Why do numbers always come down to words?

I’m a words person, not a numbers person. But I know that in business you can’t ignore the numbers, and I’m always up for getting to grips with that side of things.

So it was in a spirit of enquiry that I went to the Business of Architecture UK event on the ‘7 Threats to an Architecture Business’. I’m a great supporter of what Rion Willard is doing at the Business of Architecture UK. I get my fix through Rion’s weekly podcasts (my companion on many a Southern train journey), but these events are more like a hearty meal. And it’s always good to find myself in a room full of people all interested in the same thing.

I’d been to another Business of Architecture UK event back in the autumn, and I knew the score. That time, we were given a complicated task to do with calculating fees, and I was well beyond my comfort zone. This time, too, the number words came thick and fast: cashflow, payment runs, discounts.

But as the discussion evolved, so the focus changed. And this gradual shift felt strangely familiar. At the last event, calculations about fees soon gave way to words like narrative, story and gut instinct. And now too, things began to move in my direction.

Tim Burgess of Cove Burgess Architects put his finger on why. When you start a business it’s all about the money. You’re chasing it all the time. But then things change. It becomes about time, and about having enough of time to get everything done. But then things change again. You hire people to get those things done. And it becomes all about the people – about keeping them happy, giving them a voice, allowing them to express their interests, and bringing them on board with your vision.

So the discussion evolved in the same way as the trajectory of a practice evolves – from being all about the money to being all about the people.

And here’s the nub of it: if you share what really drives your practice, you’ll be giving everyone the tools to drive the business forward and win work, and you’ll make them feel part of something important – when things are going well but also when they’re not going so well. Well done to David West of Studio Egret West for talking so honestly and inspiringly about this.

So much of what I do is about helping a practice find a way to talk about who they really are and what drives them – which in turn gives everyone involved something concrete and positive to identify with. And it all builds from there. By now, cashflow will have taken care of itself, which is good news for people like me.