Today is an invigorating time to pursue best practices as they evolve to face challenges in the design professions. Architects in firms of all sizes are being inundated with ever expanding information and technologies to consider. How does one stay informed, engaged, and focused at the leading edge of best practices?
Emerging and seasoned architects look for engaged networks of leaders in the industry with whom to share and evaluate best practices of both common and uncommon models of emerging practice management. Practice management models are evolving nationwide in response to social and economic changes – and professional groups such as the AIA and the AIA Trust want to highlight best practices to help members manage risk and succeed in these changing times. The AIA Small Firm Exchange (SFx) aims to promote opportunities for architects in small firms to engage in collaborative efforts of AIA member groups and Knowledge Communities.
The SFx is an AIA Member Group that originally began with the founding of the AIA Small Firm Roundtable in 2009 and is comprised of small firm practitioners representing geographical membership regions. The SFx’s Practice Work Group explores current business models to identify the variety of best practices available that may benefit small architecture firms. (For SFx survey purposes, “a small firm” has been defined as any firm with 10 or less employees.)
The SFx recently released a beta version business plan template that builds on small firm experiences in developing a business model dashboard to analyze small firm business practices. The SFx updates its business model dashboard annually and has released the 2018 Small Firm Business Models Survey. It is their third annual survey aimed at identifying and measuring the variations and commonalities in existing small firm models, with a goal of providing ongoing insight and analysis specific to the small firm. The data gathered is presented in the meaningful format of the Small Firm Business Model Dashboard, which currently displays the data collected in the 2017 survey.
Through the networks of AIA Trust and AIA member groups such as CRAN and SPP, the Small Firm Business Model Survey aims to collect nationwide data on small firms, their projects, staff, insurance, contracts, and patterns relating to their financial successes (or struggles). All architects representing small firms are encouraged to participate in the current survey and will be notified of analysis results when the 2018 dashboard is available.
After analysis of the 2017 dashboard, the SFx has developed and released their beta version of a business plan template to identify and apply relevant characteristics for successful small firms. The goal of this current effort is to gather feedback to create a series of business planning templates that better enable small firms to achieve economic stability in the profession. Resources for both firm “start-ups” and “tune-ups” can be generated to specifically benefit small firms. The SFx invites feedback through the end of 2018 to help develop future templates and to propose curriculum for small firms that may enhance the content of “mini-MBA’s” emerging in the marketplace for firms seeking better business development strategies.
The SFx practitioners seek new (and encourage previous) voluntary respondents to complete the current survey and evaluate the business plan template so that the needs of small architecture firms can be better addressed. Additionally, focused SFx Work Groups provide essential practice and leadership resources, an expansive professional network, and advocacy to small firms everywhere. Learn more regarding these and other recent areas of interest for small firms at their webpage: www.aia.org/sfx. Future articles will follow the Small Firm Exchange’s resource development and provide similar updates from their Practice Work Group as it continues to explore best practice models, surveys, and benchmarking tools specifically from and for small firms.
Submitted by Thomas Lowing, AIA, member of the AIA Small Firm Exchange as regional representative for Michigan, and an associate professor in architecture at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.