If your work pipeline is flowing, and you’re earning a fair profit from it, and some clients keep coming back, it’s tempting to think that you’ve cracked the code to business success.
And you have, up to a point.
But business development is a never-ending responsibility. Even if you’re not going for world domination, resting on your laurels is no long-term strategy. Here’s why:
- The context keeps changing. The social, economic, technological and cultural landscape does not stay still. The solutions you sell today will by definition need recalibrating tomorrow to accommodate this churn. At a certain point, those solutions will cease working altogether. If you have no answers, you have no business.
- Clients’ expectations keep rising. Information flows quickly and freely on the Internet. Clients see how things are done in other industries and wonder why they can’t enjoy the same benefits and service on construction projects. From you.
- Competitors keep improving. Those sneaky b@stards keep learning new tricks, flagrantly investing to make things better for their clients without your permission. Even more galling, some of them aren’t even architects.
If you don’t respond, two things can happen:
- You will have to buy work. When everyone else does things better, you get squeezed out. Your only consolation is that they’ve had to invest and so presumably now have to charge more, which means that you ought to be able to compete on price. Cut your margin or incur a loss too often, however, and you deplete your resources and demean your reputation. Tough to climb out of that hole.
- Your next contract will be because you have to, not because you want to. If all you have going for you is that you are cheaper, who will hire you? There will be work, and it will be perfectly honourable. But will it be the kind of work you want to do? Will it satisfy you? Will it lead to your being the kind of practice you want to be? Most importantly, is it sustainable?
Obviously, you don’t want to be in that position, so you decide to invest to anticipate changing trends and catch up with or, better still, overtake your competitors.
But even that is hard. What should you invest in to get the best bang for your buck?
There’s little point trying to be one thing if you’re much better at another. However, if your strengths don’t bring an adequate return then it’s time to beef up on skills that do – or hire them in. Either way, be strategic about it.
There are two glaringly overlooked sources of intelligence that can inform decision-making and ready you for the future: user experience and client experience.
Of the two, client experience is easiest to harvest and, since your income depends on clients and not users per se, it is the most valuable to you from a business development point of view.
Useful data about user experience, on the other hand, has to come from owners, occupiers, asset managers and other stakeholders. It’s the only clear evidence to validate the success of your design output, and so is of critical professional interest. But getting it is relatively time-consuming and expensive, and filtering out what parts are down to your work is tricky.
Useful data about your service, however, is the proverbial low-hanging fruit. It’s right there in the brains of usually just a couple of people – your client. Even better, the feedback is 100 % about you. And if you keep gathering it, you have the data you need to monitor performance and plot a path to keep ahead of the game.
Best of all, there is now a free, streamlined system for seeking it: Listenback. With a simple web-based feedback tool at its heart, it is based on years of research into client needs, regardless of type, sector or size.
With a changing context, rising expectations, and competition intensifying, it pays to monitor how you’re performing.
Why not give it a go?
Listenback is a free web-based client feedback benchmarking tool and consultancy for UK architects.
We are currently looking for practices willing to partner with us to test the tool’s use and functionality.
If you are interested in participating, please get in touch with Matt Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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