What’s the plan?

RIBA research found that three-fifths of architectural practices have no business plans. To create this vital tool, the first step on the road is to identify your goal, says Robert White

With any sort of planning it is a good idea to know where you are trying to get to or what you are trying to achieve before you set out. The route or method can then be broken down into steps. Creating a business plan that is useful is the same. You need first to understand what you are planning for, then how you intend to get there and finally whether you are succeeding. 

This month we will deal with what you are planning for; next month will cover how to create the measures to gauge and control your progress, and finally we will look at how a properly integrated business plan can help you gauge success and failure – and manage them. 

What am I planning for?
You might be establishing a new practice or trying to grow or direct an existing one. You may be trying to change your mix of work or make the flow of new work more predictable. 

The starting point is to understand where you are now, and to make a simple statement that initially best answers the question of what you are planning for. 
This can be aspirational but is normally a goal. As long as it has some direction though it will give us some focus to begin working on. Like good design, as you develop it, it will almost certainly change. 

By this stage you are already ahead of many business owners – particularly in architecture. You have started to think about your business and set time aside to manage it.

The clue in how to get there often lies in this difference. For example, many in the profession think that reactive patterns of acquisition are what bring new projects into a practice and that these cannot be managed. What they seem to overlook is that an invitation to take part in a competition or a direct commission on a new project is normally the result of some affecting incident – perhaps an introduction or recommendation or someone seeing a press article or new building. 

Some of these are of course chance but the plan can come to be about trapping that chance. 

Optimising the likelihood of it happening can further improve the chance and the number of likely coincidences. 

Extending this into some kind of structure that creates a way to put the work or name of the practice in front of commentators or clients is a third step in optimising the chance. 

Taking the plan into a managing environment where things are methodically performed,  managed and measured and lead to a benefit, begins to turn it into a workable, usable plan. 

Influence matters
So returning to setting out the start and end – how do we begin to give the route some options and allow for good influence? 

Influence is important. Knowledge and its acquisition are a subtle but founding part of this. Watch Philippe Stark’s TED lecture on influences – a snap shot of genius both in how he manages the subconscious and his knowledge of how he does it. 

In the same vein I often run a session with our clients called ‘heroes’. Individuals are asked to name their favourite buildings and architects and then to explain their choices. We forget a few years into our career how important looking and questioning was in education. It is the same when running or helping to run a practice. If you do not aspire to something or have a goal how can you decide what direction to take? This last step is the synthesis. Often it takes the form of a borrowed metaphor for you to use.

Reading is the same. What thoughts and thinking do you admire? This can be information as everyday as a case study on your bank or accountants webpages or professional journals such as RIBAJ, interviews of people where they talk about approaches to things or it can be thinking on aspect of management from Jack Welch. As long as the source is worthwhile it can have a place and provide a clue. 

Know your market
Then there is your market. Collect trade data and store it in a listing you can access. It can be information on a sector or market abroad or the general trading environment of your clients and their businesses. It might be collation of annual reports of competitors or analysis of their press or websites. Look at what they do and work out what they have that you don’t. 

Similarly, look at other consultants that work with your type of clients – perhaps graphic designers and PR firms. They understand your clients and may teach you something. 

Everything is useful if you look for how it can be applied. In synthesising it lies the skill set that will come to bear on how you get from where you are now to where you want to be. Armed with this new view, next time we will craft it into a plan  you can use. 


Robert White is partner at White Partners


 

RIBA Benchmarking survey

The RIBA Business Benchmarking survey 2011/12 showed that almost 60% of architects' practices don't have a formal business plan, and that only 16% of the profession is planning beyond the current year. Participation in the RIBA Business Benchmarking survey is obligatory for all RIBA chartered practices and provides invaluable data to inform proactive business planning. 

More details at www.architecture.com