April 19, 2001
Expanding services in times of slowdown:
Thoughts on surviving and thriving with clients
By MARK WEISMAN, ASLA
Weisman Design Group
Strategies for surviving a recession always get better with the benefit of hindsight. At Weisman Design Group, we’ve decided to apply a little foresight to the economic downturn, and review the things we are doing and the things we want to continue to do to weather the slump.
In the end, the best way to survive in a contracting economic climate is to help clients survive and thrive.
One basic way to maintain and expand landscape architectural services during economic slowdowns is to actively pursue a diversified and reasonably broad market. Successful firms know their strengths and choose a few niches that are strong and profitable. Ideally, this strategy is something firms already have in place while the economic climate is robust.
Our firm has discovered a number of other adaptive strategies which have helped us to weather variable times:
Bridging. Projects are more complex than ever before. In our work we have discovered that the classic landscape architecture skills of coordination and team management have become all the more important. We look for places where we can concentrate our energy to bridge gaps between other consultants.
This strength provides the client with full value and a more fully coordinated team. It focuses energy on solving problems and smoothing out the design process, which has a direct savings impact for the clients.
Flexibility. In an increasingly complex environment of approvals, cost pressures, community issues and the like, the first design or site plan concept rarely is the one that gets built.
Many times the information gathered in the design process has allowed us to consider a second or third right answer. Our firm has focused on the ability to have vision and energy to carry a constantly evolving project through to a decision which meets people’s expectations.
Conserving design energy late in the process is a critical component to success.
Focus On Value. The more successful clients today understand that they can’t focus on cost or product alone, but that value drives projects. We find ourselves continuously articulating the trade-offs between these two and adding additional factors of long term maintenance and safety.
Understanding these issues and presenting viable alternatives has placed us on many teams with general contractors, where we explore ways to maximize value in non-traditional ways.
Finding The Right Consultant. Our clients have seen the value of having us involved in selection of other site consultants because they understand that not all consultants perform with the same level of energy and consistency.
We have learned that individuals in firms stand out sometimes even when the firm as a whole does not and have suggested ways to team with specific people in firms rather than just the firm.
Clients appear to appreciate this extra understanding of how to get maximum value for their dollars spent.
Approval Process. The ap-proval environment is more complicated than ever before, and the time value of money increases the pressure, especially on our private clients. They need consultants who actively strategize and team with jurisdictional agencies to make things happen.
Those projects that don’t have this active involvement and focus seem to languish. As the issues become more complex and span many disciplines, it takes a landscape architecture firm to articulate an idea and bridge the transitions between architectural-civil-traffic design and function.
We find ourselves doing more and more documents which clarify and quantify design character to speed agency approval and bring more value to the project.
Project Upgrades. We’re entering a new paradigm of scarcity when it comes to financial and natural resources. There is tremendous potential in redeveloping existing development to compete with newer projects.
Special expertise can make these existing sites more energy and resource efficient. Providing project image upgrades at the same time helps to keep them competitive with newer projects in the market place, rather than replacing them.
Focused value-oriented creativity provides a “win/win” for the environment and clients.
Financial Pressures. Financial pressures in tougher times place intense demands on private development clients. They need to see things happen quickly, but many times they cannot afford to have the breadth of staff in-house to focus on all the issues necessary.
Our firm has positioned itself to help act as a client’s right hand, functioning as an inside consultant to help them get things done. This attitude develops trust, which is an important component in developing a longterm relationship.
Attitude. In tougher times, clients have the choice to work with any firm they want. Although, they tend to gravitate towards those firms that have similar values and attitudes about the world.
As landscape architects, we have been able to communicate our vision of well-thought out, sensitive site design prepared by a firm that is energetic, focused, flexible and responsive.
Weisman Design Group marketing costs are almost zero, because we have come to understand that fully successful marketing is not separate from the project.
For us, marketing is all about how we see the world and how we communicate to our clients. As we gain new clients and projects in tougher times, we are still working with most of the firms we started with eighteen years ago.
It has been a delight to watch them grow and change, to see our joint projects mature, and to see our clients achieve their visions.
Mark Weisman is principal of Weisman Design Group, a landscape architecture firm in Seattle.
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