May 24, 2016

How a motivated young architect found that redrafting expectations really opens doors

CEO Seat: Architect Rebekah Hurworth, the powerhouse behind Family Home Experts, a Brisbane practice specialising in new homes, renovations and extensions.

Architect Rebekah Hurworth, the powerhouse behind Brisbane practice Family Home Experts shares her story.

Were you born to be an architect?

My natural talents are more in the art realm so I always thought I would end up being an artist, but unfortunately, there’s not a very high success rate in that industry, let alone salaries that would make my parents happy! When my mother realised my inclinations towards art – I won my first national art competition in grade one – she strongly encouraged me to look towards careers that would utilise my creative side, but perhaps had a better financial outcome. My mother was an artist, so she understood that side of things and didn’t want that for me. We explored some options that tied art in with a business approach and architecture seemed to be the best fit. I’ve discovered commercial talents as an adult that I didn’t know I had as a teenager, so combining art and business in my practice has been a great match for me.

You had stints at four firms before starting your own. When did you know you’d end up sailing your own ship?

In my early 20s, I realised running a business was not only something that interested me but was something I have an affinity for. The boss of the second practice where I worked said, ‘please, if you want to do it, do it, take it off my hands’. Many architects try very hard to remain an architect, rather than taking on a management role, but in my practice, I stepped away from design work two years ago to focus on growing the business. If you don’t have someone driving the bus, I believe you’re always going to struggle.

One of your marketing initiatives has been to run workshops for real estate agents and property developers. How effective has that been?

It’s worked brilliantly. We started doing that about two years ago when the Brisbane City Council launched a new town planning code. We were shocked to discover how many people in the industry didn’t know about the new rules. So we ran some talks for other architects and town planners, and that received such high interest that we expanded it to include real estate agents and developers, anyone in the building and property sector.

The great benefit is that it’s made us into leading housing industry experts in Brisbane. It worked so well we’ve now launched workshops for homebuyers and renovators. Raising our exposure and credibility naturally results in leads.

Are there plans to expand beyond Brisbane?

Buy Like an Architect, our three-hour workshop has had interest from Sydney and Melbourne, so we’re looking at starting to run sessions down there by the end of the year. There’ve been lots of enquiries from mortgage brokers and real estate agents who’d like that service made available to their clients.

And we’ve already expanded overseas. Four years ago, when I was struggling to grow my business without working 24 hours a day, I discovered outsourcing and opened an offshore office. We put together a team in The Philippines to do all our drafting work, and that allowed my architects in Brisbane to spend more time on design and client contact. There were a lot of enquiries from other firms who wanted to use their services; so many that we ended up setting it up as a standalone business, Wholesale Drafting, last year.

What effect has winning the Stevie Award had on your business?

I’ve had a lot more public speaking engagements. It’s helped lend credibility as we expand outside Brisbane. But probably the best thing it did was that it made our team realise how much we should be celebrating the hard work we put in because we’ve built a business that looks different from anything else in our industry. It’s made us turn around and give ourselves a pat on the back.

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