Tags: scalingstart a firm
Episode 203

Building a Scalable Network of Talent with Siri Zanelli and Alasdair Dixon

Enoch SearsJun 6, 2017

Today we speak with Siri Zanelli and Alasdair Dixon of the UK-based architecture firm Collective Works. Collective works is a young firm with an impressive portfolio and business model. In this episode, you'll hear how the owners of the company have created a network of talent to help them design and deliver their projects.

You'll also discover:

  • How to overcome the disadvantages of working with a virtual team
  • Collective Works transparent fee model
  • The ‘#1 thing' that has helped this architecture firm grow

Resources for today’s show:

Collective Works

Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:

[DAP errMsgTemplate=”SHORT”]

Siri Zanelli: … if you have a client that is haggling over very small amount of fees early in the project, it might be a very difficult process throughout the project.

Enoch Sears: Business of Architecture, episode 203!

Hello. I'm Enoch Sears. This is the podcast for architects, where you'll discover tips, strategies, and secrets for running a profitable and impactful architecture practice. I'd like to invite you to discover how to double your architecture firm income and create your dream practice of freedom and impact by downloading my free four-part architecture firm profit map. As a podcast listener, you can get instant access by going to FreeArchitectGift.com.

Today's podcast is sponsored by AIA advantage partner BQE software, the makers of ArchiOffice. ArchiOffice is the only office and project management software designed specifically for architects. It helps you manage people and projects while you focus on designing great architecture, so whether you're working remotely or onsite, ArchiOffice allows you to monitor the status of your projects and tasks and send out invoices in an accurate and timely manner.

Get your fully functional 50-day trial of ArchiOffice by going to BusinessofArchitecture.com/demo.

Rion Willard: Good afternoon. This is Rion Willard with the Business of Architecture. I'm here with Alasdair Dixon and Siri Zanelli from Collective Works. Hi guys.

Siri Zanelli: Hi.

Alasdair Dixon: Good afternoon, Ryan.

Rion Willard: It's excellent to be here with you. Now, Siri and Alasdair are partners of Collective Works, which is a unique design company, a multidisciplinary network of design professionals who's got their fingers in all sorts of different creative projects, ranging from graphic design, architecture. You've just recently done a new app called the Architect Quote. It's a really kind of unique company structure that's quite fascinating that really benefits and brings a broad range of experience to any kind of a client project. I'm just really curious actually, how did you guys get started? What's the story behind Collective Works? How did it begin?

Alasdair Dixon: Thank you, Ryan. Well, we started up in about 2012. At the time, I was essentially working as a freelance graphic designer and also as a DJ in my spare time. I'd been working prior to that at Grimshaw for about five years. I'd done my part three there, become fully qualified. I left the firm to join Architecture for Humanity, the London Chapter in 2010. It was through my work at the London Chapter of Architecture for Humanity and also sort of I was volunteering there, and then I was DJing on the side, and I was doing some graphic design with some friends of mine to get by.

All through this time, I kept getting approached by some of the people in my network to say. “We've got a residential extension that we need to do. Maybe you'd be interested in doing that.” Eventually, I said to myself, well, I've done a couple of fee proposals. I've tried to do these pitches for these residential jobs, but I'm not really that confident in doing the numbers. I've read a lot. I've done my part three, so I've got some experience and had to do fees and everything else, but it's much easier when there's two heads involved because there's an awful lot to think about.

I actually approached because Khuzema Hussain who I'd worked with prior at Grimshaw, and I knew him through Grimshaw and also through, he used to work for Habit for Humanity. We've done volunteering projects and pro bono projects together. We had this background. I found out that he left the firm, and he was actually looking for some other work. We sort of sat together one day on a bench in East London and just said I've got this client who's come in the door. He'd seen some of my graphic design work and wanted me to help him design a restaurant. He was quite a rich client. He seemed like quite an interesting guy. We wrote a fee proposal. We sat down together. We took about half a day to kind of to understand the fees, and I immediately found relief through having someone to bounce ideas off and someone to get some sort of input from.

Eventually, we submitted the fee proposal to Mario, and Mario sadly didn't take the bait and didn't want us to work with him on that, so I think he went straight to a contractor in the end, but the seed was planted. We'd obviously been together, and it was only about a week later that Khuzema got back in touch and said, “Well, I quite enjoyed doing that, and whilst we may not have won that first job, maybe we should get together.

That was 2012. We sort of started on the route of saying okay, let's build a practice around our experience and around the people we are at the time, so there was an input of voluntary and pro bono work. There was an understanding that we need to work flexibly. There was a lot of work that I was doing in graphic design and in other disciplines at the time as well as some consultancy work, so I said, “Let's build a practice around these features and see how we get on.”

Rion Willard: Brilliant. What was the first project that you run?

Alasdair Dixon: The first was for a friend, an Italian friend [Givana 00:05:04] who actually … Again, I was a client of hers as a DJ primarily. She then needed a roof terrace for a house up in Holloway. We delivered that shortly after inception and had a great time. It was tiny, six square meters, but we invested quite a lot of time in detailing the handrails and detailing the timber decking and getting it as nice as we could do. We got planning for it. It did need planning.

That gave us a good chance to sample the entire box. Other than that, we've been doing a handful of competitions. I've been doing monthly graphic design work. We had a sort of a stream of work, but that was our first paid architectural project.

We kind of started working on that. We also then managed to pick up our largest commission I think 2013 at the time. It was a bar up in Kilburn, so I've been working with a couple of friends in a bar in Islington. They said, they eventually sold that site and said let's buy this five-story building up in Kilburn. Let's redevelop that into a duplex, a two-bed flat, and the bar downstairs will be completely refurbished and extended. That was the bigger project. Again, it came through the network of people I already knew.

What we found with that was that that was going to be at least a six or eight month project. We could see from the start that there was plenty of work to do. There was a contentious planning application involved. There was some local pressure on it, and there was a lot of kind of … yeah, just interesting things to get through. There's obviously the hospitality design. The client was relatively inexperienced. They'd opened a few bars before, but they've never actually redeveloped an entire building, and they didn't have experience in residential.

Working with them gave us the confidence at the time to say to Khuzema, who was working three days at the time at another practice, to leave his job and to come and join us full-time. Up to then, for I think the first 18 months, both the partners were working in part-time positions. That job helped launch us, and again, it came through a network of people I'd known previously, and then we carried on.

At this point, it's probably worth introducing Siri who'd known Khuzema through Rogers, their previous practice and actually also came into the network to work with us on a small job out in Hadleigh in Essex and impressed us with her design skills, drawing skills, and ability to work with new clients. She had an existing client base having run her own practice Studio Siri Zanelli for many years.

We approached Siri, and before we knew it, she'd brought us another large job, so I'll hand it over to her and let her explain what it was like to get involved.

Rion Willard: Yeah, Siri. How did you get involved with Collective Works?

Siri Zanelli: I started off working as self-employed in and around two maternity leaves. From having worked with Khuzema before … I think I actually gave him a ring when you were doing some of your early fee proposals and asked some advice because I just threw myself into working independently after I left big practices.

I realized at one point, I think I got a big job and thought that this is a good client. I contact this on my own. I'll get Khuzema and Alasdair to be involved. I even think my PI wasn't big enough, and I think I'd just thought the baby and wasn't up for paying more. I just thought, “Okay, now I've got a big job. Do you guys want to do this together?” That's after we have done some residential work together. I think I also came to the realization that I actually liked working with people and not alone.

It is about two years ago now I think that they asked me to join the company as a partner, not just as a freelancer working now and then together on certain projects. I said yes. In hindsight, I realized that I didn't really understand the implications of that, but it's definitely I think for me, it's much easier to grow a business when you're together, and it's much easier to ambitious on behalf of us rather than me.

For me, when bigger clients come, and I would be perhaps hesitant if it was only me alone, I'm now I guess I've got the ability to be much more confident and say, “Oh yeah. We can definitely do this,” because I'm thinking well if I can't I'm sure Alasdair , Khuzema [crosstalk 00:09:40]

Rion Willard: That's quite interesting actually. You actually had that experience of working in a large corporate practice, then working by yourself, and now working in a team. You can really see how powerful it is having other founders, other partners there working with you that sort of eases that kind of-

Siri Zanelli: Oh, definitely. Definitely.

Rion Willard: … anxiety and stress of-

Siri Zanelli: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it's much better too. I guess it depends on how people like to operate, but it's much better to be together. There's so many things you need to discuss and assess. There's joys, and there's worries, and it's always better to be … Yeah.

Rion Willard: Yeah. This is what I really love about your ethos of Collective Works is this sort of extended network, like an extended family of designers and creative people that you can draw on resources and have people kind of basically make a kind of [inaudible 00:10:31] team for whatever project that a client has. How has that evolved or how did that as an idea come about?

Siri Zanelli: I'll give it to you.

Alasdair Dixon: As you understood from certainly my story and Siri's story, and you get the background of Khuzema's story that he was working part-time, that the whole practice was built on people who needed flexibility in their career because of other interests, whether that be working for a charity, having children, working part-time at another practice, doing graphic design, being a DJ, all of these things, made part of the practice, made the practice feasible in the first couple of years.

We felt almost a duty to give that back and to make sure that anybody who wanted to get experience of running a small practice and wanted to learn what we'd learned through this process could get involved. We reached out to a handful of people who we knew were in bigger practices or were in smaller practices or who had any sort of flexibility and the need to join us and said if you guys have got interest in doing a small residential project or doing a design review on this temporary structure or doing some work for us, please come and get involved with our network.

We grew the network quite quickly to about 10 people who will get a regular newsletter, who come to our events and who help us out on projects when the time allows and when they've got the capacity to do so. We believe that that's a good way to work for us because it does give us the agility to have a large team when we need it and also to have a low overhead at times. That's how we developed that.

Now, we're trying to further grow and empower the network by saying that anybody in the network who actually brings us work, so if someone, a larger practice or a smaller practice or otherwise has got a project for their neighbor or a project like Siri that it's slightly too big for her to execute alone, then they can bring it through the company, and we'll actually give them half the profit that we earn on that job, and we'll allow them to help manage the job even though they don't have to do all of it themselves.

It helps to grow the practice organically by not only relying on the three partners as the source of work. We're actually relying on a larger network to do so.

Rion Willard: Yeah. That's brilliant. That's brilliant. How do you find that the clients, your clients enjoy that kind of ethos and … ?

Alasdair Dixon: We've certainly had positive feedback from our clients in terms of meeting a wide team and being surprised that they do get so many heads and so many ideas on a project. We'll usually at the start of any hospitality or [inaudible 00:13:00] or a larger project where the ideas are really relevant beyond a certain scale, we'll start each project with basically a design hack.

We'll get six or eight people into the room who might be, someone that might be a timber specialist, some of them might be structural engineers, some of them might be temporary building specialists, some of them might be lightweight structures, that kind of thing. Some of them might be graphic designers. We do rely on graphic designers in the network, and we like to get their input on architectural and design projects.

We get them involved. We have a sort of four-hour session. It's often on weekends. We start with a very quick brief. We get everyone to sketch and present, and then we wrap those ideas up, and then we present those back to the client so that they can see that there's been a huge diversity of input on a project. It hasn't just been one person's vision on what might happen. It's been a whole group of ideas.

Siri has another point on this.

Siri Zanelli: I also think that for quite a bit, some of our clients, it's very important for them to know that the projects are led by one of the partners because there is a certain … Yeah. To know that it's one of us with our experience that is leading the job, and we're not giving their projects to freelancers that are not with us regularly.

Rion Willard: Yeah. Got it. What would you say is the sort of the key ingredient to having a sort of network like this or having a company structure like this work?

Siri Zanelli: I think we are realizing that we need to keep in touch with people regularly so that they stay in touch with us, so we send out newsletters to the coworkers about every other week. We try to host a variety of events. We actually had our first company trip abroad last summer, which was great.

I guess because we don't meet in the studio every day like in a normal or traditional office, we need to work a bit harder on doing social events, opportunities to meet and discuss, so we are like this month, we've done, we all went for, some of us went to the [inaudible 00:15:17] Exhibition together, and they lectured together and then to the pub afterwards to have a chat.

We have design reviews as Alasdair mentioned, and we've even now just recently started a book club perhaps, which is with one of the coworkers. They suggest hey, should we do a book club together and make a reading list, and then I guess we'll meet up. It's a mix between social and architectural discussions to keep people engaged.

Rion Willard: What have you found has been, running a company like this, your biggest obstacles in terms of expansion and growing? It sounds like quite a, a really great way of, you're kind of very committed to relationships and networking and to expanding. That's a great way of bringing in new clients. What have you found has been the biggest challenges over the last four years in growing the company?

Alasdair Dixon: I'll come to that. First of all, I've just got to give a shout-out to WhatsApp for actually being a very good way. We've [inaudible 00:16:21] about using a handful of online collaboration platforms with Slack and all the others that are in the marketplace, but we quickly found that the one that-

Rion Willard: WhatsApp is the best. Yeah.

Alasdair Dixon: … most people that, most of the people in our network would actually use WhatsApp, so we now have an active WhatsApp group. I think some people mute it because it does get a bit busy, but there's 20 or so voices on there every couple of weeks just chipping in about things that they're going to see, things that they're going to do, feedback to the company, things that they've seen about us and other ideas that they have. We do … Yeah. That turned out to be the easiest method of keeping this loose networking communication.

We might look at more complicated solutions in the future. We've got, in terms of actual project management, we use Teamwork, which is working quite well for the bigger more complex projects, but for general chitchat, it's all WhatsApp at the moment.

Rion Willard: Would you say it's almost like a kind of a ethereal type of company almost where you're not actually all based in the same place, but it's … ?

Alasdair Dixon: Yeah. I mean our bookkeeper Ryan is over in San Francisco. Coworker Eric is in Ireland running a business, but we do work with him. Competitions is based in Munich. We have a handful of people all around the place that we're not strictly international. We're probably 80%, 90% London-based, but we don't shy away from people. Again, for that diversity of voices, which we believe in.

Rion Willard: That's amazing.

Alasdair Dixon: In terms of the challenges, and I guess one of the … If I had to single our something that has helped us grow and that probably prevented us growing early on, it is about understanding personalities within the business because we all come through architecture school with a very inherent view on how we are, how we best operate, and how we're an all arounder and how we operate in certain ways, and then we very quickly start working with each other without really assessing what personality types people have.

Late last summer, there were certainly some pressure on the company. We're turning five this year. There's a lot of pressure on growth and on results and on doing the right work well. We were finding ourselves, as the three partners, we were arguing too often over the most basic things, which when it all settled down, we all agreed on. It wasn't like we had a different opinion on things. It was just taking us a long time to get to that opinion.

We actually hired a communications coach. A guy called Simon North who took us through an exercise just before Christmas, which involved a handful of personality tests, which you'll be familiar with. Myers and Briggs and then some other versions of that. Also some more exploratory exercises around what's your end game? When are you leaving this business? What does your 70-year-old self think of the years that you were in this business? Do some forecasting, do some really long-term thinking.

Then, he presented the results of that back to us in a session, like I said, just before Christmas. It was quite fascinating because we quickly discovered that our personality types were basically on three very different sides of the spectrum. Some of us were very logistical and very … I don't remember all the personality types themselves, but he basically laughed at us and said, “You guys appear to be as far apart on the personality spectrum as you can get.” Siri, happily, you're in the middle.

It confirmed a few of the things that we knew about working together being a challenge, but it also helps to accept what we're good at doing and what we should focus on. We've actually restructured the business to a certain extent to take advantage of those benefits and make sure that each of us play to our strengths rather than all trying to do everything all the time, which is not going to help anybody.

If Siri wants to talk more on that kind of, that process.

Rion Willard: Yeah. Have you got … ?

Siri Zanelli: Yeah. Well, I guess when we met with the communications coach, it was very much one of those days where you … I did not know what to expect and whether we were actually just, we'd quarreled too much, and that was of course a massive waste of time. We tried to come up with something that might help us.

It really did. It was a great day. I think we all managed to understand ourselves better and therefore accept our own strengths and weaknesses and therefore maybe more easily give away tasks that we're now realizing we're not good at and we don't really have to struggle to become that good at. Someone else will do it much quicker than us anyway.

Also understand how the other partners operate so when we disagree, now I think I've got a better idea of why Khuzema and Alasdair will argue the way they do, which makes the discussion much easier when you can understand from why people think in a certain way, then the discussion just … Yeah. We resolve issues much quicker now. I think it's helped the business [crosstalk 00:21:27]

Rion Willard: It's really fascinating, this element of communication because again, this is the type of stuff that we don't get taught in architecture schools. Our education almost sets us up to be not very good at communicating in groups because we've spent such a long time training to be architects and typically working by ourselves and working on projects alone.

Siri Zanelli: Yeah. Ironically, I think you can do … You can do small scale residential work on your own, but very quickly, you hit a limit to the type of projects that you can do alone, so to work with other people in a company or employees or freelancers as we do, you need to be communicating efficiently. If not, you don't get things done.

I think yeah. I think it's something that I would recommend to other, regardless of the business type, but I think that it's something that other industries realize perhaps quicker than architecture. I've worked a long time in architecture. I've never heard of anyone else doing this. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't talk about it, but yeah. I think other industries are much better at trying to venture into these type of assessing people on personality types, the strengths and weaknesses, while we only look at the portfolio. That doesn't say very much about how we operate as an architect.

Rion Willard: Yes. Exactly. It's a very limited view of what somebody can actually do in a lot of aspects. They have the technical skills, but what happens when you're placed inside a team, and how do you work? How did you find that this sort of, this kind of [inaudible 00:23:06] kind of communication and relationships as part of your company? How does that work with your clients as well in terms of gaining new work? I know a lot of you, you were saying how you started your company was you really maximized your existing networks. You've actually found enough work out of your existing network to keep you going for … You already knew the clients essentially.

Siri Zanelli: Yeah. I think it's made us realize … exactly, sometimes it's realizing that this is not luck. It's a personality traits that you can try to benefit more from. For me, for example, I never thought that I was good at selling anything, but then I realized that actually I do get a lot of clients to come into the business and that I should do more of that and more on, for me, some of that is just socializing and meeting people. It's networking, but I never saw it as networking.

Now, that it's … I think now realizing that it is a strength to go out, meet people, talk to people, be interested in what they do, see how that can benefit us, how we can help people, that you can try to be more than systematic about things. It is yeah, about trying to utilize then our own networks further or grow them in whichever walk of life you are, like I just said to Alasdair, “Yeah, I wish I was DJing. That sounds cool.” I'm not. I have picked you quite a few clients in the school gate because that's where I hang out now in the afternoons.

Now, that's my network. Of course, there's people everywhere, so there's always a job lurking.

Rion Willard: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly, and it's a different mindset, right? Like you said, you never saw yourself as been a salesperson or someone who was selling. Actually perhaps when we come out of architecture school, we don't really what … we've got an idea of what we think selling is, but actually selling is just-

Siri Zanelli: And selling is almost like a negative word-

Rion Willard: Exactly.

Siri Zanelli: … which you don't see yourself or you imagine this person with a suitcase, knocking on the door and knocking.

Rion Willard: Exactly. Selling Hoovers or whatever.

Siri Zanelli: Exactly. I think now it's more you realize that a lot of clients, they also just want to work with people that they trust and like because work is work, and work is more pleasurable if you deal with people that you enjoy dealing with. It's in some instances, it's as simple as that, that people … Of course, sometimes, you have to compete. Do pitches and you try to be best or we try to avoid only competing on price because that's not pleasurable, but often, people aren't necessarily looking for the ultimate deal. They're also looking for someone that they would enjoy doing a project with.

Rion Willard: That's really interesting. How do you void competing on price?

Siri Zanelli: Yeah. We discuss that constantly. No. I think-

Rion Willard: What I'm getting is that it's kind of your putting the emphasis on the relationship as opposed to-

Siri Zanelli: Yeah. I think so. We try to … I think when you start off, and when I look back at the first planning applications and extensions I did, I realize some of my clients got an amazing deal. They probably sit in their own extension not know what a great deal they got. We all learn from that.

I think now, we're getting better at, saying that these are our fees, and that's how we have to operate. We are not interested in going any lower but being quite open about what the relationship will be. How many maybe design sessions with a client that will be involved. We send them examples of what they can expect from the process. It also gets to the point where I guess we're learning that if you have a client that is haggling over a very small amount of fees early in the project, it might be a difficult process throughout the project.

Rion Willard: Do you have a process where like if you meet with a client or a potential client early on, then you're like this is not going to work. That you just kind of, you won't work with them or … ?

Siri Zanelli: We have learnt that especially for a lot of-

Rion Willard: When do you know to walk away?

Siri Zanelli: For a lot of domestic clients, we've learned that it's good to table fees quite quickly. That's one of the reasons why we built the architect quote tool because we found out that we spent a lot of time doing fee proposals, very detailed, for clients that had no idea what to expect in terms of fees. This is London. You can't get a planning application for 750 pounds. We're not interested competing with those.

We needed to present that to clients quite early. There are also people in London that do planning applications for 10,000 pounds. We can compete with those. I think it's about being honest about where you are, and so in order to not spend too much time on initial site visits, long conversations, we needed to table fees for yeah, the first [inaudible 00:28:11] of stages quite quickly to try to find out whether it matches the client's expectations.

Rion Willard: What was the app that you developed? The architect quote, what does that do exactly?

Siri Zanelli: I will hand it over to Alasdair.

Alasdair Dixon: Thank you. As Siri says, we realized through probably 50 or 60 of these fee proposals that we've done in a short period of time that actually we're having the same discussions. All architects working in domestic sector will know that, but you basically need to find out if they have an existing survey, if they're looking at an extension and refurb or a new build and then what kind of assistance they want. Whether they want help onsite with the builders. Whether they know a builder.

Those questions, we kind of tabulate and said, right. Well, there's 10 questions here. Let's make a knowledge tree, so let's basically figure out answers to those 10 questions that we can then base fees on and that we can help them, guide them through the process a little bit. We mocked up the site. We went and spoke to our web developers. We did some of the graphic design ourselves. We essentially launched it about a month ago.

We've been sending it to our new clients and saying, right, here. Answer these 10 questions, and at the end of it, you'll get an immediate quote. There's no strings attached. There's no email addresses to be entered. It's just all there available.

That's been, that's a launch for us to see how we can increase transparency around our fees, so that we get fewer people coming in the front door saying, “Oh, you can't do that for 300 pounds or 400 pounds.” It's about making people aware of the amount of time it takes an architect to properly design your home and to properly extend the [inaudible 00:29:44] your briefs and to make sure it's all safe. That was the aim of that project.

Rion Willard: Is is an app that like any other architects can use or is it purely just your, based for your company?

Alasdair Dixon: We put it out there as our practice, so once you get to the end of the stages, it's explained that the quote you've received is from Collective Works, and you can come have a look at our work. If you're happy with that, you can obviously clearly work with us.

You can share the quote with other people. You can tell your partner about it. You can explain to people that this architect's giving you this quote. You can also share it with other architects. We aren't precious about it. We see the platform as a conversation about fees and how much it costs to really do proper good residential work in London.

If other architects feel that those fees are too low or those fees are too high, we'd love to have a discussion. We'd love to offer you a place on the platform. We don't really want to undercut or to overcut or to get into that competitive nature. We just want to say everyone is struggling with fees to a certain extent. Let's make the conversation a bit more open. Let's make information accessible.

Male: Yeah.

Male: [inaudible 00:30:42]

Alasdair Dixon: Our other business just arrived. I'm not sure if they'll be joining us in this chat. To summarize, it's about transparency of fees in the marketplace, which we think is a good thing because prior to that, you were, if you're googling how much an architect costs, you're quickly ending up on Mumsnet, which is a huge knowledge community about various things. It wasn't giving [crosstalk 00:31:06]

Rion Willard: Yeah. It's like kind of endless comments about this is my [inaudible 00:31:09]. I've done this. You can [crosstalk 00:31:10]

Alasdair Dixon: Yeah. The information wasn't there. We said let's set this up and see how it goes. That's been iterated. We're working with some product developers to see where that goes next to get more user testing. It's an ongoing project in the practice. Yeah, it's really about transparency, and also talking to other people about fees.

Siri Zanelli: I've even found that I've given it to friends that work in larger practices and maybe get one of those phone calls from their relatives or network asking for some domestic work, and then if they then happen to be working on commercial projects, they actually don't even know what to charge as an architect. Architects don't know what architects charge because I think it's like fees in architecture's, it's just this big mystery that no one dares to talk about.

Then, I've sent them the webpage saying, “This is what we would charge. Just use it for what's it's worth.” The feedback generally has been okay. This is really interesting because it puts it all into stages. Of course, people can take the view that we would charge more or we would charge less, but at least, we've put it out there. I think it should be just like we all know that a hairdresser can charge I'm sure like 150 or 25 for a cut. The customers can choose to go wherever they want, but in architecture, what an architect charges to do ,for example, a rear extension, it's hardly talked about. Why not?

Rion Willard: Exactly. Exactly. What, you guys are celebrating your fifth anniversary this year, is that correct? What's next?

Alasdair Dixon: Well, we're having, I guess first things first, that the anniversary is to have our IGM. We have a, not a public AGM, but we have an internal AGM, so we invite all the coworkers into the office to come and learn about what's been going on that year. Everything that they missed in the WhatsApp group or the newsletters. We operate with complete internal transparency.

Everybody in the company knows our turnover, knows what everyone's being paid. We've all got agreed rates, so there's no mysteries there. It's kind of an open and frank discussion about how the company's doing and what we're going to do for the following year. That's internally what we're doing.

The, externally, we're going out and yeah. Siri's probably going to talk about her project, I think.

Siri Zanelli: My big Oslo project. Yeah. I think we are getting more work for developers, which is good for our turnover and projections. I think we very much enjoy working for home owners, domestic work, which of course, it's enjoyable, but we are realizing that we need bigger jobs that are with us for a longer time and with bigger budgets to actually plan properly for the future.

I think we're now rally looking at a good combination of work for small and large scale, the professional clients in combination with domestic work. That also makes it possible for us to do some pro bono work, which we really enjoy doing. We've set ourselves a target of spending 1% of turnover a year on pro bono work. We're giving it to charities, but this year, we've been involved in three different not-for-profit projects, which we then when some of our coworkers work on those projects, their salaries come out of that pro bono pot, which allows us to be involved with projects that wouldn't have happened for us if we didn't do them for free simply because the clients couldn't afford architectural services.

We have a little pavilion for a nursery in Islington onsite at the moment. It's the slowest site progress, but that's how it is when it's all supposed to be built by volunteers. We've designed an outdoor classroom for a school in Highgate. We just also started looking at the library interior for them.

The goal is to have yeah, some bigger client that will then allow us to have a more robust economy so we can still keep doing smaller pro bono work as well.

Rion Willard: Brilliant. Thank you very much, guys. That was absolutely fantastic. Yeah, I'd love to have this conversation with you guys again maybe in a year's time and see how the practice is expanding. Thank you so much for your time this afternoon, and [inaudible 00:35:53] Excellent. Thank you very much. Cheers. Bye-bye.

Enoch Sears: That is a wrap. Thank you for listening t day. If you're looking for more time, freedom, impact, and income as an architect, get instant access to my free four-part architect profit map by visiting FreeArchitectGift.com.

Today's podcast is sponsored by AIA advantage partner BQE software. The makers of ArchiOffice. ArchiOffice is the only office and project management software designed specifically for architects. It helps you manage people and projects while you focus on design and great architecture. Whether you're working remotely or onsite, ArchiOffice allows you to monitor the status of your projects and tasks and send out invoices in an accurate and timely manner. Get your fully functional 15-day trail of ArchiOffice by going to BusinessofArchitecture.com/demo.

The views expressed on the show by my guests do not represent those of the host, and I make no representation, promise, guarantee, pledge, warranty, contract, bond, or commitment, except to help you conquer the world.


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Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.


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