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Marketing the Business of Architecture

By Eba Raposo, Senior Associate, Parkin Architects Limited

There is more to architecture than just designing buildings; it involves a large business component – including marketing and finance – especially if you want to run your own practice.

Most architects decide to get into architecture because they’re looking to pursue their passion – for design, for architecture, for creating and building aesthetic facilities. Architects are looking to contribute to the communities in which they live; they want to make their mark in these communities, and demonstrate their talents in tangible, livable spaces.

What It Takes to Be Successful

Being a successful design professional requires a passion for architecture. Architects must continuously update their skills and consider current trends and needs of their clients, no matter what type of building they are creating.

They must also understand the human relationship side of architecture. This means knowing how to relate to clients, users and co-workers – for example, working well in teams to elicit the best possible design solutions from team members. They must also demonstrate leadership skills and an understanding of the psychology of people – getting inside the client’s and the end-user’s head.

Understanding Business and Economics

There are some basic concepts that architects need to understand in terms of business and economics. They need to be aware of economic trends and understand marketing; they need to know how to contribute to business development and creating contacts to elicit possible new leads that would turn into a prospective client.

Understanding client/architect agreements (contracts) is also important. Architects need to know how to run a business, how to understand and efficiently deploy human resources, marketing, creating a corporate culture and leadership roles.

It is also essential that architects comprehend laws pertaining to running an architectural practice, such as becoming a registered architect, and how to register a firm. This is especially important if you want to practice internationally. There are different requirements for registration in each province, never mind in other countries.

Of course, architects must also follow industry trends and politics, so that they know where spending trends and budgets are headed, and understand the economic impacts of having different political parties come into power.

Knowing How to Sell

Understanding how to sell is essential to maintaining success and profitability. No matter how busy a firm is, it has to continuously pursue work in order to maintain its success, financial commitments and staff complement; a steady staff count demonstrates the firm’s ability to maintain profitability and success. It also builds reputation and elicits confidence in clients. It promotes and ensures longevity, as it leads to both repeat, and new, clients.

Knowing how to sell architectural services plays a major role in not only running a successful business, but for attracting talented people. It is important to think like a marketer; this helps an architect determine which projects they want to pursue and which projects become good sellers – meaning how much publicity and/or awards can they win with a given project. It helps build the reputation that they want to promote.

Defining Client Needs/Wants

There are key steps to defining client needs or wants. In terms of defining client needs or wants, an architect must:
o Demonstrate good listening skills
o Understand the client’s mission, vision and future goals
o Understand the history of the client’s business/facility
o Understand the client’s passion/hot buttons

Sadly, in institutional architecture, long-gone are the days of attracting clientele by way of personal relationships, servicing smaller projects at first, (in order to encourage repeat business and larger projects), and cementing long-term partnerships. A majority of institutional clients now employ purchasing departments which issue requests for proposals, often entailing complex, detailed templates, with an outline scope of work and services required – not dissimilar from the procurement process for housekeeping materials. Evaluation of responses is performed on a points basis, and the lowest price submitted is usually the winning proposal. This leaves respondents to take their best guesses as to how to address the client’s needs – and it completely removes any opportunity for direct, personal contact with the real client.

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