stories, learn their contact information so they can reach out to them.
Tiara Hughes: 25:49
Yes. And the actual First 500 will become a publication at some point. We’re not quite at 500 yet. We’re at 426.
Mark R. LePage: 26:04
Do you know what the rate is? Do you know approximately when you’ll hit?
Tiara Hughes: 26:04
My prediction is by 2020.
Mark R. LePage: 26:14
Not too far. Okay, good. That should be today, but yeah.
Tiara Hughes: 26:24
So we do want a publication of the First 500, an actual physical reference that can go and all of the libraries, architecture schools especially, but all of the public libraries out there.
Mark R. LePage: 26:44
Actually two questions. One is, where are we now, what level are, because they know we’re very early and will this also tell their stories? Is it going to be sort of a story story book as well?
Tiara Hughes: 27:00
The business side and then the meat and potatoes, right? Yep. So I’m on the business side. We are developing the business plan right now. We have the mission, the vision, sort of the beginning of what we want this to be. We’re predicting what does this, so it’s going to exponentially take off and become more than just a publication more than just an online database. So we’re creating a business plan that supports that. And then from there we’re partnering with some of the organizations that have already expressed interest. NCARB, AIA, Chicago, National NOMA, I NOMA. Those are some of the groups that have verbally expressed interest and we’ll reconnect with once we have a business plan.
Mark R. LePage: 27:52
Are you starting this as a separate organization or is it going to be an initiative of noma?
Tiara Hughes: 27:59
It is not an organization. It’s a research endeavor at this moment that will become a network and it is separate from NOMA at this time.
Mark R. LePage: 28:14
It’s your personal project with lots of support is where you are at this point. Okay, good. Okay.
Tiara Hughes: 28:23
I just want to say thank you to a lot of the supporters out there because the support has been overwhelming and it, and it is driving me to keep going. One person in particular I want to talk about is Katherine Baker, I’m not sure if you’ve met her, but she’s the board president of the AIA Chicago chapter and she has spread the word so much since I’ve talked to her. Her quotes, which I love to talk about this is, “We have sent from Earth 536 people from 38 countries to outer space. So more people have been in space than there is licensed African American women architects.”
Mark R. LePage: 29:11
That basically proves the point.
Tiara Hughes: 29:14
Yeah. Katherine is really puts it into perspective. That’s the business side, partnering, figuring out how we can get these organizations involved. The support, like I said, has been tremendous and awesome on the meat and potatoes side. There are phases that we’re introducing, so basically contacting these women as the first phase rather that’s through so far it’s been through LinkedIn, it’s been through word of mouth, it’s been through the NOMA network. I’m contacting them introducing the project, I’m getting their thoughts and feelings on it. And then there is the compilation piece, so data collection of basically they receive a questionnaire that’s the same for each individual and that’s sort of the resume page that will be introduced in the publication from there. It would lead us to have a private interview with them. It will be just a series of more personal questions about their thoughts about the industry.
Tiara Hughes: 30:17
What advice do they have to young girls that are coming into or interest in the industry after them? Who are their favorite architects? What inspired them to keep going when the going got tough? You know, those sorts of questions. That’s the interview side, the more personal side. From there we sort of develop a personal piece for each lady, so it’ll be their resume page, a photo, their bio, and then interview highlights would be introduced for each lady and the publication. I’m very heavy phase one and two.
Mark R. LePage: 31:04
We had Danny Cicero on actually a few months back and I know that, that she’s number 333, I think, if I remember correctly. Is that where she knows that number from?
Tiara Hughes: 31:17
A lot of them actually know their number. You know your number because it’s important.
Mark R. LePage: 31:29
What number are you?
Tiara Hughes: 31:32
I am hopefully 500 or so.
Mark R. LePage: 31:42
Right. You’re not registered yet, so you’re not counted yet? You will be number 500.
Tiara Hughes: 31:51
I like your optimism Mark, but yes. Some other supporters, Dina Griffin is one of my idols. My goodness. Brian Hudson, I mentioned earlier is the, the National NOMA president, he has been astronomical in pushing this forward and making sure that this project continues. But yes, we were excited.
Mark R. LePage: 32:24
You said that it’s that sort of going to become more than just a database. You say it’s going to hopefully become a publication. How do you imagine that publication? Is that more of a reference book or more of a, how does that, how does that look?
Tiara Hughes: 32:40
I see it being comparatively to, you know, there’s some doctor books out there that lists the first however many doctors to become surgeons. I see as sort of being a reference that’s going to exist and it’ll probably have multiple volumes because there’s 500 so include. From there, when I mentioned earlier that we sort of see this skyrocketing and going in many different directions, you know, some, some of the things I’ve visualized lately with the team has been, you know, some sort of video series to introduce some, you know, maybe an installation, a rotating exhibits and museums or First 500 in one day. It’s in the beginning phases and we’re excited for it to take off. More importantly, at the end of the day, the purpose and reason behind it all is to increase our numbers, increase our women in architecture and for them to feel comfortable.
Mark R. LePage: 33:56
You know, there’s gonna be so many times where they’re the first to do something. I’ve noticed that in a lot of the information I’ve collected so far from ladies first to become licensed in their state, first to be first black female at the architecture school to graduate, you know, first on their board somewhere, so you’re going to be the first, accept it, embrace it, and use us as your backbone. Use us as your resource is sort of the purpose and mission behind it all. Yeah. It’s so exciting to see what you’re doing, the passion that you have for it. I’m excited to watch it grow. My mind is starting to sort of turn and see what it could become because you know, I love the idea of a book and I love that it becomes a reference book and it has all that data in it, but I would love to see like some big beautiful photographs of these women and you know, full color and tell their stories about how they got to where they are and the challenges that they faced and, and the things that they’re doing and they’re achieving today.
Mark R. LePage: 34:58
It’ll be awesome. It’ll be so inspiring for not only young women, black women who want to become our architects, but I think everybody should be an inspirational book to hear that. And I love the idea of a video series. Even a YouTube channel would be very cool to sort of be able to subscribe to youtube channel maybe once a week or once a month. Here are the story of these people because I think your story is fascinating. I think, you know, all their stories would be fascinating.
Tiara Hughes: 35:25
Absolutely. I’m, I get inspired every time I talked to one of them. A lot of them have started their own research endeavors. A lot of them are focused sort of collecting our history and retaining it, getting us more collected together as a whole is another thing. So we’re in the beginning phases and we’re super excited. Something else I wanted to talk about, if you don’t mind. Our national NOMA conference is being hosted this year in Chicago. That is definitely a place where I’m going to get to meet lot of these ladies in person, so I’m super excited about that and hopefully you can come. It’s gonna be October 17th through the 20th. It’s going to be here in the Palmer House hotel, which is in the middle of downtown, and our conferences are really cool because it’s the first of its time concept-wise. It’s a conference without boundaries. So NOMA Unbounded is the conference and you’re not going to be in the Palmer House hotel every day during sessions. You’re going to be outgoing to different architecture firms out seeing the Chicago architecture. It’s going to be very interactive with Chicago as a city.
Mark R. LePage: 37:06
I love Chicago. I’ve been there a couple of times. That was it. I would love to come. I’ll have to definitely look into that. I would love to be there. So let’s see what else, how else can we help, you know, so we have, you know, we have about 2000 downloads per episode. How can those 2000 people help you?
Tiara Hughes: 37:30
If you know an African American female licensed architect, please, please give them the information about the show about this episode, about Mark’s show in general, and my contact information so we can get in touch with him.
Mark R. LePage: 37:30
What’s the best way to do that? Email?
Tiara Hughes: 37:51
Yes. Email would be the best way: firstname.lastname@example.org. And again, give them my contact information, tell them a little bit about the project and keep them connected with all of us.
Mark R. LePage: 38:08
Okay. So that’s it. So it’s email@example.com. We’ll have that in the show notes as well. This is episode 222. Go to EntreArchitect.com/episode222 and you’ll have that email and we’ll have a bunch of other information on there as well. Everything we talked about will be there. Before we wrap up here, let’s get into my final question. You’ve listened to the show, you know what that question is. What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business for tomorrow?
Tiara Hughes: 38:50
That’s a great question. I would say invest in the minority youth of our industry, whether it’s hiring them directly with mentorship opportunities, include it or contributing to NOMA at the local and national levels, and this I believe, creates a better industry, not just a better business.
Mark R. LePage: 39:12
That’s an awesome answer. I love that. Excellent. If you want to learn more about NOMA, it’s NOMA.net. Then the directory of African American architects, that Tiara mentioned is a BlackArch.uc.edu, is the directory of a African American architects and you can connect on Facebook and LinkedIn and a bunch of other social media. And I just want to say one more thing before we wrap you up up here. Imani Dixon was the one that connected us, so I just wanted to say, “Oh, hey Imani”. Thank you very much for connecting us. This has been a really interesting conversation. I think we have a new friend and so whatever we can do here at EntreArchitect a Tiara, please let me know and we will continue to help spread the word about First 500. Thank you for being here. Thank you for what you’re doing for the leadership that you’re taking and thank you for being here and sharing your knowledge at the EntreArchitect podcast.
Tiara Hughes: 40:44
Thank you so much, Mark. This was awesome. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Mark R. LePage: 40:52
I am so inspired by what Tiara is doing. If you liked this episode, I want you to share it. I want you to go share this with everybody you know. This is EntreArchitect.com/episode222. Go share this episode with a friend right now, tweet it out, put it on Facebook, put it on Instagram, send it out in an email. Tap your friend on the shoulder and let them know that this episode is one that you should be listening to. EntreArchitect.com/episode222 with Tiara Hughes and the First 500 Projects, I love it. Go share it right now and go check out my friends over at Archispeak and Inside the Firm to fantastic podcasts. If you like EntreArchitect podcast, you will love Archispeak podcast and Inside the Firm podcast to other great architecture based podcasts. Archispeak talks about the big picture of architecture and how to live your life as an architect and Inside the Firm is literally that they, they bring you inside their from.
Mark R. LePage: 42:02
It’s like a an office meeting that you’re listening in on as they build their small firm. So go check them out. Archispeak podcast and Inside the Firm podcast, go subscribe to those two shows right now and while you’re at it, subscribe to the EntreArchitect podcast too. If you’re not already subscribed, push that little button that says subscribe and make sure you get every episode of EntreArchitect podcast on your mobile device or you can go check it out right there EntreArchitect.com/podcast. Every episode that we’ve ever done, all 222 of them are waiting for you EntreArchitect.com/podcast. We’ll get you there. And EntreArchitect.com/freecourse. We’ll get you a free course about how to be a profitable architecture firm. It will show you how to put all your financials together, how you put together a profitable architecture for. It’s a free course that we give away.
Mark R. LePage: 43:02
EntreArchitect.com/freecourse. Go download that right now. That is the first step in being successful in architecture. Being profitable. If you’re not profitable, you can’t create amazing architecture. It’s profit. Then art. That’s the order it needs to go in. You need to build a, a thriving, healthy business and then you’ll have all the time and all the money and all the resources that you need to be the great architect that you want to be to design the fantastic art that you strive to design as an architect. So go do it. Go subscribe right now. Go download EntreArchitect.com/free course. You will not regret it and then email me or tweet me or hit me on Facebook and let me know what you think about it. EntreArchitect.com/freecourse. My name is Mark R. LePage and I am an entrepreneur architect and I encourage you to go build a better business so you can be a better architect. Love, learn, and share what you know. Thanks for listening. Have a great week.
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