From the day Dean Ventola, RA, bought his architecture firm’s first computer, he knew technology would help his company grow. Ventola was determined to sell each new capability to fund his next computer upgrade, and the next, and the next. This pay-it-forward philosophy helped him buy 3-D software, then a fly-through program, and then a color plotter.
“Years ago, I was required to do construction drawings by hand because I didn’t have a big enough plotter. Big firms wanted $125 a color plot and that wasn’t an option for me. So I got a color plotter which has proven effective during presentations. I know I would not have earned many jobs without it. That’s absolutely true. It’s a high-resolution plotter, meaning you can see reflections in the pool, and chrome looks like chrome. I have sold projects based on the plotter’s printouts,” says Ventola, who operates Dean Ventola Architect in Damascus, Md.
Software not only can sell a job, it can solve problems, too. Big builders can afford $200,000 of furnishings to sell a home, but most small firms can’t. “I believe 3-D drawings can solve that problem. With my software, furniture can be graphically added. Of course a picture can’t compete in the long run with actual furniture, but if you don’t have $200,000, this is the next best thing. Plus, I can quickly change the color of walls or the furniture and a builder can’t,” he says.
Aside from technology, another of Ventola’s tools is his retainer. “Architects rarely require one from clients and it’s foolish. Architects do the work, then they send a bill. That’s not smart. Builders are smart because they don’t do that,” he says. “My retainer is the end fee. I use it at the end to pay the final invoice, not the first. That way I’m covered. Surprisingly, clients don’t mind paying it.” Ventola asks for 20 percent of the initial estimate as a retainer, and never worries about underbilling.
Since he has implemented his retainer policy, Ventola has never had a concern about being paid. “Before the retainer, every two years someone tried to burn me by not paying. And those nonpaying clients will drain you, your time, your resources and your spirit. It is best if you can spot them, if you can see them coming, or developing that way, and try not to do business with them. The few times I’ve had to pursue payment, it took more hours to secure it than it did for me to earn it in the first place.”
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