In my last post, Why Architects Should Never Compete on Price, I advocated that firms should never try to compete on price in order to secure work. Not only does price-discounting cut into profits but it can be destructive to the practice as a whole.

That brings up a few very important questions:

  • How can a smaller-sized architecture firm not only survive but thrive in a market where architects are routinely charging very low rates in order to attract clients?
  • How do you set up your business so that you can charge a fair price for the valuable service and expertise that you are offering?
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how do you get high paying clients to come toyou instead of having to chase after them?

This last question really cuts to the core of one of the biggest struggles facing architectural firms today: securing work. It is quite easy (and almost natural) for architects to feel like they are on a big hamster wheel, constantly on the lookout for the next project even before current projects have come to an end. Not only does the constant pressure to find more work make that work less enjoyable but it can cause those in leadership positions to make irrational decisions out of desperation.

That’s not a position you want to be in.

So, how do you go about charging what you are worth, while simultaneously attracting good paying clients? Here are three essential factors that many architectural firms (big and small) surprisingly get wrong:

1. Target the right customers. If you don’t want low-paying clients, then stop chasing after them in the first place! One of the most important steps your architectural firm can take is to develop a clear, detailed picture of your ideal client. Is this client a private individual, a developer, a corporation, or a public works department? What is the scope of this client’s project? The vast majority of your marketing efforts should be focused on securing this one kind of client.

I know this may sound limiting. But, the reality is that unless you’ve got the resources of a big corporate firm, you can’t be everything to everyone. The goal here is to develop a unified message that will attract your most lucrative projects. The more work you get, the more your reputation and your portfolio will grow, and the more diverse your client pool may actually end up being.

2. Know what value buttons to push. I mentioned earlier in Architecture’s Forgotten Art, that some architectural firms are tragically out of touch with the wants and needs of their clients. They fall into the trap of assuming that most, if not all, of their clients are primarily interested in the architect’s name and artistic expression. But, the truth is that most clients are fixated on their own needs, and they are really just looking to architects to give those needs expression.

The firms that recognise this dynamic and learn how to truly listen to their clients are the ones that will be the most successful. They are in touch with the qualities and services that are the most valuable to their clients and know how to effectively communicate this value to them. These firms also actively seek feedback- both from happy customers as well as the prospects that turned them away.

3. Go in with the right attitude. Many smaller architectural firms tend to get intimidated in the face of their bigger competitors. Whether you realise it or not, this attitude will come through to your potential clients and could turn them away. If your firm is clear about whom you are targeting, and you are laser focused on providing needed value, you can go into any competition with confidence. Plus, many of your bigger competitors may actually be pretty complacent since they feel that they can win the contract on their name alone. This creates a very big opening for your firm.

Each one of these “tactics” are designed to produce satisfied customers who will be more than happy to refer your firm to their contacts. You’ll generate a healthy stream of work and be able to ditch that hamster wheel once and for all.