- Article by Nikita Morell
How do you attract ideal clients, win great projects and become unforgettable? Whatever you do, don’t leave it to chance…
Why do some architects seem to have all the luck? They win all the awards. They feature in all the architecture magazines. And they have an Instagram following bigger than Shanghai Tower.
So, how do they do it?
Their success is no accident. It’s got nothing to do with luck (or having ‘inside connections’ with editors and judging panels). It has everything to do with being memorable.
Here’s the thing: the architecture sales cycle is like a game of test cricket. It’s long. And exhausting. Your ideal client may need your services in three years, three months or right this millisecond. That’s why you need to be consistently top of mind, so that when your dream project does arise, it’s you they call.
You need to be memorable.
How to become memorable
One sure-fire way to be unforgettable is to achieve visible expertise. And with visible expertise comes better clients – clients who value design, are willing to pay for it, like to collaborate and don’t call you 22 times on a Saturday morning.
I created the ‘Architects Framework For Becoming Memorable’ to show how standing out and standing for something must be combined to achieve visible expertise – so your ideal clients know who you are and trust that you’ll do a great job.
To become memorable you need to:
1. Stand out (from the sea of architectural sameness) – 99.6764 percent of architecture practices look, feel and sound the same. The problem: blending in means getting forgotten.
Ways to stand out include:
- looking different by creating a distinct brand identity (includes your logo, website, documents etc)
- sounding different by creating a distinct tone of voice, and
- creating an emotional connection by telling your story (e.g. why you’re an architect or why you started your practice).
2. Stand for something
“We are a multidisciplinary, full-service studio that works with all types of clients across all types of sectors… blah, blah, blah.”
So many architecture practices try to be everything to everyone.
The problem with this? You are competing against everyone (including building designers, draftspeople and your Grand-Designs-obsessed-brother’s-girlfriend who is ‘good at’ drawing plans).
But if you become an expert, your ideal client has fewer alternatives. If you become known for ‘one thing’, you’ll rise to the top.
(Note: You may not have heard of Audrey Winner, but that’s my point. It doesn’t matter if your practice has a thousand employees or just one. You need to stand for something so that you can attract your ideal clients.)
Your ‘one thing’ doesn’t have to be a typology. It can be your design process or philosophy, a technology or material you use, expert knowledge in sustainability or the type of clients you service.
The place where what you love, what you know best and what can make you money intersect – that’s your area of expertise. It’s the one thing you can do better than other architecture practices, and the thing (potential) clients will remember you for.
Prospective clients want to work with experts. Your ideal clients want to know why they should trust you with their project.
A good way to build trust is to clearly communicate your ‘value proposition’ – whom you serve, what you do and the results you get. You need to communicate your area of expertise with clarity to attract the right types of clients for you, and projects you really want to do.
Try using this simple formula to define your value proposition:
We help X do Y by doing Z.
Example: We help young families create homes that can grow with them by renovating and converting existing spaces.
Isn’t it risky?
You may be thinking: what happens if the market shifts and my one thing is no longer relevant? If I choose one thing, do I exclude potential clients or miss opportunities? What if I focus on the wrong thing?
These are valid questions, but here’s the thing. You can still do other types of work while being known as an expert in ‘one thing’. Once you’re well-known and have built trust, it’s even easier to expand your services or communicate your ideas to a wider audience. Your ‘one thing’ can shift and change over time.
The sweet spot: visible expertise
When you stand out and you stand for something, you achieve visible expertise. It’s not enough just to be visible – you need expertise so that people trust you. And being the expert means nothing if no one knows you exist. Visible expertise takes you from order-taker to expert adviser. You can command higher fees and enjoy a consistent flow of profitable, desirable work and good, loyal clients.
Another bonus: talented people are more likely to want to work for and with a recognised and well-respected practice, so visible expertise also helps you attract better staff and collaboration partners.
Seven ways to achieve visible expertise
Clients choose to work with architecture practices they trust. Trust and visible expertise are gained slowly, through consistent effort and communication. You can’t expect instant results, but here are some ways to start building your visible expertise:
1. Share your knowledge, thoughts and opinions
Sharing your knowledge helps establish your reputation as an authority and a leader in your field so that you become the go-to person for certain topics and projects. Aim to engage and educate your ideal clients; for example, through webinars, speaking engagements and interviews. Don’t be afraid to broadcast your thoughts and opinions.
2. Show off your expertise on social media platforms
Posting and commenting on popular platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter or in Reddit or Quora forums can help you raise your profile and showcase your expertise to an audience that is already engaged. Actively participating in conversations relating to the architecture industry – giving good advice and answering questions – is a great way to gain visibility and demonstrate your authority. People are always looking for answers or feedback, so comment and get involved, don’t be a lurker.
Regularly engaging in online conversations in a helpful, generous way not only invites your ideal clients to get to know, trust and like you. It will also help you gain a deeper understanding of your ideal clients and their needs so you can attract and serve them better.
3. Reach out to the media
Featuring regularly in the media helps build name recognition. Editors and journalists are always looking for interesting stories, so therein lies the secret for success – your story must be interesting.
Many architects mistakenly think being published is reserved for already recognised firms. Not true. Yes, architectural publications are limited, but individual market sectors have their own trade journals and online news sites. Local newspapers and online blogs can reach your ideal clients and help build your visible expertise.
Bonus tip: Don’t send a generic, mass email to an outdated media list. Instead, build relationships with journalists and editors. Write personalised emails sharing your story idea. Do your research and think about whether the audience of the particular publication will find your idea interesting or valuable.
4. Start a blog
Blogging gives you an opportunity to show off what you know, which builds visibility and credibility. It also helps create a connection with ideal clients. A blog should inform and add value for the reader, not try to sell to them.
There’s no point creating great content if no one is reading it, so be sure to drive as much traffic as possible to your blog. Optimise your content with the right keywords, and make it so engaging, helpful, controversial and/or inspiring that people share your blog with their friends and colleagues. You could build your email list and send a newsletter with links to the blog. If starting your own blog seems overwhelming, you can always guest post on other blogs to build credibility by association.
5. Create a lead magnet
Another way to build visible expertise is to create a ‘lead magnet’ – a free, downloadable tool that you offer your ideal clients in exchange for their contact details. It may be a free eBook, checklist, tutorial, report or template – something your ideal client finds valuable. Lead magnets are a very effective and economical way to grow your email list with prospective clients.
6. Engage in research
Research adds credibility and validity to your ideas and helps position you as an expert. You don’t need to be a PhD student to conduct research. Running your own survey is easy with tools like Google Surveys or Typeform, and can easily be distributed to your target audience wherever they are already engaged; for example, on LinkedIn, via an email or Instagram story. You could, for instance, run a survey asking participants ‘what is the value of architects?’ then publish the results.
7. Publish a book
Imagine walking into your next meeting with a book instead of a business card. You’d immediately impress your client and add credibility to your practice. You don’t need to publish a 5000-page monograph or print 5000 copies. There are plenty of online, inexpensive photo-book programs that you can use to create a professional looking, visually arresting book to showcase your projects.
So next time you miss out on a project you really, really wanted or you visit australiandesignreview.com and see your archi-nemesis’ new project featured on the homepage, don’t feel disheartened. Instead, stop and ask yourself: do I have visible expertise? And if the answer is no, reread this article and start standing for something and standing out in your field.
This article first appeared in AR163.