From Anxious Business Owner to a Confident Expert in her Business: Taylor's Story
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Like many small firm owners, Taylor Plosser Davis, the principal of TPD Architect, was “worried about everything”—every last dollar and project. She was overwhelmed and was missing out on family activities like dinner and spending time with her husband and kids. Taylor had a “huge question mark” about her business: She didn’t know how she might evolve—or even want to evolve her business into the next stage.
The big shift for Taylor was identifying an expertise to focus her business around—one that was also personally meaningful to her: Aging in Place. With the new level focus of direction, Taylor created, marketed and sold her first new expertise-based service within 3 months, and fielded new inquiries for more aligned and bigger budget projects. All while feeling more confident and less anxious in her role as a business owner and in her management skills.
Before the program
Before starting this program, I was feeling a lot of overwhelm and feeling like I was in a rut. Even though I was in a community of other business owners I could brainstorm with; I was struggling with what the next stage of this business would look like—moving from being a sole practitioner to having one employee.
A year ago, I wasn’t sleeping. I was worried about everything, every last dollar, worried about every last project. I wasn’t able to step back far enough to give guidance to the people that were working for me and with me so nobody could see the big picture. I was missing out on family activities like dinner and spending time with my husband and my three kids. I was spending all of my weekends at the office.
I decided to start the program, and in February, things were looking pretty good. Then in mid-March, my business sort of fell off a cliff because of the pandemic. Between the time I signed up and the time we started the work, I started to really have a pit in my stomach and be like, “Why am I even doing this? I may not have a business to even work in in two months!” But I knew that I really needed to get some big picture clarity because things weren’t sustainable as they were.
From Just “Doing the Projects” to an Expertise-Based Practice
The biggest result was a shift from a “project-based” practice in which I was just getting the project, doing the project, finishing the project, then getting the next project—to shifting into an expertise-based practice, and using that as a way to grow. I had sort of dipped my toe into Aging in Place work before I started the program. But at that point, it was informing my projects more than it was informing my practice.
The program helped me to identify that as an expertise I wanted to build, but find my own spin on it: Which is really about finding ways to keep people in the homes they love longer, without sacrificing the beauty of your home—what you loved about your home in the first place.
It’s been a way for me to wrap together so many of the things I love: helping people stay in their homes, historic preservation, and design.
Beyond Drawings: Becoming an Expert
It has opened up all sorts of new avenues for revenue and research and ways to be creative that I didn’t have before.
In the program, I created a new standalone consultation service. It’s called a “Thrive at Home.” Within 3 months of starting the program, I created, marketed, and booked my first consultation.
One of the best outcomes of these consultations is that I can do them as a standalone service. It doesn’t require any more of my time than a few hours, and it gives me the opportunity to be seen as the expert around here in Aging in Place. Because it’s a service that draws on my expertise in a condensed form, it’s more profitable than typical design services.
“I see you everywhere”
It has also given me a marketing opportunity to reach out to former colleagues or friends or clients or realtors or whomever to share this new Thrive at Home service and what it means.
This new service and those opportunities have leveraged my visibility in the community and this market. It’s been a tremendous uptick in my visibility. People are saying, “I see you everywhere.” I have more work than I can take on, and I’m needing to put clients on a waitlist.
It’s also helped us connect with developers and other potential collaborators. We have a cottage development project in which we are partnering with another architecture firm for an assisted living facility that is thinking creatively about their community. We’re working on different collaborations, whereas before we were doing just single-family residential design. It’s been a way to level into a different space—into multi-unit work—in a way that we hadn’t been able to tap into before.
More Head Space:
“I don’t have to know everything about everything”
Developing that expertise has impacted the way I think about my work and gotten me really excited. It’s opened up some headspace for me to think about things differently. It completely helps with the overwhelm and helped me look at what the opportunities and the projects that I was taking are and evaluate them better: Does this support that expertise or allow me to learn something new?
Not that everything I do has to be an Aging-in-Place project, but it’s another tool by which I can gauge whether I should do something. If a project really doesn’t sort of support me in this or another capacity, I can look at it a little more easily and say, “this is not a good fit for me.”
It’s also helping me focus my time and my energy and my investment dollars in education and exposure opportunities.I’m focusing in and saying, okay, the Environments for Aging conference is a really good place for me to be. I may not need to go to the big architecture conference every year because that doesn’t serve me well, and that’s not a good use of my time. It has allowed me to not have to know everything about everything. That’s very freeing to be perfectly honest. It completely helps with the overwhelm.
Building Confidence in Being a Business Owner:
“I am much more at ease with my role as being a business owner”
I think my confidence in my ability to be a business owner shifted significantly in the program. When I started the business, I was confident about the work itself but less so about running the business as it grew.
There were a lot of things that I didn’t know. I was worried about things being perfect. I’ve been able to let go of some of those perfection issues a little bit. I am much more at ease with my role as being a business owner than I was a year ago.
I felt guilty about the aspects of my business that I had been intimidated to tackle, whether that was management skills or my ability to project work.
The program gave me an opportunity to address them in kind of small chunks and really see some impact. Because of the plans and the accountability of this small-steps process, I could go back and track my progress and say, “Okay, this is an area where I’ve had some issues and say, “how have I done with it over the last 12 weeks?”
You just track it. Nobody’s shaming you for it. It gives you the freedom to address them. I don’t feel bad about addressing those challenges anymore.
“It’s ok for it to be hairy and messy.”
Sometimes as a business owner, you just feel like you’re beating your head against the wall trying to find the right way to get through. It’s helpful to have an accountability coach say to you, “look, I’ve seen this in lots of other people. This isn’t strange. This is a business. This is a normal pattern of business.”
This isn’t something you need to be intimidated by. It’s okay to be intimidated, but you try. And if it doesn’t work, so what, you’ve tried it. So that’s how I’m now approaching my business and my husband would definitely say it’s with much less anxiety than I was approaching it before.
Being a business owner is kind of a hairy, messy thing, and it’s okay for it to be sort of hairy and messy. You just need tools to work through some of that mess sometimes and see little bits of light inside all of that chaos. Eventually things even out, and it’ll begin to get hairy and messy again, but that’s okay. It’s normal.
My outcomes, while they are particularly tied to my firm, could just as easily have been tied to my working for another firm or any other space. After going through the program, I’d tell my former self, “this is going to be beneficial regardless. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got two clients or twenty clients. I am comfortable now with being a multiperson office and figuring out what that looks like. And I am really enjoying being a business owner.
Since the program I’ve been able to significantly increase our backlog, and I’m also hiring someone to help take some of the load of project management off my plate, and hiring and empowering my office manager more.
When I think about the future, I see us operating both hyper locally, but also regionally—in other communities and other states, potentially on more of a consulting basis. I think there’s also opportunity for collaboration with the non-architecture sphere, whether that’s looking at the role of products or technology in Aging in Place.
A year ago I would have had a huge question mark in my head, like, I have no idea what growth looks like. Now we’re hiring to take some work off my plate. I just had five inquiries come in, but really the biggest thing is that I have plans around the growth of this business with an impact—in the community and for my clients.
→ A new, more profitable, expertise-based service
→ Projected 25% increase in quarterly fees
→ 2x inquires for new work, in contrast with last year
→ Quarterly Plans with clear outcomes-based goals
→ A clear direction to guide business decisions
→ Confidence to go after bigger projects
→ Booked on her first podcast (and 2 more right after!) to discuss her expertise
→ 6 month waitlist of interested clients