Can Your Firm Benefit from a Third-Party Business Assessment for Architects?
As a busy architect and business-owner, it’s easy to become so focused on day-to-day tasks that we forget the importance of stepping back and taking in the big picture.
How is my business performing as a system?
What are the weak links that I don’t see?
What are my team’s unique strengths that we take for granted?
But even if you do have the time and the vision to reflect on your business, your individual perspective holds an inherent bias. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just that passing information through the same filter tends to yield the same results.
Getting a fresh perspective on your business performance can be highly valuable if the process is effective AND your mind is open to the results.
A few indications that you may be ready for a third-party business audit?
- Fresh incoming leads have dropped-off. You may be enjoying repeat business (and we hope you are), but are new opportunities pouring into the top of your sales funnel? This is a sign that your marketing program may need some retooling.
- Employees are leaving your firm with increased frequency. There may be trouble in the ranks; which can result from a stale or undefined firm culture, or worse, a toxic team member.
- Profitability is stagnant or falling. Of course, profitability can and will vary for a number of reasons. But if you find yourself consistently working harder with no results, this indicates that operational changes may be in order.
- Change is on the horizon. Whether you’re preparing for the retirement of a firm founder and/or identifying the next generation of leadership, planning for leadership transition unsettles even the most stable architecture firms. Expert guidance can be especially helpful during this phase of growth.
There are many options for approaching a third party business audit, ranging from free advice to professional consulting firms. As small firm owners, the professional can feel personal when asking for candid feedback, but ask yourself: How can I improve without honest feedback?
Ranging from free to fee, here are some techniques to get the feedback you need:
Many firm owners take this unscientific (and free) approach to gathering outside opinions, which can be helpful but requires a grain of salt and lots of persistence. These options include online surveys (like SurveyMonkey), small focus groups, or one-on-one conversations. A few helpful considerations if you go this route:
- Structure the conversation. Come prepared with a well-organized list of questions and be ready to facilitate the dialogue to get the specific feedback you need. Remember your most helpful critiques in design school? They were thoughtful and focused.
- Consider the audience. You won’t want to get deep into operational challenges with a group of VIP clients, nor do you want to send a probing survey to your whole mailing list. Think about how the feedback you need matches the demographic you ask, and how private you want the responses to be.
- If you ask, LISTEN. It is tempting to be defensive in a situation where you are opening yourself up to criticism. Resist the urge to counter comments with explanations about “why you do it that way.”
- Say “thank you”. If someone offers their time to help you, send a small gift or thank you note to let them know you appreciate it. Added bonus: include a reference to one of their comments and how you plan to act on their observations.
Never underestimate the power of a first impression! Engaging a neutral third party is an excellent way to understand how your messaging is being perceived. After all, this is how a prospective client or new employee will first experience your firm. Do all of your marketing channels reflect your brand values?
- Get objective website reviews. This helpful article from GeekFlare lists a variety of options.
- Engage a social media expert for an independent audit. Both Hopeworks Design and Firebelly Marketing offer this service.
Invest in the Deep-Dive
Some professional business advisors specialize in the small architecture firm niche and can provide objective “first impression” feedback combined with industry standard metrics and actionable recommendations for improvement. When researching business assessment providers, be sure to consider:
- How well do they understand architectural firms of my size? Sure, some business mantras unilaterally apply, but architecture firms between 4-20 employees have significantly different concerns than those with over 30 employees.
- Are they looking at the whole firm as a system? A well-performing firm aligns marketing, business development, finance, HP, operations, and culture. Effective advisory services do the same. Before investing in one targeted specialist, consider an overall business assessment to ensure that you understand how specific challenges are interrelated, and which to prioritize.
- How are next steps resolved? A well-developed business assessment will provide prioritized, actionable recommendations. Be sure you understand the degree to which your consultant can help you execute these recommendations, and/or the degree to which additional outside specialists will be required at additional cost.
However you choose to solicit feedback on your architectural firm’s performance, try not to get overwhelmed by items that you can’t tackle right away. Use this valuable information to make a short and long-term improvement plan. Enlist other firm members to champion goals. Most importantly, start the exercise with an open mind. The feedback will likely include all of the ways your firm is exceptional, as well.
Emily Hall is the Vice President of Marketing at Charrette Venture Group (CVG), a unique investment company focused on growing small-to-midsized architecture firms. She brings over 18 years of architectural marketing experience to CVG, with a focus on discovering a firm’s authentic personality and using it to drive strategy. Emily served for over six years as Senior Associate and Director of Marketing and New Business Development at Union Studio Architecture & Community Design and for nine years at Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects, both architectural firms in Providence, Rhode Island that have experienced significant growth. She received a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Rhode Island, a Master of Industrial Design from Rhode Island School of Design, and a Bachelor of Arts from Colorado College.
Charrette Venture Group is offering a discount on Business Assessments scheduled in March 2019. Take a deep-dive into the financial, operational, and marketing/business development health of your small architecture firm. It will reveal how and where you excel and identifies actionable areas for improvement. Schedule a quick call with CVG today to learn more.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / pathdoc