Architects are their own worst enemy.
There are challenging clients as well as shifty contractors. There are forensic architects and attorneys looking for ways to sue architects.
There are many obstacles in the business world of architecture but by far the #1 threat is architects themselves.
We do it to ourselves. These four business blunders hinder architects from creating successful businesses:
#1 - Bottom Feeders
Some people call it under-cutting.
Others call it the race to the bottom.
And some call it the commoditization of architecture.
There are bottom feeding architecture firms that can only survive by providing their services at a sub-standard rates. These firms do not have anything to offer accept for the fact that they are cheap.
Architecture firms often compete for the same project and when bottom feeders are involved, this causes the race to the bottom. “Why are your fees so high when Samuel Scum Architect only charges a 1% fee?” says Sherry B. Client.
I think these firms are scum and that they bring us all down.
#2 - Saying Yes…to everything.
Architects are an agreeable bunch. I am no exception. I love to make my clients happy. “I am a people pleaser,” I say.
“You need us to take the fee down by 1 percent? No sweat!”
“You need us to trim 2 months of the schedule?....sure….we can do that!”
“You want us to revise the drawings over the weekend for a Monday morning submittal? I would love to!”
Always saying yes is a problem. Saying yes can have major effects on the bottom line and it can cause consequences to your personal life.
Years ago I started taking improve comedy classes. The best tool I learned in improve was the golden rule of “Yes, and.” “Yes, and” works in improve and it also works in architecture.
“You need us to take the fee down by 1 percent?” “Yes we can do that and we will need to reduce the scope to not include construction administration.”
“You need us to trim 2 months off of the schedule? Yes we can do that and at a an additional cost of $50,000. This provides great value because your building will be open two months earlier. You will pay less interest on your loan and can start selling hotel rooms quicker! A win-win.”
“You want us to revise the drawings over the weekend for a Monday morning submittal?......No!”
#3 - We Don’t Ask
Similar to our propensity to say yes to everything: we often don’t ask for things. For example, we are hesitant to ask for additional services. We hesitate to ask for schedule extensions.
In fact most architects don’t ask for more during salary negotiations. The 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey reported that only 28% of men and 33% of women negotiated their salary. That is pitiful!
To see more statistics on Equity in Architecture check out: http://eqxdesign.com/
As an architecture firm owner you may be happy that your employees don’t negotiate. “More money for me!” You think.
Architect Rosa Sheng warns that this is a bad sign. If your employees do not negotiate their own salaries, then they are also likely to not properly negotiate owner-architect agreements. They are likely to not ask for additional services.
Why not ask?
What is the worse that could happen?
#4 - The Overtime Problem
“Back in my day, 80 hour work weeks were the norm,” says every old architect.
And they are not lying.
Working long hours and donating your time for the cause is the norm in architecture.
In fact, firms often rely on cheap intern labor and free work to survive. “We don’t have a great fee on this project so we are going to have to suck it up and put in the O.T.” your supervisor says. They will not be putting in the overtime of course. They have you.
I do not criticize people for making the decision to work overtime, especially if you enjoy your work. Our deadline culture sometimes makes overtime unavoidable.
What I am critical of is a system that is reliant on free work. If overtime is the norm and is required for survival then that is a sign of a broken system.
We Can Do Better
These 4 mistakes are very common. As a young architect you might not think you have the ability to make a change.