Archive for the 'Success' 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


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

How To Complete an Overwhelming Project

Last week I announced the 12/12/12 Project and with it, an invitation for you to join me in committing to your own life altering decision. On December 12, 2012, together, we’ll start the next phase of our lives.

A life altering commitment is pretty heavy. A 12/12/12 Project is overwhelming by definition. So, how in the world do we approach such a thing? How do we accomplish, quite possibly, one of the most important decisions of our lives?

This week, I want to show you a simple way to get started.

Develop a Plan.

As architects, we’re good at developing plans. So, let’s start with a plan. Map out your project, step by step from beginning to end.

In his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey writes about  Habit 2; Begin With The End in Mind. What do you want your project to look like when it’s finished?

My family and I live in Westchester County, New York. Our little cottage in the woods sits upon a one-acre lot. Dozens of tall deciduous trees stand side by side from property line to property line. Every autumn we are blessed with a colorful spectacle of orange, amber and red. That wonderland quickly turns into a layer of dried brown leaves covering every inch of our parcel. It’s rather overwhelming, knowing that I am solely responsible for removing each and every leaf.

It’s a very big project.

What do I want the property to look like when I am done? Clean and organized.

How do I accomplish that? I follow my plan.

Break it down into small sections accomplished over multiple days.

I deconstruct the overwhelming project into smaller, more manageable sections, to be accomplished over multiple days. “The Front”, “The Hill”, “The Garden”, “The Patio”… Looking at the project as several small tasks makes the massive amount of work appear much more manageable, and even quite surmountable.


No project has ever been completed by standing there and looking at it. You need to actually start. Sometimes starting is the hardest part, but trust me, starting is critical to the success of the project.

Use the right tool for the job at hand.

I pull out my trusted orange gas-powered leaf blower, fill it will fuel, pull the cord and get to work. Yes. It’s noisy and a bit smelly, but its the right tool for the job. Leaf removal is no game. We are talking major amounts of organic material, accumulated, probably weighing hundreds of pounds. A plastic rake isn’t going to get me very far. A plug-in electric blower with not much more power than my wife’s hair dryer? I’d rather pick up each leaf by hand.

Begin with the section having the heaviest impact.

So many leaves. So many sections. Where to begin? Begin with the section having the heaviest impact. I start with “The Front” section. When the front of the house looks maintained and tidy, the whole property looks better. The project starts to look much more manageable when the front of the house is in order. A sense of motivation to carry on with the project sets in as I move on to the each consecutive section.

Work down hill with the wind at your back.

Trying to blow leaves uphill and against the wind just doesn’t work. In fact, you’ll often end up with more of a mess than when you started. Work down hill with the wind at your back. Leaves also move easier over the smooth driveway surface than over the pachysandra bed.

Scope out the path of least resistance and work to move the leaves in that direction toward a central location.

First pass, push through and collect as much as possible.

Once you’ve gathered all the leaves in a central location, its time to move them to their permanent home, the mulch pile. After 30+ years of moving leaves (it was my job as a kid as well), I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade.

To move a large pile of leaves as efficiently as possible, you should proceed through the big pile blowing full throttle, in one brutal push, collecting as much as possible as you move forward.

Don’t attempt to push the entire pile in one pass. If you do, you will find that it is more difficult to move the leaves and much of the pile will remain uncollected. You will quickly tire, putting the entire project in jeopardy.

The most important thing is to move from the front of the pile and all the way through to the back of the pile without stopping. You may even use your feet to push more leaves forward as you go. Move as much as possible with each push forward.

After each pass, back track over and push more forward as you move back.

After each pass through the pile, back track and continue to push more leaves forward as you move back to collect more of the pile you left behind on the preceding pass.

After the final pass, collect the small stuff

After several passes through the pile, you will have efficiently moved the entire pile to where you want it to be. With a final pass you will collect the small stones, twigs and debris.

Leave nothing behind.

Use a different tool for the fine detail work

In some areas, a leaf blower is not the proper tool to do the job. It is far too powerful and may damage the delicate plantings in the garden and among the stone ledge. For fine detail work, you will need a small rigid rake.

Remember from above. Use the right tool for the job at hand.

Repeat until complete. Then move on.

Complete one pile in the section. Then move to the next. Repeat this process until the section is clean, organized and looking its very best.

Then move on to the next section.

Repeat the entire process until the project is complete.

See? It wasn’t that bad. An overwhelming project… completed.

Maintain every week

In order to keep the property looking its very best all year long, I do simple maintenance, weekly, throughout the year. I pick up the small sticks that fall in wind storms and rake up random leaves that find their way back onto the property.

If I maintain the property each week, it stays healthy and always looks its best.

Perform a major clean up 4 times per year

Every season requires a different approach and a separate cleaning. Every three months, I reevaluate the condition of the property and address the areas needing my attention.

Revisit each year

Each year, the cycle of seasons finds its way back to autumn and the leaves fall again. Each year, I pull out my trusted orange leaf blower and get to work.

Cleaning the yard is not my favorite project, but all the hard work results in a great looking property. The gardens fall into their winter slumber and wait, prepared for spring to arrive once again. My wife is happy that her gardens are cared for, which, of course, makes me happy.

I look forward to the day when I will finally delegate this annual chore to the next generation of leaf blowers. With a 10 year old son, an 8 year old son and a 5 year old daughter already asking to take over, it may not be long before my leaf removal days are finally over.

When that time comes, I will pass the lessons I learned on to them and move to more productive uses of my time. There are waterfalls to complete, stone walls to stack and garden sheds to build.

The list of overwhelming projects is never-ending.


photo credit: Micky** 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.

My Micro-Economy is Broken

My residential architecture firm designs, builds and renovates homes for high-earning individuals living in Westchester County, NY, one of the nation’s wealthiest regions. The success of our firm depends on these people having the income and confidence to invest in their properties.

With much effort and perseverance, our boards have been filled with work throughout the recession, mostly with smaller scale projects offering lower overall fees. Since 2008, revenues have decreased each year, with the year 2012 being the most depressed in the decade-long history of our firm.

Yet, we consider ourselves extremely successful. Firms throughout our region have shuttered and the unemployment rate for architects has continued to increase.

During the years before the recession, our project lists were loaded with large-scale residential projects. The historic Hudson Valley is full of old houses in need of renovation or reconstruction and our workload required a full roster of architects, support staff and a well equipped open studio in which to practice. Licensed architects and rent in Westchester County (located about 40 minutes north of mid-town Manhattan) doesn’t come cheap. We worked hard to build a reputation for the highest level of quality and innovative design, and our fees are commensurate with the expectations of our clients.

Many of our clients work locally for large corporations (Pepsico, IBM, etc.) or commute to New York City; bankers, venture capitalists, lawyers, doctors.

Residential architecture is a tough profession. It relies on homeowners having access to large sums of money. Some save a lifetime. Others earn it quickly with high paying salaries and annual bonuses. In order to commit to an architecture project our clients must have enough money left over after paying living expenses, taxes and savings. They must have enough confidence in their own economic situation to proceed with a project costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.  If that funding and confidence isn’t present and available, our project list shrinks and our earnings shrink with it.

Here is how my micro-economy works:

  1. Large corporations employ people at all levels. Some of those people provide services and/or knowledge to the company worthy of a high salary; an amount determined by the marketplace.
  2. As incentive to stay with the company and not seek employment elsewhere, the company offers benefits and annual bonus payments based on the company’s success and specific performance standards set for each employee.
  3. Each year, that valuable employee works hard, contributes to the success of the company and earns her salary. If the employee meets specific goals, further benefiting the company, she earns an additional bonus payment as per her agreement with the company.
  4. After taxes, expenses and required savings, if the employee has enough remaining, she puts it aside and saves for an architecture project; additions and alterations that will improve the function of her home and make it a place better to raise her family.
  5. With enough saved, she evaluates the current economic conditions and confirms the stability of her employment.
  6. With enough confidence in her financial situation, she seeks an architect and becomes our client.

So at this point, two conditions must be present for a residential architect to be hired. She must have enough money for the project cost and enough confidence in the economic conditions around her to pull the trigger and proceed with the project.

Money and confidence; without both pieces in place there is no project.

And here is where it gets worse.

If there is no project, there is no revenue for the firm to pay our employees, who then cannot proceed with their own “projects”. We don’t hire consultants (who also have employees). No contractors hired, no subcontractors, no equipment rented, no building materials, no products purchased, no suppliers, no laborers…

Each project benefits dozens (maybe ultimately hundreds) of people. When one project is delayed, the others that do proceed absorb the difference. When dozens are delayed, we have micro-economic meltdown.

My micro-economy is broken.

One or several of the links in the process of hiring an architect is missing. Have salaries been reduced? Bonuses eliminated? Have corporate layoffs caused a lack in confidence? Have new laws, rules and regulations caused corporations to take a defensive strategy of reduced expenses and minimized investment? With a pivotal national election pending, are corporations and employees alike, frozen by an uncertain future?

I don’t know the answer. I am an architect, not an economist.

I do know that our situation will not improve until our clients have the funding needed for their projects and the confidence to proceed.

How is YOUR micro-economy?

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.

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.


Life of an Architect Blog Reaches 3 Million Readers

As a follow up to yesterday’s post… if you aren’t already a fan of Entrepreneur Architect Bob Borson and his Life of an Architect blog, meander on over and take a read. His hard work and dedication online has resulted in much earned success. He posts almost everyday with interesting and thought provoking ideas. He made his blog his job. He shows up every day and does what it takes to succeed.

Last night, Life of an Architect passed 3 million readers. Yes, thats million with an M.

Congratulations Bob on your much earned success. We look forward to the years ahead.

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.

My Time Online: Presenting Portfolio, Creating Context and a Top Google Rank

This week, we’ve been exchanging website URLs over at the Entrepreneur Architect Linkedin Group. It is very interesting to learn some background on the people we’re interacting with on that forum.

I shared our website URL (which is in the midst of an upgrade from our original site to a new one). Then, I posted links to all my other work online. Here is my original post:

In addition to our website at, below are the other places I spend my time online (and with my spare time, I’m a very involved Dad to 3 and I run an architecture firm).

Entrepreneur Architect Blog:
Entrepreneur Architect on Facebook:
Entrepreneur Architect on Twitter:

Fivecat Blog:
Fivecat on Facebook:
Fivecat on Twitter:
Fivecat Squidoo Lens:


I am very active on all of the above sites. It has absolutely benefited the firm and me professionally. I have a Pinterest account, a Google+ account and a Tumblr account as well, but I don’t spend much time with these (yet).

How about you? Other than actively participating here (thank you very much) and our new sub-groups, Architect Led DesignBuild and Architect Developer, do you spend time online elsewhere?

Where? Why? and How much time?

A few group members asked if all this online presence was worth the effort. Do I really benefit from spending so much time online?

First, I enjoy writing and interacting with people all over the world. I have met so many people and have learned so much from my work online.

As for the business, we literally built our firm using our website. When we launched the firm in 1999 almost all of our work came directly from our website. Today, it’s about 50%. The other half comes from referrals from happy clients. We have a form that prospective clients complete when we meet for an interview. One of the questions we ask is where they found us, so we know exactly from where our leads are originating.

The blog, twitter and facebook do not typically lead directly to work, but they allow prospective clients to learn more about Fivecat Studio and more about me. They create context. When I meet with prospective clients, many tell me that they feel they already know me and that most certainly gives me an advantage when presenting a proposal.

All the work online also leads to very high rankings on Google, which is the point if you want your website to lead to sales. If you’re not found on the first page of a Google search, you are invisible to your prospective clients. Search “Westchester Architects” on Google and you will find us within the top 3 results on the first page (the results vary day to day).

I have never quantified my time online. I probably don’t want to know. I don’t recommend that everyone invest as much effort online as I have, but for us, it has been very, very successful.

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