The Small Firm Business Model Dashboard

By Amanda Jennings posted 01-01-2019 12:00 AM



The Small Firm Business Models Survey 

The annual Small Firm Business Models Survey identifies and measures the variety and commonalities within small firm models. The primary audience for the survey are AIA members who are sole practitioners and architects in firms engaged in whole or in part in the practice of architecture, with a maximum of ten total staff members. We collect data on small firms nationwide, their projects, staff, insurance, contracts, and patterns related to their financial success (or struggle).

As architects, we are all too familiar with the process and benefits of modeling our designs prior to construction. We study our proposed creations, make incremental improvements, and communicate the resultant concepts to our clients. Working with a model elevates your plans from good to better. ​

So why are we not use the same process for designing our firms? In each year's survey a majority of firm respondents did not have, or ever construct a business plan. This trend underscores our rhetorical question. You were shown how to model buildings in school, but to navigate the gauntlet of business survival you're left to your own devices.

The Small Firm Business Model Survey was developed to identify and remedy those educational oversights. The SFx uses these results to advance the mutual interests of small firm architects by identifying and sharing the characteristics of successful small firms.

Each year the data is published in the Small Firm Business Model Dashboard to provide you meaningful insight and analysis of small firm business trends. Public access to the dashboard provides our members and small firms everywhere a benchmark to evaluate your business model so you can emulate the successes of others.  

Navigating the Small Firm Business Model Dashboard

Each dashboard is hosted on Tableau public and uses the platform's robust data visualization tools. You can use the tabs at the top to navigate between views and drill down into the results using either the filters provided at the top of each dashboard or by click on the charts themselves.

The "Introduction" tab provides you a brief description of the survey, a condensed version of this page, in case you should stumble on the dashboard while browsing Tableau.

The "Survey Snapshot" tab shows you the survey sample size and the geographic regions the data represents.

The "Small Firm Business" tab cross references all of the data collected on the business of small firms. This makes it possible for you to consider how the size of a firm might impact the business decisions, or the way contract types relate to billings.

The "Small Firm Staff" tab shows you all the data on small firm employees. Use the interactive charts to discover the commonalities and differences in small firm staffing.

The "Small Firm Projects" tab has the reported data on small firm projects where you can compare projects by budget, category, and location.

Below are some of the interesting trends in this year's survey. Try and find them for yourself or see what other relationships you can uncover about firms similar to your own.

2018 Trends

Before you even open the dashboard, you know that not all small firms are the same, but how exactly are they different? There are clear distinctions in the survey data between a sole practitioner's firm, a 5-person firm, and a 10-person firm. Here are just a few highlights.

Some firm size trends are to be expected. There is a positive correlation between firm size and billings, as a firm takes on more staff to accommodate more projects, billings increase. Firms with 10 people are also mostly likely to use the AIA Standard contract, while sole practitioners are most likely to use a letter of agreement. There is then, a correlation between the use of AIA Contracts and gross billings of >$1M, which may be attributed to firm size.

Looking at the staff in small firms, the majority of sole practitioners do not count themselves as part time, contract, or remote workers, while 50% of the 2-4-person firms rely on these workers. As firms continue to grow their share of full-time staff grows too.

If your small firm is interested in projects with a budget of >1M they were primarily office/commercial, except for sole practitioners who's >1M projects are primarily single family residential.

Size also plays a role in whether or not a firm has a business plan. Firms with >5 people are more likely to have a business plan than firms with <5 people. Though there are outliers. Additionally, if you're interested in working on hospital or school projects? Firms with a business plan are more likely to work on institutional projects that firms without a business plan.

You're encouraged to explore the data and discover for yourself what the results have to say.