The overwhelming majority of architecture firms in the United States are small businesses, with 26 percent being sole practitioners, almost three-quarters having two to 49 employees, and 3 percent having 50 or more employees.
Most small architecture firms don’t have huge budgets or a large enough staff to dedicate to marketing, so they have to be smart and strategic in how they spread the word and bring in new work. But it’s doable—and sometimes even free. Here are seven ways to make marketing for architects successful on a small-business budget.
1. Don’t Underestimate Social Media for Architect Marketing.
Social media is a strategy that most architects have been slow in adopting, even though it can net real clients. “Social media isn’t a fad,” said architect Jody Brown in his conversation with the AIA. “It is the place where the public is talking about their lives. Architects should be interested in joining that conversation.”
Lionel Scharly of Scharly Designer Studio has had great success with architecture marketing through Houzz. “About six months ago, I was contacted by a developer directly through the website who asked me to be a part of a $2 million contract for a luxury home in Florida,” he says. “I’ve been on Houzz since it started about four years ago, and it’s starting to get really interesting.”
Mark R. LePage of EntreArchitect and Fivecat Studio Architecture also recommends residential architects develop and optimize free profiles with Houzz. In addition, he suggests using Facebook—but not just a page for your business. Start a Facebook Group because it “allows firms to be more creative, and it sends notifications to people’s personal profiles, alerting them to new content you post,” he says.
2. Build Trust in Your Brand.
If there’s one thing you should invest your limited architect-marketing budget in, make it your website, which is a major component of your brand. But make sure to design it with your clients in mind. “Most architects’ websites are designed for other architects, but they don’t always tell their story to clients,” LePage says. “Clients come with their own built-in story about architects, and it is your job to replace that story with your own.”
Everything you do becomes part of your brand—not only your website, social-media presence, and elevator pitch but also the clothes you wear, the car you drive, and the way you present your office.
According to the U.S. Small Business Association, branding “is about the sum total of the experiences customers have with your business. This includes the visual elements of your business, but it also includes what you do, how you do it, what your customer interactions are like, [and] the type of information you share in your marketing and on social media; all these elements help establish the trust and credibility of your business.”
3. Speaking of That Elevator Pitch …
Networking is all about planting seeds, and the best way to plant a seed is to tell people what you do, from your hairdresser to the barista at your favorite coffee shop to your dry cleaner. You never know which seed will sprout and lead to a future client, either directly or through acquaintances and connections. That means getting good at telling people what you do.
M&R Marketing Group says the key is to be real and authentic when talking about your company and services or products: “As you seek to identify and tell your story, above all, be relational. Relationships are the vehicle for all of life’s endeavors, including your business interactions. We believe you should crave and cultivate them.”
4. Get Prospects to Opt In.
One of the most effective low-cost online architect-marketing tools is sending out a regular email newsletter to your client base and interested prospects. A regular newsletter keeps you top of mind when someone in your circle may need an architect, and it increases the chances that a prospect will contact you instead of someone else.
“Find ways to get the emails of potential clients, either through in-person interactions or through an email signup form on your website,” LePage says. “And on a regular basis, reach out to them, providing information that is of value to them and, at the same time, telling them who you are and what you do.”
5. Stay at the Forefront of Technology in Architectural Marketing.
Many small-business architects have been slow to adopt new technology, so learning 3D-visualization and -modeling tools can give your firm an edge over others. “With Autodesk Revit, we can make great renderings and even produce animations, making for very impressive and innovative presentations to clients,” Scharly says.
Using 3D-visualization tools isn’t just great for getting the job; it helps manage your client’s expectations along the way. “Being able to convey what you’re working on almost instantly is the biggest advantage of the BIM process,” says Geoffrey Tears of Mohle Design. “No longer do we have to wait for the space plan to be completely done for multiple floors to know what this building is going to cost or look like.”
6. Become Involved in the Community.
Online marketing strategies aren’t the only low-cost ways to market your small firm. An offline, in-person strategy is to get involved in community groups. “Pick a group that is in alignment with your target market,” LePage says. “It can either be your target market, or it can connect you with people in your target market.” For example, LePage and his Fivecat Studio partner (and wife) Annmarie McCarthy joined the SPCA in Westchester County, New York, which has been a great vehicle to meet potential veterinary-clinic clients or just animal lovers who want to remodel or build new homes.
7. Keep Current Clients Happy.
The best way to get new clients is to keep your existing clients happy, because word of mouth remains the most powerful marketing tool for architects. And the best way to keep your existing clients happy is to manage their expectations and deliver on what you promise. “When your clients are happy with you, they like to talk about you,” LePage says. Doing a good job with your existing projects is the best way to market yourself because the most credible and effective recommendation you can get is through a satisfied client. In other words, even when you’re designing, you’re marketing. So make it count.