Business development

We support creative businesses working across the built environment as they plan for the future. We’ve worked with many of the largest, lots of the medium sized and some of the smallest practices in the land.


On this page we talk about how we can help create a practice manifesto, implement a business strategy, offer Board level support and undertake business health-checks

Creating a manifesto:

There is much more to running a creative business than simply making money.  

We work from first principles helping our clients define their aspirations and defining short and long-term business strategies to achieve professional as well as business success : whether they are starting a new practice or renewing enthusiasm in one that is well established.

No two practices need the exact same attention, so our service is always flexible. Sometimes we only get involved for a few hours, offering strategic advice but, more often, we undertake short bursts of activity to help establish and embed a plan over a number of months.

We have helped the leaders of more than 100 architectural, engineering and design firms plan how to achieve their long-term business aims. 

If you think we could help, please contact us : alex@colander.co.uk

STEP 1: Gathering information

There are three areas where Colander can help: 

1. INTERNAL REVIEWS

Helping key people articulate their aspirations for the practice

2. MARKET PERCEPTIONS

Talking to clients, consultants and others in the industry, to understand how the practice is perceived

3. TRENDS AND BENCHMARKING

Reviewing financial, marketing and business management data to understand critical issues

STEP 2: Agreeing aspirations

We very often get involved in running and facilitating away days.

We have an enviable reputation for helping teams establish consensus and enthusiasm for a shared practice manifesto, while addressing the fundamentals of both professional and business success.  

STEP 3: Creating a strategic plan

We often work with practices to develop plans for achieving different elements of their manifestos:

•  Practice development and growth
•  Practice culture and ethos
•  New business development
•  Client relations
•  Marketing 
•  Finance and investment 
•  People management
•  Working methodologies
•  Admin and support 

Sometimes we take a longer term view, helping to ensure that these plans are properly actioned, monitored and implemented.

“Colander has helped us to focus on strategic decisions in a way we would struggle to do in the midst of all the normal pressures of running a practice. Caroline is an excellent communicator, very perceptive, and fun to work with.”

— Phil Hudson, Partner, Price & Myers Consulting Engineers

Implementing the strategy:

They say 'structure follows strategy' and a sympathetic and responsive management structure is needed to develop and retain a creative culture.    

Having defined aspirations and established a plan, the next step is to create the right business model to enable success, drawing on management and support frameworks that are light-touch but effective.

Management structures

Because we understand the difficulties of working as professionals in the built environment, we often help practices develop their own specific ways of managing their creative businesses, we might look at:

•  Teams and reporting lines
•  Skills and behavioural requirements
•  Job descriptions
•  Job titles
•  Support team structures
•  Remuneration and rewards
•  Appraisals for senior people

Succession planning

Succession is probably the most difficult area of business management for design-led organisations.  

We are good at facilitating the right conversations with senior people and establishing the skills, expertise and behaviours that are needed from future leaders. 

We often help aspiring leaders learn new skills and prepare for future roles.  We do this through consultancy advice, as well as through tailored and targeted training or coaching.

Legal structures

We often work alongside tax and legal experts to help our clients find the right ownership structures to enable a smooth transition of power, that allows senior individuals to feel rewarded while ensuring that the business can continue to flourish and grow.

“Caroline’s years of experience of working with Architects gives her a vital insight into their strengths and weaknesses, allowing her to offer cogent and constructive advice across many areas of architectural practice.”

— Paul Monaghan, AHMM

Board level advice :

Because our founder Caroline Cole has many years’ experience working across the built environment – both on the supply and the demand side of the industry – she now acts as a board advisor to selected design focused practices.

In this role she helps overlay a more business-like but still innovative approach to management and operations, without destroying a practice’s ethos or ability to create exceptional architecture. She attends board meetings and helps practice leaders develop robust yet inspiring business strategies, while evaluating the day-to-day in the context of longer-term aspirations and the prevailing market conditions.

Business health checks :

Drawing on our knowledge of benchmarking the profession, and on Michael Holmes’s extraordinary experience of growing one of the UK’s most successful architectural firms, we offer practices a health-check on their business operations.

We help practices review and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of their underlying business trends. To be useful, this analysis needs, of course, to address financial trends but it is remarkable how important marketing activities, client types, project types, staff numbers and skills, R&D activities and so on are to the bottom line and, perhaps more importantly to the satisfaction of those working in the practice.

So, while we consider where profit is ‘leaking’ it is our aim to suggest ways to tighten procedures without undermining the fundamental purpose of most practices: to create great architecture.

Colander has been benchmarking the architectural profession since 2001, most recently running the RIBA’s Business Management benchmarking survey of all Chartered Practices from its inception through to 2014. This has given us unparalleled insight into what does and doesn’t make architectural business work, as well as giving us access to data that has enabled us to establish a series of universal best practice benchmarks for the profession.  

Our Colander Conversation: Knowledge is Power addresses many of the key issues relating to benchmarking an architectural practice.