Managing your own architecture firm is hard, and while pretty much every architect starts with a strong idea of the type of firm they want to be, without constant care it can be easy to get sucked into doing jobs you need to do to keep the lights turned on, rather than the jobs you wanted to do from the start. In this article, originally published by Archipreneur as "9 Creative Business Development Strategies For Architects and Designers," Sabrina Wirth explores the ways you can not only keep work coming in, but make sure it is the right type of work too.
Whether you’re a large architecture firm or a small, boutique design studio, everyone needs a plan for generating new business. The prospect of working on RFPs (Request For Proposals) and RFQs (Request For Qualifications) to win a place on the shortlist, however, is daunting and something very few people look forward to.
Fortunately, it’s not the only path to attracting new projects. In fact, the most effective business development strategies involve more time spent on proactive relationship-building (before the project is made public), and less time on responding to RFPs and RFQs, which are available to anyone.
Below are 9 strategies that can help you define a good business development approach to get you ahead of the competition and win more clients and projects:
1. Identify the ideal project, and then work backwards
What are the ideal projects for your firm? Who are the people who can lead you to them? Do some research into their social environments and find ways to meet them there. The best projects or partnerships occur through direct commissions via a personal contact. Make the personal connection by networking in the same places that your ideal client spends time in. If you haven’t already, start thinking of everyone in your rolodex as a potential client, collaborator, or lead to new information; it may just be that the person who may lead you to the next job is someone you already know.
2. Export your design as portable, and shareable objects
Several companies design books that showcase their projects. Rather than make the book simply a portfolio, make the book a design object itself. Your design philosophy should be manifested in any tangible object (books, business cards, etc) your company produces, so that whenever you meet a potential client, you can offer them a small sample of what makes your firm so great. Follow up with well-designed emails, and be sure that your website is clear and easy to understand. The worst is for a client to be turned off by a slow or complicated website.
3. Follow up
Always make sure to have business cards on hand, and after you receive a handful of business cards at networking events, be sure to enter them into your email list and stay in contact through periodic, personal emails. If you want to send out occasional updates with a mass mailing service like Mailchimp or Constant Contact, be sure to ask if they’d like to be included in the mailing list.
4. Turn your firm into a brand
Become an expert in a specific area of design. Determine the expertise available in the office, and the kind of projects your firm would like to be known for. Perhaps it’s environmental (like SITE and HOK) or urban design (Gehl Studio), master plans, residential, cultural, or civic. There needs to be something that potential clients can associate with your firm’s name. If you want to be more of a generalist, and be known for creative solutions and high quality design, then make “process” and “philosophy” your brand (like Grimshaw). To be able to successfully promote and market your firm, you have to be able to provide something that’s unique to only your firm that you can use to brand yourself.
5. Create brand ambassadors at your company
Create a company culture that reflects your firm as approachable and fun to work with. Make sure there is fluid communication within the office so that when architects are traveling, they are comfortable discussing information about the firm, spreading the company’s vision, and creating new business contacts.
6. Organize an open lecture series at your firm
Organize an open lecture series at your firm where you can invite anyone to your office and provide an opportunity to introduce your firm to a new audience. Better yet, make the lectures have nothing to do with architecture, but about something your firm believes in. This will make your firm more approachable and will also show a different facet to the practice.
7. Book as many speaking opportunities as possible
You never know who is in the audience, and it’s a great way of reaching multitudes of people at the same time. At a school, you may find that you’ve attracted more students who want to work for you, but you may also catch the attention of a developer who is teaching a class at that school who may want to speak with you about a potential opportunity.
8. Grow your online presence
More so than booking lectures, it’s one of the best ways to reach large audiences and catch the attention of many potential clients around the world at the same time. Think about maintaining a blog on your website to publish frequent updates and also use Instagram and Twitter to boost your online presence. Instagram especially is quick and visual, so architects can “seduce” clients with beautiful images that relate to their design aesthetic without having to spend so much time; the ROI (Return on Investment) on that is better than on any other platform, because it reaches so many people without much effort. With Twitter, you can retweet articles about your firm, drive people to your blog, or post updates and images as well.
9. Network with colleagues
Other firms and industry professionals are great resources for staying on top of trends and new developments. Rather than considering other firms as competition, consider them as potential partners on future projects; the combined, complementary expertise from each firm can only help to strengthen a business proposal. Additionally, keeping good relations with other firms may also lead to information about new projects that you might not have known about before.
Generating new business opportunities involves both marketing and communications, but most of all it involves nurturing relationships. As long as you can continue networking effectively and keep your contacts talking about you, then your firm will most likely pop up during conversations about new projects. And as long as your name continues to pop up, and you proactively pursue new information, the more likely it is that you will be included in shortlists and be receiving direct commissions.
Feature image via Shutterstock.com