Managing the business direction of a design firm is an art unto itself | News - Upsmag - Magazine News

Managing the business direction of a design firm is an art unto itself | News

Architecture isn’t just a profession; it’s also a business. Developing a sustainable business model is essential whether you’re starting your own architecture firm or working for one. Everyone has their take on what makes a business development strategy “successful.” However, since 2020, it’s clear that firms need to re-evaluate their business models to survive a global pandemic, a recession, and the socio-economic impacts happening around the globe.

While this isn’t the first time the industry has undergone such obstacles, it is essential to have the knowledge and business acumen to navigate them. There are plenty of components to keep your business afloat and turn a profit. Between client acquisition and retention, managing project deliveries, establishing partnerships, and effectively marketing your practice, there’s a lot to consider.

At Archinect we like to provide the community with information and resources to navigate the ups and downs of running a practice. Our ongoing Studio Snapshot series have shared many stories from practices on how they’ve navigated their evolution. Each conversation offers commentary on different practice models and leadership styles. In addition, we’ve received firsthand details on how firms got their start, the value of scaling a practice, and what obstacles architects face along the way. However, on top of reassessing business strategies, remote working, studio culture, and recession-proofing a business have been recent topics of discussion amongst firms. Having connected with over 150 firms, we’ve gained insight into the multitude of ways practices have thrived, adapted, and challenged traditional practice models.

Latest Archinect Studio Snapshot: JA Architecture Studio on Pursuing That Missing Middle in the Mode of Practice

In February, we spoke with Beyer Blinder Belle’s managing partner, Elizabeth Leber. She explained how her role as managing partner led her to be a “hands-on architect” and how firm leaders need to incorporate “having the ‘long view’ when it comes to business strategies and approaches. Back in April 2020, we spoke with architect, design strategist, and industry leader Evelyn Lee. She commented on approaches to business continuity during a time of crisis. Lee explained, “prior to the virus, whenever I talked to firm principals, they were sprinting just to support the work they had in the pipeline. Little thought was given to business transformation or new practice models. It’s important for us to dedicate time to both consistently in order to continue to remain relevant.” To help remedy this, Lee’s organization, Practice of Architecturedeveloped a detailed google doc that provides business resources from professionals across the industry.

During our conversation with Lee, she emphasized the need for firms to learn and refresh their ideas on best practices for business growth and resiliency. At the time of our interview, firms grappled with how to adapt to the issues resulting from the pandemic. Since then, the industry has continued to find its footing, but it makes me wonder if this comment from Lee still rings true today. “All of the resources that I saw organizations and people putting out there were relative to how firms have survived the recession or even recent natural disasters,” she explained. “In truth, disaster planning is a subset of business continuity.”

While there are many components to running a successful business, it’s evident that delivering the right design services to clients is only one part of the puzzle. Exercising profitable business development strategies also comes down to hiring the right team members who can execute various project deliverables.


Check out Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles series

Business Development = Strategy + Storytelling + Relationships […]if you’re spending all of your designated ‘business development time’ on RFQs, you’re missing the forest for the trees. –Iben Falconer

In an insightful piece written by Iben Falconer for Madame Architect titled “Business Development Fundamentals,” she provides a condensed take on the definition of business development and how firms can implement them. Falconer is the Global Marketing & Business Leader at SOM as well as its Senior Associate Principal. Her expertise in business development and strategic partnerships has made an impact at several large firms such as Steven Holl Architects, BIG, and Gehl.

As I read through Falconer’s piece, what stood out was her simple “equation” for defining business development. “Business Development = Strategy + Storytelling + Relationships […] if you’re spending all of your designated ‘business development time’ on RFQs, you’re missing the forest for the trees.” She continues to provide commentary on what firms can do now to help these methods. However, depending on the size of your firm and the innate skillsets you and your teams may have, investing in a designated business development person can be beneficial.


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Take the Portland-based firm Waechter Architecture for example. They’re currently seeking a full-time Business Development Director to help them with their newest phase of work and projects. According to the firm, their ideal candidate will “bring a background specific to the discipline of Architecture met with a forward-facing acumen for developing new projects, clients and markets.”

Each member within an architecture firm has their own level of expertise that helps push projects to the finish line and create profit. As we’ve listed in Archinect’s Guide Job Titles series, many key players impact a firm’s success. For the team at Waechter Architecture, the ideal applicant will have a degree in architecture and experience with PR strategies and studio narrative projects. The firm explains the Business Development Director will “work closely with our studio founder, Ben Waechter, and the studio’s Design Director. Ideal experience would include 5+ years of working in marketing, communications, or business development in the field of architecture.”

Does your firm have a designated business development position, or are you someone looking to share your skills in architecture and business? Explore the Archinect Job board for more employment opportunities.

*Be sure to explore our job highlights series, where we showcase employment opportunities for individuals with architecture backgrounds looking to use their skills outside of traditional architecture roles.

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