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Growing my business from 12 employees to 50+ employees. Need Advice

LadyM

I am in search of a business model that will help grow my firm into a 50+ employee company while ensuring my existing team are motivated, passionate, remain loyal, and feel a sense of fairness, ownership, and responsibility in helping grow the company.

I started my architectural business about 20 years ago with a partner (who was my boss in another firm).  For 20 years we kept the business small as my partner was easygoing and I was about to start a family.  Last year, I gave him a decent buy-out package, and today I am a 100% owner (women) of the firm. With 6 designers/Architects plus a few drafters and a few support staff, I find myself at a crossroads, either I grow my firm slowly as I have been or go big.  Since my kids are about to go to college; I have decided on the latter. I am blessed to have a young talented and hardworking team that is eager to grow also and is looking at me for my next move and are also concerned about their compensation. Then I have this challenge of not being able to find new talent for jobs I am posting online.

So far in 20 years, besides my passion for design, I also ran the business side, my ex-partner trusted me completely and rarely intervened, so I can say with confidence, I have a good sense of running the business and bringing it up to this level. Now I feel I need guidance and support from all you amazing and successful entrepreneurs in figuring out my growth strategy, compensation model, hiring strategy, opening offices in other locations, etc.   Are there professional organizations/consultants that you may have used in your growth journey?  

I would love to hear your success and/or failure stories; what worked, what did not work.

Thank you in Advance for your advice,

LadyM

 
Oct 19, 21 8:10 pm
proto

LadyM, are there any local lady entrepreneur or professional mentor groups? My partner is part of one here in our locale & it seems to be a great resource for lady business folk to share pro tips & resources. Her group is “professionals” started by an engineer so there are a variety of members (engineer, architect, lawyer, environmental consult, etc). But it seems like an unusually good resource for her (& by extension me too :) )

Oct 19, 21 10:31 pm  · 
1  · 
SneakyPete

I wish you luck.

Oct 19, 21 11:03 pm  · 
2  · 

What exactly do you hope to achieve?

Oct 20, 21 12:08 am  · 
2  · 
Non Sequitur

So, let's wrestle into submission the obvious elephant in the room: Where are you going to find 38+ qualified staff?  Because... I'd like to know your source.  Everyone and their mother is looking for people.

Oct 20, 21 12:23 am  · 
6  · 
midlander

just sell more cakes


https://www.ladym.com/


seriously, i think the question missing is what kind of clients do you have and are they ready to pay enis the demand there to scale up in the next few years? and how easy or hard is it to find qualified staff at various levels where you work?

Oct 20, 21 12:34 am  · 
2  · 
Wood Guy

Two possible resources for you: do you know about entrearchitect.com? They support small-firm architects in running and growing their businesses, but they have extensive contacts and resources and would likely be able to advise you. If your plans are too grand for them, they could probably recommend a consultant, but it would be worth at least talking with them. The principal is Mark LePage; I'd be happy to introduce you if you email me through this site.

Another consultancy I just hired: https://www.buildhelm.com/. I'm friends with the two principals, who happen to be a woman and a gender-neutral person, so they are familiar with the additional challenges (and benefits) of being a woman-owned business. They focus on triple bottom line success (people, planet, profit/prosperity) and may not be the best fit if you don't care about the first two. But caring about the first two is good for growing a business.

I'm sure there are bigger consultancies more focused on growing larger architecture firms; these are just the two I happen to know.

Oct 20, 21 8:34 am  · 
1  · 
mightyaa

My biggest hint having watched this process a few times both successes and failures… Ignoring the ‘how to find work’; you can’t continue to be a “jack of all trades” and stay on top of everything and everyone. Personally I found that limit for me was around 15 employees.  That’s what kills most during this growth; too much work to be hands on anymore, so you have to let go and trust others. Your mindset has to change from ‘architect’ to ‘business manager’. It’s hard, but you need to think of the company more like an asset you are building. You hire others to make it run and function rather than taking it on yourself. You steer the ship and let the managers do their jobs without you. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, you have to let go and step back. Otherwise, you won’t be able to juggle it all; that leads to burnout, frustrated employees waiting for direction, and angry clients because decisions aren’t happening.

Join and get active in local Chamber of Commerce organizations. Often they’ll have business leader forums and focus groups filled with people like you who are going through growth pains. They’ll share tips and tricks as well as various resources.  

Oct 20, 21 11:47 am  · 
6  · 
LadyM

mightyaa, thank you for your sound advice. Yes,  one of my biggest challenges is the balancing act of being an architect and business manager.  I have started distributing jobs but still, I need to do more. I have been part of Camber of Commerce and some business groups, I will take your advice on finding out their success/growth stories. 

Wood Guy, thank you for the references. I will look them on tonight.  

proto,  I have been part of a few professional groups here for many years and they have been instrumental in my initial growth.  I plan to continue my engagement with them. 

midlander, haha, I love LadyM cakes.  they are to die for. On a serious note, the area I am in has an upscale clientele, and demand has always been high for a good architect. And fortunately, we are considered one of the best in our area. In fact, most clients I have worked for have become my friends for life. However, I believe for me to grow I do need to expand beyond my region.

I love this forum, this is the first time I have posted a question here and I am impressed to see such an engaging audience. Thank you all for your advice and keep it coming :)

Oct 20, 21 1:54 pm  · 
3  · 
reallynotmyname

If it's available in your region, look at doing the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.   Its completely free of charge and the centerpiece of the course is making a growth plan for your business that includes all of the items mentioned in your initial posting.   https://www.10ksbapply.com/

Nov 17, 21 11:30 am  · 
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Isn't the OP the person who wants to introduce profit sharing so she can pay her staff less money?

Nov 17, 21 1:30 pm  · 
2  · 
shellarchitect

Had a conversation with the owner of my firm earlier this week along these lines.  He said he made just as much money with 20 people as with 65, but way less aggravation with fewer people.  He also said the labor laws that kick in at 50 employees really suck.  Don’t know any details for that point

Nov 19, 21 9:04 pm  · 
2  · 
reallynotmyname

The OP would do well to determine a career/lifestyle/income goal for themself and then figure out the necessary yearly firm revenue needed to make that happen.   Then look at the office location and staff size.  Does the economy in your area generate enough design work to achieve your goals, or do you need to start getting work in other geographic areas to supplement?  Then figure out the most efficient team that can produce the work needed to hit the revenue goal.  The most profitable firms often don't have the biggest staff headcounts.

Nov 21, 21 4:39 pm  · 
 · 
quizzical

LadyM: a 50 person firm is not just a big "small" firm. Speaking from  personal experience, it's very difficult for one principal to manage competently an enterprise with 50+ people -- in a firm that size there's just too much principal level work for just one person to handle.  

Most successful firms of that size have at least three principals - most typically one will handle most of the business management issues, another might be heavily involved in marketing and design, and the third might focus on production and personnel (e.g. hiring, project standards, quality control and personnel assignments in the studio). As appropriate, each can still be involved directly in projects if desired.

If you don't already have potential partners on staff who can rise to the occasion, one strategy might be growing the firm via merger or acquisition ... i.e. joining forces with another established firm that values your skills, but also brings one or two principals who can provide expertise that complements your own.

Good luck.

Nov 22, 21 7:55 pm  · 
4  · 
mightyaa

Not necessarily. The two I've been with had a principal head, then VP's, then senior managers, then PM's, then PA's, then .... in a pyramid hierarchy. The one I'm with now (tens of thousands employees worldwide) has a even bigger pyramid with national and regional directors as well as focus markets/branches that do certain services. It's mostly about delegating and giving people responsibility/authority to make decisions without your input. As stated before, that's the hard part; letting go and trusting others to do it.

Nov 23, 21 1:51 pm  · 
 · 
quizzical

mightyaa: ha, well, I take your point ... and the fundamental issue is "not necessarily" ... your experience relates to situations where those in senior positions are successful at hiring really good people and then effectively delegating both responsibility and authority ... as most of us are aware, in our profession for every situation like that there probably are 100 others where "letting go and trusting others to do it" is just way to hard for the people involved.

Nov 23, 21 4:28 pm  · 
 · 
mightyaa

Oh lol... I wouldn't necessarily say they were 'successful' at hiring senior positions. In huge firms, there's plenty of 'seniority' promotions into upper positions. Also tons of acquisitions where they have to shove the former firm owners into some other senior position. Sort of like government department heads being appointed for campaign contributions rather than actual experience in the position or that field ala a brain surgeon running HUD. Part of being an excellent minion is knowing how to bypass and skirt around the pyramid hierarchy and communication chains as well as how to throw other people/departments under the guillotine. Hence the issue with really big firms; lots of separation between the top and the base of the structure where neither knows what the other has been doing. Fun example; last Wednesday, a mechanical failure filled our office with CO2 and we evacuated. Higher ups at the top of the pyramid sent an email today telling us we could go home until its safe (was also fixed Thursday last week). Extra fun.. HR (yet another department) is making everyone fill out a incident report; Ok... mine is just a intercom announcement to clear the building and parking lot chatter to figure out why. 4 page questionaire rating how they might improve office safety, how I'm feeling, etc. lolz.

Nov 23, 21 5:52 pm  · 
1  · 
joseffischer

Mightyaa... do you work at my firm? kidding aside, we were acquired, coming on a full year ago, and are now in the 1000+ club. I have similar stories. It's strange that firms that size can even stay in business with all the overhead and disfunction happening.

Nov 24, 21 9:50 am  · 
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nabrU

I skimmed the responses but it sounds like you need 50 people to pay your children's university? I've worked tangentially in architecture with some great people and always wanted to self fund studying it, alas it wasn't ever going to happen. It's fucking hard to work with rich kids who went to the AA though. 

Nov 22, 21 9:08 pm  · 
1  · 
square.

this is why firms should be cooperatively owned; the decision here is not based on the best interest of the firm and staff, but in the interest of the owner's children's financials. go big and maximize that return!

Nov 23, 21 6:07 pm  · 
1  · 

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