As the memory of the Great Recession starts to dim, and architecture practices big and small turn their attention to a re-energised and in many ways expanding market, opportunities for the advancement of the business side of architecture are growing. Instead of looking outward, now’s the time for senior leaders to use the current economic environment to their advantage by focusing within their firm’s own four walls.
Opportunities from Within
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the past twenty years is that socioeconomic disruptions and downturns can happen anywhere at any time. In our global economy, even a localized disruption a half a world away, such as a national debt crisis or a natural disaster, can have a devastating global ripple effect.
While many architecture practices may take advantage of the current economic uptick to expand by purchasing or merging with another firm or hiring additional staff, it may not be the best move to make… at least, not yet. Before planning for the good times, you need to be sure your firm can handle the difficult times.
Perhaps the boldest thing you can do for your firm right now is to rethink the way your clients are engaged, information is shared, stored, and manipulated, bills get paid, and work gets done. When you work to revitalise, re-align, and strengthen the operational systems in your firm- those vital, fundamental systems that define how your firm operates- then good things are bound to happen.
Not only will you operate more efficiently and cost-effectively, your firm will be better positioned to withstand any future market disruptions in the future. You’ll also have the clarity and piece of mind you need to make sound, growth-oriented strategic decisions down the road.
But which operational systems should you be investing in?
Here are five areas to consider:
Internal communications and information management. In an earlier article, I mentioned a survey which claims that over 71 percent of up and coming employees face challenges using the available collaboration tools at their firm. This means if you haven’t looked at this area of your firm lately, then it may be time to reassess the way communication happens and data is created, managed, stored and shared both within the firm and outside of it.
Market research. Marketing isn’t just about promotional materials, presentation tools, or a modern, optimised website. Before you can get to those things, you need to have a solid understanding of how the competitive environment has changed in recent years, who the key players are, what your clients want, and how best to position your firm in the market. This also requires you to be in touch with your firm’s key strengths and core competencies and make the effort to nurture your client relationships.
Cash flow cushion. One of the most overlooked places to invest money during good economic times is in your firm’s pool of liquid assets. Liquid assets are either cash on hand or an asset that can easily be converted to cash. In order to avoid corporate tax liabilities, many firms don’t save enough of their profits to prevent shortfalls when a financial emergency or a slowdown in projects hits. But consider this: a sudden scramble for cash can end up costing you more than the money you saved in taxes. Better to have a few months worth of operational expenses on hand.
Training programs. Today’s young architecture professionals want from their employers hands-on experiences that develop key life skills as well as leadership and functional skills. Now is the best time to reevaluate your systems for career advancement and training. This includes, workshops, formal classes, mentoring programs as well as opportunities for performance feedback.
Upgrading design technology. Even as technology has dramatically altered the design and build process, the architecture industry has been notoriously slow to adapt to it. Part of the reason for this is that money gets shunted to other, more “pressing” areas- especially when work is scarce. As technology continues to rapidly evolve, you can’t afford to sit on the sidelines, and on-boarding the technology that matters is much easier to do when business is booming.
Bottom line: if you want your architecture firm to endure in good times and in bad, then you need to invest in the operational procedures and systems that give you a solid foundation to stand on.