Foreman Seeley Fountain Architecture, a small Atlanta firm with 14 employees, managed to survive the great recession while other local firms struggled and repositioned itself to thrive in the new economy.
What helped FSF get through the tough times was a solution that helped them to plug some leaks in their cash flow. These leaks could be overlooked in a regular economy but not during a recession.
FSF’s Vice President Jeff Seeley describes his firm as being pretty typical. “We were just like a lot of firms—just spreadsheeting it. We’d file an expense report, then months later, realize we’d forgotten to bill the client for our mileage. It was too late and too embarrassing to go back and ask for it later.” Multiply this by several similar instances and it’s easy to see how FSF’s existing billing system was costing them money.
Looking back, Seeley realizes there were all kinds of miscellaneous hours for which FSF wasn’t billing such as additional services, mileage to job sites, and blueprinting. All this billable time was adding up, just not in their bank account.
Plugging the Leaks Before the Storm
According to Seeley, “All those little things we weren’t billing for? Those added up to $1000s a month. That’s what we started saving when we started using ArchiOffice.” FSF started using ArchiOffice in 2007.
That made all the difference in helping them keep their doors open during hard times. “We have watched other architectural firms require severe staff reductions to survive. We’re still afloat, and I truly believe that’s because we did a better job of identifying those lost reimbursables and learning to time manage our projects better.”
Foreman Seeley Fountain Architecture partners. From left to right: Jerry Fountain, Bob Foreman, Jeff Seeley
Improving Project Planning and Budgeting
Because Seeley and his coworkers could see the percentage complete of various project stages with ArchiOffice, they realized how many hours were being spent on certain project phases and started to budget their time better.
“Here’s an example: we were doing a school renovation. We had six weeks. The way we used to do it, I’d just look at it as ‘I’ve got six weeks to do it’ and suddenly, half my fees were eaten up by schematic design,” Seeley laughs. “Now, I pay attention to how many hours have been allotted to complete a task, not what day it is due. Once those hours are up, I start asking where the drawings are, and people don’t spend all their time on one phase.”
FSF’s staff also started doing a better job paying consultants now that ArchiOffice was helping them to plan before the job began, making financial planning clear and easy. They knew where they stood with the budget. “We have a clearer vision of where we’re going to be financially two or three months out, so we do a much better job of allocating our resources. If we know there’s going to be a rise or dip, we can plan accordingly, based on how much work we have ahead of us,” says Seeley.
Adapting for the Future
After getting through the recession, FSF repositioned itself for the new economy. The firm also implemented ArchiOffice’s document management and remote access capabilities. So now their staff can access project data and documents from anywhere they have internet access–virtually expanding their office’s reach. “We were on a job site recently and someone asked for the specs. No one knew where they were. The contractor didn’t have them—they were probably stuck holding a door open somewhere. So someone pulled out a laptop, accessed ArchiOffice remotely and opened up the specs document for us right away. The amount of time ArchiOffice saves us is invaluable.”