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Getting the work life balance right: five tips for architects

Clare Nash

Feel stressed out? Overworked? From niching to giving herself space to be creative, Clare Nash tells how getting the balance right is the key to success, both personal and professional

The joy of working flexibly. Use it to help get the right work life balance.
The joy of working flexibly. Use it to help get the right work life balance. Credit: Kate Reilly

Ten years ago, I had no job, no clients and no money. Setting up on my own and later employing staff (we are now a team of seven) meant being creative.

Architecture can be all consuming and long hours culture is still rife. Yet, having a life away from these pressures is healthy and good for creativity. In my book Design your Life I share my tips for creating the life you want both within and around an architectural career. I have extracted some of these below:

Five things made a big difference to both profitability and life-giving side of my practice – niching and setting up a remote working team.

Tip #1 Niching

Niching took me from not having enough work, to drowning in only three months. Initially, I was wary of niching, because surely that meant excluding lots of work? The opposite is true. Clients are looking for a specific thing. If your offer is too generic, they will look elsewhere. Busy people need help to find the right solution, by niching you are making that process faster for them. Plus, the stronger and more defined your niche, the more relevant your solution or process will be to your target market.

Niching has a triple benefit – you attract more clients, these clients need little convincing that you are the right architect for them, and you can raise your fees in line with your expertise.

Tip #2 Don’t turn marketing into the thing you dread

It doesn’t need to be. It can be lots of fun once you work out your own marketing style. Lots of gurus will tell you that you need to be doing everything and doing it everywhere. Not true. The 80/20 rule applies to marketing too – you will get 80% of results from 20% of your efforts. For example, I enjoy writing. I set up evergreen content in the form of blogs. Blogs I wrote in 2014 are still bringing in work today. I am not particularly active on social media and though am often told I need to send out three posts a week or, worse, daily. I don’t. Yet my practice turns away two-thirds of work coming in while only appearing on social media about once a month.

I have a friend who is an excellent networker, his elevator pitch is always funny and makes us all want to work with him. But he hates writing, he also posts rarely on social media, yet his business thrives.

Some people love photography or videography, others love social media. Play to your strengths and you will see results. Turn it into a fun activity that also brings in work. The only rule is, the more you like it, the more you will do it, which means the more visible your practice will become.

Tip #3 Offer flexible working or ask for it

I love collaboration and working together. But it’s not efficient to expect that to work 24/7. Did you know it takes half an hour to get back into a task after a distraction? How often does that happen in an open plan office? Human beings don’t all work well at the same times either. Most of us have a post-lunch dip (far better to walk the dog during that time, or at most, do some basic admin). Some of us work best late at night, others are early birds. Flexible working allows us to make the most of these more productive hours. Rigid thinking loses excellent architects to self-employment, purely because there aren’t enough flexible options to fit around family life or other commitments. It’s just dumb business sticking to the 9-5, and don’t even get me started on presenteeism. Results are what matter. Happy workers are what matter. Sitting at your desk for x number of hours for the sake of showing commitment? That’s just silly.

Tip #4 Start with what you need

I could have followed the traditional route – have an office, employ someone full-time, rely on referrals and a generic website to bring in work, accept anything that comes in the door. But none of those met my needs. Much like designing a house, the best ones start from what is needed and who it is for, rather than what you have seen elsewhere: a life-giving practice has to come from what you need. Once you have worked that out, you will find that others want that too. Just like with clients, the more specific you can be about who you are and what you offer, the more attractive you become to a new team member. They seek you out, rather than the other way around.

Tip #5 Creativity needs space

The work is never finished, the to-do list is never ending. But taking a break now will guarantee you a better idea than the one you have staring at the screen. I have lost count of the times my ideas have saved me huge chunks of time. Taking a break gives you a chance to let your subconscious do the work for you, to get perspective, to see things from the outside. These are all things very beneficial to great work. My creativity breaks involve any form of exercise, visiting a garden or gallery, playing music, dancing or meeting friends. Many of the best ideas have come while weeding the garden or going for a run. Swimming in the sea stops me thinking small and enables bigger, braver thinking. Choose your creativity break of choice and put it in your diary now.

Overall, it’s your life, your practice, your job. Use creativity to make it your own and you will fly.

Clare Nash is is founder of Clare Nash Architecture and author of Design your life: An architect’s guide to achieving a work/life balance from RIBA Publishing.

Clare will be presenting a free webinar on 28 April around the content of her book, honing in on niching and creating a happy remote working team. She will explain how these enabled her to achieve higher fees, work on fulfilling projects and enjoy a good work/life balance. Register to attend the event.


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