Business Maturity to grow your firm

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About 10 years back, I was just like you

A young architect who dreamed of more than just designing.

I wanted to have my own business and a life full of adventures.

I wanted to travel the world and meet interesting people.

But those early years were a far cry from what I wanted….

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To sum it up quickly, I opened my own studio when I was 24.

In the beginning, it was just me in my small and humble office.

I started with an old wooden table and a plastic chair, no internet.

I chased my first clients and drew plans for free, hoping that one day they would turn into real projects.

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Those first days were hard.

I had to do everything myself.

From designing to figuring out how to get customers to know me.

And even handling the money. It seemed like a never-ending race.

My first real job was redesigning a small realtor's office.

It wasn't much, but it was a start. Gradually more work came in.

My “one-man band” became a team, and those small gigs transformed into big opportunities.

I’ll tell you more about them in another episode.

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If there's one thing I learned early on, it was to walk the path at my own pace; no rushing.

Believe me, you'll make too many mistakes if you run too fast.

(Open it in another tab and keep it open, we will be mentioning some of the errors throughout this article).

The secret is to keep going.

Step by step. Bit by bit. Brick by brick.

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The worst part? Sometimes I felt lonely.

Running a business is usually something you do it alone. Especially if you’re starting so young.

My colleagues were more interested in designing than making money or being profitable.

So I felt the whole pressure of running the business on my shoulders.

Fortunately, I found new friends, especially in the startup world.

They were other founders trying to do the same thing, to build their own profitable businesses.

We helped each other, shared advice and celebrated even the little things.

Now, when I look back, I see how all those little steps added up.

From staying late working on designs to now running my own company, every little thing was important.

One thing we all learned was that building a business takes time. Much more than you think.

And that there are some stages and steps that we all need to experience to make it grow.

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In this letter I will share with you what I have learned about starting a business and the different stages through which you will have to go through.

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As you begin your own journey from self-employed architect to running your own firm, think about this story.

You may find some similarities between your story and mine.

But above all, remember to take it one step at a time, without rushing.

Because that's how successful businesses are built.

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Let's talk about growing your architectural firm.

It is a lot like building a house.

You need a good plan to make sure everything goes smoothly.

That's why you need to understand what we call the Business Maturity Model.

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This is a chart that shows how to go from an idea to a successful business.

Understanding this map is very important.

It will help you know where you are right now and what you need to do next.

There are 3 stages:

  • Low maturity or Startup stage
  • Mid maturity or Growth stage
  • High maturity or Scale stage

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And each one has 3 steps.

Let's dig deeper, one by one.

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Stage 1: Startup/Seed or Low Business Maturity

Many architects are lost in life. Without any direction. Stranded.

Or without a clear orientation of where they should lead their life.

It's normal, because the ideas we were taught at university have not had a single practical use in the real world.

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This stage consists of knowing what you want to do in your life.

I mean professionally, what do you want to work on in the next few years?

For that you need to test your ideas, if they are really working or not…

The goal is to find the professional direction that will give meaning to your life.

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You may have a lot of business ideas floating around in your head, right?

If you don't know where to start, here are 30 ways to monetize your architecture expertise.

Pick one of those ideas and see if there is a sustainable demand for it.

In the Startup stage you will face the following 3 steps:

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1) Reactive:

That's where a lot of architects are right now.

At least, the haters I encounter on social media from time to time.

Resistant, emotional, critical, disorganised, chaotic, undisciplined, bad habits….

They tend to say:

"I'm just an architect, I'm not a business person, I'm not entrepreneurial ".

So they reject the business concept. Making money is a sin or a crime.

This is what architecture schools have taught us, unfortunately.

Maybe you are making Mistake #1. Being afraid to fail?

You know what I mean.

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2) Learning

Once we understand that we need to learn about business, we will devour all kinds of information trying to fill in the knowledge gaps.

There are many things you need to learn to run a successful business.

Market Research, Building a CRM, Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing, Sales Funnels, Pricing, Value Proposition, Lean Startup, Income Streams, Unit Economics, Project Management, Key Resources and Activities…

That's where I'm guessing you are right now?

Unfortunately, many architects get stuck in the learning step.

Reading and consuming content, without even trying to pitch a single business idea.

You need to put all this knowledge into practice.

Learning without practice is meaningless.

Read on and you'll understand why.

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3) Experimental

It's time to put all that knowledge into practice and start experimenting with your ideas.

You will learn much more by trying, experimenting and making little mistakes, than by reading all the books in the library, or watching all the videos on YouTube.

You will discover that most of your hypotheses were either absurd or wrongly oriented.

That is why we launched the Sprints, so that they can be implemented in the right direction.

They have been carefully designed for busy architect like yourself.

To experiment with different ideas and see what works and what doesn't.

Some recommendations for the Experimental step:

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Money is often tight, so keep costs low.

Be smart about spending. Fancy offices can wait.

Focus on what you really need to deliver great work.

Experiment using the least amount of resources.

Don’t repeat my same mistake #9. Wasting money

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Be brave and spread your message.

The biggest challenge in this experimental step is to get noticed.

I'm sure you have great design skills and ideas.

But how do you get your first customers?

Use all digital media tools at your disposal to reach them.

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My advice: Learn about Marketing to talk to your customers

🎓 Talk to your customers in the most effective way with the Marketing Sprints. They will help you fosters a sense of collaboration and partnership and transform client-architect your relationships from transactional to meaningful.

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Focus on understanding your audience:

Customers are usually right, but don’t know how to express.

That’s why you need to prioritize conversations (two-way communication) over monologues (you talking about you).

Make sure you're listening to their needs and delivering what they need and want.

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My advice: Talk a little, listen a lot.

🎓 Ever wonder why some projects don't hit the mark, even when you've given your all? Sharpen your edge with the Audience – Active Listening Sprint. Learn the art of truly hearing your clients' needs and preferences.

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Save time and learn to delegate.

You may do much of the work yourself.

The classic Solopreneurship stage of Freenlancing.

You will be an architect, marketer and accountant at the same time.

Learn to delegate your non-essential tasks so you can focus on your core expertise.

Read the “Mistake #18. Trying to do everything yourself” to learn more

Before going the next stage, here’s my most important recommendation.

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The Startup stage is inevitable.

Some ideas will grow quickly, others may take time.

The secret here is to experiment a lot of things.

Fail fast and cheap, until you find something that emerges.

We all have to start at this stage when building our own business.

If you try to skip this stage your business will be doomed to failure, I guarantee it.

So don't try to find shortcuts or cheatsheets to avoid the “pain” of the mistakes. They are necessary.

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Stage 2: Growth or Mid Business Maturity

Now that you know what you want to do in your professional life, let's move on to the next stage.

You have already learned and experimented with your business ideas and some have worked.

And one of your ideas was successful. Your architecture business has taken off, that's great.

Now it's time to grow and improve it.

In this stage of Growth you will face the following steps:

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4) Developer

Once you've figured out what works and what doesn't, you'll start documenting the whole process.

In our case we document EVERYTHING in Notion. It’s our Operating System.

You will start to find patterns that will become processes and systems.

You will also start getting your first small results, your first customers, your first money.

It's an exciting moment.

As a recommendation:

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Build a Strong Portfolio:

If the market changes (it surely will), your business could be in serious danger.

But if you have multiple or different types of products/services, you can keep moving even if one product isn't working great.

Having a variety of products or services means you have more ways to earn money.

This way, if one part of your business isn't doing well, the other parts can help keep things steady.

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My advice: Reduce your risk with a Diversified Portfolio.

🎓 Build your outstanding and powerful portfolio following the Product Sprints. They will help you impresses potential clients but also serves as a powerful tool in building trust.

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Invest in Tools and Productivity:

Nerdy architects have a competitive advantage.

Because they use software to manage projects, design and communicate with clients.

And increase their productivity. They get a lot more done, with fewer resources.

Every week I share a new tool that will help you be more productive. Only if you are a nerd.

Have you not yet subscribed to Newsletter+?

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In the developer phase, you are a great producer, a maker.

But you're still playing alone or in a small team, doing everything by yourself.

And that's going to be a problem if you keep playing alone.

You should start collaborating with other people.

That's when you jump to the next step.

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5) Enabler

Once you have documented your processes and know what your strengths are, you must find other developers who can complement your weaknesses.

These other professionals will help you improve your company and especially your processes.

As a recommendation:

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Scale Up Smartly:

Don't take on more than you can handle.

Grow at a pace that keeps your quality high.

Remember the mistake #13. Expanding too quickly.

It is probably one of the most difficult moments in your company growth.

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My advice: mentors with skin in the game can help you with it.

🎓 If you're feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or just looking for a fresh perspective, don't underestimate the power of tapping into a mentor's wisdom. Sign up for the 1:1 Coaching Sessions. You'll get direct access to pros who've been in your shoes and successfully navigated the challenges you're facing.

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Network, network, network:

Connect with other architects, potential clients and people in the construction industry.

Social media and local events are great for this.

In my case, I talk to over 30/40 people a day.

Most through social media. Others by email. And a few in person.

But for goodness sake, talk to more people. Expand your network.

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6) Performer

Once you have all the members of your team you will begin to have great and better results.

It is the ideal time to start scaling your business and let the world know how good you are and how you can help them.

If you want to succeed in the Performer step, you should:

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Make your business profitable

Putting money in is fine, but if you also spend a lot of money, what's the point?

It is tremendously important that we know how to make more money, how to adjust and increase the margin of our business.

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My advice: Improve your Unit Economics.

🎓 Ever wonder why more projects don't always mean more profits? Improve your margins with the Business – Unit Economics Sprint. Get the lowdown on how to measure the real profitability of each job, service, or product you offer.

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Focus on Client Relationships:

Keep telling people about your great work.

Use your successful projects to attract new clients.

Happy clients come back and they tell others about you.

Push hard with marketing so that everyone finds out about you.

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🚨 Disclaimer about Growth.

Growth sounds great, but it can be tricky.

You'll need more clients, which means more work.

Managing bigger projects or more of them at once can be tough.

Plus, you might need to hire people, and that's a whole new skill.

Also you will need to stay true to what makes your architecture practice special.

Keep your standards high. And your clients will see the value in what you do.

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Stage 3: Scale or High Business Maturity

You are making decent money and your systems are in place, congrats!

After your architecture business is established, it's time to take it to the top.

In the Scale stage, you will need to scale a well-known and respected brand.

In this stage you will face the following steps:

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7) Leader

Once you overcome the performer level, you will become a leader in the marketplace.

You will hire more people and scale your teams.

But you will also need to develop leadership and human resources skills.

Something that was not on your radar of skills to learn.

As a recommendation:

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Invest in Your Team:

A great team is your best asset.

Learn how to guide, inspire, motivate and manage people.

Provide training and opportunities for growth to keep them motivated and skilled.

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Hire the Right People:

By far, the biggest mistake an architect can make is hiring the wrong people.

When you're ready to expand your team, look for people who share your vision and have the skills you need.

Remember the mistake 16# Hiring the wrong people.

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8) Authority

Once you become the leader of the industry, and built the greatest team of performers, other people (not just customers, but competitors as well) will start looking for you.

And they will start asking questions like:

  • How did you do it?
  • How can I do it as well?
  • Can you help me with it?

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In this case, you should follow the following tips:

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Strengthen Your Brand:

You're not just selling architecture; you're selling your unique brand, your story.

Make sure people know what makes you different and better.

Invest everything in your brand, like Coca Cola, Red Bull and other big brands did.

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Expand Your Network:

Build relationships beyond your usual circle.

Connect with international clients or collaborate with other industries.

This is the way to grow into other unexplored markets.

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9) Breakaway

You made it, you’ve got your successful and profitable architecture business. Hurray!

Now it’s time to Give Back to the Community.

How could you help other architects now?

Participate in community projects or mentor young architects.

It's good for society and good for business.

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Also don’t forget to Innovate and Evolve:

Keep up with the latest trends in architecture and business.

Try new design techniques or different project types.

Explore other ways to make money and reinforce your business.

There are 7 different Income Streams that you could try.

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The main challenge here is staying relevant and competitive.

You've got a good client base and steady work, but how do you keep things fresh and exciting

How do you continue to stand out in a crowded market?

Keep building on your success, but don't be afraid to try new things.

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How and Where to start your business adventure?

It's great to think about the growth and expansion phases.

It's what gets you excited about building a successful architecture firm and motivates you.

But in the early stages of your firm, you need to focus your energy and attention on the Startup/Seed stage.

You need to:

  • Understand who your ideal audience is
  • Find the product's fit in the marketplace
  • create a unique brand
  • offer a first product
  • experiment a lot
  • make mistakes
  • learn fast

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The most important step is to experiment.

There is no architecture firm without experimentation.

This is where you lay the foundation for your future success.

If you want to go deeper, you can read the 5 business principles of the startup phase.

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What did I learn?

When I started 10 years ago, I knew little or nothing about business.

I also didn't know where I was or what to do next.

So I spent the first few years going around like a headless chicken.

If there's one thing I wish I had known when I started, it would have been these things:

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1) Finding your niche and Product – Market – Fit.

As an architect new to the industry, it is crucial to identify what sets you apart:

  • Is your design innovative?
  • Does it focus on sustainable architecture?
  • Or perhaps your expertise in a particular building type?

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Find out who your real audience is and what they really need.

Is it the Real Estate Developer, the End User, the General Contractor, the Operator?

Why do they really need an architect?

I spent three years figuring out who my real audience was.

I would love for you to avoid this big mistake.

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My advice: Analyse your Ideal Customer in detail

🎓 Understand your audience and create a buyer persona with the Audience Sprints. They will help you build trust for your next stage: The Effective Communication.

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2) Managing Business Operations

You're an architect, okay.

But now you also have to handle finance, marketing and client relations.

These are roles that may be new to you. Or that you'll try to avoid.

My friend, let me tell you something:

You're no longer just an architect. You're a business owner.

So you'll have to learn new marketing, sales and business skills if you want to build a profitable architecture firm.

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My advice: Start with the most basic business concepts.

🎓 Start building your architecture business with the Business Sprints. It will help you understand the basic business principles to start small and grow fast.

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3) Persistence is crucial

The road will not always be easy.

There will be difficult moments, like the ones I went through, but it is important to persevere.

Maintaining perseverance, even when the going gets tough, is the key to success.

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And finally, my most painful learning:

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4) You don't have to do it all alone

Finding friends or a community of people who are on the same path can be a great help.

Just as I found support among other startup founders, having people to share your struggles and victories with makes the journey easier and more enjoyable.

If you don't feel comfortable with your current friends or coworkers, make new friends.

Go out and expand your network.

Use LinkedIn to meet new like-minded, business-oriented architects.

I swear, I wish I had started building a community sooner!

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My advice: talk to your mentors if you need help.

🎓 If you're feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or just looking for a fresh perspective, don't underestimate the power of tapping into a mentor's wisdom. Sign up for the Office Hours with Mentors. You'll get direct access to pros who've been in your shoes and successfully navigated the challenges you're facing.

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Conclusion

I would like to end this letter by reminding you of a couple of things:

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First, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Starting your own business is like running a marathon made up of many short sprints.

With each stage of your business representing a sprint toward your ultimate goal:

👉 Building a profitable and successful architecture business.

It's about steady progress, learning from each step and building resilience.

Start small, focus on getting each part right. And then move on to the next.

With each project, with each client, you're building your business.

One step at a time. Bit by bit. Brick by brick.

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Second, it's also a road you often travel alone.

That's why it's so important to have people who understand what you're doing.

Find friends, mentors or a community of fellow business-oriented architects who share your dreams and challenges.

They can give you advice, listen to you, and sometimes give you the push you need to keep going.

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Start with what you have, where you are. Don't rush it.

Grow your architecture firm at a pace that makes sense to you.

And along the way, surround yourself with people who can help, inspire and motivate you.

Your journey as an entrepreneurial architect can be long and sometimes lonely.

But with the right mindset and support, you will get there. I guarantee it.

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Let's walk together and build something great.

I hope to see you win.

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Whenever you're ready, there are 2 ways I can help you with:

1. If you're still looking for traction in your architecture business, subscribe to the Wisdom for the Modern Architect Newsletter. Every week you will get actionable ideas, mental models and resources to help you build a profitable business.

2. In case you want to level up your business, you can get Full Access to the Global Architect Roadmap, and unlock Challenge & Solutions with all the resources and tools, exclusively reserved for our paid members, by Upgrading your Membership.

See you around,

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