A ten-point plan for keeping a smile on your face as the economy kicks the crap out of you.

Like many places, the design and construction industry here in the Pacific Northwest is in a disastrous condition. Dire straits, do not pass go, do not collect $200 disastrous. Cash in your 401k and move to Argentina disastrous. Large companies are laying off in droves, medium size companies are now small companies and small companies are hanging on for scraps. The banks have seized-up construction lending and the few potential clients with cash in the bank are shopping architects like buying a used car <cut to image of guy with slick hair and plaid suit>.  Those of us not hiding under their beds are eating a pretty considerable shit-sandwich, and the end of that sandwich isn’t anywhere in sight. But if you’re anything like us you’re going to stay in the ring swingin – and while you’re at it you might as well keep your head held high. Here’s a few tips that work for us:

1.    Stay honest. There are plenty of companies out there spinning their appearance, heaps of designers misleading their clients about how inexpensive everything is going to be, and an abundance of slimy developers staying one step ahead of their foreclosures trail. But at the end of the day, there are the professionals who can sleep, and those whose heavy conscience keeps them up. Be the one that sleeps at night.

2.    Keeping your door open is the new success. There’s plenty of work to do, it just might not be billable. Polish up the marketing package, update the website, sharpen up the graphics package, do some pro-bono work for those who have real problems.

3.    Keep both feet on the ground. Focus on the things that matter most to clients right now; money, schedules and predictability. They can get hand-waving and high-end renderings of things they can’t afford anywhere. Be of use.

4.    Find your street smarts. We’re seeing some down and dirty ideas flourish out there, like hot dog stands and food carts. Don’t underestimate the power of simple ideas that cater to primal and immediate needs. In times like this, uncomplicated and scrappy can triumph over sophisticated and intellectual.

5.    Attitude is not a commodity. That’s great when someone gets a reservation at Per Se for their twenty-seven course tasting menu or that they’re heading to the Venice La Biennale to re-energize their design batteries. But an air of exclusivity shuts our ears off. High-brow posturing doesn’t carry much leverage for solving real problems and getting things done.

6.    Kill ‘em with kindness. There’s a whole lota pissiness out there since 2010 doesn’t have the hope of 2008. One of our friends used to work in the luxury hotel industry and when faced with a difficult (possibly even shouting) customer, they would respond with more kindness than an aggravated person can tolerate.

7.    Find your financial tipping point. It’s reasonable to drop your rates a bit in times like these, or to give someone a better deal on a design or construction package – it goes with the nature of a recession. But drop your rates too far and there’s a tipping point; below that threshold it’s not worth it. If you go below that line it can do such damage to your practice that it makes more sense to go do something else. The risk you take on now is the same as when the economy is strong- professional liability does not fluctuate with the stock market.

8.    Give ‘em hell. We’ve noticed that there’s an awful lot of high-end boutique firms “diversifying” i.e. coming down off their perch to grab work that would ordinarily be below them. It’s a whole new David and Goliath level of competition for us smaller, more cost-effective firms and there’s no reason they should get that work without a solid fight.

9.    Laugh. We also find it useful to combine this with alcohol.

10.    Use it or lose it. If you’ve got a bit more free time than you used to have (back when there was work), use it wisely. Get to those things you’ve always been intending, take those Spanish lessons, get in shape, get back in the wood shop. Whatever it is, do it.  Fill in your time with something your committed to, or life will just fill it in for you.

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