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|Introduction : I don't really have to do this, do I?||1|
|1||Strategic planning : getting to the starting line||19|
|2||Branding : we used to call it reputation||41|
|3||Positioning : finding your place in your markets||55|
|4||Marketing planning : deciding how to communicate to your markets||67|
|5||Budgeting for marketing : knowing what you can spend||77|
|6||Targets and opportunities : finding and pursuing leads||105|
|7||Brochures and qualifications packages : who are you? : what have you done?||119|
|8||Proposals : making an offer||133|
|9||Presentations : the chemistry test||151|
|10||Design competitions : high risk and high impact||169|
|11||Closing the deal : setting the fee, negotiating, and signing the contract||179|
|12||Research : obtaining market intelligence||195|
|13||Knowledge management : systems for tracking information||209|
|14||Internal communications : getting the message to your staff||221|
|15||Client communications : newsletters, Web sites, direct mail, advertising, and events||227|
|16||Media relations and awards : communicating with the press||237|
|17||Photography : creating the right image||247|
|18||Marketing staff and consultants : who can help you?||257|
|19||Evaluating your performance : is your marketing working?||267|
Getting to the Starting Line
Strategic planning is the process of developing a vision of who you are as a firm and what your long-term goals are. It's about more than just marketing; it can influence everything: human resources, finance, information technology, operations, hiring, promotions strategy, design process, client relationships, the design of your office, and absolutely anything else that affects your firm and its performance. Firms typically engage in strategic planning at defining moments in their practice, when the firm's leadership changes or when the practice undergoes some kind of profound transformation. The strategic planning process enables the firm's leadership to build a shared vision for the firm's future, articulate the vision so that it can be communicated, and create a framework for all future decision making. When you're ready to engage in strategic planning, it's important to open your mind as much as possible. Get ready to think big.
Because strategic planning is a process, not a document or a report, it isn't effective for a small group of leaders to issue a fat document as the strategic plan for the firm. It will probably go unread. It will certainly not achieve approval and support from the people who need to understand it and act on it. Strategic planning is best conducted as an open process, one thatinvolves all your firm's key leaders.
To begin the process, set up a strategic planning meeting, either as a retreat outside the office or as an extended in-house meeting. (You may want to bring in a marketing consultant to help you with this.) Figure out who should be there to give input to the vision for your firm's future. Keep the group as small as possible, but don't leave anyone out. Ask everyone to commit half a day for the meeting (two hours just isn't enough), and to come relaxed and prepared to focus on the firm's strategic direction.
Give everyone an agenda in advance and ask each person to bring historical data based on his or her area of expertise or interest (financial data, hiring or retention info, win/loss reports, client feedback, etc.). Gather any existing documents that attempt to define the firm or its vision, such as mission statements, a firm description, marketing materials, articles that have been written about the firm, and so on.
Plan to spend about half the meeting talking about where you are now (your firm, your markets, your competitors, etc.) and the other half talking about where you'd like to go (your mission, your vision, the action plan). Your agenda for the meeting could look something like this:
Strategic Planning Meeting Sample Agenda
1. Who are we? * What makes us who we are?
2. What markets do we serve?
* Who are our clients? What are we good at?
3. What are our strengths?
* What's special about us? What makes us great?
4. What are our weaknesses?
* What could we do better?
5. What are our opportunities? * How can we grow?
6. What threats do we face? * What scares us?
7. What's our vision for the firm? * Who do we want to be? 8. What's our mission? * What do we want to change?
9. What are our goals? * How are we going to achieve them?
10. How do we communicate the results of this meeting:
* to our staff?
* to our clients and prospective clients?
Notice that these agenda items are all questions. Questions are effective conversation-starters, because they require an answer. Questions like this also convey a certain level of openness. It's not a trick, or rhetorical. The answers really are unknown, and the purpose of your meeting is to find them.
Think carefully about how to facilitate this meeting and how to capture the ideas that people have. Use flip charts to write down the things that people say so that they're recorded and so that everyone in the meeting can see them, process them, and respond to them. Let everybody know that you'll be recording the meeting in this way, and will distribute notes to them within a day or two of the meeting.
Remember that the strategic planning meeting isn't about looking smart or showing that everything's fine just the way it is. You want to create a new vision together, and it must be based on honesty and trust. Make everybody feel comfortable, appreciated, and a part of the process. Ask a lot of questions. Ask stupid questions. Listen carefully to the answers. Discuss them, record them, and learn from them.
Who Are We? What Kind of Firm Do We Have?
First things first: It's important that your key leaders are in agreement about who you are as a firm and what you stand for. It may seem simple, but the most fundamental issues are sometimes the hardest to agree on. Who are you? What are you all about?
It's not easy to frame a broad discussion like this or to determine beforehand what the answers to these questions are going to be; you have to stumble upon them. Just be as honest as possible. You're not trying to build a marketing case or define how your clients see you-that comes later. At first, you're only trying to determine how you see yourself as a firm and how you explain what you're all about.
You may want to start by asking each person in the room to say how he or she describes the firm to friends or colleagues (not to clients or prospective clients-you don't want to know how they sell the firm, but how they think of it). As they talk, write a few key words on your flip chart as they come up. The flip chart then becomes the documentation of the discussion-the closest thing you have to the real identity of the firm.
Once everybody has had a chance to speak, you may want to ask, "Does everybody agree with what's up here on the flip chart?" Then discuss whatever seems "meaty" or interesting, making additional notes along the way.
In some cases, a discussion like this could go on for quite some time. Within the framework of a half-day strategic planning session, set a limit for this discussion (half an hour or an hour) and then summarize. It's okay if you don't get to a "final answer" in this session. Identity is a complex issue. It may not be easy to find a neat and tidy definition of "who we are" that sounds right to everyone in the group. Expect differences of opinion. Don't ignore them; face them openly and try to integrate them and find the common threads between them.
In your discussion, feel free to mention other firms as models or benchmarks. "We're like Big Firm A, but we're smaller and more focused." "We're like Small Design Firm B, but our design style is more driven by the client than our own tastes." These comparisons help you to categorize your firm and to figure out where you fit within the solar system of your competitors.
An identity map is a great tool for deciding how you compare with your competitors. Select two factors, and map one on the X-axis and one on the Y-axis. (The example in Figure 1.1 uses size and a design/ specialty firm as the two factors.) Put your competitors on the map and put your own firm on the map. (In the example here, the given firms are placed more or less randomly on the map; this is not to be construed as any kind of statement about these firms.)
Recognize that there are different categories of architecture firms, and that you probably fit into one of them. There are a number of ways to define the categories, but for the purpose of this discussion, let's say that there are three major categories:
* Design firms
* Specialist firms
* Large firms/matrix organizations
In the discussion of what your firm is really all about, don't be afraid to be personal, even a little bit selfish. Unless your firm is a sole proprietorship, or is strongly led by one principal visionary, everyone in the room should have a say. The vision for the firm should be the shared vision of the entire group. It should reflect their passions and the things that are most important to them.
The strategic planning meeting will be more effective if people are comfortable talking about their passions, what's personally important to them for the firm. The questions "Who are we?" and "What are we all about?" shouldn't be addressed lightly, nor without a little soul searching. The answer needs to represent a firm that everybody in the room is proud to work for.
But this big-picture definition of who the firm is needs to be balanced with a healthy dose of realism. Acknowledge the reality of your firm's business in light of the discussion you're having. Do your financial, human resources, and marketing efforts truly serve who you are? For example, if you're a firm that professes to be all about design, but most of your revenue comes from projects that don't include much opportunity for design, there may be an incongruity between your aspirations and your practice that you'll want to address later in the session.
Which Markets Do We Serve? Who Are Our Clients? What Are We Good At?
Next, define your markets. Markets can be defined by geography, service, client industry, and facility type. Members of one firm could define its market by saying, "We provide architectural and interior design services for academic clients in the Midwest, with a special emphasis on dormitory projects."
Title a page for each parameter: Geographic Reach, Services We Provide, Client Industry, and Facility Type. With your group's help, list the markets you serve on each sheet. Be careful to focus on the markets you work in now-not the markets you'd like to expand into (see the "Our Markets" sidebar).
Look at the listing you've made. What does it tell you? Are you highly diverse? Do you have a strong market niche? Where are the areas for investment and growth? Are there new areas you'd like to move into?
Looking at the "market map" you've created, are there key areas in which you are clearly the leader? Are there markets that you believe that you serve better than anyone else? Build a consensus from your planning group of which markets are core to your practice and which markets you're just entering.
Consider your competitors. Who are your key competitors in each market? Are there competitors that are truly formidable across the board? Are you coming up against the same key competitors all the time? Make a list of your key competitors, and briefly discuss the strengths or weaknesses of each.
SWOT Analysis: Start from Now
Once you have a shared understanding of who you are as a firm and what you do, you can begin to dig a little bit deeper with a classic SWOT analysis, standing for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.
The SWOT analysis is a time-honored business tool used to assess a company's current situation both internally and externally, with a view toward developing a plan for the future. That said, the SWOT analysis is somewhat misnamed, in that it isn't really particularly analytical. It's a tool for capturing your beliefs and perceptions about your firm and the context in which you're functioning to paint a picture of your current situation. It helps you see where you are, where you could go, what you need to fix, and what you should watch out for.
Divide a piece of paper into four quadrants, and label these Strengths (upper left-hand), Weaknesses (lower left-hand), Opportunities (upper right-hand), and Threats (lower right-hand). The left side of your paper (Strengths and Weaknesses) is internal, issues within your company that you believe are either strengths or weaknesses. The right side (Opportunities and Threats) are both focused outside: What are the opportunities out there that you can take advantage of, and what are the threats that you need to watch out for?
What Are Our Strengths? What's Special about Our Firm?
Start with your strengths. What is truly special about you? Here are a few general possibilities to get you thinking, in the rough categories of design, service, and knowledge that you offer to your clients:
* Design * Distinctive style
* Communication * Speed
* Expertise in a given market
* Specific body of knowledge (foreign building codes, etc.)
* Relationships with key consultants, contractors, suppliers
These are only a few ideas. Brainstorm with your planning group until you come up with a list of strengths that feels complete to you.
Bear in mind that most of your competitors can probably also claim the majority of strengths that are on your list, so focus on those that are truly unique to your firm or those that are easily quantified or proved. Saying "We're responsive to clients" isn't really a useful strength, unless you can back it up with a few killer examples.
What Are Our Weaknesses? What Could We Do Better
Be honest about this. What are the things that you don't do as well as you think you should? What are your liabilities? You may need to coax the group to be forthcoming; this isn't the time to be gentle or polite.
List everything that might affect your firm's performance, or the perception of your firm's performance, both internally and externally. Here are a few areas for discussion, and questions to get you started:
* Is it as good as it could be? If not, why?
* Do we have enough experience in all our markets?
* Do we have the right staff mix for our firm?
* Is our design process fluid?
* Does everyone understand it and their part in it?
5. Human Resources
* How is our turnover?
* How is our recruiting?
* How are our employee communications?
* How is our promotions strategy?
* Are we satisfied with our marketing efforts?
* Are we happy with our marketing staff?
* Is our accounting system as efficient as it could be?
* What about our collections?
8. Risk Management
* Are we reviewing our contracts carefully?
* Are we agreeing to terms that we shouldn't?
9. Recent Events
* Has anything happened recently (staff departure, bad PR, lawsuit) that might affect our performance?
Again, this is just a list to start you thinking. Your weaknesses are what you and the group think they are. Acknowledge and record them in the meeting so that everybody can start thinking outside of the meeting about what they can do to fix them.
Excerpted from Architect's Essentials of Marketing by David Koren Excerpted by permission.
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