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It’s December and that can only mean one thing – the last installment in my 2009 calendar series is ready for download. December is a chilly depiction of pine trees ready to be decorated to celebrate the season. Download your copy today and remember it’s sized to print on 5×7 card stock.

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This week is Build Boston week in, well, Boston. Sponsored by the Boston Society of Architects (Boston’s local AIA chapter), it’s a week where architects from New England and beyond converge upon the city for a crash course in everything of interest in the profession and pick up their much coveted learning units along the way.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure (or was it self-inflicted torture) of sitting in on McGraw Hill’s 2010 Construction Outlook presented by VP of Economic Affairs, Robert Murray. I say torture only because of the often depressing data that was presented. The good news is things are getting better, the bad news – many of the things that are getting better are merely presenting in lower negative numbers. For example, in 2010 commercial building starts are expected to be at negative 4 percent, in 2009 that number was negative 43 percent.

Here are some  highlights I took away:

  • There’s lots of talk about new urbanism, smart growth and transit oriented development. As I enjoy the benefits of urban living every day I think these are all great things. However, the data is showing that it’s still the big box stores and single family residences that are getting built. I think it’s going to take a stronger economy before developers and banks are flush enough to return to funding more creative urbanistic projects.
  • Residential construction will start rebounding first, composed primarily of single family and small scale multi-family housing. This could be a nice boost for single architects that have decided to set up shop on their own after a layoff. Sole practitioners and/or small firms are more nimble by nature and can reap more from small fee jobs than the big firms can, putting the smaller guys at an advantage for long term success.
  • Having the knowledge and experience working with sites in need of environmental clean-up will be a strong competitive advantage as we see growth in spending resulting from stimulus funds distributed to the EPA, Corps of Engineers and DOE ($17.8 billion). In most cases previous matching requirements for cities and towns to take advantage of these funds will be waved. Money for the 2nd round of stimulus dollars needs to be allocated by March 2010.
  • Now is the time to be looking at transit oriented development as these projects will likely start breaking ground in 2011. However, as I stated in my first point, we need to look at ways to make these successful without relying on big box stores. To make TOD truly livable we need to be thinking lifestyle retail and take the gamble that this market too will come back. In Massachusetts we have Westwood Station as one of our TOD projects that has been put on hold. Robert noted that while this project started out incorporating a mix of lifestyle retail with a couple anchors, the developers are now looking to bring in more big box stores to help lift the project off the ground.

These are just some of the takeaways from 30 data laden pages of slides that were presented. If you’d like a copy of the presentation send me an email and I’ll be happy to share the document with you. Vconyngham [at] gmail [dot] com.

annoyingI’m looking at doing a few different projects at my office. Each one requires the use of an outside vendor. I’ve dealt with salespeople before – hey, I’m in marketing, I’m part of the sales process. But this round has been different. I’m not sure if it’s bad luck or too many people reading too many books on sales processes, but I’ve come across a lot of annoying sales habits lately. I’m sharing my top 5 with you in hopes that you wont repeat the offenses.

My (current) top 5 annoying sales habits:

  • email read receipts – don’t give me an extra step in reading your email. I really don’t care to let you know that I’ve read your message, or deleted it.
  • Pick up the phone and call me if you have a question, but please don’t ask me to attend a web meeting in order to review something mundane. I don’t care about your sales process and looking at a contract via a web meeting just annoys me.
  • Don’t tell me that I need to make a decision today so that you can make your sales numbers for the month – you making your sales numbers is really of no interest to me. Remember, in this transaction I care about me, not you.
  • Emails sent front salesforce – it just makes you look like a sales weasel. Don’t make your tracking process obvious to me. It makes me feel like a number instead of a human being.
  • Don’t tell me what I need before you’ve asked me what problem I’m trying to solve – It makes you sound ignorant.

image credit: flickr user BarelyFitz’s

2590025080_d5ce7bf163Earlier this week I participated in a focus group with the goal of helping a trade organization better communicate with its members. As the group was discussing ways in whcih the organization could improve its communications it struck me, with the increasing popularity of social networking tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter it’s becoming harder to communicate instead of easier. Wait, let me qualify that – it’s becoming easier to find and communicate with strangers and long lost friends, even easier to create new valuable business relationships, but harder to communicate with other groups of people. The reason is the number of tools being used and the different adoption rates. Think about it, when email was the only tool available,most everyone used it. But now, some people primarily use Twitter to communicate, while others use Facebook, and still others use LinkedIn, it comes down to personal preference. Then there are all the other social networking sites out there that people are using.

Conversations are taking place everywhere, but as the tools increase the active listeners become smaller. That’s an important point – your audience may be huge, but your active listeners are much smaller in number. This happens when people join a platform, try it out and then ultimately either become active using the platform or abandon it. And even when they’re active it’s doubtful they’re reading everything you publish.

This particular trade association is doing a lot of things right – they’re on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The problem that was uncovered during the focus group is the very large membership became much smaller as they spread across the different platforms and a large chunk of the membership wasn’t participating on any platform, either by choice or not knowing the channels exist.

It became clear duing the discussion that if you’re not monitoring all three platforms you might be missing some conversations that could lead to beneficial partnerships with other members. But then who has the time to monitor all three? It leads to the question of whether it’s better for the trade association to be everywhere, or if it’s better for them to choose one communication vehicle and make it meaningful. By being everywhere you’re communicating with members in their space, but potentially reducing the quality of the conversation by diluting community engagement. By focusing on one channel you’re forcing your membership to that channel (which may backfire if members don’t like the channel) and providing a larger community of active listeners to take part in conversations. Which is the right way? You tell me.
Image credit: Flickr user djfoobarmatt

NovemberNovember is approaching, a time when our thoughts turn to cornucopias, gourds and pumpkins. It’s the latter that has inspired November’s calendar design. Faintly in the background, you will make our a pumpkin, sketched in vibrant orange, mimicking the warmth of family as we begin to reflect on what we’re thankful for. Download the file here and print our on 5×7 card stock. It’s the perfect size for tacking up at your office.

chocoplatterProcrastination can be helpful (sometimes). I know, it seems counter intuitive. But, over the last two evenings I’ve experienced just how helpful procrastination can be, as long as you manage it productively. Have I lost you yet? Here’s the story – for the last two evenings (maybe even more) my number one priority has been to write a contract for a new chocolate coated adventure I’m embarking on. Only I hate writing contracts, so I’m procrastinating. What have I done instead? I redesigned my website to better communicate my “two sides,” marketing and chocolate. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while, and the looming contract gave me the push I needed (because designing a website is a lot more fun than writing a contract). And now that my website is done, my head is clear, and I’m ready to start that contract. That’s how I harnessed the power of procrastination. Yes, the contract is still mostly unwritten, but my website is finished and I’ve successfully refocused my energy back to the contract. If I had jumped right into the contract, then I probably wouldn’t be here telling you about my website. Instead, it would have stayed on the long list of “nice to haves.”

Interested in seeing the end product of my procrastination? Visit http://www.valerieconyngham.com and if I’ve done my job correctly, you’re likely to learn a little more about me.

Architecture firms are known for their comraderie and collaborative, friendly conduct. It’s rare you hear one firm saying something negative about another in order to bolster itself. As architects we talk about our strenghts and the benefits we can provide to clients over our competitors, but we don’t often come out in the press naming a competitor, unless it’s akin to Architect A wins a project over Architect B, C and D. That’s why I was surprised at a recent Architecture Record article – SOM loses top architect to HOK – that was the headline. I have to wonder, was this pitched to Arch Record by HOK, and if so doesn’t it cross the line a bit? And why would the architect that the story centers around want to be so calouos to his previous employer. It reads a bit like insider information ” While Galioto left SOM by choice, his departure has spurred questions about how SOM is weathering the recession.” My opinion is this – the story paints SOM in a very negative light and doesn’t do much more for HOK either. Your opinion?

You can read the short article here: http://archrecord.construction.com/news/daily/archives/091009som_hok.asp