Category Archives: Small Firms

Gilbert Seltzer AIA Celebrates 100th Birthday

WO-gilbert-seltzer-C-300x225Longtime West Orange resident Gilbert Seltzer, an architect, recently celebrated his 100th birthday.  Seltzer, who was born in Toronto in 1914, is the owner of Gilbert L. Seltzer Associates in West Orange. He still drives himself to work every day and has no plans on slowing down.

AIA New Jersey congratulates Gilbert on this milestone and wishes him many more years in the architecture profession.

Click on the links below to see some of the articles that have been published online and in local newspapers:

West Orange Patch

Essex News Daily

Empowerment by Design Series: Surviving the Commoditization Trap

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by Steve Whitehorn

Editor’s Note: This is the third article in the Empowerment by Design series by Steve Whitehorn of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., providing A/E professionals with practical tips for a more successful, profitable practice.

The design industry has seen substantial change in business models over the past 15 years. The financial crisis and slow recovery coupled with the rising popularity of design/build have created pressure to reduce fees and lead to fierce competition. As a result, architectural firms are falling into the commoditization trap.

Commoditization occurs when clients don’t understand the difference between goods and services. The ever-increasing availability of computer-aided design and the myriad of delivery options available for design services in today’s marketplace have led to the misguided notion that design is a good rather than a service. Project decisions are increasingly being made based on price and ease of delivery, rather than design expertise or lasting value.

Many firms are struggling against commoditization by trying to be all things to all clients. Others are becoming bloated and unfocused by taking on any and all projects just to bring in revenue. These reactionary tactics can lead to a race for survival among competing firms.

How can you avoid commoditization? The first step is to define your value proposition. A value proposition is a succinct statement that explains why a client should choose your firm over the competition. Your value proposition needs to communicate exactly what services your firm is offering, and what differentiates your firm from the others. It should also clearly convey the value your service can bring to a given project.

One of the best ways to define your value proposition is to perform a “Dangers, Opportunities, Strengths” (D.O.S) analysis.

Begin by making an honest self-assessment of your firm. Assemble your firm’s leadership and key-stakeholders to discuss your firm’s dangers, opportunities, and strengths. Ask questions such as: What do we do best? What is our current specialization – healthcare, hospitality, cultural facilities, etc.? Who are our preferred clients?  Who are our competitors? What differentiates our firm from our competition?

Next, ask your clients for their perspective. Talk to your top 20 or so clients and ask questions about dangers, opportunities and strengths. The following are some example questions that can help you formulate your client-facing D.O.S. analysis:

Dangers: What do your clients see as obstacles to their projects – project financing, divergent interests of stakeholders, community pressures? What are they most concerned about during the construction process (issues arising from delays, changes to the plans, etc.)?

Opportunities: What do they see as the prime opportunities for their projects, for example: building a legacy, visible impact, community improvement, etc.?

Strengths: What influenced their decision to work with your firm? What does your client see as your firm’s advantages and differentiators?

Review your clients’ responses and compile their common top three answers on dangers, opportunities, and strengths into one list. When you have that list, compare it against the list of answers from your internal review. Are you on the same page as your clients? Do they see your D.O.S. the same way you do? Are you adequately addressing their concerns? Do you understand your clients’ aspirations in the opportunities column? Does your client see your firms’ strengths the same way you do? Identify the gaps between your clients’ answers and your firm’s answers and determine a strategy to bridge those gaps.

Now you are ready to define your value proposition. Go back to the questions you first asked yourself: What do we do best? What is our specialization? Who are our competitors? What differentiates our firm from the competition? Use your D.O.S. analysis and the input from your clients to refine your answers. Make a pro-active plan to mitigate the dangers, take advantage of your opportunities, and refine and reinforce your strengths.

Your value proposition needs to be simple and direct. Explain how your firm can meet your clients’ needs, the specific benefits your firm can deliver, and why the client should choose your firm over the competition. Above all, keep an eye out for changes in the market. Revisit your D.O.S. analysis as necessary to identify how your value proposition can fulfill a unique niche in the current market.

Knowing who you are, what you can deliver, and understanding your value proposition will help you break free from the commoditization trap.

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Steve Whitehorn is the author of the upcoming book, Ensuring Your Firm’s Legacy, and Managing Principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., and is the creator of The A/E Empowerment Program®, a three-step process that helps firms create a more significant legacy and empowers them to achieve greater impact on their projects, relationships, and communities.

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Empowerment by Design Series: Maximize ROI by Maintaining Discipline

Employing a clear “go/no-go” decision-making process will help maintain discipline and lead to greater ROI.

by Steve Whitehorn

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in the Empowerment by Design series by Steve Whitehorn of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., providing A/E professionals with practical tips for a more successful, profitable practice.

During the worst years of the sluggish economy many firms took absolutely any work they could get in order to keep afloat. As the economy improves architects are finally beginning to see the projects flowing in, and again, the temptation is the same — grab up any projects possible in order to grow the firm and increase the bottom line.

So why should a firm resist the temptation– isn’t all work good work? The short and the long answer for firms concerned about their ROI and reputation is no! The principle for both fat and lean times remains the same: maintain discipline.

Exercise a simple go, no-go decision-making process to maintain discipline and adhere to the firm’s objectives.  Go/no-go is a term that comes from the tool and die trade, and refers to a simple gauge tool used to test a workpiece- there are only two outcomes: go or “go/no-go”.  When selecting work for a firm the two most important considerations to test with “go/no-go” strategy are client selection and project selection.  The criteria evaluating clients and projects must be grounded on the firm’s goals. Here are some pointers for maintaining discipline in your practice.

Establishing Goals

Firms should establish clear financial and reputational goals and stick to them. Principals should have a shared design philosophy, and a clear vision of how the firm should present itself in the marketplace.  Determine the firm’s financial goals – make the 1-year and 5-year plans. Be pro-active and creative in meeting financial goals but above all maintain the discipline to stick to the firm’s established standards.

Client Selection

Establish common ground with potential clients – make certain they share the firm’s values and motivation. Does the owner have the money to do project, and realistic expectations? Is the contract reasonable and have timely payment terms? Does the contract make the architect responsible for contractor performance, or design changes? Is the client known to be litigious?

Project Selection 

Project selection should be based on a thorough ROI evaluation based on both financial and reputational goals. Is this a project that fits within our firm’s creative vision? Has the firm done this kind of work before? Do we have the capacity? Can we do a good job and meet our financial goals?

If a firm has established clear goals and maintains the discipline to stick to those goals, making a decision on a project can be as simple as “go/no-go”.

Steve Whitehorn is the author of the upcoming book, Empowerment by Design and creator of The A/E Empowerment Program.® He is also Managing Principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., which helps its clients create a more significant legacy and empowers them to achieve greater impact on their projects, relationships, and communities.

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New Series: Empowerment by Design

By Steve Whitehorn

Introduction

These days, owners are expecting more and more for their investment dollars.  Unrealistic owner expectations can lead architects and engineers to experience greater risk and anxiety with every new project.

In my new series for AIA New Jersey – Empowerment by Design – my goal is to help you, the A/E professional, to create a greater sense of clarity in your practice, to establish standards that will protect you and to make you more confident practicing in this ever-changing economic landscape.

It’s not my position that what you’ve been doing is wrong, but that there are more effective strategies – both internal and external – that can empower you and your firm to succeed in today’s marketplace.

This column will also provide you with information as well as, I hope, inspiration.  The kind that helps you step outside of your comfort zone, away from the mindset of “this is the way we’ve always done things, ” and toward a more confident approach to risks and rewards.

Professional boxer Jack Dempsey used to say, “the key to a good offense, is a great defense.” It seems to me, that for the past 40 years, our industry looked at risk in this way.  In my opinion, this hasn’t been the best approach; architects and engineers get sued all the time, and not necessarily with good results.  That kind of uncertainty leaves you always on the balls of your feet.

But what would happen if you learned strategies that helped you get paid, on time, every time?  How about setting standards that empower you to refuse to accept substitutions?  How about discovering the power to keep contractors from running circles around you?  You may find operating and negotiating from a position of strength has its payoffs.

We believe it’s time for change and that your credo as an A/E professional should be, “the key to a good defense, is a great offense!”  That’s what Empowerment by Design is all about.  So go confidently in this new direction, dear reader.  We’re here to help you find greater clarity, greater stability and, above all, greater success.

 

Create Greater Clarity to Empower Your Firm

Editor’s Note: This is the first article in the Empowerment by Design series by Steve Whitehorn of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., providing A/E professionals with practical tips for a more successful, profitable practice.

As an architect, what are your top career goals?  Fame?  Creative freedom?  Respect?  More money?  Having worked with hundreds of architecture and engineering firms over the past twenty-five years, I have learned that there are many paths to a successful career in architecture.  But each path has one common guide that lights the way: clarity.

So what exactly do I mean by “clarity”?  In the context of observing it in successful firms, possessing clarity means having a detailed understanding of the responsibilities of each person’s role in the firm – from principals to associates to assistants, and so forth – and developing a greater awareness of how each role affects the other.

Why?  Because design is a team sport.  In baseball, for example, coaches typically say that their best hitters are “seeing the ball well.”  In other words, they have achieved a sense of clarity: they can see what’s coming at them and they’re confident they can knock the ball out of the park.  In the same way, the greater clarity firm principals have, the greater positive impact it will have on the firm.  Clarity is a stepping-stone for success, as it will improve and guide the firm’s projects, relationships, and overall economic stability.

Unfortunately, a lack of clarity is a distinct flaw that shows up in many areas of a firm.  I have found that most of the fears and anxieties that my clients possess ultimately can be traced back to a lack of clarity. The resulting uncertainty and apprehension leads to a domino effect of confusion among their employees in their respective roles.  Thankfully, finding greater clarity within your firm isn’t as elusive as it may seem.

The following are a few ways in which you can empower yourself to bring more clarity to your firm, your projects and, with it, more peace of mind for yourself:

Be selective.  You may find that you spend only 20% of each day actually designing and the other 80% lost in tedious tasks.  This is because you lack clarity and you’re not making the right business decisions. In school, you learned how your designs could change the world, but what you didn’t learn were strategies necessary to attain the work you desire. When you’re clear about what you want, how you and your team are going to execute tasks, and you’re selective with clients and projects, it’s likely that you’ll end up with more projects you want and can reasonably manage.

Create a gameplan.  You must establish a clear understanding of scope for each project; from the owner’s perspective, your perspective, and the project team executing the project.  Creating a game plan for your team – one that clearly states which team member is responsible for which tasks, and so forth, from the start of a project to its completion – will relieve you as a principal from feeling like you have to control everything and accomplish everything yourself.

Beware of micromanaging.  If you find yourself worrying about what might go wrong if you don’t have your eye on each and every task within your firm, or about what an employee might do without your knowledge, nothing in your firm will be accomplished.  In this case, you’re too busy planting doubt within your firm and those who work for you.  Clarity comes when you learn to let go of the worry of losing control.  In fact, you will have greater control in the end because you will be able to focus more clearly on your vision, passion, and creativity, while knowing who’s executing tasks and how the work is getting done.

Clearly define post-design phase responsibilities.  Lacking clarity, especially during the construction process, prevents employees from practicing with confidence.  For the construction phase of a project, clearly define your firm’s responsibilities, as well as each of your employee’s responsibilities.  Additionally, confidently express expectations to the contractor in terms of their responsibilities for the project, and, above all, always hold them accountable.

Step out of your comfort zone.  If you’re holding on to the mindset that “we’ve always done it this way,” you’re not doing yourself or your firm any good over the long term.  Finding greater clarity will require you to try new ways of getting things done.  This doesn’t mean that the way you’ve always done things is wrong, but that there are ways to do the work more efficiently and effectively.

Greater clarity enriches your firm’s value, but it must be shared from top to bottom.  Defining scope and responsibilities, being more selective about the work you take on and freeing yourself to do more of what you love to do, will bring you and your firm greater clarity, greater confidence, and greater success.

 

Steve Whitehorn is the author of the upcoming book, Empowerment by Design, and Managing Principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., which provides architects and engineers with strategies that minimize risk, increase profitability, speed up cash flow, and get more work. Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., is the creator of The A/E Empowerment Program®.whitehorn-finacial-logo-w-tagline41

 

AIA Small Project Awards – Call for Entries

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CALL FOR ENTRIES: 2014 AIA SMALL PROJECT AWARDS
Submission Deadline: Before 5PM ET, November 18, 2013

The Small Project Practitioners (SPP) Knowledge Community presents the tenth annual Small Project Award Program to recognize the work of small project practitioners and to promote excellence in small project design. This Award Program strives to raise public awareness of the value and design excellence that architects bring to all project types, including renovations and additions, no matter the limits of size and budget.

Find more information:
http://info.aia.org/blast_images/kc/SPP_14_Awards01.html

Projects will also be displayed at the 2014 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition.

Hurricane Sandy Small Business Recovery and Matchmaking Summit

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Attention Small Business Owners Effected by Sandy

FEMA AND SBA TO LEAD CALL ON SANDY RELIEF EFFORTS FOR NJ SMALL BUSINESSES

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Please join Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and State of New Jersey senior officials for a conference call on the federal government’s efforts to help small businesses and homeowners recover from Hurricane Sandy. Officials will provide updates and answer questions about assistance and support to states affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, ensuring the federal family and its public and private partners continue to provide all available resources to support state, local, territorial and tribal communities in affected areas.

 

WHAT:                 FEMA and SBA senior officials update call with local business owners and officials on Sandy relief efforts

WHEN:                Thursday, November 8 at 2 p.m. ET

DIAL IN:             1-888-621-9649

Event ID:            411483

Message from the AIA-NJ President

Dear Valued Members of AIA‐NJ

I am excited to announce that on October 25, 2012 The New Jersey Society of Architects is presenting a seminar on The Business and Ethics of Architecture. I believe this to be the first seminar ever of its kind to be given here in New Jersey. It has been developed and brought to you, by the leadership of AIA‐NJ. Having come about as a result of inquiries from members with questions like:

  • What do I need to know about starting a practice?
  • How do I actually make a profit?
  • How do I establish a budget for my office?
  • What is the value of an architect?

Having a keen understanding of what it takes for you to operate a financially responsive business is vital for the stability and growth of a sound practice and to our profession as a whole.  For those of you who have been in practice, working for a firm, or are contemplating taking the leap of faith as a sole practitioner this seminar is imperative.  The number of new architects going into their own practice is on the rise due in part to the economy, surely they will benefit from this seminar in these hard times.

As architects, we are not only designers and artists: we are business professionals as well. Many, if not most of us, came into this profession so we could establish our own practice; build our own profession and future. The Business and Ethics of Architecture program is being offered to you in order to:

  1. Strengthen your business savvy.
  2. Understand what the state laws of professional practice require of you.
  3. Gain a greater understanding of ethics and the law.
  4. Develop the confidence you need to: acquire new work, target the clients you want, and control the interview for potential new clients.

Having the abilities to know when to tell a client “yes, we can make this happen” or “no, I’m sorry I cannot work with you” are priceless skills. Also, understanding the workings of a business model and learning how to develop an efficient budget will help enable you to pay your expenses, give your employees better compensation, and actually make a profit for the professional services you deliver.

We have hand‐picked our speakers, some of whom are architects who have MBA degrees others are specialists in their field of business expertise. The Ethics and legal requirements will be presented by Lawrence Powers, Counsel for AIA‐NJ. You will be totally amazed what the law requires of you the architect.

Sign up today, this seminar is not scheduled to be given again for several years. Come early, you would not want to miss our keynote speaker who will set the course of the day with a highly charged and motivated talk. Turn your practice around to be profitable. If you are on the verge of starting a practice this course is for you. Come and say hello, I look forward to seeing your there.

Visit our AIA-NJ.org website to sign up today.

Remember its Thursday, October 25, 2012 at The Somerset Holiday Inn, Somerset, NJ Registration is at 8:15 AM with a light breakfast and lunch included. Also you will be happy to know that you will be getting 7 HSW Learning Credits.

- Laurence E. Parisi, AIA

 

Business Seminar for Architects

Register now for The Business of Architecture.  A seminar hosted by AIA-NJ on October 25, 2012, at the Somerset Holiday Inn.

“I highly recommend that every architect attend this vital and informative seminar. This will strengthen your business savvy, win desirable commissions, and improve profitability.”

– Laurence Parisi, President AIA-NJ 

Schedule:
Keynote address:…………….Philip Kennedy-Grant, FAIA, Kennedy-Grant Architecture
Ethics in Architecture……………………..Larry Powers, Esq., Hoagland Longo Attorneys
“Success Factors for a Winning Practice”……….Steve Whitehorn, Whitehorn Financial
“Strategic Competitive Pathways”……..Frank Mruk, AIA, RIBA, Assoc. Dean NYIT SOA
Client Alignment/ Project Selection………………………………………………Steve Whitehorn
Saying “No” – Setting Expectations, Delegations…………………………..Steve Whitehorn
Budgets……………………………………………………………Kirby Wu, AIA, Wu & Associates
Cash Flow…………..Andy Harmelin, Credit and Collections specialist/Steve Whitehorn
The Confidence SystemTM……………………………………………………………Steve Whitehorn
Relationships: The Key to your Future Success………………………………Steve Whitehorn
Your Firm’s Future/ Succession Planning……………………………………..Steve Whitehorn

Full day  –   7.5 AIA CEU Credits

Date: October 25, 2012
Registration: 8:15a.m.
Start: 8:45 a.m.
End: 4:15 p.m.
Cost: $120 – AIA Member
$150 – Non-Member

Venue:

Somerset Holiday Inn

195 Davidson Avenue
Somerset, New Jersey 08873

October 25th Seminar – The Business of Architecture

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