The most valuable skill on any resume is persuading clients to get on board with your firm.
Most firms welcome everyone on the team pulling in potential work, and if you want to set up your own firm, you will need to find clients willing to pay for your services.
Sitting at your office desk waiting for a potential client to walk through your door is not going to work, so what do you go about finding clients as an architect?
1. Get the Basic Right
Before you try to hook your first or 100th client, you need to get the basics sorted.
That includes business cards (when you get chatting, you need something quick to hand out) and a website with an excellent contact form.
When you get an interested client, you need to ensure it is easy for them to find and contact you because if they can’t, that project will go to someone else.
2. Know Your Pitch
What exactly is your offer to a potential client?
It would help if you had a range of pitches from the 30-second elevator pitch to several minutes’ worth of exciting design ideas and explanations of why your firm is the firm to get that project done.
When you get talking, and someone asks what your specialism is, have a ready answer – even if you are willing to do anything.
Yes, you will listen to what they are interested in, but you need to talk fluently about what you can do for them.
Before you get the opportunity to present to a potential client, you will make many little pitches about your business, and not all of them will gain results.
But, if you don’t have a prepared pitch, you don’t get to the starting line with a potential client.
3. Speak Up
If you ask most people what they fear most in life – it is getting up and speaking in public. That includes people who do it for a living.
How does public speaking attract clients?
By putting you in front of an audience of potential clients by providing a speech, presentation, or workshop.
Where do you find these audiences?
Your preferred audience depends on your best clients. Trade conferences and shows tend to attract audiences with a shared interest – if you design single homes, a conference on self-building exposes you to an audience interested in building their own home.
Whatever your interest in architecture, you can find an audience with a similar interest if you look for opportunities to stand up and speak.
Your aim with this technique is to find an audience full of potential clients and get yourself and your business displayed advantageously in front of it.
Before you find that audience get some practice standing up and speaking on as many occasions as you can.
There is a saying in the academic world that you need to publish or perish. The same is true in the global marketplace.
The first place most potential clients look for information about architects is the internet. Even if your business is local, you still need an online presence.
How to get architecture projects online is the same as getting in front of architecture clients in life – put your words where potential clients can see them.
Publishing your firm’s achievements is not restricted to online – try and boost your local profile by getting an appearance in local newsletters, newspapers, and community magazines.
All architectural marketing ideas revolve around getting your name into the client’s heads.
In local print media, you can sponsor a sports team, run a school project, and invite local celebrities to your latest project’s grand openings.
Learn to prepare press releases. Try to make contacts with local journalists and keep feeding them stories.
You can offer to write regular articles on local architectural gems, anything you can do to get your business name in front of your local audience if that is where most of your business interests lie.
Online, you can upload project details to many architectural galleries and websites and market yourself through blogs, articles, and social media.
It may seem that none of this activity relates directly to getting clients, but you need a reputation before clients bother to look at your website.
You get that by publishing interesting and informative information regularly.
5. Lead Generator
There are websites and agencies that (for a fee) funnel leads in your direction. The value of these organizations depends on their fit with your business and the quality of their leads.
You can expect (at best) one in ten leads to result in a project – you need to balance the cost with the benefit.
For some architectural businesses, directories and lead generators online provide them with a steady stream of clients.
6. In It to Win It
Commercial and public work typically invites competitive tendering or competition to win the business.
The first stage of knowing what to tender for is finding the project boards that list the invitations to bid. The next step is writing project proposals and budgets.
Ideally, you start early and work hard on your bid by showing you can meet all the criteria. The criteria vary but increasingly, having a LEED accredited professional on the team helps.
Keeping an electronic folder with all the likely documentation necessary for a bid writing process does make writing and submitting bids easier.
When you notice that you don’t qualify for a particular opportunity, consider anything you could do to put you in the running for the next similar project.
7. Pro Bono and Community Work
One of the most effective marketing tools for an architecture practice is free positive publicity through the team skills to put something back into the community.
Not for profit and community organizations build up a network of influential supporters, and working with them puts you in contact with potential clients.
Plus, it is great for staff morale and development.
The adage that it is not what you know but who you know holds true in every business. You can get to see many people in the online world, but to land the clients, you need to connect with many people in the flesh.
Networking is about more than potential clients. It would help if you cast your net to link up with contractors, suppliers, and a broad range of business people, like accountants and lawyers.
A broad range of business contacts makes it more likely for your architecture firm to get a recommendation.
You can network by attending seminars (who else might be in the audience of that boring tax update?), joining your local business support organization, sitting on school boards, and any other business event that crops up.
9. Ask for Referrals
One of the most effective ways of getting new clients is by getting other architects and businesses to refer potential clients to you.
Why would a rival firm send business your way?
Surprisingly, most companies are not at war with each other. Most small hotels, kennels, and other service businesses will refer clients to the competition when they can’t meet their needs or are full.
It is not entirely an unselfish gesture; they expect to benefit when their rooms are empty, and their competitor is full.
The same principle applies to architecture firms – a big firm wants big projects and may not have the space to accommodate smaller projects. Referring that client to another trusted practice gives the bigger firm a better reputation than declining.
Plus, when a project that is too big to handle comes your way, you will return the favor by referring that client to them.
The best architecture firms to approach initially are those that work in a different field from yours as your services are complementary.
When you get a client referral, remember to thank the person making the referral – it is good manners and ensures that they will remember you.
10. Be Strategic
It would be best if you had a plan for how you will go out and attract clients.
If you are hunting for rabbits, you need to go where the rabbits hang out. When you hunt for clients, you need to be where the clients are, which means having a plan to maximize your client exposure.
Structure your working week to include some activities and time for attracting potential clients – whether that is polishing your website, improving your pitch, or publishing your latest project.
To be successful, you can’t spend all your working week looking for clients (unless that is your job), and you need to treat client acquisition as a project with its allocation of resources – both time and money.
You learn how to get projects as an architect by working at a few approaches to attract clients with a plan with targets and key performance indicators.
Monitor your results and do more of what gives you the best number of clients and less of what produces little results – but don’t neglect your visibility.
Your monthly blog may not seem to land clients on your doorstep, but a bigger audience represents more opportunities for your architectural practice.
Putting It All Together
Finding clients as an architect means marketing yourself and your firm at every available opportunity, and that also involves marketing on freelance websites for architects.
All the hints and tips revolve around that simple process of discovering who wants your services and letting them know you exist.