The phone call from China came out of the blue in 2009, just after Williams + Paddon Architects + Planners won a prestigious Gold Nugget award for the design of a clubhouse on California's Central Coast.
Terry Green, a principal with the Roseville firm, fielded the call from a consultant whose clients were interested in using a Western architect for similar work.
"I spent a year-plus sending brochures and proposals, and then we arranged a business trip where we went out there to China and we went all over the country ... and we landed two really good clients," Green said.
In two years, those "really good clients" names are confidential agreed to work that makes up almost 40 percent of Williams + Paddon's billings. Increasingly, small architectural firms from Heller Manus Architects in San Francisco to Goettsch Partners in Chicago are booming with demand from China where they find clients who are adventurous with design and have money to spend.
"Budget's not an issue," said Green, a Sacramento native who attended Mira Loma High School. "They want the right design for the right project."
Williams + Paddon had been cultivating deals in South America and the Caribbean before the call from China, but funding for those projects is pending. In the meantime, the firm has begun work on everything from teahouses to golf clubhouses to a 100,000-square-foot exhibition hall in China.
Foreign business interests also came calling on Jim Schraith, but this query arrived via a form at his small startup's website, www.boardevals.com.
Dozens of corporations and nonprofit organizations use the online questionnaires at BoardEvals.com to assess the performance of their boards of directors, exposure to risk and more. On average, clients pay annual fees of $6,000 to $8,000.
"Our largest customers are literally multibillion-dollar organizations," said Schraith, a director for BloodSource and Folsom's SynapSense, among others. "Our smallest customer is a three-person board of a private company."
Schraith expects to add 400 director accounts this year to a base of 600. Directors log in from any computer to rate the board, company management and processes. It cuts down on paperwork or oral interviews and, because it's anonymous, often leads to franker assessments.
This month, Schraith inked an exclusive agreement with Sydney-based Matrix on Board to market his products to Australia's nonprofits.
"We've recognized a growing need for the use of technology in boardrooms, particularly as the iPad has become the tablet of choice not only in the U.S. but in Australia, and there really are some ways that the work of the board can be streamlined," said Grant Lavac, online services manager at Matrix on Board.
Schraith's five-person team negotiated the Matrix deal from their base in El Dorado Hills, using the phone, Web conferencing, and email to discuss goals and objectives.
Buy a bed
Susan Frazier, who's heading up GiveLocalNow, emailed to tell me that ideas are starting to flow on how to increase donations to local charities.
"One idea I really like is to have the GiveLocalNow website have a place where nonprofits can put specific needs and the cost of that need online so that people can give some or all of the amount needed and track how the funding is going," she wrote. "So for example, perhaps a shelter needs to buy a bed they would describe the need, and donors could put what they can towards that until it is fully funded."
The idea reminds me of The Bee's annual Book of Dreams project. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer or offer ideas.
Frazier also mentioned that she left Valley Vision in 2008, not last year, as I said in Tuesday's column. The equally energetic Bill Mueller, who visited me here at The Bee a year ago, has been running things for several years now.