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How to Balance the Creative and Business Forces of the Architectural Profession

In late August, BQE Software Australia teamed up with Steve Burns FAIA, Chief Creative Officer at BQE Software, and Michael Lewarne, Architect + Coach at unmeasured to discuss how architects can be both great at design and business.

While most were attracted to architecture by the desire to be creative and impact the world, we wanted to investigate further into the common roadblocks for the business side of architecture and how architects can capitalise on what they define as success in their personal and professional lives.

Get onboard our insightful discussion between two architects with 30+ years’ experience running Architecture firms, as they help you discover how you can build business acumen and grow as an architect. Simply watch the recording below or read the webinar summary.

VIEW WEBINAR

Discussions Main Topics

  •         Time Management Tips to Get Stuff Done
  •         Managing Relationships
  •         Maintain two essential documents
  •         Building a Work-Life balance
  •         Qualities of a Great Leader
  •         The Business of Architecture

Time Management Tips to Get Stuff Done

From our poll question, we found that the top biggest challenges faced were ‘time management and ‘dealing with the business of practice such as business development, finances, and admin’.

Michael Lewarne (ML): I’m not surprised that time management is the top choice. Instead of saying “I can’t cut out extra time in my life or in my business for certain things”, you need to say, “But I can, if”. For example, you might say “it’s not possible to avoid taking phone calls and answer emails”. But if you think about it, it’s possible. It’s a matter of turning off your phone, or putting a responder on your email to say, “I don’t check my emails in the morning, but I will start to do it in lunchtime, and get back to you then.”

There are different techniques that work for different people. The key is to find the thing that works for you, define your own time, and not let others define your time for you.

Steven Burns (SB): Calendars are really amazing for time management. If I look into my calendar I can see if I have openings and if I block hours throughout the day, I know exactly what I have to get done. If you don’t block out your calendar for the tasks you need to do, someone else is going to fill it.

Managing Relationships

ML: I know there’s a lot of talk about empathy right now. And I think that it’s for a good reason. We’re talking about cognitive empathy, not emotional empathy. So, it’s important to understand the way others think.

It’s necessary to have some of those difficult conversations and learn to have difficult conversations with people you’re open to listening to. Whether you’re working with consultants, clients, or staff, the most important skill is taking the time to listen and actually ask questions. In that way, they feel heard and that they can work with you in a way that’s constructive.

SB: Great Point. If you do listen with all of your energy and mind and put aside the need to send off that message while someone else is trying to talk to you, that would be helpful.

Two Documents to Maintain

SB: There are essentially two documents that every successful firm must maintain. This means that after you write it, you don’t put it in a drawer and forget about it like you do your contracts.

First is the business plan. Treat your business like it’s a project or a client. Assign the business plan to somebody who would act like they’re a manager of that project. It’s important to constantly look at what’s changing in the market and look at how you can serve that based on your skills.

The second is the strategic plan. It’s the strategic plan that really elevates your firm from being successful to being really sought after. A strategic plan will require a careful list of Key Performance Indicators that a wide range of factors that are important to you.

ML: If you’re just doing alternations in addition to houses and wanting to actually get big houses as part of your projects, then you need to have a plan. You don’t suddenly have that fall on your lap. Ask yourself how is this going to get this further towards your goal. That might have to do with your staff, projects staff, meetings, and how you choose to spend your time.

Building a Work-Life Balance

From our poll question, we discovered, ‘having fun doing my work with happy clients and colleagues’ and ‘achieving personal live goals while contributing to the community', were the top definitions of success.

ML: Architects really love what they do. So, they are willing to say yes to a whole lot of things. Architects will be better served when learning to say ‘no’ more often.

SB: Slightly adjacent to that topic, architects have trouble saying ‘no’ to a client even though they know it’s outside of the scope of their work. This can lead to unprofitable projects. There needs to be a contract your clients should be aware of.

With work-life balance, number one is always being authentic. Number two is to be proactive, in listening and learning, engaging with other people. And number three is the more disciplined you are in your life and at work, the more freedom you actually have.

Qualities of a great leader

SB: A great leader is being very level-headed. You don’t respond to things negatively and always understand that if you change the way you look at any situation and reframe your mind, you will have a better outcome. It’s not the event itself but it’s how you respond to events that make a difference to your quality of life and the people around you.

True leaders aren’t threatened by other people who show leadership capabilities, they will support those people. Everybody is working as a team for the betterment of the individual and the firm itself.

ML: The qualities of a leader such as authenticity, proactiveness, leading by example, and responding positively are really important. Reinforcing someone that you respect and their work is actually an act of leadership that I don’t think that gets acknowledged enough. Don’t wait to be picked to lead. Step up by helping someone else lead and don’t wait, choose yourself.

The Business Architecture

We discovered from our poll question that the majority of architectural professionals learned about the business side of architecture from their own research, mistakes, and mentors.

SB: It’s not surprising that the bottom of the poll question is formal learning. Very few of us actually get a proper education in business and it’s one of the big flaws.

ML: The skills we have as project managers, the ability to take large amounts of information and assimilate it into a solution is a remarkable skill that architects have, but this is mostly done for a design project and not necessarily for the business.

We tend to design our business because that’s what we’ve seen before when working for someone else. There’s this quote, that “the answer is not necessarily is where everyone is looking”. It’s not about giving the people answers, it’s about asking the right questions, so they find the right answers for themselves.

Steven Burns (SB): There is really a simple starting place to overcome just about every business challenge that you will have, whether it is issues around managing your time or dealing with your clients and your consultants and your staff. I’d like to suggest that a good designer becomes a great designer by having a deeper understanding of everything associated with the built environment. Understanding materials, construction techniques, structural engineering, and so on means you make better, smarter decisions as you design, and the projects are going to have a better chance of being a great success. However, this is no different when it comes to having a successful firm. Take the time to understand more about what it takes to have a successful business. Everything that you do within your firm will prosper because of that understanding.

Check the post-session Q&A here to see more on the discussion. And keep an eye for our next sessions. The discussion will go on!


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Tabitha Jean Naylor
The Author

Tabitha Jean Naylor

Tabitha Jean Naylor is a Brand Journalist at BQE, and has over 17 years of sales and marketing experience working with businesses ranging from small mom-and-pop shops through publicly-traded, household names. Her intimate knowledge of how sales and marketing go hand-in-hand has resulted in a countless number of successful branding and marketing campaigns for start-ups through NASDAQ traded companies. As a former business consultant, her experience brings a unique perspective to the BQE community, especially given the variety of projects she has spearheaded. When not in “content ninja” mode, she’s busy being a fur mom to her English Bull Terrier named Blake. She’s also an animal rescue volunteer and master kombucha brewer.

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