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Starting a Business – Jeff with original Board & Vellum Logo

Advice for Young Architects

What Was I Thinking? (Learning from Your Mistakes When Starting a Business)

Starting a business is no easy task, and you just can’t expect that you won’t make mistakes along the way. You will make them, we promise. The important thing is to make sure you learn from them once you do. Here are five mistakes Jeff Pelletier made when starting Board & Vellum.

April 2, 2018

Ruh Roh!

This post has been brought to you by Scooby Doo. He’s provided me with one of my favorite phrases when I’ve looked back, opened my eyes, and did a facepalm à la Captain Picard. (You know what I'm talking about… Google it.) You see, I’m good at knowing when I’ve screwed up. I hope it makes me more aware of my actions so I don’t screw up again, but either way, sometimes screw-ups are necessary steps on a path forward.

At least, that’s what I tell myself to feel better. The reality is, I make up a lot of stuff as I go along. I’m (thankfully) quick to embrace the understanding of the sunk cost fallacy and can course-correct rather quickly, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll be done making those stupid decisions, although I wish it would.

So, while I usually write these posts with the goal of educating clients, I’m going to take a little detour today and write this to prospective business owners. (Architects are most applicable, but honestly, anyone starting a business might get a kick out of these bits of advice).

Here, in no particular order, are (some of) the stupid things that I did when starting Board & Vellum that make me think, “What was I thinking?”

  • Don’t list your cell phone as the main company number. Why, oh why, didn’t I get a Google Voice number? To this day, people still call my cell phone trying to connect with one of our 30 staff members. I thought it would be a nice, personal connection for my clients, but it ended up just being a giant nuisance that has haunted me years after I’ve scrubbed the web of my cell phone number.
  • Hire a graphic designer to create your logo. I had read this great series of posts from Modative and I may have adhered to the advice too closely. I love graphic design. I am not, however, a graphic designer. The first logo for Board & Vellum was not a high point in logo design. Know your strengths.
  • Stop trying to be clever. For reasons I honestly can’t understand, I thought it would be really cool if I spelled Board & Vellum as BOARDandVELLUM. Neat, huh? Hell no, what a disaster. Not only could Google not actually read the three separate words (and that matters), but it was a visual and jumbled mess. I’m happy now that we have a really talented team here who would smack that text right out of my virtual hand. Just be direct and simple and stop playing with words.
  • Make your email scalable. My current email address is [email protected]. That was awesome until we hired another Jeff. Whoops. I should have just stuck my full name in there and made a system that works for all size firms. For the record, we now have an alternate email system which also works, which is [email protected].
  • Don’t work in your attic. This one is tough. I saved a bunch of money that allowed me to pour into growth early on by working out of my attic. I also ended up driving all over town to meetings which probably cost more in lost revenue than rent would have. It was also a real challenge separating work from my personal life. (To be fair, there isn’t much of a firm line at the moment either, seven years later, but that’s my own insanity at work, not a company policy.) Find a cheap desk or office somewhere and draw some lines and carve out a tiny place for your clients to meet. A conference room is your friend.

And then, because I can’t help but try and spin things somewhat positively, one of the things I’m most proud of is the company name, Board & Vellum. I spent a good long time brainstorming about names and this one has been scalable and approachable. My own name isn’t in there, which means that our really talented team can stay front and center and not always behind me. Our strength is our team and not my name, and I’m glad I haven’t had to look back and scrub “The Pelletier Posse” from the web. (But wouldn’t you love to see the awesome marketing collateral that name would warrant?)

I only hope that in five years, I don’t have an updated version of this post. Although, if I’m being fair, it would keep me laughing. The truth of the matter is that mistakes are just part of life and the more you can laugh at them while learning a lesson, the better off you’ll be. And besides, if you can’t laugh at a cartoon dog saying, “ruh roh,” then you’re taking life too seriously anyway.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series originally spearheaded by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he has selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s posts. This year, the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme was selected by Cormac Phalen of the Cormac Phalen blog and is: "What Was I Thinking?" To read how others interpreted the theme, please explore the links below.

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
What was I thinking?

Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen (@archy_type)
What was I thinking?

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
what were we thinking: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
WWIT -- Convenience Kills!

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“what was i thinking?”

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
What was I thinking?

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
What Was I Thining?

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
What was I thinking!

Would you like to read more from the team?

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