What a year, right? Well, if you’re in charge of an architecture firm, there’s often little time to reflect as you keep the cash flowing and while you’re prospecting for new business. Maybe you want to position yourself for that plum project everyone wants, or maybe you’re looking to staff-up because you know you’ve got a big project on the horizon. Then again, maybe you’re looking to get into new areas of practice or invest in new technologies, while also keeping your bread-and-butter clients happy (not to mention your employees). At the end of the day, it’s all about shoring-up that revenue and the morale of your firm. Here are the top five things you should think about at the end of the calendar year to improve your position next year—especially if you’re a small business. 

  • Conduct a financial analysis and set some realistic goals: By conducting a comprehensive financial analysis, you can understand the current state of your business’s revenue, expenses, and overall financial health. Evaluate the previous year’s financial performance and set realistic revenue goals for the upcoming year. Assess profit margins, identify areas for cost-cutting, and establish achievable revenue targets as tactics for sustainable growth.
  • Court feedback: Gather and analyze client feedback to gain insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your business. Did they have preferences that maybe aren’t as quirky as you thought and are possibly more and more common? What evolving market trends are they tracking about materials or design ideas—for better or for worse—and what’s your plan to address them? Everyone says architects are part-time therapists to their clients, but thinking along these lines (with all kidding aside) will help you increase their satisfaction. It’ll also increase the chances they’ll come back to you again and again for future projects. 
  • Hold a proper communications, messaging, and marketing strategy review: What are you saying about yourself and your services, and how are you saying it? Have you evaluated your current marketing strategies and campaigns before rubber stamping the next one? Identify the channels that net you business and the campaigns that have yielded a return on your investment. Explore new social media channels, even if you don’t think you have time for “another thing” because, guess what, your clients are on those channels. Investing in messaging, social media, digital marketing, and content creation can significantly expand your business’s visibility and customer base.
  • Technology brings innovation, but also headaches: Evaluate the efficiency of your business operations and consider workflow software to keep projects moving (And especially if you’re collaborating with other firms on a regular basis). But, if you suspect that you spent too much time in front of a Miro board or a Gantt chart, you’re probably right. Nothing beats pen, paper, coffee, and a face-to-face conversation to work out thorny problems. Adopting digital tools and software can enhance productivity, improve customer service, and reduce operational costs—there’s no doubt about it. But, adopting doesn’t mean assimilating with the Borg. 
  • Develop employees to retain them: Whether you employ three people or 13 people or 30 people, the key word here is “employ.” Their satisfaction and development are part of the landscape for them, just as their hard work and commitment are part of the landscape for you. Provide opportunities for skill development, training, and career advancement to boost their morale and productivity—even if that’s a quarterly outing or even a game of pickleball in the courtyard with beers. (Pro tip: don’t make it “forced-family-fun.” Make it a day that’s alluring and relaxing and that gives people options rather than obligations.) Recognize and reward outstanding performance to motivate employees, too, which is too often overlooked as a simple but effective morale booster. Why? Happier employees lead to happier workplaces, which is an added value beyond revenue you can’t afford to ignore. 

By prioritizing these key areas at the bottom of the year—and before hitting the new year— small businesses can position themselves for success.

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.