There has been a recent trend to monetize design businesses online. Outside the world of architecture, digital marketing is growing exponentially, and every day more and more companies are taking advantage of the benefits that come from curating an online presence.
The traditional architectural business model is largely dominated by the fees associated with design and construction. The actual structure of the billing is perhaps another argument to have all on its own, but relying on this type of income has been (and likely will continue to be) an efficient and successful model for the majority in the design industry. But what if there was another market to leverage to supply your design business with passive, additional income?
There has long been an understandable stigma associated with spec-house plan sets. Most spec plans lack any response to site, personalization, and even quality design. There is a relatively saturated market for these spec-type plan sets, but the untapped potential lies in this model's intersection with architectural practice.
Here are three ways you can begin to reverse the stigma associated with selling plan sets online while providing your design business with an additional revenue stream.
1. Scale/Promote an Existing Project or Design
If your firm has already established good standing within your community, there is likely one project (or possibly multiple) that attracts most prospective clients. Whether you're a residential architect with that one vacation house that seemingly every new inquiry references, or a developer/investor known for efficient office layouts; it makes sense to create a scalable, customizable version of that project that can be the initial point of contact for anybody looking for your specific design.
The ability to integrate digital marketing tactics to promote your selected design will likely come after the initial interest in the design, but once the ball starts rolling the benefits can be exponential. And the best part is, once you've completed the active part of the setup, the passive stream of income only adds to your existing business model.
A case study to look at for this type of approach is Eric Reinholdt from 30X40 Design Workshop, who took the design for his own home and turned it into an online store with customization variations. Reinholdt also included an option for a complimentary consultation to expand on the design process.
2. Utilize an Efficient/Smaller Scale Design Market (ie. Tiny Houses)
The micro-living craze has taken off over the past decade. Not only are more companies investing in tiny houses, but in general, small-scale living has become the norm for many people across the world. Like house plans for regular-sized dwellings, the market has become more saturated with micro-living's growing popularity. However, there is still potential if your specific design provides an efficient and attractive approach to living.
The Atlas Tiny House comes pre-built, but if you are looking only to offer ready-to-build plans, check out Go Tiny House, which includes downloadable plans for six architect-designed tiny homes.
3. Modular Construction
Another popular trend in the construction industry that, at times, has been incorporated into other passive income streams is modular building. Modular construction can be used in all sorts of building types, and is more of a business strategy than a design technique -- but if done well, incorporating modular construction into your business model can allow prospective clients to essentially build their entire custom home online via your designated modules.
Modular designs have even been integrated by architects and developers alike to create whole communities, like this community in Austin designed by KRDB Architects. They also have a modular-specific portion of their practice called MA Modular.
These three examples and their case studies illustrate the potential that plan sets or other online design strategies could offer your practice. Not mentioned above is the possibility of up-selling other packages or design elements that can go along with any of the above tactics. If needed, the larger client interaction happens after they are interested in what your business offers. Ideally, the investment into passive income strategies will result in direct sales, but most often your online presence is simply the first step in your firm's business model. And because of that, your business can grow exponentially by investing in any of these tactics.