Are you Satisfied?

Which of the following four options best describes your business?:

  • High profit, high satisfaction;
  • High profit, low satisfaction;
  • Low profit, high satisfaction;
  • Low profit, low satisfaction.

My guess is most of you chose low profit, high satisfaction. Not all of you, but most of you. This is an educated guess based on how a room full of architects answered this question during a recent conference put on by the AIA’s new Custom Residential Architects Network. The majority fell into this category, and everyone chuckled when so many hands went up.

But is this really funny?

What struck me was that so many people in the room were making tiny profits, but even more so that so many seemed to accept it as their lot in life. The murmuring at the sight of all the hands in the air included comments like, “That’s no surprise” and, “Ha, it figures.” Nobody jumped up and said, “This is an outrage! Let’s do something about it!”

So why is this happening? From the comments in the room, it didn’t appear to be a function of the slumping housing market. This is more like a deep-rooted fact of life as a residential architect. A fact shared by an architect who once told a young designer that there’s really not much money in residential architecture. But why does it have to be this way?

Our associate editor recently met this same designer, and she asked him, “Are you an architect?” He responded, “No, I’m a designer, I actually make money.” This intrigued me, so I called and asked why he said that. He explained that because architects tend to be extremely creative, and focus their energy thinking about spaces, their business prowess isn’t always very good. This award-winning designer is driven more by achieving a goal. While his business prowess statement paints architects unfairly with a broad brush, it emphasizes the need to run a profitable business.

To be fair, I must point out that a handful of architects in the room raised their hands for the two high-profit categories, so it was nice to see there are some architects making decent money out there. But there should have been more.

The architects in the room were listening to a seminar given by Rena Klein, FAIA, of RM Klein Consulting. She was discussing business planning, and the architects were listening closely. I think those paying the most attention were the ones who raised their hands for the low-profit categories.

I asked one architect if he had a business plan, and he said, “What’s a business plan,” as if to say, “I don’t need no stinkin’ business plan.” But does he? Do you?