Tags: design
Episode 184

Strategies for Growing Your Business with Michael Joseph

Enoch SearsFeb 2, 2017

Today's guest is Michael Joseph, the business development manager for 3C Engineering based out of San Luis Obispo, California. In this episode of the Business of Architecture podcast, we discuss business development strategies for growing a professional firm.

You'll also discover:

  • The 3 “buckets” you must focus on to grow a firm
  • How to build and maintain relationships that turn into business
  • Business development tips for professionals

Go here to watch the second half of our interview on 3 Pillars to Scale an Architecture Firm

Resources for today’s show:

3C Engineering

Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:

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Michael: We try to make sure that we know that our clients aren't just a dollar bill at the end of the day. They're real people with real lives, real struggles and real goals, and we try to pay as close attention to that as possible and continue to develop those relationships.

Enoch: Business of Architecture, Episode 184. Hello. I'm Enoch Sears and this is the podcast for architects, where you'll discover tips, strategies and secrets for running a profitable and a packed full 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 guest has a strong background in entrepreneurship and he is the business development manager for 3C Engineering based out of San Luis Obispo, California. It's my pleasure to welcome Michael Joseph to the Business of Architecture, and here's the show.

Hey Michael, so welcome to Business of Architecture.

Michael: Thank you Enoch. Thank you so much and thanks for having me today.

Enoch: Absolutely, so we're on today to talk about, first of all let's get some background. You and I met. We met at the AI Design Awards over there in San Luis Obispo, and tell me a little bit about your company and about what you do.

Michael: Sure, sure. Hey, great meeting you by the way. I love, the whole event was just great, and just having you as a judge was definitely a benefit for everybody there so I appreciate your help. 3C Engineering, we've been around for just about seven and a half years and we're a group of engineers, mostly Cal-Poly graduates out of San Luis Obispo. We all are very, very passionate about energy and really creating smart buildings, if you will, so we provide for architects, mechanical design work, plumbing design, and also building commissioning. Our third C is also control systems but that's kind of on the backend, if you will.

Really, what we do is we provide mechanical design and plumbing design and building commissioning mostly for either high tech commercial buildings, wineries, breweries, and serve up and down the central coast, if you will, so we try to provide those services as best we can obviously.

Enoch: Well, tell me how you came into this position because you haven't always been in the AEC space.

Michael: That's right, that's right. My background is actually in electrical engineering. I majored in medical robotics. My dream was to really create prosthetics for kids and adults that kind of lost limbs in accidents and stuff. My career took several different directions and went into finance and internet marketing and really a wide variety of different experiences, but when I met the engineers and the guys here at 3C, they just had something special. I was currently employed. I wasn't really even looking for a job or a team to join but their passion around energy, around saving really the planet, one building at a time, and the more I knew, the more information that I gathered about the enormous amount of energy that's being used by commercial buildings, by hospitals, by wineries, by other mixed use buildings that are just literally going out the window, heating and air conditioning that's misproperly used or maybe old systems that are totally inefficient but are still holding on, and just people having the lack of knowledge to know that if you were to upgrade or use a better system, or just kind of control the system that you currently have, in a more effective way, it not only saves that person money in the long run, and in the short run for that matter, but it has an immediate impact, positive impact on the environment.

I think that that's really the missing piece of most engineering firms that I've been in contact with, is there's that lack of human connection or the connection to actually doing something bigger than the organization, which is really saving the planet, if you will. It sounds kind of mushy when you say it out loud but when it really resonates with you and it feels right in your heart, it makes more sense, so the more I got to know them, and they kind of wooed me over, if you will, and so I started working with them just a few months ago in the capacity of business development manager, so that's how I came aboard.

Enoch: Well Michael, I know you've had a lot of entrepreneurial ventures. You've been involved in a lot of things and been able to see different businesses, the way they work. You talked about doing some internet marketing earlier and you worked for a company called, ClickBank, in their earlier days and really helped them take some massive strides forward, so you know, that's a very different from an engineering firm or even from your electrical engineering background. I'd love to get your perspective on what you feel about 3C Engineering, you know, what's the secret sauce of their principles and the business side of their, the way they run their business that attracted you to that organization.

Michael: Yeah, it's such a good question because it's, design work is a dime a dozen really. If you look at the universities right now and specifically Cal-Poly here in San Luis Obispo, and we're turning out really high-quality engineers, every single year, so when it comes down to actually doing the work, it's not all that complicated. What is complicated is really trying to very clearly communicate with clients. Architects are working with building owners. They're extremely, how do I say this politely, right. They're high maintenance, if you will, right? They request and require a large variety of different specifics that can't always be achieved and that's the challenge between being an architect and a designer, and trying to meet those needs of the building owner, and really try to exceed in the areas that maybe weren't considered. Maybe there's some issues with the roof space or the drainage or city codes that have to be met, or Title 24 requirements. There's a wide variety of different details and that's where we really shine, is we bring our expertise to the table. The difference between 3C and other engineering firms in the areas.

We have eight, actually. We just added a new one, nine degreed engineers on staff. Four of them are professional engineers, so when we tackle a problem, we have a powerhouse of people, a team, that can sit around and really solve problems for the architect and for the business owner and for the general contractors out there who are struggling to really just, to get the job done and get the job done right in a beautiful way that again, protects the environment. That's what I would say is kind of our secret sauce is we take the time to really consider the challenges. We have an immense powerhouse of minds to tackle those challenges and we make sure that we're communicating clearly and really being transparent with all of our clients to get the job done quickly and within budget.

Enoch: How about some specifics, just in terms of the way they run their business. There must be some chemistry there. There must be, you know these smart guys who run the business and who wooed you over, there must be some magic sauce that they have. Does it come through in their meetings? Is it the way the culture permeates the business? What, give me something on that.

Michael: You know, I mean there's hard, tangible items, right, and then there's those soft, kind of undefinable items. Maybe if you call it an X factor, if you will, right. You know how when you meet somebody, you kind of, if that person has that X factor, that it factor, you kind of know right away but you can't really put your finger on it? I'm sure all of us have met those individuals throughout the years. Well, it seems at 3C we've kind of been a magnet for those individuals and we're able to attract incredibly intelligent people but these aren't engineers that kind of sit in the corner and hide behind their computer and design. These are engineers who can get out there and be real people people, if you will, and really excel at connecting with our clients, and really listening, and being there, and coming up with something that's more innovative, maybe something that hasn't been considered from an architectural standpoint or construction standpoint. We're have that juice, if you will, that energy and that X factor.

I think at the end of the day, that's really what makes the difference in the business itself, is you know I strongly believe that businesses attract clients. Our repeat clients and our word of mouth has really been the strongest piece of marketing that we've had so far. Just now, we're starting to implement automated marketing and email campaigns, which are adding to our influence but really, it has to start from a really strong foundation within that organization, for any of that other stuff to work.

Enoch: Was there a business development person before you came onboard or is this a new position?

Michael: No. There was not. Yeah, this is a brand new position for 3C.

Enoch: One of the difficulties, just from an architectural standpoint, one of the difficulties we have when designing, and I have this when I do, whenever I do designs, is whenever you're given a blank slate, in other words there's no president, there's nothing's been done before, that can almost be an extra challenge because there's so many options you could do, so coming into this, tell me a little bit about how you are approaching the business development side of things in these first three months that you're working there.

Michael: Yeah, it's a really great question, Enoch. First of all, I have to applaud you for your podcast and really kind of trying to focus in on the actionable, realistic actions that architects can take on a day to day basis to grow their business, and that's not unlike what we're trying to do here at 3C. The challenge of having a blank slate is well, you haven't seen the mistakes yet. You haven't seen what's worked and what's not worked, and so there's a lot of trial by error and just trying to figure out, okay if we have an event or if we sponsor certain events that are happening within the area, do those sponsorships then pay off, and that's something you might not be able to see for months or even years to come because of relationships that were built, etc.

Right now, I'm leaning on a lot of my past experience with other companies and you mentioned ClickBank. There's a wide variety of different business models out there that really focus on either providing an excellent product, an excellent service, a combination of the two, or really good branding and people just believe in the brand, no matter how good the product or service is, if you have that solid brand out there people will continue to come back to it. I'm just leaning on all of that at this point to really help expand the business. I think right now, the main key is developing relationships with our architects. We're all busy business people. We're all very, very much so concerned about the same thing, which is building our businesses, keeping our clients happy, making sure that we're producing really high quality work, and at the end of the day, that commonality is really strong.

If we meet an architect or an architectural group who really believes in what they're doing, and has a strong feeling of excellence and really trying to produce that product, that's who we really gel with, so it's, right now, it's developing those relationships and making sure we have that commonality.

Enoch: Which one right now is more of a focus? Is it developing new relationships with architects that you may not have worked with as much before or is it strengthening and the bonds and the relationships you have with architects you're already working with?

Michael: Such a good question, so Enoch, I mean if you look at your spectrum of clients, right. You have clients that, architects that we've served for years and years and those relationships are deep-seeded. We're going on seven years now with some of these relationships. Those are super strong. We go to Thursday afternoon beer, you know or whatever, right. It's like those are relationships that will continue no matter what the challenges are on the business front. Then, you have the middle of the spectrum where some business is coming and our relationship is on and off, and we don't really see them as much. We all get busy. Then, we have the architects who we've never done business with.

It's really important that you have a strategy for all three of those, and across the spectrum. Everyone's different and we're working with people, so people are dynamic. They have different needs. They have different styles, different communication techniques or modalities I should say, and so as we get to know different architectural firms, we pay close attention to what those nuances are. Right now, the focus isn't necessarily on one segment of a particular type of architect, whether or not it's current or new. It's across the board so I think all of them are equally important.

Enoch: Got you and what are some things that you're doing right now to strengthen, for instance the relationships with those who have been long time partners?

Michael: Yeah. You know what? It's a continuation of what we're doing well, right. If you look at it, you can either continue to strengthen your strengths. You can work on your weaknesses, right. We've done really well at just being real, being transparent, being open and honest and being able to discuss what our challenges are with specific projects. We're willing to show people that we're people and I think with the current relationships that we have right now, it's just all about being there, being present. We have folks that have birthday parties and celebrations and people who are having children. These significant events in people's lives are significant, no matter if they're at work or at home, and we try to pay attention to those things. We try to make sure that we know our clients aren't just a dollar bill at the end of the day. They're real people with real lives, real struggles and real goals and we try to pay as close attention to that as possible, and continue to develop those relationships.

Enoch: How do you make sure that people don't fall through the cracks? Do you have any sort of systematized process to make sure that these relationships are being developed systematically?

Michael: Yeah, yeah. Great question. It's been kind of a natural evolution and not too long ago we would just have everything on an Excel spreadsheet or managing things through an Outlook Inbox and Sent items but we've evolutionized as a company, and right now we use a CRM that's produced by Google, called Insightly, so we track all of our communication with our clients. We make sure that we know the length between touch points of our clients. We know the depth of what's happening based upon the number of phone calls, number of emails, number of projects that we're working on, so that's a, CRM has kept us very organized and systematic as far as that goes.

Enoch: Great, yeah it's a good one I've played around with. How about the clients, let's talk about those three buckets. You kind of mentioned three buckets, the clients you have the long term relationships with. Other clients that you'd like to maybe work with them some more but they're kind of here and there, haven't seen them in a while, and then of course, there's the cold contacts. Do you have different strategies for these three different buckets and if so, what, how would you approach those?

Michael: Yeah, incredibly difficult to break into some of these relationships that are formed for years and years. I mean there's other “competitors” and we can have a side conversation about the belief on competition or the belief in abundance, which I'd love to explore but the, you know, when you're looking at such a small area, such as the central coast, there are deep-seeded, long term relationships for twenty, twenty-five years, and as human beings we're, have human nature. We just go back and use the same services over and over again because one, maybe the relationship was there but two, it's habitual and it's just something we've done.

We haven't done anything different for years, so talking about the side of the spectrum of architects that we haven't done any business with that we'd love to do business with. Those architects are just, you know, it's going to take time but the strategy with those types of architects and those types of firms are again, just to be present, to be at the same events, to talk about relevant topics, to be interested in projects that they're working on, stopping by the office and having a short, brief conversation about something that's happened recently within the community. I think that with such a small community, it's just so easy to develop relationships over time, as long as you are continuously active and continuously attempting to build those relationships.

The second bucket or the bucket in the middle as far as us doing some business, that really comes down to the experience and really gaining that feedback from those architects, so what my strategy is for every job that we do, every project that we're working on, what I'll do is I'll go back to that architect and just collect some feedback. Very simple questions, what went right? What went wrong? Where could we improve? Can you please be transparent with us, we're just trying to improve as a company. That's been very helpful for us. We've corrected some things that we have had challenges with in the past. We've really strengthened our strengths and continued to produce really high quality work in a timely fashion and keep that communication clear and open.

Enoch: I'd like to stop you there for a minute, Michael because I think that that's an interesting conversation that might be applicable to architects. Are there any common themes when you're having these conversations? What kind of things are you hearing that you guys can improve on?

Michael: Sure. First of all, always a good practice to get feedback. It's something that really a lot of people overlook as a mechanism for improving business and it's really incredibly powerful. For instance, one of our architects said, “Hey, I'm really early guy. I love to rise early and if we could set a 6:00 a.m. meeting consistently, every Tuesday and Thursday, and just hit that time, that would really help me out and I know that not a whole lot of people work as early as I do, so I understand if you want to keep regular hours of eight to five,” and that's something that we can easily jump onboard with. We can have an engineer on staff and working an earlier time and really listening to our architects, and paying attention to what their work flow is and what their day looks like, and where their most optimized with their energy level, if you will. Just listening to those finer points, if you will.

Other ones are, you know, some architects like more information included on their drawings and so when we draw, some architects love additional notes and more information the better, if you will. While other architects are say, “Hey you know what? I like my drawings to be super clean. Don't put anything on there that isn't absolutely critical or relevant to what that drawing is about.” That's a complete difference and so we're not cookie cutter, right. We don't just produce a drawing the way that 3C produces a drawing. We work very closely with our architects to listen to their needs and to figure out, hey what are the preferences or what are the best practices, and what's going to help you to best see that we are doing our best to make the project run smoothly and to really listen to that architect. Those are a couple of examples of things that have come up recently.

Enoch: That's a good, good powerful feedback, just a good reminder to always be searching for that feedback from our clients.

Michael: Totally. Yeah, for sure. The third bucket is the ones that we currently have relationships with, right. People who are, architects that are coming to us on a consistent basis and just like any relationship, you know, friends and family, the closer you are with that particular brother or sister, cousin, just being there and being present and joining events that are going on. I know, Enoch, you're from a big family too and have a big family yourself. I'm one of ten children and some of my brothers and sisters I stay closer in contact with, and others not. You can see the depth of the relationship is different based upon the amount of time and the amount of activities that you share together, and so with those particular architectural firms, it's all about really staying around and being people, and knowing who they are and knowing what's important to them, and what's happening in their family, and what are some of the events that are coming up that's important to that firm. That's really the three different buckets and how we approach them.

Enoch: Great. Well, I think that's a great dive into how business development works. In our next episode, Michael, I'd love to jump into your entrepreneur background experience coaching entrepreneurs.

Michael: Great, great. I look forward to it, Enoch.

Enoch: That is a wrap. Thank you for listening today. 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. The sponsor for today's show is ArchReach, the client relationship management tool built specifically for architects. If you want to systematize your marketing and business development, ArchReach will help you do it. Visit archreach.com to learn more.

The views expressed on this show by my guest 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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