Fira is an award-winning landscape architecture and urban design practice, creating inspirational environments throughout the UK and overseas from its HQ in Birmingham.
Building strategic growth plans and business resilience for a strong future
Firestarter’s four years of working with Fira saw the business accelerate its business plan by 24-36 months; broadening their proposition across multiple markets, increasing the business development skills of the senior team, and reducing dependency on board members, thereby paving their way towards exit.
Decades of earning a strong reputation for its visionary regeneration projects exposed Fira to risk from a portfolio dominated by public sector clients, particularly in healthcare, in an era of austerity.
Having taken over the reins from one of the founders, Fira’s board, led by co-founder and MD Jane Findlay, saw the need for diversification and differentiation. Their vision was to build the resilience of the business and its team, in preparation for an exit in five or six-years’ time.
Building upon a business growth programme with Cranfield University and achieving ISO 9001 and 14001, the board now sought hands-on support to turbocharge its plans. Firestarter was appointed to work closely with the board in helping to develop the commercial skills of the senior team, complementing their professional practice and strong client relationships.
In fact, so strong were the ‘hands on’ delivery skills of the senior team that a gap had emerged with the junior team. A skills development programme was required to close this gap – developing the next generation to take on day-to-day account management and project work, releasing the senior team to focus on business development and relationship building in the new markets they sought to grow.
However, in common with many professional services, Fira’s senior team didn’t want to become ‘salespeople’. Help was needed to overcome this mindset, broadening an approach to business development that suited the culture and changed perceptions of ‘selling’.
Ultimately, this would reduce dependency on Jane, with the dual benefit of accelerating business growth through greater involvement of the senior team and preparing the way for exit.
Using the concept of ‘The Vital Few’, the Firestarter team worked closely with the board to focus on five or six priorities in the business plan for the year ahead.
This included a new marketing strategy and campaign plan with refreshed messaging. A new CRM system was introduced, building Fira’s networks and developing its client list across a range of sectors, from commercial workspaces to education, healthcare, residential, and higher education, while still delivering infrastructure, public realm, master planning and landscape planning.
Supporting and encouraging the ambitions of the team, the business developed specialisms such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and celebrated its successes.
Firestarter introduced forecasting and planning tools so that everyone was better placed to understand the sales pipeline, project management and profitability of each job.
A clear business development methodology was established, with a rigorous focus on account planning, pipeline management and sales processes. Support from the Firestarter team nurtured confidence among the senior team as they adjusted their approach, becoming much more structured and consistent in following through with business leads and opportunities, using the tools and techniques they’d been introduced to.
“Without Firestarter, we would have been 24-36 months behind in our business plan. Our business became stronger and more resilient with their help. We achieved the diversification that we needed, and this has borne some exceptional work.”
“They changed the mindset of our management team for the better. Everybody became more focused on what they’ve got to do to grow the business. Firestarter really brought some rigour and methodology to our whole business development. Our management accounts became much better, whereas previously they had been labour-intensive and hard to use.”
“I’ve seen the management team really grow, become more confident and take on roles and responsibilities they were reluctant to do before.”
“The legacy of working together has been long-lasting. The management team are well organised, skilled and invested confidently in IT, which paid dividends in the transition to remote working when Covid hit.”
“When I stepped away to take on the Presidency of the Landscape Institute (LI) in 2020 and Phil retired, the remaining board members took over through an MBO. Thanks to the development work we’d done with Firestarter, they already had the skills to run Fira and it continues to adapt and thrive.”
Having become a passionate advocate for developing the commercial skills and resilience of her profession, Jane introduced Firestarter to the Institute, exposing other landscape architects to Firestarter’s academy courses.
“I took everything I had learned from Firestarter – particularly the Vital Few – to my work with the Landscape Institute.”
“Our profession is good at investing in the tangible – kit, technology, professional skills – but less likely to spend money on skills for the business. But this pays dividends and I wish I’d known what I know now, 10 or 20 years ago!”
“We’re a shade-loving species; landscape architects change people’s lives but don’t talk about it. Climate change, health and wellbeing, biodiversity – our profession has the skills and creativity to resolve these challenges. We need to move from being seen as a ‘nice to have’ optional extra, to being vital, critical infrastructure. We need to have confidence in making our case, in ‘selling’ our ideas and proposition.
“This requires the same rigour and excellence that we bring as practitioners for our businesses too. Firestarter showed both Fira and Landscape Institute members how to achieve this.”