Why building relationships is the key to building everything
What do business strategists and editors-in-chief have in common?
They both require you to build relationships. Lots of them.
As the director of strategy and partnerships at Trahan Architects and the founder and editor-in-chief of Madame Architect, Julia Gamolina is an expert relationship builder.
Here’s her insight on approaching business strategy, finding crossover between roles, and seeking a fulfilling career trajectory.
Connect with people
Madame Architect features interviews with over 250 women architects. Meanwhile, Trahan Architects is a quickly growing firm.
It may seem like juggling those two roles would be overwhelming, but Julia said that they both require her to do similar things.
“I don't feel like I have to jump from thing to thing or really switch my brain,” Julia said. “The way that I do both jobs is so similar. It's all about connecting with people.”
Her magazine work is all about reaching out to people they want to learn from, whose views they want to share with the world.
At Trahan, it’s about who they want to work with, collaborate with, and partner with.
“The skills are just a lot of outreach,” Julia said. “My job is to talk to people, whether it's by email correspondence, which never ends, or at meetings.”
The art of communication and interviewing is a crucial part of both.
Produce content, not just buildings
Julia’s work with Madame Architect has inspired her strategy work at Trahan.
Her new focus? Producing content.
Julia helped start Madame Architect’s social media accounts from scratch, and used her experience pitching and writing press releases to help guide them.
“We share it, our interviewees share it, their alma maters share it, their companies share it and this network just grows and grows,” she said of the Madame Architect snowball effect.
That got her thinking about what content Trahan could produce to grow their network.
“We're an architecture company, but we don't only have to produce buildings,” she said.
“What can we be sharing with the people that follow us, the people that know about us that will help position our point of view in a certain way?”
Producing can allow your firm to write about themselves, instead of waiting on other people to write about you.
It will also help attract like-minded collaborative partners.
Social media, for example, is a nonstop resource for finding opportunities to partner with others. And firms are starting to see the value in that collaboration.
“We just can't keep everything going ourselves,” she said. “No one works like that, even if you think of a building.”
Let business strategy take you to the next level
The director of strategy role looks different at every firm, because it depends on what growth goals are being targeted.
Julia was brought on at Trahan to help bring them from regional to national recognition. That requires a multi-department strategy.
“It doesn't just take one prong. There's design, business development, communications, financing, all of that,” Julia said.
“All of that talking to each other and working together and really understanding how one aspect of the firm and how one team influences the other.”
But every goal will require a different approach.
A startup can bring on a strategist from day one and have totally different needs than an established firm.
“Maybe you're trying to grow a presence in more cities,” she said. “Maybe it's about being featured in publications that you really haven't been featured in before. How does that translate into business development?”
It’s about taking the firm to another level and building exposure.
Develop a central message and use it everywhere
The different pieces of business strategy aren’t separate silos. They all work together and it helps to think of them as pieces of a whole.
“The way we want to talk to our clients and what we care about is what we also talk about in the media,” Julia said.
It’s important to narrow down what that means to you as a firm and what messages you want to communicate across all those different interactions.
“It's all just an ecosystem that is constantly expanding and shifting and people move,” Julia said. “A journalist one day is a PR person the next day, is maybe your client the third day.”
“You really have to understand how all the parts and pieces work together and also understand that it’s a fluid model.”
It’s not a series of silos, it’s a team at work.
Having a cohesive, central message will ensure that every member of your business ecosystem is using the same language and working toward the same goals.
Growth can only happen with a strong culture
Trahan has grown quickly and now operates out of three cities. The only way to keep that growth going and execute new plans is if everyone is aligned within the company culture.
Julia has been talking with her development team a lot about the consequences of growth, whether that’s operations, communications, or new business.
“When new business comes in, who do we have to staff it?” Julia said.
“Can we handle this much new business now that our development team is really, really focused on that and there's just a lot more stuff coming in? And how does that all affect how we are together as a company internally?”
Company culture and internal relationships always have to stay top of mind as you grow.
She recently heard the quote, “culture eats strategy for lunch” and it resonated with her.
“No matter what kind of plans you have for your firm, no matter what plans you have to grow or to get certain work, you will not get there unless you have a team that's really aligned and working well together and seamlessly and understanding everyone's strengths and that all comes from culture,” she said.
Gain career inspiration from other architects
Julia has been most surprised by the fact that most of the people she has interviewed have talked about making career moves based on feeling and curiosity, not a strategic plan.
“That frustrated me so much at the beginning because I just wanted to know the secret,” Julia said. “I was a Type A planner coming out of college trying to plan out the next 50 years of my career, which is kind of funny now that I know.”
She said in all of the interviews there was only one person who talked about a career strategy.
“Everyone else was like, I made decisions based on what felt good at the time,” she said. “And if things needed to change, they changed. And you just follow your interests and follow your curiosity and follow your excitement.”
Julia found this reassuring because no one knows what’s going to come their way in their career.
“I think that's a healthy perspective to have,” she said. “Also to know that no matter what comes your way, you do have the skills and the capabilities to manage through it and get to know yourself better in the process.”
And when you need to improve those skills or figure out a new plan, reaching out to people with experience and building relationships will help you to succeed in business strategy or whatever else you take on.
Join us on Thursday, June 24th for Best Practice, a virtual fireside chat series dedicated to practice operations at architecture firms and beyond. From pain points to potential, hear how leaders in the architecture and engineering industry are innovating through new business models and managerial techniques.
We’re chatting with Julia Gamolina, Founder of Madame Architect and Director of Strategy at Trahan Architects.
Dedicated to the built environment and to the empowerment, advancement, and visibility of the women who work in it, Julia Gamolina is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Madame Architect where she has published to date over 175 interviews with women who advance the practice of architecture. Trained as an architect, she is also the Director of Strategy at Trahan Architects, focusing on new business, brand development, and other aspects of firm growth and evolution. More of her writing has been featured in Fast Company, A Women’s Thing, Metropolis Magazine, Architizer, and the Architect's Newspaper. She is also a co-founding member of Brick & Wonder, a member of the Female Founder Collective, and a communications co-chair of ULI New York’s Young Leaders Group.
In January 2021, Julia was named one of Apartment Therapy’s Design Changemakers. In 2019, Julia received the Special Citation from AIANY for her work with Madame Architect, and was named one of Professional Women in Construction's "20 Under 40". She has been featured in Architectural Record, Archinect, Architizer, and the Architect's Newspaper, and has served on juries for the 2019 World Architecture Festival and the DNA Paris Design Awards. Her speaking engagements include lectures at Harvard, Columbia, Yale, UPenn, Pratt, Georgia Tech and more. Julia received her Bachelor of Architecture at Cornell University, graduating with the Charles Goodwin Sands Memorial Medal for exceptional merit in the thesis of architecture. She is based in New York City.
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Julia about how to inspire a generation of architects.
- Lessons learned from extraordinary women that shape our world
- When should you hire a Director of Strategy for your office?
- and more!