Group 6 5 minutes Read

studio zerbey / one year in

Lauren Zerbey

Studio Zerbey has officially been in business for over a year now! We haven’t taken much time to reflect on that milestone, so I’m glad for the opportunity to do so here. Starting a new business is no easy feat, but one that has been incredibly rewarding for us so far. To commemorate, we’ll be posting a three-part series on year one. This first post will cover an overall look at our firm – what this last year has included and what we’re planning for the future. In the next posts, we’ll talk about work-life balance and get into specifics about the type of projects we’re working on.


+ Start Up: For the first few months our time was divided between new projects and start-up tasks. (The photo above was taken during our first week, before we had ordered our new work stations or set up our offices!) We took care of the basics first: forming an LLC, obtaining state and city business licenses (and later amending those documents after Kyle joined), professional liability insurance, health insurance, setting up a business banking account, creating a website and business cards (thanks to Anna!), seeking out a competent attorney, hiring an accountant and purchasing bookkeeping software. Those tasks weren’t necessarily difficult, but there was quite a bit of legwork to find the right resources, make the appropriate phone calls and review the different options. Actually, I completed many of these tasks during the first few months after Avery was born – ahh, maternity leave for the self-employed! After we were all legit, we focused on hardware and software. Because we provide a professional service in lieu of a product, our overhead is rather low. That said, our computers and digital storage are one of the most vital aspects of our business. We chose to buy the best we could, creating an efficiency that could be passed along to our clients. Additional expenses included some office supplies, reference books and bulking up our materials library. Now that we have what we need, we feel like we’re running a pretty tight ship over here at Studio Zerbey and will have only minimal overhead expenses during year two.


+ Working Together: I was a little hesitant about what it would be like working together, but one year in we’re doing great. One of the big realizations we had is that having career fulfillment is WAY more important to how happy we are as a couple than any challenge or hurdle we’ve faced running a business together. We don’t always agree on everything, but in the grand scheme of things we’re always on the same page, playing for the same team. Last December, we talked about our strategies for working together and we’ve stuck to them. We each have our own office spaces and for the most part manage our own projects – though we also regularly collaborate or help each other out. In addition to dividing our work load, we’ve also developed a good strategy for dividing all those non-billable tasks. For instance, Kyle handles contracts and any IT issues, while I do the bookkeeping, invoicing and website upkeep. Again, these tasks came from a natural extension of what our individual strengths are, so there was never any squabbling over who got to do what. In fact, it’s a similar approach to how we handled the remodel and our work-life balance in general (which we’ll get into more in the next post!). Not only has this strategy worked well for us as husband-and-wife architects, but it’s an added efficiency that allows us more time to focus on our clients.


Our two offices, as of about 15 minutes ago. (I tried to use my camera’s timer to include myself in a shot, but the results were comical.) I think it’s funny how Kyle and I are on two different ends of the spectrum when it comes to office seating, but I really do love that yellow stool! Also, our two extra dining chairs serve as useful “spouse seats”. 🙂


+ Spreading the Word: We’ve spent a good amount of time this past year thinking about and brainstorming ideas for marketing. Right now, about half of our work is in the Seattle area and half in other parts of the U.S., which makes us think differently about how we promote our firm. Referrals and word-of-mouth are still incredibly important resources for getting new work, but we’re also exploring other avenues to get our names out there (such as Houzz and the Seattle chapter of the AIA). But after tracking visitors to our website over the last year, we’ve realized that our biggest marketing tool by far is this blog. (Hi!) We have had the privilege of talking to and working with so many people that came to us through the blog. Oh, and while we’re on the subject – a huge thank you to our clients. Seriously, it is amazing to work with so many smart and thoughtful people on a regular basis.


+ Personal Satisfaction and The Road Ahead: I don’t mean to sound like everything is puppies and bunnies all the time (we definitely have challenging days!), but overall we are making a living doing what we love and it’s hard to top that. So yes, personal satisfaction is high. That said, we’ve also worked really hard to get to this point in our careers. The timing was right, we made the leap and we haven’t looked back since. So what’s ahead for Studio Zerbey? We’re looking forward to expanding our list of projects and seeing some move into construction in the next year. Although we’re in a nice groove of just the two of us working from home – we haven’t ruled out the possibility of hiring employees or getting an office space at some point. Those are two major decisions and ones that we’d give considerable thought to before making any changes. For now, our focus is on the quality of our work.


+ The Takeaway: Prior to forming Studio Zerbey I read dozens of blog posts and articles on the subject, often inspired by what other people were achieving. This post is in part a means to share what we’ve learned in the past year. When starting a new business, it’s easy to just dive in and work, work, work so one of the best pieces of advice we can give is get organized! For us, we have a few essential tools: a shared Google calendar that has everything in it (work and personal), individual time sheets that are then referenced into a master file that tracks project fees and overall billing data and weekly Monday meetings to discuss the week ahead and assign tasks if needed. (This also serves as a good time to check-in on the status of each project.) In other words, the small stuff adds up. Don’t cut corners.

Finally, make time for the things that fuel your work. This is a hard one for architects and can be even more challenging when you’re wearing all the hats of a business owner (and new parent!), but being a creative person means constantly finding inspiration and ideas outside of work. And although we’ve been licensed for nearly five years, you never stop learning either. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking extra courses or reading every design magazine out there, but more about being aware of your surroundings, always asking why and how, and continuing to go down the paths that are the most fulfilling.