Archive for the 'Motivation' Category

5 Secrets to Success from an Entrepreneur Architect


My wife and I launched our architecture firm, Fivecat Studio, in 1999. We were 29 years old. Young, ambitious and a little crazy, we started with no money and no clients. One good lead and some help from a few local architect friends gave us the courage to take a leap of faith, and we went for it.

In the 13 plus years we’ve been in business, I’ve learned a bunch. Today, I thought I would share a few secrets to our success.

Dreams really do come true. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a big dreamer. Since I was a young boy, I’ve been planning my future and plotting my success. You can even ask my mom. The life I am living today is awfully close to the stories I told as a child.

The difficult part of being a dreamer though, is when your life veers away from your set trajectory. Life happens and you need to respond, but if you keep dreaming and have faith (and work your ass off), you’ll find that your dreams really do come true.

It’s much harder than you think. I am a father of three young kids and my life revolves around their care, their guidance and their happiness. I was born to be a dad and I have always loved kids. I thought fatherhood was going to be a piece of cake. Well, any dad will tell you that being a father is the second most difficult job on the planet. It is way more difficult that I ever thought it would be.

Running a successful architecture firm is very much like raising kids. You start wide-eyed with big plans of success. Soon after you start, you realize that your job as a leader is much more involved than you ever expected. You have responsibilities that you never planned for and not everything ends up like you dreamed. Your “hat rack” grows larger and larger every day as your roles in the business and in your life multiply. As prepared as you think you might be, running an architecture firm is much harder than you ever imagined.

It’s much easier than you think. Yes. It’s difficult to run an architecture firm, but if you properly educate yourself in the basics of business (You’ll need to educate yourself on this topic, because our architecture schools have decided that its not important enough to include in their programs.); prepare budgets, manage your expenses, create sales systems, properly market your services, hire the right team, develop habits of personal productivity, encourage a culture of personal responsibility and lead with passion, you might find that success is actually much easier than you think.

You must jump off the cliff before you can fly. This is a mantra that I’ve adopted since commencing on my 12/12/12 Project last year. Imagine what it would be like to fly… to just stretch out your arms, catch the currents of the wind and glide high into the sky. The sense of pride and freedom you would feel would be incredible. Your movements would be effortless. Your destination… limitless.

Now, imagine jumping off a cliff. Fear. Total and complete fear. Well, if you are ever going to fly, you are going to need to first jump off the cliff.

Before you can finish, you must first begin. Sounds simple right. Well, the big secret in business is that taking the first step is not as simple as it sounds. Starting is actually the single hardest part of launching a firm.

Last night, I was putting the final touches on my 12/12/12 Project and preparing for its big launch on Wednesday. I’ve learned much in the many years since launching my own firm, but the single most important lesson I have learned is that you must push through the fear, turn away from the list of reasons “not to”, embrace the possibilities… and start. Only then, will you succeed.

I hope you too have taken this opportunity to start. December 12, 2012 is only a couple days away.

Until then…


photo credit: gaspi *yg via photopin cc


10 Tips to Conquer Procrastination


My name is Mark R. LePage and I am a recovering procrastinator.

There… I said it.

After 40+ years, I don’t have much hope of ever finding a cure, but recently I have found some ways to hang on to the wagon and stay focused on getting things done.

Here are 10 tips I’m using to conquer my procrastination.

1. Write out a plan. In order to get anything done, you need to create a plan. What does the end result look like and how are you going to make progress. Write it out. As a serial dreamer, I have hundreds of plans in my head, at all times. The plans that make progress are the ones written down and developed into a clear step-by-step process.

2. Schedule milestones. Progress looks much less daunting when you break things down into smaller easily attained milestones. Set them to specific dates and get to work.

3. Work toward deadlines. The quickest way to NOT get things done is to never NEED to get things done. Set deadlines on each milestone, and base your deadlines on realistic timelines developed in the plan you developed above.

4. Turn away from distractions. In November, I re-instituted my “full media blackout”. I stopped reading the news, turned off the television and tuned the radio away from the talk station. If the world as we know it does in fact end on December 21st, I am quite certain I will hear about it. I am now focused on the things that are fully within my control. The things not within my control are simply distractions. Turn away from the distractions and focus on the things that truly matter most.

5. Stop blaming others. No one else is going to get it done. There is nothing stopping you from progress except YOU. You are in control of the decisions you make and the attitude you choose to adopt.

6. Birth good habits. In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessCharles Duhigg deconstructs the habit into three parts; a cue, a routine and a reward. Once you understand that, you may give birth to your own good habits. If you want to do something consistently without the pain and frustration of broken resolutions, make it a habit and watch what happens.

7. Kill bad habits. From what we’ve learned in number 6 above, we can now analyze every bad habit standing in the way of our progress. Identify the cue, the routine and the reward. The key to making sustainable change is keeping the cue and reward, and changing the routine. Do you unnecessarily check your e-mail everyday at the same time, rather than working on those pending construction documents? Identify the cue and reward. The cue may be the time of day. The reward may be a sense of accomplishment. Change the routine to completing a simple task on those drawings and a new habit may be born.

8. Look beyond yourself. Find some inspiration. Find others who have accomplished what you want to accomplish. Learn everything you can about them and how they made progress. When you know that others have done what you are trying to do, you’ll find hope that you too will accomplish your goals.

9. Raise the stakes. As many of you know, I am working on the plan for my 12/12/12 Project. Talk about procrastination. I’ve been trying to make progress on this project for more than a decade. By announcing the concept of the 12/12/12 Project to the world and publicly committing to my plan, I raised the stakes. If I don’t do what I said I’ll do, I will lose credibility with you, my family as well as myself.

10. Start. It may be the most difficult step, but believe me, no task has ever been completed without starting. So, start… and see the procrastination melt away.


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photo credit: Mykl Roventine via photopin cc

The Courage to Proceed

The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t?

The Courage to Proceed.

Dream. Plan. Proceed. Succeed.

Step 3 is the most difficult.


photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc

The Passion Profit Cycle of Success

Prior to starting our own firms, we business-owner architects experienced an “entrepreneurial seizure”, as Michael Gerber so accurately described in his book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. It’s the precise moment when a passionate employee commits to starting her own firm. Frustrated by the process (or lack of process) established by her employer, she decides that she can do better.

Do you remember that moment?

The passion required to overcome the fear and uncertainty of launching a start-up business is a very powerful emotion. It’s what takes us from “business-owner architect” to Entrepreneur Architect. It’s what gets us out of bed every morning and keeps us going years later.

Passion for what we do though, will only take us so far. To become a great firm, a truly great business success, we must also have a passion for profit. I know… Profit. To some, profit is a dirty word, but the reality is that without profit, your passion for being an architect will very quickly evaporate. It is the passion for profit that allows us to grow our firms and continue to build successful practices.

Much like winning a game, earning profit feels great. Not just emotionally, but physically. Neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Ian Robertson writes about the the neuroscience of success in his book, The Winner Effect. Earning a profit (winning in business) physically alters our brain chemistry and increases the production of dopamine. It sharpens our focus and desire for continued success. Earning profit literally causes us to become passionate about earning more profit.

The lack of profit alters our brain chemistry as well (unless your business is set up to run as “non-profit” of course). Running a firm without profit is frustrating and frightening. We become depressed, disinterested and our passion for the profession fades. During times of economic slow down, the dangers threatening our firms not only come from outside pressures but literally from inside our heads.

So what can we do? Here are five approaches to earning more profit.

Cut your expenses.

Look at your books. (You do keep a record of your earnings and expenses, right?) Review your expenses and eliminate any unnecessary or wasteful spending. You may be surprised by how much of your earnings are used for supplies and services you don’t really need. Remember, the goal during this economic crisis is survival. Wait for the “good times” to return before spending your hard earned revenue on coffee service or extra phone lines you don’t use.

Eliminate debt.

When times are tough it is so easy to get snared in the trap of business debt. Credit cards and lines of credit shift from “safety net” to reliable source of “income”. Before you know it, you’re maxed out, paying massive amounts on interest and working with no net at all. Make a plan to reduce or eliminate your debt and start working with retained earnings to pay for expenses. Check out this Entreleadership podcast about the importance of running a debt-free firm.

Increase payroll.

Huh!? Increase payroll to earn more profit? Yes. Healthy businesses must grow. You can’t do it all yourself. With the right team in place, you can take on bigger and better projects. Expenses will be distributed among more income sources and you will earn more profit. Be careful though, hiring the wrong people may cost you much more than you’ll be paying them.

Raise your fees.

Competition has increased among architects and some prospective clients are selecting firms based on cost.  Many architects have cut their fees to the point where profit is impossible. Remember, without profit our firms will fail. Higher fees will not only keep your firm running strong, but will indicate the true value you bring to a client.

Expand your services.

Architects must think beyond the traditional design studio business model. In 2007, with the current economic storm heading our way, my firm expanded services to include Interior Design and Construction Management Services. This change in offerings allowed us to increase potential revenue with every project. Fees, once paid to outside designers and contractors, are now earned by our firm. Not only has potential profit resulting from each project increased significantly, but we have more control over the final quality of our projects resulting in happier clients.

Without passion there will be no profit and without profit you will soon lose your passion. To be a successful Entrepreneur Architect we must have both. It is the Passion Profit Cycle that builds great firms and allows us to continue to do what we love most; practice architecture.

Stay tuned to Entrepreneur Architect. (Click here to have my posts delivered directly to your inbox.) I will share more ideas in future posts on becoming more profitable and building great architecture firms.

Are you passionate? …about profit?

You should be.

In this crazy tough economic environment, what are some ways you have found to become more profitable?

* * *

To learn more about the neuroscience of winning, check out this recent interview with Ian Robertson and Leo Lopate on WNYC Radio.

The Power of Stopping

When my brain is rested and not required to complete a specific task or stay focused on success, amazing things happen.

During scheduled breaks, like vacations and holidays, I often develop my biggest ideas, like new business systems, strategies or concepts for future entrepreneurial endeavors. My right brain (the creative side) is free to roam, shifts into a lower gear and finds some additional horsepower.

Some of my most interesting, most innovative ideas have been discovered during these periods of cognitive overdrive. As I walk through the woods each morning, while driving long distances, taking a shower or as I drift off to sleep, my brain takes me to the most interesting creative places. (At times it takes me, very literally, to very unexpected places. I once drove two hours in the wrong direction while dreaming of my future and developing a new business strategy. My wife will never let me live it down.)

Whenever I am performing a creative task, I’ve learned to stop, take a break and reset my mind. It may take nothing more than lifting my head and focusing on something other than the task at hand. It may be a more deliberate suspension of activity or scheduled time-out. I may stand up and stretch, take a stroll around the studio, stop for a snack or converse with a co-worker.

Rebooted, I return to my task with a rested open mind. I often discover new directions or alternative concepts. The path to success becomes clear. The awkward sentence is quickly resolved. The complicated architectural detail looks simple and the solution so obvious.

It works.

The next time you find yourself stuck, don’t spin your tires. Try stopping.

Deep Breath: A Weekend of Broken Cars and Things that Matter Most

I am the son of a retired auto mechanic and worked many weekends and summers at the shop (most likely where my entrepreneurial blood started to simmer). My Dad taught me what I need to know, to fix just about anything a vehicle can throw at me (and he has always been just a phone call away when things get beyond my skills). So, looking to save a few dollars, save time without my car during the work week and wanting to get my hands a little dirty again, I decided that I was going to perform some required maintenance on my Lexus.

The project this weekend? Brakes. My plan was to simply replace the rear brake pads and be done; a task that should have taken about a hour and a half.

Two days later, today the car is still on the jack. Half way through the job, I discovered that the left caliper was frozen in place and would not accept the new pads. I spent much of Saturday trying, with all my mind and might, to loosen the rusted parts with absolutely no success. It would not budge. — Deep breath!

On Sunday morning I started a search for a new part; not the preferable day for such a task. Many of the local auto parts stores were closed and the locations that were open did not carry the correct caliper. I finally found what I was looking for online, but of course, it’s not available until Wednesday. So, I wait. — Deep breath!

“Not a problem.” I said to myself. I have my ’69 Camaro home for the summer. I acquired my black Camaro RS in 1986, two years before graduating high school (the story of how I saved enough to buy a classic muscle car before my seventeenth birthday is one for another post). I keep the car stored elsewhere for the winters, but the fall is its favorite season, so I still have it home in Chappaqua. With the Lexus out of commission for a few days, my plan was to take the Camaro to work… or so I thought.

Late Sunday afternoon, the Camaro too decided to kick back. The short story is that it lost oil pressure. Without oil pressure, it will not run very long before the engine seizes and you’re saving your pennies for a new engine. Luckily, it’s parked in a safe place and I have a good friend with a car trailer who is always ready to help (good friends are awesome, aren’t they?). — Deep breath!

Without going into all the other little things that didn’t go as planned this weekend, let’s just say, it was “one of THOSE weekends”. — Deep breath!

But there is always a lesson to learn. Throughout all this mess, I was reminded that life is good. The cars are just mechanical objects. They’ll get repaired (eventually).

Throughout the weekend, when I felt most depressed with my consistent misfortune, my kids, one by one and individually, found me and gave me a hug. They asked if they could help and if I needed anything. I was shocked. They are 10, 8 and 5 years old. I was so proud of them. Tears filled my eyes. My wonderful wife was there too, every step of the way, to keep me calm, help me find the missing parts and take over when I had reached my mental limits. She’s the best wife ever! (I should get points for that.)

So, what really matters most? The broken cars?

I often research the backgrounds of highly successful people. Entrepreneurs, CEOs, athletes, artists. I want to learn from their lives to reach higher levels of success in my own life. What I have discovered is that more often than not, in order to reach the very highest levels of success in whatever these people pursue, they must sacrifice… big time. They must be so focused and determined to succeed, that everything else in their lives must be neglected and eventually fails. They are well known for their successes, but few know of their ultimate failures.

I struggle with this phenomenon. I want to succeed at the highest level of what I do, but I am not willing to sacrifice the things that truly matter most. When I die, I would much prefer to be remembered as a great father, husband, son, brother and friend, than an entrepreneur architect who reached his dreams of ultimate success. — Deep breath.

3 Steps to a Better Life: Stop, Drop and Roll

STOP and take time to evaluate your life. Ask yourself… Are you doing the things that make you happy? Are you making the world a better place? Have you found your purpose? What are your goals? Are you working toward a better life? Make two lists; Things That Matter and Things That Don’t.

DROP the things that make you unhappy. Eliminate the the things that are distracting you from reaching your goals. Do more things that matter and fewer things that don’t.

When times are tough and the next dollar becomes your priority for survival, the things that matter most get lost in the crisis. Focus on the things that matter most and ROLL into a better life.


The Rise of the Entrepreneur Architect


In October 2011, a request went out to architects and designers all across the country to submit no more than 60 words on the future of residential architecture in America.  When you click on the link, you will see submissions by 65 people from dozens of states.  The submitters include architects, writers, unlicensed designers, members of the AIA and those who are not.  This book was “launched” at the Congress of Residential Architecture’s 8th annual gathering at Reinvention, Friday December 9th, in Phoenix.

I was honored to be one of the original 65 people selected for the book. Here are my 60 Words:

The future of residential architecture will thrive with the rise of Entrepreneur Architects pushing the boundaries of traditional practice; taking it to new heights. Recovering their status as “leader”, architects will offer society realistic solutions to global problems. Entrepreneur Architects will use their unique skills to alter the future of civilization AND be proudly profitable while doing it.

The future of residential architecture… what are YOUR 60 words?

Make it Your Job

Today I was watching a recent talk by Chris Brogan and among many thought provoking ideas, he proposed one tasty tidbit that stuck in my head.

Chris is a successful marketing pro, NY Times bestselling author, magazine contributor, blogger, speaker and mega-nerd (he knows more about comic superheros than anyone… ever).

He didn’t just decide to be successful… and BOOM, he had 220,000+ followers on Twitter. It took lots of time and dedication. Today he writes 4,000 words a day and earns thousands speaking at business conferences throughout the nation.

How did he do it?

He made it his job. He earned it. It took him 8 years to reach 100 subscribers to his blog and years more before it finally took off.

Since 2006, I have been blogging and building my social media empire. The difference between Chris and me? I haven’t made blogging my job. It has always been a “side job”. I know blogging is important for the success of my business, but I have not dedicated the time and effort that is required to have it reach its full potential.

For my real job, I get up every day and go to work. I do all the things necessary to make Fivecat Studio the success that it is. Why? It’s my job! If I don’t do my job, I fail. The whole company fails.

Want to succeed with social media and blogging… or anything else in your life? Make it your job and earn it.

What would you do with an extra day each week?

As I sat here in “my chair” flipping through a list of recent DVR recordings, I had a disturbing thought. “How much time do I actually spend in this yellow (yes, “French’s Mustard” yellow) mid-century modern armchair?”

You see, I come from a TV family. It’s in my genes. I think I may have plasma running through my veins (Ha! Get it? Plasma… in my veins…In fact, you do too.). For generations, LePages have retired to the tube for a little after-dinner entertainment each night. It’s a great way for one to clear the mind and unwind from a stressful day at the office.

Well, I’ve done some calculations, and the results are rather disturbing.

After filling the dishwasher and running the kids off to bed, I typically hit the chair around eight PM. The DVR gets a work out and, at around midnight, I head back up to bed. That’s four hours per evening, every evening… seven days a week. Is that a lot?

That’s twenty eight hours per week; a whole day of hours, plus two. A whole day! Every week.

So, if I cut out the TV completely, I would actually gain an extra day. Just imagine what you could accomplish with an eighth day each week.

Wait, it gets worse…

If I take two weeks off for vacations and other days “not watching”, and multiply twenty eight hours by fifty weeks… that’s fourteen hundred hours of TV watching every year. Is THAT a lot? Yes… that is a lot of TV.

That is fifty eight days of TV watching every year. That’s down right embarrassing! I spend TWO MONTHS every year sitting in my chair watching television. (Thank you Dr. Blog… I feel much better now.)

In my defense, I do multi-task. I update my “social media empire” for Fivecat Studio and write interesting (or disturbing) blog posts like this one each night… but still.

Not good.

I’ll be making some changes… Expect big things from me in the next 14 months. (That’s one year in human time.)


Question: What would YOU do with an extra day each week?

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