AIA Practice Management Digest – May 2016


Business Development


Letter from the Editor

By David Brent Richards, FAIA


This issue of the Practice Management Digest is focused on Business Development. Special thanks go to Karen O. Courtney, AIA, a Past President and Fellow of the Society for Marketing Professional Services for envisioning the content and coordinating the contributions to this edition of the PM Digest.   

Many sides of Business Development are discussed in this issue. In her article, Developing Good Business Development Habits, Karen Courtney, AIA, FSMPS, the CMO of Fanning Howey provides insight to improving your BD bottom line. BD from a small firm perspective is provided by Jeremy Welu, AIA, Chris Lake, AIA, and Cara Weber, AIA, from DELV Design. The transition from Project Manager to Principal is discussed by Scott Braley, FAIA from Braley Consulting & Training. Michael Hall, AIA, president and senior project executive with Fanning Howey, has addressed the advantages of Partnering to Enhance Your Value Proposition. Tim Barrick and Tony Steinhardt, both Fellows of SMPS from RATIO describe the team sport of BD. Craig Park, FSMPS, Assoc. AIA, a Principal at the Sextant Group considers the advantage that consultants can add to the architect’s proposal.

Morris Nunes and Andrew Pressman, FAIA, share an excerpt from their book Designing Profits. In this part of their book, Nunes and Pressman share ways to increase a firm’s scope of services by creatively reimagining their practice model.

And finally, in what is destined to become an AIA Best Practice, Josh Miles of MilesHerndon shares a Principals Guide to Website Design.

We hope you enjoy this issue. We appreciate any comments or input you may wish to share. You may contact David Richards at 



Developing Good Business Development Habits
By Karen O. Courtney, AIA, FSMPS

So much of business development (BD) is doing the little things right as well as focusing on the big things that really matter and can bring work in the door. For the busy architect, getting business is often a natural progression of doing good work for clients. But to grow, a portion of time should always be devoted to acquiring new business to replace the inevitable turnover of clients. Here are some insights that can make a difference in improving your BD bottom line. 

Small Firm, Big Strategy
By Jeremy Welu, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Chris Lake, AIA, LEED AP BD+C and Cara Weber, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

At the core of most architects and design firms is the desire to create beautiful and meaningful design. But in order to do those meaningful commissions and win the trust of your clients, you have to first find meaningful commissions.  For the small firm, and especially for a start-up, this poses a unique design problem unto itself.  Small firms (under 50) make up 75% of the market, and while many were started by designers with high levels of expertise and competence, it is still their task to convince prospective clients that their start-up has both the brains and brawn to crank out a meaningful design while meeting their anticipated schedule and budget.

PM's and the Inevitable Fork in the Road
By Scott Braley, FAIA, FRSA

Seller/Doer’s are design professionals who blend bringing work in the firm with actually leading teams and delivering the services. They are in fact “selling” and “doing” simultaneously. Most successful Seller/Doers begin by concentrating on the “Doing” component and move deliberately into more of the “Selling” activities. Eventually, the most successful settle in on a mix that is proportionately 60/40 Selling/Doing.

Partnering to Enhance Your Value Proposition
by Michael Hall, AIA, REFP, LEED AP

For as long as there have been architecture firms, there have been strategic partnerships. In the last 20 years, this practice has become increasingly common. Today, finding a strong local partner or a national thought leader is as easy as a Google search. Yet like any Business Development strategy, there are right ways and wrong ways to partner. Done well, partnerships with other firms are a relatively low-cost way to enhance your value proposition and bring new benefits to potential clients.

Business Development is a Team Sport
By Tim Barrick, FSMPS, and Tony Steinhardt, FSMPS, CPSM

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” - Michael Jordan

This quote – from a guy who knows something about winning – fittingly describes the “team sport” of business development in the AEC industry. To win work, firms must assemble a team of both business developers and seller-doers that work well together, share intelligence and leverage each other’s unique skill set to accomplish a common goal.

Differentiating with Consultants: The Power of Strategic Collaboration
By Craig Park, FSMPS, Assoc. AIA

Clients soliciting new work identify the technical strengths required or expected of the prime architecture firm to complete the project. This list often includes the typical basic services consultants ― civil, structural, mechanical, electrical ― necessary to round out the design team. Increasingly, specialists ― geotechnical, landscape, interiors, food service, technology, acoustics, lighting, etc. ― are also flagged as important participants in the process.

It is with these consultants and niche specialists that many architects are finding increased value to their business development efforts.

Entrepreneurial Practice Models – a Book excerpt from Designing Profits
By Morris A. Nunes and Andrew Pressman, FAIA

Introduction by David Brent Richards, FAIA

In their book, Designing Profits, Nunes and Pressman create a case study based on a fictional architectural firm, M&B Architects, and their advisors, Sloan and Warton.   The advisors lead the firm principals to understand accounting basics and then help them apply that basic knowledge to managing the firm, growing the firm and making key business decisions, along with reimagining and planning the future success of the firm; proving that it is “indeed possible to be as creative in establishing and operating a practice as in designing and constructing a building.” 

Many architects graduate without understanding the basic financial aspects of running a practice that provide the foundation for making wise business decisions.  Designing Profits provides an accessible format to gain that understanding, describes how it applies to managing a successful practice and makes it feel real through their use of the case study throughout the book.

Late in Designing Profits, Nunes and Pressman include the chapter, “Rethinking Practice: Tactical Innovations for Financial Prosperity and Professional Satisfaction”, where they consider “the big picture: what’s profitable, what’s enjoyable and can they intersect?”  In the attached excerpt, they consider ways to develop business by reframing resources that exist in the firm. 

The Principal’s Guide to Responsive Website Design: The top ten things to consider for your architecture firm’s next website.
By Josh Miles

Your website is potentially the most underutilized business development and validation tool in your practice. But are you doing everything you could to leverage this opportunity? While a successful website could range from a single landing page, to hundreds of pages deep, a site that uniquely positions your firm, your expertise, and your people is invaluable. With the advent of responsive web design and the ever-changing role of search engines, best practices are constantly evolving. Here are the top ten things your firm can focus on today to stay ahead of the curve.


Contribute to the Digest

Ownership Transition will be discussed in the next issue of the Practice Management Digest. If you would like to share an article on this topic, please contact David Richards at