Running an architecture practice is not a sprint. It takes years and countless hours of dedication and careful planning to create a business that can weather crises and grow sustainably.
Bringing in new work while handling the daily ins and outs of running a company requires a combination of talent, skill, team effort, a great business plan and smart organization. Particularly in the moments that call for scaling up, it becomes apparent that architecture is an industry in which technical knowledge, management, and business understanding are as important as good design.
The Hinge Research Institute recently released their new their 2018 High Growth Study which took an in-depth look at AEC firms in order to determine why some grow faster than others. More than 1,000 companies participated in the study and architecture, engineering and construction services firms made up more than 21 percent of the sample.
The study showed that the habits and priorities that drive higher than average growth numbers can be broken down into three categories. High growth firms are:
- Focused on understanding the marketplace and are nearly four times more likely to perform regular research on their target markets.
- More likely to specialize and recognize skills that set them apart from the competition.
- Quicker to adopt digital marketing tactics and content marketing. They also attend more conferences and events.
#1 – Develop Policies and Procedures
In today’s competitive market, effective strategic management is paramount for sustaining a business. Committing to a new strategy can be daunting and seem at risk of somehow cutting off possibilities and options. To avoid this, firms are advised to develop a structure that will increase the odds of success. To start, create a list of shared, general goals which are then broken down to specific, measurable objectives with precise targets. These decision-making processes should relate to organizational structure, staff recruitment, sales message, pricing, management, leadership and marketing approach. By setting office standards, you make the onboarding process for new hires faster and more efficient. This will save time, cost and avoid the frustration of training simple processes and answering repeated questions.
#2– Research Markets for Growth Opportunities
In an interview with Architect Magazine, new HOK CEO Bill Hellmuth explained the firm’s recent foray into sport and hospitality: “We re-established our sport practice a little over a year ago when we merged with 360 Architecture, which had some original HOK-ers in it. So, we’re back in the sport practice. Where growth opportunities occur is not just in sport but the intersection of sport and master planning and what happens when you add a sport venue to an urban district… We also recently merged with a [global] hospitality firm [BBG-BBGM] and we’re now looking at the intersection between hospitality and healthcare.”
Don’t be afraid to enter a new sector. Architectural thinking and project experience can be valuable across various building markets and you may surprise yourself by offering more than you think.
#3 – Work on Your Brand and Market Positioning
In order to differentiate themselves from the competition, business owners need to understand what they do and where they want to go. What will naturally emerge from this understanding is an idea of marketing as a natural extension of their company’s work ethics, company culture and service quality. Sheela Maini Søgaard, CEO and Partner AT Bjarke Ingels Group, confirms this stance in her piece for Design Intelligence: “As long as we continue to create stories from the way we genuinely approach design, our marketing will be organically derived rather than contrived. Once you have originality and integrity in your communication it is simply a question of finding the right tools and outlets.”
#4 – Strike a Balance between Exploitation and Exploration
In a popular TED Talk business strategist Knut Haanaes identifies the main reasons why companies fail. According to Haanaes successful companies create a balance between exploration and exploitation, competently doing more of the same as well as doing what’s new. Focusing only on exploitation–providing the same proven services or product–may not be risky in the short-term, but it is a risky strategy in the long-term. Investing in research and development is crucial, as it will allow you to stay on top of business, technology and marketing trends.
#5 – Hire Smart
Once in position to take on larger projects, hiring new people can make a huge impact on the stability of the firm. If the firm plans to work on several larger projects simultaneously, it needs reliable employees who understand the company culture and project managers that can help come up with realistic goals and set achievable deadlines. It could be useful to create a list of essential competencies for new hires and a set of responsibilities for each position within the firm. The way you select new hires will have an impact on whether your firm’s culture thrives or crumbles. In fact, CB Insights found that among the top three reasons why startups fail is not having the right team.
It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for scaling up. Read up on the experiences of successful archipreneurs, talk to experts in scaling up, friends and colleagues who have done it before, and come up with a solution custom-tailored for your business.
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