Our Guide to Growing & Increasing Profitability at Your Architecture Business
If your architecture business is looking a bit flat or things are going down hill then perhaps these actionable tips can help move things along!
Article By: Tom Ayre
Last Update: September 2019
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In this article we will outline important tips to help increase clients, speed up the work processes and make things more efficient in your architecture business.
We’ll outline a number of actionable, easy-to-implement tips that will hopefully see improvements fairly rapidly. By following our suggestions, we hope you can increase efficiency and customer numbers, thus improving profits!
Please note that this is an on going article, I will be adding and updating as time goes on!
Table of Contents
Step 1 – What Isn’t Working At Your Architecture Business
What you should start with is working out what may be going wrong or not being done correctly at your architecture business. Finding the “leaks” in your business is important. Without knowing where things are going wrong it will be difficult to correct them and get back on the straight and narrow path!
Get a grip on your finances and work out exactly what you are spending on what and how much you are receiving. If you have more than a year’s worth of data then you can work out your expenses and income for the year.
- Can you spot any big areas where you are wasting money on elements that simply aren’t contributing to your bottom line?
- Which frivolous expenses can be cut or simply reduced in the short term to save some cash?
- Are you actually making money? If not, are there any key elements to your numbers that explain why?
Staff are usually a business’s biggest expense and usually the cause for the biggest headaches. Whilst I’m sure you don’t want to run your business like a greedy capital-driven money machine, it is crucial that your staff are all helping to bring the company to profitability.
Key questions to ask of your architecture business:
- Is each member of staff pulling their weight and positively contributing to the company?
- Are the staff happy in their job roles?
- What can I do to make their jobs more efficient?
- Do I know exactly what every persons job role is?
Your office/work environment is an important but often understated element.
Looking at companies such as Google and Facebook you will see their grand offices with table tennis tables, meeting rooms in ski cabins, free to use canteens, etc.
Whilst all these perks look great, they also serve important purposes that can be translated down to one-person business.
- Well-lit offices make things easier on your eyes, you are less likely to strain, more likely to stay awake and generally work better.
- Having a clean and tidy office makes working an easier task and looks much better to a client than a dirty, disorganised mess.
- Get on top of the paperwork, throw away paper you don’t need, scan in important items and start filing away things in closed cupboards.
- Invest in a weekly cleaner, having a clean space, hoovered floors and dusted surfaces makes things more pleasant to work and get things done.
Computer Systems / Technology
Nothing is more frustrating than when your computer freezes and crashes. What a waste of time! Having old/redundant/inefficient technology in your office can cause massive time delays when factored over the working year.
- Which appliances can you replace to make your working day more efficient (printers/computers/networking devices etc).
- Speak to staff and ask if they have any common frustrations regarding appliances or programmes
- If you aren’t tech savy, talk to a local business who might be able to help.
Time is an important element to profitability; wasting time wastes money. If you value your time at say £30 per hour, and let’s say your computer causes you a delay of 15 minutes a day. Over the course of a year this would cost you 65 hours (assuming you didn’t take a holiday). This equates to £1,950. If you have a few members of staff with the same problem then this could equate to a lot of money! Suddenly a new computer doesn’t seem such a big expense!
Step 2 – Gaining More Clients for Your Architecture Business
How do you bring in new clients at the moment? If you can’t answer this question, or if you don’t bring in as many clients as you know your architecture business needs to thrive, then read on!
Website Design & Search Engine Optimisation
If you haven’t done so already, review your website. This is the most effective tool you have to advertise your services to the world. A well-designed and optimised website will appear higher up the search engine rankings which will bring more clicks to your site and more work for you. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the key phrase here. A well-optimised website offers users a great experience and shows them information they need in as little time as possible.
Your site needs to be mobile phone friendly and show correctly on a variety of different web browsers and devices.
You will need a functional, aesthetically-pleasing website to bring in new customers and show off your experience and services. We recommend WordPress.org with the Avada theme if you’re planning to make and run your website yourself. Engaging in SEO (search engine optimisation) is vital for ensuring your website is found by your target customers. A good website business will offer SEO services, and we can recommend Ahrefs for SEO tips and tutorials. For those of you who would rather save time and outsource your website, there will be several local businesses and freelancers who can set up and run your site for you.
If you aren’t an expert on web design or maintenance then consider reading more about the subject or hiring a company to help you. If you do hire a company check their credentials and ask for examples of their work and how they have helped similar businesses such as yourself. When engaging the services of a freelancer or business to work on your website, check you understand exactly what they’re offering and ensure the lines of communication stay open – there’s nothing more frustrating than noticing an issue on your site and not being able to get hold of the person who should be able to fix it!
Working with Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free tool you can use to track your website’s progress, traffic and users. It takes a bit of getting used to as there are so many useful tools on the page – you can see where your website viewers are in the world, the keywords they used or links they clicked to find your site and the pages they clicked on while they were there… and much more! We recommend taking a few tutorials, such as this official Google tutorial, to get to grips with the system.
Utilising Pay Per Click (PPC) to Gain More Clients
At the top of the search engine results pages you will see a number of pages at the top of the page, perhaps in a different colored box or having some form of standout feature in comparison to the rest of the page. These results are most likely adverts where companies pay to be towards the top of a search engine.
Paying to be at the top is sometimes a cost effective way of beating the competition as you may not naturally rank above them in the organic search results. The cost of appearing higher in a list is influenced by the keyword you are looking to rank for and the competition associated with that word. A keyword such as “Architectural Services” has a high cost per click as the term is fairly vague, with a number of big businesses targeting it. If you were to try the keyword “Architect Extension South London” then this will be a lot lower in terms of cost per click as the keyword is a lot more targeted.
When it comes to PPC we would advise looking into a service such as Google Adwords. The service provided by Google has plenty of reading material around it to allow you to learn and start yourself. If you need a hand with it then consider hiring a company who can help. Our top tips for Google Adwords is:
- Add negative keywords, you want to appear for certain phrases such as “Architectural Services” but not “Architectural Services Jobs”. “Jobs” being the negative keyword.
- Add location boundaries; there is no point in advertising in areas you don’t operate in!
- Relevant landing pages – make sure the page that you want your advert to click through to is relevant and useful to the end reader. Landing page design is really important and something you should certainly read up on.
- Read up on the PPC process to get your head around the key elements of the process.
A useful tool for promoting a specific page or service, AdWords can very easily become a drain on your resources if you don’t use it properly because it’s very easy to accidentally pay for expensive keywords that aren’t actually relevant for your target audience. Just like with Google Analytics, we recommend taking tutorials, such as these free tutorials by Neil Patel, before you start using the system.
Use Google Maps & Google My Business
If you have a physical business outlet such as an office or studio, you need to list it with Google My Business. It’s completely free and will ensure your business appears on Google Maps when users search for local businesses.
Ditch Traditional Marketing Channels
How many of your target clients read the Yellow Pages? How many read the free weekly paper they get through the front door? Many traditional print advertising methods are no longer the best way to reach your audience. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for them: do your research to find out which publications your target audience reads and where they spend their time. For example, you may do well to work on your website and social media strategy but also place an advert on the London Underground.
Social media, if used effectively, can drive traffic to your website, build your brand identity and improve your reputation in your local area or industry. Decide your preferred social media channels by working out which channels your clients use, then build your following by posting regularly and interacting with other accounts. Don’t forget to include your contact information in your profile, and always separate your business posts from personal posts.
We recommend browsing the HubSpot blog for online marketing ideas and insights, especially for social media.
Ask for Reviews
Word of mouth is the lifeblood of any business, and will make all the difference to your success. If a potential client is comparing you to a competitor and you offer a similar price and service, they will turn to the reviews previous clients have left and inevitably choose the business with 5 glowing reviews over the business with 12 mediocre reviews.
If you sign up to Google Maps, you’re eligible for Google Reviews. These reviews will show up whenever someone Googles your business. TrustPilot is another popular online reviewing platform, and Facebook Reviews, in which users leave recommendations, not starred reviews, is popular with business-to-customer companies and may be a good fit for your architecture firm if your target audience regularly uses Facebook.
Step 3 – Make Your Business More Efficient
‘Productivity’ is a word we hear a lot in the news. How do you make your employees more productive? How do you improve your business’s overall productivity? Well, it boils down to efficiency.
Manage Workflow & Data Effectively
Can you build a quoting or communication system can to save you time? Getting your head around a programme such as Microsoft Excel or Outlook may seem daunting, but once you get the basics nailed down, you’ll be surprised how much time you save by collating and automatically producing/calculating things such as quotes or emails.
Getting on top of your data is important will maintain sanity and, by extension, productivity. Once you have built your first computerised system for something as small as quoting, you’ll see how much time you can save to focus on more important things. Getting rid of paper and digitising tasks will also save on space, paper and time filing/binning scrappy bits of paper!
Ideas for Improving Efficiency
- Use Microsoft Excel for organising client data, job properties and quote production
- Manage ongoing jobs with things like computerised date reminders (if you prefer to see things on paper, invest in a large wall chart)
- Use an automatic invoice generators and date reminder system to chase up clients.
Manage & Check Up on Your Staff
Your staff are your biggest asset, the little machines that can either make you a lot or cost you a lot of money. Managing your staff is a crucial part of business. If your staff are unhappy, unmotivated or hindered with their work then this will ultimately affect your bottom line.
The work environment you provide for your employees must be positive, enjoyable and professional. Sit down and review how things are with existing staff members. Is there anything you can improve on to make things more enjoyable, efficient and beneficial to your employees.
Simple things can make a huge difference to staff moral. Letting them bring their dogs in, or treating them to a coffee and snack from a local coffee shop each week can help motivate staff to get more things done.
Equally as important is to make sure staff aren’t unhappy and if so work out why. Have regular discussions with your staff to see how things are and if there is anything they are unhappy about. Allow them to be honest and take the criticisms as a positive thing to fix and repair in your business.
Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate
You simply can’t do it all yourself. Imagine if someone like Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) tried to start, run and develop Amazon all by himself. It just wouldn’t have taken off. The same applies to your architecture business!
Learning to delegate is often a simple task that is difficult to do. Sometimes you like to do things your own way and you know that you are the one that can always do them correctly. Delegation is often the key to business growth as it allows you to focus on more important things.
Trusting your staff to do a task such as communicating with a client or working on a drawing is sometimes difficult – but it is often the case that the staff member recognises this new responsibility and steps up to the task. Writing down processes and training staff is sometimes required for certain tasks however the time invested in arranging this is soon paid back.
- Writing down processes that you can delegate out to others.
- Record how these tasks are completed with precises steps. Consider using videos, manuals etc.
- Take a moment to train and supervise your staff with their new task.
- Monitor their progress with the task and correct them when they go wrong, expect them to get it wrong for the first couple of times.
Company Handbook – Write Down Processes & Guidelines
A company handbook is essential to clarify to new and existing staff members the culture, rules, roles, processes and what is expected of them in your company.
At the start a company handbook will be a constantly evolving document as you add more sections to it. The eventual aim of the handbook is for it to be a ‘bible’ document that will clarify all the important elements of your business.
Key benefits include:
- Demonstrate your company values to new and existing employees
- Explain what is expected of your employees
- Communicate to your employees what they can expect back from the management of the company
- Clarify company policies and guidelines in working practises
- Formalises and explains key health & safety policies to guard against future claims.
Databases & Automation Tasks to Make Life Easier.
Carrying out simple tasks like sending invoice reminders to clients can be a time consuming process. You have to go through your records, work out how far overdue they are, type out the email and send this to the client.
Automating tasks like this can save you a lot of time. At THS Concepts we use a database system built using Zoho Creator. With minimal learning you can build a database system from which you can run your business from and automate various elements.
A simple, example database we would start with is to record client contact details, including:
- Client Name
- Telephone Number
Then create a simple form that you record invoice details on, including:
- Client Name (looked up from the contacts above).
- Job Name
- Invoice Amount
- Date due
- Has Invoice Been Paid?
The beauty of a database is that the data is interlinked. This means you can easily create reports showing things like invoices per client, clients with overdue invoices, invoices over X pounds and the like.
Once you have created your database you can then think about automation with simple email chase ups. Using your database data such as “invoice due date” and “has invoice been paid” you can create rule-based emails that automatically go out clients who haven’t paid their invoice.
The key benefit here is the time saved which allows you to focus on more important things. With invoice chasing it can also help cash flow as your system will be consistently sending emails to chase up unpaid debts.
Outsourcing Work to Others
Often outsourcing elements of your life and business make perfect financial sense. When it comes to filling your car with petrol it makes sense to outsource the process of refining the oil, transferring the petrol and placing it in your car. If you were to do something like this yourself you would face massive costs that simply don’t translate to the price of petrol you get at a petrol station.
The same principles apply to business. The hourly rate you think you are worth is often much higher than you think. If you value your time at say £30 per hour then there is little or no point to work for less than that. Take for instance cleaning your office. Instead of cleaning yourself it makes financial sense to pay someone £12.50 per hour rather than do it yourself for £30 per hour.
As an architect you may spend a fair chunk of time undertaking simple tasks such as measured building surveys and topographical surveys. The time intensity to survey, record and draw up these fairly simple processes can take a fair amount of time, is this something that can be outsourced to a surveying company? (Yes, we do mean a surveying company like THS Concepts. We’re great.)
Key benefits of outsourcing:
- Free up time to concentrate on more profitable activities
- Reduce the risks of things going wrong, the outsourcing company is taking on the risk of errors
- Increase profitability: you cant be in two places at once, outsourcing can grow your business.
Stop Emailing So Much!
Emailing colleagues and clients can take up a lot of time. Often email is like instant messaging with conversations that take an age to get simple things sorted. Get up and talk to your staff if you’re both or all in the office: it’s quicker, removes the risk of miscommunication and helps build relationships.
Consider reading your emails at set intervals per day such as 10:00 in the morning at 15:00 in the afternoon. This gives you two intervals to send and receive messages without distracting you throughout the day. If an email is really important then the sender will call or get in touch via an alternative method.
WhatsApp or Slack groups can be more useful for group communication than email threads, as they’re easier to dip into and out of, but be clear that employees aren’t expected to answer messages at the evenings or weekends. At THS Concepts, we have a couple of WhatsApp groups that save a lot of hassle when surveyors are out on jobs!
Step 4 – Increase Your Architecture Business’s Profitability
The long and short of it is, your business needs to make money. Here’s how you can do that:
Raise Prices: Quality Companies Don’t Come Cheap
If you offer a great service and product then charge accordingly! As an architect you are looking to make the best possible design within the budget you have been set. Becoming an architect is a long process of education and experience and the pay should reflect this. As an quality architect you should also take into account your pricing. Being at the lower level of pricing reflects your organisation.
You want to be aiming to be the Virgin Airways of the architecture world, not the Ryanair. The reason different airlines charge different fees is the level of service that comes with them. Charging more money may also help get rid of time wasters who are very price sensitive and often more difficult to work with.
Raising prices summary:
- Increases your brand perception assuming you offer a top service.
- Reduces price sensitive time wasters looking for bargain basement designs.
- Increases profitability.
- Taking on less but more profitable jobs decreases stress!
Offer More or Less Services
Spend an hour or two looking at the services you offer. Are there any services you offer that are unprofitable, unused or ones you simple don’t want to offer anymore? If so consider either revamping or removing them from your business.
Focusing on jobs that are less stressful and/or more profitable can help with your mental health and your bottom line. Treat your business how a large corporation would. In a large business if a sector becomes unprofitable or difficult, it will either be revamped or removed.
Do a bit of research and see if there is any other services that your target client may be after. Is there a service that is linked to your existing services? An example might be offering a thorough before-and after-construction photo shoot of a clients property. This is something that won’t be too difficult to add on as your client has already appointed you as an architect.
- Ditch or revamp unprofitable services
- Can you up-sell other services by tagging them on to your existing offer?
Reduce Wasted Time With Clients & Staff
The time you have is the one thing that cannot be bought, sold or exchanged. Wasted working time is money that is being thrown down the drain and should be avoided at all costs.
If you are in charge of a team then a lot of your time at work will be dedicated to going through things with your staff. Sit down and work out where your time during the working day is being spent. Are there large chunks of time that can be made more efficient? Setting up staff guidance documents, explaining processes or simply having a rule such as “dont disturb if my door is shut” can unlock time that can be better spent making your business more profitable.
The same rules apply to your clients. Whilst they pay the bills there can be times when clients eat up and drain you of precious time. Consider keeping site visits to set time slots and time on the phone to certain lengths. Whilst it may seem harsh, sometimes it is often prudent to simply ignore the call and return when a more suitable time appears. Can your staff help with client calls and meetings?
Maintain High Office Morale
The difference between a successful business and a failed one can come down to office morale. Satisfied employees will always be willing to go the extra mile, whether that means working the odd weekend, picking up the phone while on annual leave or taking a pay cut if the business hits a rough patch.
Dissatisfied employees, on the other hand, are less likely to show up on time, more likely to call in sick with no notice and will pay less attention to the tasks they’re assigned, leading to potential issues. They’re also unlikely to remain at your company for the long term.
Raising office morale can seem daunting, especially if the company has hit a snag or there have been issues with clients or employees. But boosting morale can be as simple as making sure there’s always decent coffee in the kitchen and toilet paper in the staff loos. Maintain good relations with employees by holding regular performance reviews and offering pay rises or promotions if they’re deserved. Gimmicks like ‘dress down Friday’ or office sweepstakes during sporting tournaments can also help boost morale.
Track Time & Expenses Effectively.
Having to clock in and clock out to the nearest minute can come across as being quite overbearing by the employer. Whilst we don’t advocate a Big Brother approach to timekeeping, it is important to gauge the lengths of time staff are dedicating to certain tasks, especially the ones that require further charging to clients.
An accurate record of times dedicated to jobs can help you keep a good track on works that are over or under budget. Seeing jobs that are taking much longer than expected can flag up automatically and perhaps lead to actions that can help avoid further time problems in the future. Reviewing the times taken on jobs can help you quote better in the future as may need to increase or decrease the hours estimated.
A good time tracking software solution will also help you when it comes to accurately charging clients. Often mismanaged companies won’t have good records and will either under or overcharge for the hours. This can have a negative impact on clients who feel they are either being ripped off or not enough time dedicated to their job.
Step 5 – Gain More Knowledge
If there’s one thing we’re sure of it’s that there’s always, always more to learn!
Books & Audiobooks
When it comes to expanding your knowledge, books and audiobooks can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you’re learning a subject that makes new discoveries or changes its industry standards on a regular basis, a book can become out-of-date and obsolete fairly quickly. That being said, every industry, especially architecture, business and marketing, has classics texts that never go out of date. Marketing especially has certain principles that, although the methods have changed (paper advertising to social media advertising, for example), the essential ideas are the same.
Look for reference books in your local library or in second hand or specialist bookshops, Amazon or eBay. A well-narrated audiobook is also a great tool for learning while you travel or work.
“If in doubt, look it up on YouTube because someone, somewhere, will have made a tutorial about it.” – Aristotle, probably
YouTube is the second most popular search engine on the planet and is full of tutorials, discussion videos, Ted talks and more. For SEO and website building, we recommend Ahrefs, Neil Patel and, HubSpot.
There are plenty of websites offering online courses by experts in their field, many of them free or very cheap. FutureLearn holds courses put together by the UK’s top universities (and every course is completely free!). Skillshare offers 22,000 classes while Udemy offers 80,000.
Step 6 – Become a Client-Focused Business
It sounds obvious, but every part of your business, from your website to your quote system to your finished drawings, should be aimed at making your clients’ lives as stress-free and happy as possible.
Stick To Deadlines
Over delivering with your clients rather than under delivering is fundamental to positive client relationships. When undertaking work for clients consider offering deadlines a little past when you think the work will be completed so as you can over deliver by returning the drawings early. This will be seen as a fantastic feat by the client who will appreciate the hard work to get things done so quickly!
If you are running late on a project then ensure your client is aware of the delays and why this has occurred. If you don’t communicate with your client then more often than not they will be more upset about the lack of communication than by the tardiness. This can lead to sour relationships and possible bad reviews of you and your business.
Keep Clients Informed
Keeping clients informed on the process is important. Often in architecture there are a lot of steps to designing, sending for approval and building a project. The client is often bewildered by the building process as they probably work in a different industry and haven’t done anything like this before.
Explaining elements along the route to getting their project built will put their mind at rest and hopefully reduce phone calls and contact with you that may waste time and cause delays with other projects.
Hopefully this explains some of the most important reasons as to why you need a measured survey. If you have any questions or queries I can help with then please let me know in the comments section. Happy to assist!