Small-business owners, what are you doing to stand out from the crowd? Each week, we focus on an entrepreneur who has lessons to share that we think will resonate with other small-business owners.
John J. Hoffmann, founder of building rehabilitation firm Hoffmann Architects, answers our questions:
What are you doing to stand out from the crowd?
Our pitch at Hoffmann Architects has been to play up our technical acumen, which appeals to cost-conscious building owners in this economy. We’ve also gotten some help from the broader construction sector. Unlike typical architects who design new structures, we focus on rehabilitating existing buildings. Because our business doesn’t depend on new development, our company won more work as the downturn brought new construction to a halt. While other architects were sent scrambling for new jobs, our firm continued to find faulty windows, damp walls and damaged plazas in need of repair. Even though we’ve managed to be in the right business at the right time, we realize that the more challenging the economic situation, the more aggressive our sales efforts need to be.
What’s the best part about owning your own business?
As the boss, I have the final word on the way the company is run. I have three office directors with unique management styles, and I prefer to be as hands-off as possible to empower them to manage projects and resources, but there are times when it is necessary to step in. Also, nothing makes your jokes funnier than being the boss.
What’s the biggest challenge of owning your own business?
The firm’s reputation is my reputation. Our diverse technical, sales, and accounting professionals represent me as the company president, founder and namesake. When someone makes a mistake, my professional credibility is on the line, even when I had nothing to do with it. (For more on the risks of naming a company after yourself, click here.)
Name:John J. Hoffmann
Business: Hoffmann Architects, a building rehabilitation firm.
Location: New York
Year founded: 1977
Number of employees: 35
Web address: www.hoffarch.com
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?
Since we rehabilitate buildings rather than design them, in a good economy, it’s actually tough for us to attract new architecture graduates. They all want to be designers. As a result, we’re always on the lookout for new talent. I’ve hired employees at a New Year’s Eve party and even, once, a doctor’s office.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Keeping people on when I shouldn’t have. Like most businesses, we’ve picked people who just weren’t right for the job. This not only causes problems for clients, it creates tension among staff and managers who have to cope with a difficult situation. To keep people from wasting valuable time and resources, I’ve learned that it’s better to let employees know sooner rather than later that things aren’t working out.
What’s the best business advice you can offer?
To build a successful business, you need to think in ways that your competitors don’t. Look at specialized markets that others are missing. Join industry organizations and meet as many people as possible. Be involved, be friendly and think like your clients.
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