Matt Fajkus | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Matt Fajkus

Background:  

MF Architecture is an award-winning architecture firm designing residential and commercial projects at various scales and budgets. Commercial clients include Hilton Doubletree (Austin Arboretum location), The Hill Country Apothecary and Bastrop Children’s Advocacy Center. 

The Mistake:

Trying to handle all the administrative functions of the firm internally.

I began freelancing in 2010 but was mostly teaching at the University of Texas at the time. I started building a team and launched my firm in April 2011. Since I was a full-time professor, I was in denial for a long time that I actually had a practice. At first, I still viewed the work as a freelance thing.

Because of that, my staff and I were handling all the administrative details of our firm. This included things like payroll, HR and accounting.  There were a lot of instances where I was just overextended.  Because we were spending a lot of time doing these things, the practice ultimately wasn’t able to take on as much work and we weren’t able to deliver projects as quickly. By not letting go of the control of these functions, I was limiting the firm’s growth and putting unnecessary strain on my employees and me. It was exhausting and unsustainable.

Around my third year in business, it became clear to me that I didn’t just need advice from others, I needed to hire actual consultants. Rather than me spending so much time doing payroll, writing up contracts or trying to figure out tax components, I could hire people who could do it all so much better than I could and free myself up to do what I did best.

I finally learned how to accept help from others and coordinate it.

The Lesson:

In those early years as a relatively young firm, I spent a lot of time trying to establish the practice and find ways to define what value I bring to a potential client. I realized that as I spent my time trying to convince others of the value in hiring an architect, that there were others in my business circle doing the same thing – except they were doing work such as accounting or payroll.  I decided it was time I gave those people a chance to prove themselves as well.

It proved to be worth it. It supplemented my firm and allowed me to do what I do better.  It allowed my staff and me to dedicate more time to the projects so we not only delivered work more quickly, we were able to absorb more projects as well. The biggest benefit for the firm was less to do with finances and more to do with the fact that we were able to pay more attention to our clients and have the peace of mind that everything was being done properly. Clearing that mental space and not having that burden over my head that I might be making some fundamental mistake was huge.

So now I not only hire consultants, I have started an internship program that brought in 10 interns from all over the country this summer. I finally learned how to accept help from others and coordinate it.

Follow Matt Fajkus on Twitter at @MattFajkus.

Pictured: Matt Fajkus | Photo courtesy of Garrett Callen/Matt Fajkus Architecture.

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