May 30th, 2014 Fluent ADS was officially created. It was something Tom and I had talked about for several years, we had completed a few projects for friends and family, and both had experience in the industry. We were both working at the time and thought it could be something we could fill our free time with, we knew from experience and speaking to friends that there was a demand for a well-run, down to earth architectural design business. The feedback we were getting was that homeowners were growing frustrated with companies producing plans with no thought to how it would be built, how the space would be used and whether it would gain planning consent.
We started out working on a small number of projects in our spare time. Attending consultations and surveys at the weekends and drawing plans up during the evenings. After a few months we realised that with our combined experience the design side of the business was straight forward, but the planning side was difficult. We turned our attention to permitted development and prior approval to better understand what we could easily get planning approval for, see if we could help people gain consent for extensions that had previous been refused under house holder applications.
By March of 2015, our presence in the market had grown, our knowledge on design and planning had increased and we were starting to get too much work for evenings and weekends. We had a big decision to make, do we go for this full time or slow it back down to keep it part time. I had spent my career to this point working for several house builders as a designer. I was in a comfortable position; work levels and stress were manageable and day to day was routine. I like to be settled but it felt like the challenge was gone and needed to try something new to test myself. Tom on the other hand had been working as a designer for an audio-visual company since leaving college. He had dropped down to part time to project manage house renovation projects we were working on, this developed, and Tom took the step to do this full time along with some building work and plastering. He was at a stage where he could push on with this route or we could combine our knowledge of design and building and give Fluent a real go.
We spent some time working out how many jobs we would need to work on at a time, whether this could be scaled up and be a business for us both. We went for it, threw caution to the wind and put everything into making Fluent a success. Our thoughts that we would steadily build on what we currently had and maybe find a few people to help us grow. After a few months we needed another pair of hands. We started advertising for an Architectural Designer who could help with the site surveys, work on the plans and preparing drawings for planning. We stumbled upon Sunny, fresh out of university and wanted to start a career in architecture. Already having an understanding of design Sunny started carrying out the surveys and drawing up the existing plans for our projects, he has developed his skills and knowledge and is now a valuable member of the team, designing extensions for our clients and utilising his skills to help people visualise their plans with 3d drawings.
We were now able to up the amount of jobs we were looking at but the enquiries were building, the paper work was growing and although the jobs were being drawn, planning was being granted there was a little bit of chaos behind the scenes, we needed help with the admin, we needed a calming voice on the phone for our clients and some enthusiasm in the office. Fortunately for us, Gemma was at a stage of her career where she wanted a change, having worked in recruitment and being a close friend of ours it seemed like a perfect fit. At this stage we were working from our home and were in the middle of building an extension on our home. There were times where Sunny and Gemma were sat in my dining room in the dark, coats on and building work being carried out around them and what have we done to these two, they must think we’re mad. The building work was completed we had a nice new space for Fluent and the calm and organisation skills of Gemma started to prove its worth.
We were now working on more projects, gaining even more planning approvals, at this stage we were only producing plans for the Local Authority to gain planning permission but we’re being asked by clients if we could organise structural calculations and what about building control. At this point we teamed up with a structural engineer and started looking for a technician so we could offer a service from initial design through to having a full pack of drawings and permissions to pass onto a builder ready to start the build. Gaby joined us to help with building control approval and shortly after, Parvinder joined to allow Gemma to concentrate more on business development and marketing.
Although we now had a great team and were successful with planning we decided we need a specialist to deal with all our planning applications, someone that knew how to deal with the Local Authority, improve our planning approval rate and to free up time for the rest of the team. This is the point Elaine joined the growing Fluent team, bringing with her a wealth of experience from working as a planning officer. Not only a calming influence in the office but a reassuring voice for our clients, but when needed forceful and persuasive with the local planning departments.
The team was growing, and it was time to find a new home, we moved into Monkey Puzzle House in Sunbury, rather than all be crammed into our living room, Fluent now had a space to call our own. Although we expect this to be a temporary space it works well for now. With an ever-increasing amount of planning drawings and building regulation jobs we decided to bring in another technician to help with the workload of drawings but also to allow us to comfortably carry out the site surveys. Chris joined us with not only a wealth of experience and knowledge in the industry but a keen eye for new technology to further help us bring to life our client’s ideas. Soon after two of the team decided it was time for them to pursue new paths so in came Jake to work on the building control side and Sarah to take over the office admin and deal with all our client’s questions and enquiries. Jake had been sub contracted for us for a number of years and we finally managed to convinced him to join us full time, he has vast experience in this field and is always happy to help builders or clients that have questions during the build stage of their projects but also finds cost effective ways to turn our initial designs into building control plans. Sarah joined the team not having worked in this industry before, listening to her on the phone with clients today, you would think she had always worked in it. Always there to introduce our services to new clients, help existing clients along the path to complete their project. The role was initially an office admin role, carrying out day to day tasks, invoicing and answering phone calls and emails. Sarah has now made the role her own and become our first port of call and helping us convert leads into jobs.
The newest member of the team is Leona, brought in to assist the planning and building control side of the business, having Leona in the team has allowed everyone else to concentrate on the main part of their jobs. Clients are getting more and more information now and being kept in the loop which is mainly down to Leona’s organisation skills, always tracking jobs and making sure clients have what they need, a gentle reminder when required, its no coincidence that our conversion rate and clients awareness of what stage they are out has drastically improved.
5 years ago, we were sat in our living room, with a laptop, out of date software, no website or processes, it is incredible where we are today. I was worried about leaving my job, would we have enough work to do, is this a mistake? We have answered everything that has been thrown at us. We are now completing over 200 new jobs a year and this number is increasing month by month. It has been a lot of hard work, we have had to learn new skills and take on a lot of responsibility, but we have created a great team but would not be where we are today without them, past and present. We our fast approaching job number 1000 which is incredible and would like to thank all our clients that we have worked with along the way. I can’t wait to see where the next 5 years will take us and what we can all achieve. Watch this space, Fluent is getter bigger and better each day. We are developing new ways to help bring clients ideas to reality. If you have a project you are thinking of starting and want some advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.