As CEO of Architect Profits, Inc., Christian Hogue trains architects—from solo architects to small firm owners—to help them get their desired projects. In his new book, The Profitable Architect, Hogue speaks about the ways in which architects can promote their own style and optimize profit. Contract speaks with Hogue about the issues behind the book.
Profile Snapshot: Christian Hogue
Company/Project: Architect Profits, Inc.
What was the inspiration behind your new book, The Profitable Architect?
The economy had a terrible impact on architects and, in general, the information available to them on how to “survive” this economic downturn was very negative. A recent New York Times article called “Architect, or Whatever” pretty much sums up what the world looks like for a huge percent of the profession. Furthermore, often times the limited information available was tailored for the “Big Guys,” meaning the firms with hundreds of employees. I realized that the book was deeply needed from the comments I received from the architects taking the marketing course I had made available for them online. It also became clear that I needed to write a book to let architects know that there are specific strategies and tools available to them to get the clients and projects they want for their practice, regardless of the current economy. (Read an excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Profitable Architect.)
I thought it was about time for someone to fully explain to the small firm architect why they not only need to focus on marketing efforts for people that are looking for an architect “right now” but also for those who are not thinking of working with one simply because they don’t yet understand the benefits that they will gain from it. This is an important win-win situation for both sides—more people will live and work in better places and more architects will have the practice they want and deserve by working with more clients than they thought possible. And even more critical, there is also a side effect of removing fee battles with other architects since those new clients are in most cases not looking for another architect (i.e. meaning price shopping).
What are the main problems that solo architects are facing nowadays? Are there simple solutions?
The main problem that architects are facing today is to gain exposure and to ensure that people can find them. The reality is that most people just don’t know where to look for or how to find an architect for their project. And people are not willing to just pick one out of thin air.
John Morefield of Architecture 5 cents was interviewed in the book as a good example of putting yourself in front of people who didn’t know they needed an architect. After a simple basic conversation he realized he did! Now John is getting new clients on a regular basis because he was not afraid to go out where people are to tell them where they can find him.
Obviously not everybody can and should literally go out on the street to promote their services since there are other simple solutions to achieve the same. For example, I also cover the benefits of doing small ads in specialized magazines in the interview with Jeff Peterson. That one interview demonstrates how cost savings can be conveyed in a way to the potential client to generate the quality of prospects architects want.
The second main problem that I see over and over again with architects is their lack of follow-up with potential clients. Once the prospect contacts them, if they don’t decide right then to work with them, they stop all conversation with the prospect. However, the reality is that most people with a serious desire to have a project done by an architect develops those desires over many years. (It happened well before that first phone call on the fateful day.) For many practices the lack of follow-up is the difference between success and failure. There are many ways to stay in touch with a prospect—newsletters, blogs, postcards, and simple e-mails to just say “Hi,” for example. As time passes, some prospects will enter the project phase with them if they continue to hear from their practices via follow-up.
You mentioned that in “The Profitable Architect” that you interviewed a selection of successful architects. What were some of the things they mentioned that you found interesting and useful?
The first thing that was important to all the people that I interviewed was that they see their practice as a business. They understand that if there are no projects, there won’t be any money and, therefore, no practice. Seems simple but the reality is that (for most of us) we were told in school that you need to have passion and that the quality of your work will bring you projects. Obviously, the current economy proves this VERY wrong.
You need to work in your practice and on your practice to get the results you want for your business. Most of these successful architects have the following in common: a strong sense of what they will do week in and week out to get new projects in the pipeline and systems in place to ensure that the steps and routines that generate projects are always being followed by everyone in the office.
Most of them also focus on providing to the client more of the things they want while removing what they don’t want.
Lastly, and very likely most importantly, they didn’t decide personally what they thought their clients wanted, but actually asked them! It is too easy to assume that you know what your prospect wants in a working relationship. You have to ask to really know what it is. By doing so, they also give themselves the right to decide to work with a prospect or not.
What are some of the key things that you think architects should address in their marketing efforts that are different from before the economic downturn?
The first reality that architects need to understand (and this is regardless of the economic downturn) is that people are no longer searching for an architect the way they use to do just a few years ago. It used to be that people would look and ask around for what other people had to say about architects, and then they would call a few firms before making their final selection. The new reality is that most people are now searching online first before they are actually ready to move ahead with their project. You need to be there for people to find. And, even more important, you need to give them a reason to want to work with you and only you.
It’s no longer enough to have a Web site: you need to have a Web site that sets you apart from all your peers and pushes prospects to contact you. The most successful way to achieve these results is by first giving to your prospects before asking for their project.
The second key element for architects to embrace is that their marketing efforts can never rest. Marketing always needs attention, it will need adaptation…and all of that requires energy. Rust doesn’t rest, so marketing efforts can’t either. Not even when the projects will start coming back to them! It is tempting to focus on the current projects at hand, but there need to be time allotted during the week to ensure that there will be new projects coming ahead in the near and far future. Other industries call this “deal flow” and it’s time architects understood how important it is to their existence!
Architects need to find tools to better articulate their marketing efforts in responses to today’s new architectural economy, to keep themselves energized as they move forward, and to help adapt to new and future challenges. Looking outside their own field is one of the very best ways to achieve this.
Could you give us one way in which architects could better promote themselves and their work?
One easy way to get better results, especially for solo architects and small firm owners that are not well known, is to stop talking about themselves. Instead of explaining what one does as far as technical greatness, simply let prospects know what solutions you can provide to the problems and fears they have. People who are considering building or remodeling anything all have fears and problems and are looking for solutions. Understanding this problem/solution format is an important first step to understanding how to promote in ways that generate prospects and business.
For example, on a firm’s Web site or any promotional documentation for that matter, instead of saying “Why We Do Green Architecture,” say “What You Will Lose if You Don’t Have a Green Building” or “Thinking of Building Green: Here are the Important Things You Need to Consider.” The content of what they want to share with their prospects will remain the same, but the prospect will be able to answer the critical question: “What’s in it for me?” Until the prospect finds an answer to this question, the architect will hope for the best and keep wondering why people are not contacting them.