Starting a new architectural firm takes planning and forethought, not to mention some active marketing and business development, but to start your new venture at the height of Covid? That takes fortitude.  Tony Herrera and Michelle Hecht did just that coming together in July 2020 to formally partner in the creation of Enso Designs, a Northern California architecture firm. Here is our conversation with them to see how they started their company and hoping to create a marketing culture that will speak to each new employee as they start to grow.


MARKETLINK: How did you both come together to start Enso Designs?


Tony: We had worked together at another firm previously. We both had this entrepreneurial vein and would talk about if we had “Ctrl-Z” hypothetical firm how we would want to run it. We each started taking side design jobs, including continuing to work on projects that fit our creative outlets, like wood working and carpentry for me and metal working and jewelry making for Michelle. Over the course of time, we had settled on an actual company name and Michelle started designing our logo and we were on our way.


MARKETLINK: Is there someone who mentored you that made you view marketing and business development with a new perspective?


Tony: There have been many people. I’ve been lucky to be in the shadow of some of the Sacramento region’s architectural pioneers who have great reputations like Jack Paddon, Michael Rainforth, and Don Comstock—all founders of their firms—and my parents, who founded their own architecture firm too. The architectural industry in the Sacramento region is a small community, so their reputations were everything.I got lucky in being paired with them often and learning firsthand how, by example as well as through stories, of their road to success.For example, I learned from Rainforth you don’t nickel and dime clients and to do what is right for the project, client, and industry.


Michelle: My dad makes his living doing public art, so as a kid and teenager I would go to his presentations and do them with him. By helping him with those, I learned a lot. He would present to a panel a representation of what the work would be but also what it would be like working with him, all very applicable to our field. It goes a long way to generally be a good person, get to know people and treat them well.I also worked for an art consultant, and she was great at having her elevator pitch of what an art consultant does and why you need one. I learned from her the importance of knowing your value and being able to convey that value. Watching her has been a huge inspiration. 


Tony: I could see from working with Michelle that she was a natural at client involvement. She was one year into her career and already dealing with clients directly without hesitation.


MARKETLINK: How are you planning to establish a firm culture for marketing and business development?


Michelle: We’re not sure how much we want to grow because we like to be so hands-on in the work, but for us it comes back to being personable and trustworthy. We get to know our clients pretty well during the course of a project and we hope to always have clients who would want to work with us again. It’s all about building and maintaining client relationships with people we really like and want to serve.


Tony: Michelle and I want to point our marketing efforts to a place of really wanting to do the work we’re looking at, whether it’s the people or the projects, that will be the beacon of our marketing direction. We’re authentic about working on projects with people that we really like and want to work with. As far as Enso culture, we want everyone to feel like they don’t want to work with anyone else because they love our people so much. We want to become invested in our clients’ projects by talking to them about what’s the spirit of their project and how can we have fun with it. If we let everyone know what it’s like working at Enso then they’ll understand we have enough structure to know things so well that they don’t have to think about it, they don’t have to remember what to say, everyone knows where they can break from the rules and structure.


MARKETLINK: What are the biggest hurdles you face related to marketing?


Michelle: We’re just starting out and we’re already really busy. We want to be intentional about the work that we take. It’s a luxury to have a lot of work right now, but we’re still figuring out the exact kind of work we want to do. We like to work at different scales like from a smaller personal object scale and up to a larger project development—whether it’s furniture, jewelry, or spaces—these are all forms of design.We have a history of working on schools and still enjoy that, and those will probably be a foundation for our work, but we also want to explore other scaled projects too. 


Tony: We want to make buildings, spaces, objects, especially with our other design interests that I had mentioned before. We are constantly looking at how things are made. We have endless curiosity, so we are still pinning down what we want, trying to find our identity so we’re not pigeon-holed either. Our biggest challenge is staying disciplined enough to keep finding what we want to do and yet keeping focused enough to establish then maintain our identity in the world.


MARKETLINK: What are ways your marketing could improve or reach the next level?


Tony: Kings tickets!


Michelle: Using our website to convey what we do and what we want to do, as well as create all our marketing materials and collateral.


Tony: I love our logo and how we went about picking out business cards with the paper quality, thickness, texture, etc. We started an Instagram page that shows who we are in real time and it’s always changing. We’re always sketching and making iteration after iteration, and Instagram is better for us in that regard. We’re figuring out how to bring imagination to all the tools in our toolbelt.Like I loved the process of developing our logo. Michelle started it with using two paperclips drawing circles—it was a really cool process.I really liked how it came to be.

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About The Author

Stephanie Craft, MBA

Stephanie Craft, MBA, has worked in the A/E/C industry for more than 30 years. Her marketing strengths lie in researching and opening new doors for technical firms by getting directly to decision-makers and influencers, and obtaining and using client feedback to help firms differentiate themselves and strengthen client loyalty through targeted strategic efforts. She also works with firm leadership to evaluate in-house marketing and business development efforts to optimize staff processes and procedures. Stephanie has been a featured speaker at many AEC professional society meetings and has been selected “Chapter President of the Year” twice by the national Society for Marketing Professional Services for her management expertise serving as President of the Utah and Sacramento Chapters.

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