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Ten Lessons (From Ten Years) As A Sole Practitioner | 017
Episode 17 β€’ 22nd February 2024 β€’ Architecture Business Club - For Architects, Architectural Technologists, Surveyors & Designers β€’ Jon Clayton
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In this episode, Jon shares 10 key lessons from his decade-long experience as a sole practitioner in architecture. He talks about the importance of learning from mistakes, understanding your financial state even if you're not motivated by money, delegating tasks, and building an emergency fund in your business. He also emphasises the need to make progress over perfection, continuing to find joy in your business, and connecting with others to avoid feeling alone in your journey. Jon encourages you to learn from his mistakes so you can build a profitable future-proof architecture business.

Episode Highlights...

00:00 Introduction and Welcome

00:47 10 Years of Experience: The Journey Begins

01:23 The Reality of Being a Sole Practitioner

01:56 Learning from Mistakes: The Hard Truths

03:00 The Importance of Money in Business

04:46 The Gap in Architectural Education

06:52 The Power of Differentiation in Architecture

08:24 The Impact of Relocation on Business

10:43 Dealing with Unexpected Crises

12:11 The Perils of Perfectionism

13:18 The Struggle of Doing Everything Yourself

17:11 The Loneliness of Running Your Own Business

19:10 Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Key Takeaways...

πŸ‘‰ Learn from your mistakes, fail fast, and move on.

πŸ‘‰ Don't neglect your understanding of money and financial management, even if you're not primarily motivated by money.

πŸ‘‰ Running a successful architecture business requires more than just being a great architect or designer, it requires developing business skills and knowledge.

πŸ‘‰ Educate your customers about the value you offer and how you work.

πŸ‘‰ Look for ways to diversify your income so you're not solely reliant on referrals.

πŸ‘‰ Build an emergency fund in your business to prepare for unexpected crises.

πŸ‘‰ Focus on making progress rather than pursuing perfection in your business.

πŸ‘‰ Delegate tasks that don't align with your strengths and priorities.

πŸ‘‰ Take the initiative to seek support and connection with others in your field.

πŸ‘‰ Your architecture business journey doesn't have to be lonely, find your tribe and create connections.

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πŸ‘‡ Click the link below to grab the Architecture Business Blueprint 🎁

It’s the FREE step-by-step formula to freedom for architects, architectural technologists, and architectural designers.

https://architecturebusinessclub.com/blueprint

-----

πŸ‘‡ Join the waitlist & chat group for our Community & Mastermind (for FREE)🎁

https://architecturebusinessclub.com/waitlist

πŸ‘‡ And if you enjoyed this episode…

Please leave a 5-star review or rating wherever you listen to podcasts, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button so you never miss an episode.

πŸ‘‡ Follow or Connect with Jon on LinkedIn at...

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mrjonclayton/

In The Next Episode...

Next time Jon chats about the power of mastermind groups with expert business mentor Chris Ducker.

Transcripts

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After a decade.

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As a full-time sole practitioner in architecture, I've made many

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mistakes and learned more than a few lessons, the hard way.

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And I bet you love to hear about some of those mistakes, right?

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That's exactly what I was sharing with you in this episode of

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architecture business club.

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The weekly podcast for solo and small firm architecture practice owners,

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just like you, you want to build a profitable future proof architecture

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business that fits around their life.

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I'm the host, John Clayton.

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If you want to get notified when a release in your episode and access to

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free resources and exclusive offers.

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Then go to Mr.

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John clayton.co.uk forward slash ABC.

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And sign up to my free weekly email newsletter.

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Now let's dig into 10 lessons from 10 years as a sole

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practitioner in architecture.

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Hey, everybody.

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Welcome to architecture business club.

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This episode is going out around February, 2024.

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Which marks the 10 year anniversary of when my architecture business

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stopped being a side hustle.

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When I handed in my notice, left my job and went all in on my business as

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a sole practitioner in architecture.

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I'd love to tell you that everything worked out perfectly.

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That it's all been a roaring success.

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But in truth over the last 10 years as a sole practitioner,

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I've personally found it.

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Really hard.

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And made a lot of mistakes along the way, too many mistakes to

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list in a single podcast episode.

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So to make your life as a sole practitioner or as a small practice owner,

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a little easier, I thought I'd share.

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10 lessons that I've learned the hard way so that you don't have to.

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Like when I spent nearly a grand on brochure ads that led to zero leads.

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All the time I rushed into outsourcing a drawing package

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for the provider's work to be.

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Total rubbish.

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I honestly spent more time red panning his drawings of all the bits he'd missed.

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Then it would have taken me to just draw it all myself and I still had to pay

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his 2000 pounds invoice Or the time.

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I spent months planning a rebrand.

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And a significant chunk of cash on a brand new website, which with hindsight.

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Was totally unnecessary at that time, or when I took on a difficult client,

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even though my gut was telling me otherwise, Inevitably there were

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problems and I totally mishandled it.

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And then I got really stressed out trying to resolve them.

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Some mistakes have been big, some have been small.

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You will make mistakes running your business.

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So don't beat yourself up about it.

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Lesson one is Learn from your mistakes, fail fast and move on.

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So, as you can tell, I've made a few expensive mistakes along the way, and

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this is not an excuse, but maybe my.

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My financial naivety.

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Was perhaps because I was never really motivated by money.

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Obviously I need money to get by.

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We all need money, but I never thought out of money as being particularly important,

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TIMI, the things that I'd always valued more than money were things like freedom

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and fulfillment in the work I was doing.

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They.

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The freedom to work when and where I wanted to be able to pick my kids

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up from school to, to never miss the school sports day or the kids'

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Christmas play to have flexible working hours and family holidays.

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When I wanted to.

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And also to be fulfilled in what I was doing, like being able to choose.

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What clients and projects I worked on being the decision maker in

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the business and getting all the personal and professional development

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opportunities that I'd been craving.

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But even if your motivation isn't money.

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Money is the lifeblood of your business.

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If there isn't enough money flowing through your business, then you won't be

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able to enjoy the level of freedom and fulfillment that you've always wanted.

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In fact.

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You could end up with less freedom than when you're employed and even

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worse, you could end up feeling so unfulfilled in your work that you

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even consider returning to employment.

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And I know this is true because I've been there.

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A number of times during the last decade, when I've had those very

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thoughts running through my mind.

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So lesson two is even if you're not motivated by money.

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Don't neglect.

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Get into grips with your numbers.

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Look, I'm sure you're great at what you do.

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And as a chartered architectural technologist, I thought I was great too.

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Like particularly when it came to technical design on dealing with people.

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So, because I was like, by all accounts, doing pretty great

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at my job, I thought that would translate to being pretty awesome.

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At running my own architecture business.

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Like how wrong was I.

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Like there's so many.

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Or the soft skills that are required to run your own business, whether

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that's as a sole practitioner or as part of a partnership or as

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the principal of a small practice.

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And unfortunately, Coran architecture courses.

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Whether that's traditional architecture of your training to be

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an architecture as a technologist.

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Or related professions that just don't provide enough education on

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the business side of architecture.

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If they did that, maybe we wouldn't need podcasts like this.

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So most of us start off our businesses without really having a true understanding

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of what is going to be involved and what proportion of your time you'd

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need to spend doing unfamiliar or uncomfortable tasks, basically everything

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else other than the project work.

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That you already know how to do.

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So less than free, is that being a great architect, a great architectural

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technologist or a great designer.

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Is not a north to fries as a sole practitioner or small

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practice owner in architecture.

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In fact, this might blow your mind a little bit.

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It's not even essential.

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The truth is you don't need to be a great architect or architecture designer to

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run a thriving architecture business.

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As much of that work can and probably should be delegated anyway.

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But unless you're already a skilled business person, you may need to invest

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time and money in education coaching.

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Uh, mentor, ring to plug your knowledge and confidence gaps.

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So that you can become the person you need to be for your architecture

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business to really thrive.

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During my time as a sole practitioner, I've worked with many domestic clients.

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I would get really frustrated that they didn't value what I

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offered in the way that I did.

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They didn't really understand what work was involved in their project.

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And.

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They usually thought that anybody that could draw a set

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of plans was, was an architect.

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Including me.

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Even though that this architects, this architectural technologist

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is architectural designers, the surveyors, there's all sorts of

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different people working within the world of architecture that offer.

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What can seem for particular domestic client to be a very similar service.

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What we do is complex.

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You know how to do it.

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But your customers don't even the ones that claim to have some knowledge

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about the process or perhaps have worked with an architect before.

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So even if you follow a similar process to other practices, such as following

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the rib plan of work, you are different.

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Your personality.

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Your design approach, your values, how you communicate with your clients,

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even down to things like your response times, your presentation style.

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It is all different.

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And your customers.

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Only know what you tell them.

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So make sure you tell them.

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Everything they need to know to understand how you work, where you sit in the

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marketplace and what value you offer.

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So lesson four.

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Is that educating your customers is on you.

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When I started my architecture business, I didn't know that within

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a few short years, my family and I would relocate across the country.

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Despite my original business aspirations, my niche had become my local area

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with 90% of my customers within a 1550 mile radius of my hometown.

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So when we relocated.

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250 miles away from Lancaster to Norfolk.

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It threw up.

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Many challenges, and I try to ease this transition.

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By setting up a virtual office address and a local phone number

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in east Anglia ahead of the move.

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But reality, it was like starting from scratch again.

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Uh, my income nosedive after we moved.

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If your customer base is local and you rely solely on referrals,

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relocating can be really hard.

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In the absence of.

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You know, not having enough.

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Uh, clients in east Anglia, I spent the first 18 months or so after

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we, we moved traveling back and forth to Lancashire once a month to

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serve the clients that were still getting in touch from that area.

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And, you know, I won't lie.

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It was full at first because I didn't know many people in Norfolk and, uh, had the

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opportunity to visit family and friends.

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But the novelty wore off over time.

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In hindsight, had I had a true specialism or perhaps a laser focus

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niche or, or a way of working that was genuinely different to the norm.

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I could have attracted higher value clients from further a field.

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I'd have been less dependent on clients from just my local area.

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And perhaps I could have also looked at creating and

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promoting some online services.

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Or, or resources that I could get paid for.

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Which would have further protected my income if, and when we decided to move.

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So lesson number five is to look for ways to diversify your income.

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So you are not just relying on referrals.

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Remember, don't forget to subscribe to my free weekly email newsletter.

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You can do that at mrjonclayton.co.uk/abc.

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And if you are enjoying this episode then please visit podchaser.com,

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search for Architecture Business Club and leave a five star review.

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Now, back to the show.

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At some point in your working life, you may be faced with a crisis that results

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in you taking unexpected time off work.

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This could be health related.

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It could be family related.

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For me.

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My crisis was being diagnosed with testicular cancer.

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No, don't worry.

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I'm cured.

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And what I went through is probably a story for another day and probably

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even for a different podcast.

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But the whole experience resulted in a chunk of unplanned time off work.

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At a point when I had no financial contingent say.

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Uh, as it was during the height of the COVID pandemic, I did have the option of a

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bounce back loan to help with my cashflow.

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And if it wasn't for that, I'd have probably gone bust.

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Now you might not have faced.

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Challenges like this yet, but if you're a sole practitioner or if

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you're in business for long enough, the probability of encountering some kind

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of unexpected crisis is going to go up.

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And you can either ignore this.

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We can do something about it.

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So lesson six, if you haven't done so already is to start building an

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emergency fund in your business.

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And if funds are tight, start small, it's something that you can build up over time.

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I would say perhaps enough money to cover free months of all of

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your outgoings, your running costs, you salary salary requirements

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is a good place to aim to begin.

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People that know me well know that historically I've been

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quite the perfectionist and.

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I used to look at this as an admirable trait, which in many instances it can be.

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I mean, I would spend countless hours working on like one architectural

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drawing to get it just right.

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Even though it was probably good enough to issue hours before, or I would spend

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ages pondering over a new business idea so much so that I got bored of it

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before I even had chance to implement it or launch it into the world.

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As the business owner.

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It can stifle your opportunities for growth.

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If you are constantly striving for perfection in everything that you do.

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So lesson seven is when it comes to your business.

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Dawn is better than perfect because once it's done that can be iterations.

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There can be improvements.

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You can quickly test whether things work or not.

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Focus on making progress, not creating perfection.

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Stop overthinking or procrastinating, just get it done.

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I move on.

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When I started as a sole practitioner, at least in the beginning, I expected

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to be doing most, if not all of the work myself, you know, actually doing the work.

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The architecture stuff, delivering the architectural services that, that clients

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had paid money for, for me to provide.

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Plus, you know, the other stuff that needed to be done to like the book,

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keeping the sales calls, update you, my website, answering the phone.

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Some of these tasks are things that I'd expected.

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And those are the tasks that perhaps not so much things that I

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didn't expect I would need today.

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But I'd thought that over time, as I made more money, that I'd be able to afford

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to outsource tasks, hire team members, to increase my capacity and ultimately

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to grow our business and my bank balance.

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In the process.

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In reality.

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I found it very hard to let go of doing all of the things.

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Nobody could do the work as well as I could.

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I mean, nobody knew my business like I did, and I, I couldn't

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afford to hire anyone at the time.

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Right.

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This is what.

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Expert business mentor Chris Ducker calls, superhero syndrome.

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This is where you tell yourself that.

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Only you can do it, that you have to do everything that you

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can manage to juggle it all.

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In hindsight, I totally got it the wrong way round by doing everything myself.

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I'd severely limited the number of projects that I could take on.

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So my potential revenue is restricted.

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And I ended up stuck in a loop.

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Getting by each month, hand to mouth and, and really not.

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Feeding, like I could get to that next step in my business journey.

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On the other hand, if I'd let go of as many tasks that I could through

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simplifying what I did outsourcing hiring the right people, then I would

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have been able to take on more projects.

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I'd make more money.

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And ultimately all the help that you need is just a phone call or an email away.

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There are other people out there.

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That can do things as good.

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If not better.

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The new, so less than eight is do what you do best.

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Delegate the rest.

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So the next time you try to figure out how to do a task or how to squeeze

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another task into your weekly schedule.

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Why not stop and ask yourself.

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Who could do this?

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As I mentioned already.

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There is a lot of stuff to do just to keep your business running,

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nevermind, growing your business.

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And it stands to reason that.

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You are not going to enjoy doing every single thing in your business yourself.

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You know, I bet.

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When you thought about starting your own architecture business,

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you didn't think, oh man.

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I just love bookkeeping accounting.

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I can't wait to open that spreadsheet today or reconcile

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those account transactions or, or complete my tax return.

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Like yay.

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Completely.

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My PI insurance renewal forms.

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Awesome.

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I can't wait, fiddling my graphics or writing captions

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for your social media accounts.

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Oh man.

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I just live for this stuff.

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Obviously I'm joking here.

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And it's not just the non architectural businessy admin

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stuff that can steal your joy.

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It can be the architectural work too.

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Especially if you have that.

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Scarcity mindset where you can't help, but say yes to every

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single inquiry that comes free.

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Even though that some of them you might already know deep down,

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they're not a good fit for you.

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It's not the type of project work that you, you want to be involved in or,

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or that you want to become known for.

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So lesson nine is.

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You get to decide what you do in your business and what

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direction your business goes.

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So, if you're personally doing things in your business that

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you don't enjoy doing or doing something that SAPs the joy of you.

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Get somebody else to do it.

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And if it's something that doesn't make any money.

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Maybe you should think about stop doing it altogether.

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I consider myself to be.

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More of an introvert than an extrovert.

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I like my own company, so I thought working alone would suit me.

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And besides.

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Some colleagues could be a little bit annoying, frankly,

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a bit useless sometimes.

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Um, I'm not gonna mention any names.

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So when I went all in on my business full time and I left the other practice that

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I was working on, I was really surprised at how much I missed having colleagues.

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I didn't have anyone by my side to quickly run ideas by or to.

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Sense check how to respond to a psych query or a client request.

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There was none of those like water cooler moments or chats during the

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coffee breaks about, you know, what we've been up to at the weekend or

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about the, the TV box set that somebody was hooked on all the amazing gig

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that someone had been to recently.

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There is no more office nights out or staff summer barbecues or

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Christmas parties to get invited to.

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Running your own architecture business can be very lonely as,

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especially as a sole practitioner.

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And at times I felt really lonely.

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Especially when we, we first relocated to Norfolk.

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What I didn't realize at the time was that I was, I was craving connection.

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Connection that had been lost.

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So, if you're feeling this way, don't wait for somebody to call

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you or, or wait for that event, invitation to land in your inbox.

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Be proactive and seek out ways to connect with your kind of people, whether that's

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in-person over the phone or online.

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So lesson 10 is.

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Don't do this alone.

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Go find your tribe.

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And aim for the amount of connection that you personally need to stay sane to

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make being your own boss is enjoyable.

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And from.

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Whether that's a little or a lot of connection, whatever works

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for you is absolutely fine.

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So that's a wrap.

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If I've shared anything that's resonated with you or it's been helpful in some way.

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Then, please let me know.

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You can drop me a message on LinkedIn or Instagram, or you can send me an email.

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And I'll make sure that all of my contact details are in the show notes.

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Next time I'll be chatting.

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About the power of mastermind groups with expert business mentor, Chris Docker.

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Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Architecture Business Club.

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If you liked this episode, think other people might enjoy it.

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Or just want to show your support, then please visit podchaser.com.

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Search for Architecture Business Club and leave a glowing five-star review.

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It would mean so much to me and makes it easier for new

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listeners to discover the show.

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If you just want to connect with me, you can do that on most social media

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platforms, just search for @mrjonclayton.

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The best place to connect with me online though is on LinkedIn.

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You can find a link to my profile in the show notes.

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Remember running your architecture business doesn't have to be hard.

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And you don't need to do it alone.

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This is Architecture Business Club.

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