Practice Management Q+A with Steffen Welsch

What systems do you use and would recommend for day to day administration of your practice?

We still create cardboard and wood models – tactile tools help us resolve designs, and clients love them. We then use Sketch up and AutoCAD, but we’re switching to Revit. Revit is labour intensive for design but easier to use at documentation. We use Natspec for specs and ABIC contracts for construction.

For the business side of things we use cloud-based software such as Asana (job management), Xero (accounting) and Harvest (time tracking). These are all accessible from mobiles which means we can update or check in while on site, for example. We manage our files by a hierarchical system, a top to bottom structure.

What do you now know about running a small business that you wish you had known when you were starting out?

Ok. Five things I’ve learnt (in no particular order):

  1. Running a small business is all consuming. You rarely switch off.
  2. Whatever you predict a small business will cost to run – double it.
  3.  To Architect, add Salesperson. Sales are now a large part of what you do.
  4. Owning a business gives you freedom to make design, strategy and business decisions. I wish I’d started my business earlier.
  5. Employing the right staff, with the right knowledge, attitude, competence and fit, is crucial

What are your top three tips for running a successful small practice?

  • Be honest about your shortcomings. Find partners, staff or consultants with complementary skills to do the things you’re not good at.
  • Aim for a culture of innovation. We are always on the lookout for better ways to do things, be it systems or architectural practice or communications or marketing.
  • We strive to be ahead of our clients’ needs. I look at it this way: if you design kitchens you need to know how to cook. If you don’t, then you learn, and through learning you understand the role design plays. Developing empathy with clients, without being adversarial, is key to honouring and fostering great working relationships and design outcomes.

Tell us a little bit about your practice  

My practice started as Steffen Welsch + 0 in 2003 and has grown to Steffen Welsch + 4 staff and 2 contractors. We’re based in North Fitzroy – mainly because it’s close to home but also because it’s central for many of our inner north clients. We share a space with an ESD consultant, a marketing firm and two other architects.

Most of our work is residential – units, townhouses, new houses, inner-city extensions and renovations – but we also do commercial fit-outs. We’ve also completed medium size institutional work: an aged care facility, school and most recently an early learning centre.

Learn more about Steffen’s practice by visiting his website: