Change can be daunting, but the fact of the matter is that the world we live in is constantly evolving. An Architect only needs to look at the progression from 2D hand drawings to 3D Modelling and the continual development in this area to know how readily that change can happen. The same has been happening in the world of cloud business systems that have made once complex tasks, easy.
In the last 5-7 years it is fair to say that cloud business systems have moved ahead in strides in terms of abilities and functionality. These systems, such as WorkflowMax are priced on a per month, per user basis making them easily within the reach of the smallest businesses and provide functionality that was otherwise only held by larger practices.
Architect firms of all sizes are using WorkflowMax to track client communication, job time lines, budget management and invoicing. Those that have access to this type of information generally work more efficiently, making better decisions and therefore winning the better jobs. Seems like a no-brainer eh!?
An implementation of these systems doesn’t have to be all that stressful and it’s not as scary as you think. WorkflowMax is well supported in the market place, we even use it to run our own Accounting practice so we are well versed with our way around the system.
We work closely with Architects and for a good implementation in an Architectural practice I recommend the following beginners hack.
1. Define your business process
When someone says this to you, you may feel the eyes rolling back into your head. But it doesn’t need to be that hard, in fact if it turns out it is, with many “if’s” and “but’s” then your processes are probably over complicated. Clients don’t pay you for your complex business processes, they pay you for your creativity and accuracy in drawings - everything else should be as stock standard as possible.
The most obvious way to achieve this is to set out your jobs in congruence with the stages of service provided by New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA AAS 2007 form) this would mean your job templates looks like this:
- Pre-Design Services
- Preliminary Design
- Developed Design
- Detailed Design & Documentation
- Administration of Contract Works
- Observation of Contract works
You could shorten or expand these as pre-defined templates depending on the size of a job.
We also recommend that job templates are created for administrative tasks, such an example is the process of on-boarding a new client. Often there are multiple things that need to happen to get a client up and running in your practice. By creating an internal client on-boarding job you can define tasks and to-do items that get ticked off as each is completed. This is great for providing quality control and consistency in the client experience.
2. Establish Realistic Charge Out Rates
As a service provider, time is money. Whilst you may price parts of a job on charge up, percentage of total project or set fee. The use of charge out rates lets you as a business owner/manager work out the efficiency in your firm.
How should you work out your charge out rates? We would challenge you and say you shouldn’t, and you should talk to your accountant, there are multiple aspects to consider when establishing the actual rates and it’s time you could better spend on creative activities. For accountants and their spreadsheets the process is relatively straight forward. In principal you want to establish charge out rates that consider:
- How much profit you would like to take home as a business owner
- Realistic percentage of non-billable time for each level of staff member
- Whether they are full time equivalent staff
- Budgeted overheads of the business
With this information in hand, your accountant can calculate the charge out rates for your staff.
Now you have charge out rates that reflect your budgeted performance and desired profit level you can start making informed decisions on how jobs are going or went. If there are no write offs (or even better a write on) and the time allocated to non-productive time of your staff is still in check then you are on your way to taking home the salary and profit you expected. If you have continual write offs then you know profit will be impacted. This then leads to questions and actions taken with respect to:
- have I got the right staff?
- have I got those staff doing the right activities
- Are they being limited in their ability to work efficiently, and what is that
- Jobs are not being priced accurately
3. Quoting and Invoicing
The great thing with WorkflowMax is that your client information, workflow management, quoting and invoicing are all coming from the one system. Making traceability of costs and income really easy. Invoicing out of WorkflowMax can be done in a variety of ways, from calculated prices, fixed fees and anything in between and where appropriate this information can pull from quotes previously generated and provided to clients.
The narrations for invoices can be automated as well. By using standardised templates such as those mentioned back at Section 1. “Defining your business process”, you can attach standard narrations to the tasks being performed. If you want you can modify this on a per client/per invoice basis, but if you don’t have to you can make the whole billing process at month end and at every stage in between, a really straightforward process. If you’re using Xero as your accounting system, these invoices will feed straight into it for follow up and debtor management processes.
The world of business is constantly changing and for an Architecture firm there are now readily accessible systems such as WorkflowMax to better manage and monitor business performance. The step of moving to WorkflowMax doesn’t have to be that difficult and there is a great support network out there to make it happen.
When it comes to interpreting the numbers and driving performance, business advisors like ourselves can use the results to make recommendations or refinements to make the business run even smoothly resulting in more profit in your back pocket or enabling you to take a few days off work without stressing.