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RIBA’s free Practice Resilience Digest can help practices stay successful

16 January 2020

Architects today are working in a challenging environment. The UK’s planned departure from the EU is just one of many factors making the future economic climate uncertain.

The RIBA has published the Practice Resilience Digest, a free compendium of expert advice on how a practice can address common problems of the profession. It suggests ways businesses and staff can thrive during a tough time.

It covers everything, from how to make a business plan and dealing with clients, to good book-keeping and making the most of cutting-edge technology. Its 32 features include several on how best to take care of a practice’s biggest asset – its people – with suggestions on wellbeing initiatives and time-management.

The resources and strategies in the Practice Resilience Digest have been compiled to support practices of all scales, making the most of the tools, tips and guidance published via the RIBA’s weekly Professional Features.

Some of the essential business skills that are covered include:

  • best practice in cash flow management
  • developing a business plan
  • setting fees
  • winning work and being paid
  • diversifying into new sectors
  • promoting your practice

Crucially, all of its advice comes from working architects and their built environment peers. These are the insights of successful professionals – the lessons they have learned during good times and bad – and all are grounded in experience.

Peter Farrall is acutely aware of the kind of concerns that trouble practitioners. He runs the RIBA core CPD course ‘Business Resilience’, that will be touring the country throughout 2020.

Farrall was a partner at a small multidisciplinary practice for 25 years, before joining Liverpool University School of Architecture full-time, where he is now responsible for practice management lectures.

He reports that small practices perennially find they need to be so focused on design work when they are busy, they cannot think about what might be coming down the line. This means they find themselves in crisis when an unforeseen event arises, such as the loss of a key client or work drying up in their main sector.

From ‘scenario planning’ to staff mental wellbeing, the Practice Resilience Digest contains a wealth of practical lessons shared by architects

Farrall has carried out his own anonymised research among architects to inform his CPD course, and has consistently found three common concerns. First are worries over client diversity and the risk of being too dependent on any particular type of work. Second are concerns about where their practice stands in terms of competitiveness against their peers - not in terms of fees, but perceived expertise. Thirdly, uncertainty about the wider direction of the industry, markets and the UK - whether that is government policies, shifts in client demands or potential disrupters in their most active sectors.

“Business strategies are often missing,” states Farrall. He also believes that low fees may not necessarily always be due to undercutting. Sometimes it may simply be due to practices not having a proper grasp of their own costs.

The Practice Resilience Digest can help in all these regards, with features on understanding your overheads, and how to formulate a business plan.

Another area it covers is the use of smart software packages. Farrall believes these can be a valuable tool, albeit with a few cautions.

“Clever software packages can be useful for tasks such as resource checking, but people still have to be savvy about the information they are feeding in. They still need to understand the basic principles of resources costing: no software package can work out independently what resources will be needed in the future.”

In other words, there is no getting away from the fact that architects need to understand their own business. Having forward-planning and resourcing strategies in place is key to a resilient practice.

Practice Resilience, resources and strategies to help practices thrive is available to download free in PDF form from the RIBA website.

The RIBA core CPD course, ‘Business resilience: managing a business in uncertain times', will take place around the country from February onwards.

Thanks to Peter Farrall, University of Liverpool.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Business, clients and services.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

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