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I recently attended a technology expo focused on software solutions for design firms. While I was there, I struck up a conversation with an architect who, two years prior, had made the move from a big firm to a sole proprietor. Deciding he wanted a little more flexibility at this stage in his life, he took a risk and left the big architectural firm he had worked at for 18 years. I asked him how the transition was going in this fragile economy. I did not expect his answer: he said business was booming and that he had a steady stream of projects in his pipeline. Happy to hear a positive report for once, I asked what the secret to his success was. His answer surprised me and may surprise you.
He explained that his biggest challenges were time management and lack of resources. His new reality meant that he not only needed to find projects, but he also needed to manage all the design work and coordinate all communication with the GC and owner, all the while continuing to network to secure the next project. This is not an easy task for a one-man shop, to say the least. He realized that to be successful at this, he was going to have to find a way to maximize his networking efforts while becoming more efficient at communicating with project partners.
His first challenge was maximizing the network effect. About 6 months into his new venture, he called up a former colleague from his previous firm to meet up for lunch. As they talked about work, they realized they each had a project opportunity which wasn’t a good fit. Not wanting to burn bridges with the owners and decline the opportunity all together, they decided to refer the projects to each other. As it turned out, this “referral” method worked so well that they’ve continued to refer work to each other for the last two years with great success. Case in point: a small preschool project his old firm referred became a pretty lucrative project. Unbeknownst to him there is a high demand for quality preschools in southern California’s Orange County region. This seemingly small project has multiplied into three new preschools this past year alone.
His second challenge was to become more efficient with project communication—in fact, this is why he was at the expo in the first place. He was looking for affordable technology solutions to replace his current method of shipping drawings, driving to meetings and communicating redundant information. Naturally, at this point I told him that the whole focus of my job is to help people save money and communicate more effectively on projects.
We talked a bit about his project workflow, and I shared a couple of practical things he could do to cut out a lot of the downtime and redundancy he experienced by working with paper drawings. Most notably, instead of sending paper copies of the drawings to his consultants, he can host them in the cloud and invite everyone to electronically review the same set on their own time. This way, he won’t experience lag time waiting to get the drawings back to start his revisions, nor will he waste time on administrative tasks like collating all of that feedback.
It was at this point he turned to me and said, “This conversation just paid for my time out of the office.” To which I said, “And then some.”