We’re zooming into 2010 and while the design and construction industry is still taking a beating, we’re keeping busy here at the BUILD world headquarters. We get a lot of questions about how we’re keeping busy and what we’re doing in an economy like this – so we figured we’d put a post together on the top 10 tips for not only staying alive but attempting to flourish in the current economic climate. As per usual, take our list with a grain of salt; this list isn’t right or wrong and it’s certainly not the only way to do it. It’s worked for us for several reasons; we haven’t had to decrease our staff, everybody is getting paid, we feel good about the way we’re spending our time, and we’re still taking on projects of a high quality. So here goes:

1. Diversify: and we’re not talking about doing hand renderings in addition to being a CAD monkey. We’re speaking of real diversity; learn how to engineer a simple wood structure, sign up for a welding class, take on some construction management. The age of specificity and spending every day comfortably designing a certain type of project is over. We’ve learned enough engineering over the years to do a structural package for simple projects and remodels. It’s rewarding, brings the engineering cost down a bit for clients, and puts more work on our plates.  We’ve also taken on our own finished photography and we’re never going back.

2. Get Scrappy: get your hands dirty, make something. There is always a market for sensible, useful products. In our case we opened a cabinet shop and we’re in the process of designing and manufacturing a pre-fab re-usable Christmas tree for the next holiday season.

3. Get humble: we don’t particularly care where you got your degree from and what your masters thesis was about. In the new economy, if you can’t do something useful then you won’t be needed. Each of us here at BUILD (partners included) have put in some elbow grease at the SPD shop refreshing and upgrading our knowledge of craft and putting quality together, physically. This includes sanding, sweeping floors and making dump runs too.

4. Time is always valuable: the extra time you have now is not “free-time”, it’s a valuable commodity to be spent in different places like marketing, networking and blogging. We’ve made time to rework the BUILD website and have established a design blog full of valuable content.

5. Become part of the new social network: if you’re not running a blog you need to become part of one. Tribes are being formed in the digital realm based on beliefs, philosophies and the trading of significant information; it’s also where the important conversations are happening. These tribes are banding together, promoting each other and helping each other tackle things like a tough economy. All it takes is seeking out some blogs that speak to you, following along and getting involved in the discussion – so hit that comments button. Most magazines are slow, static and have politically correct agendas to abide by; the blogging world is fast, fluid and can be brutally honest.

6. Eject the distractions like a virus: what you spend your time and effort on is more important than ever. Down economies are victim to marketing seminars, round-table lunch discussions and walk-in-without-an-appointment cold callers. Entire industries are set up to take advantage of the fact that you’ve got more “free-time” than before (refer to #4). If they are not directly and substantially useful, eject them. God help the unfortunate sales people that walk into our office with their optimistic smiles and binders full of irrelevant things.

7. Re-appropriate your skills: take all the skills you’ve accumulated and find new avenues for them.  One of our previous diversifications was developing our own projects.  Given the lack of financing available, we’re pointing our property development expertise to start up new ventures outside of, but supplementary to, architecture. We’re currently in the development stages of some secret projects that we’ll release in a future blog post.

8. Get (stay) small: wear more hats and push your team to take on a wider spectrum of responsibilities and skill-sets. We’ve been a team of 4 for years now and we plan on staying lean. We’re each wearing so many hats these days that there’s hardly reason to add to our team, at the same time each team member is critical to the overall operation. At the project level, revisit previous clients to see what limited services you can provide.  The risk of small projects is diminished when you perform them for highly trusted clients.

9. Sharpen the focus: it seems that there is more of a lackadaisical cultural shift we’re mired in currently.  Our economy and our industry have been kicked squarely in the _____ (pick your favorite colorful term) and it seems like we’re more easily distracted than ever. As a profession, we’re sliding deeper into procrastination. Recognize this ‘slide’ into distraction and reset the focus.  Make sure you do at least 5 important things a day.  Just being busy is unacceptable; taking worthwhile and seemingly ‘hard’ steps to progress is all that matters.

10. Keep working hard: it’s important to be intentional and deliberate even if you’re not billing. There’s still an enormous amount of work to do, it’s just in a different arena now. One of preparation for work you’ll get later.

So there it is, your vitamin BUILD; take it, leave it, or better yet let us know your tips for tackling the obstacles out there.