There are over 113,000 architects in the US, according to The National Council of Architectural Registration Board. That’s 1 architect for every 2,900 Americans; a number 10% higher than 10 years ago. While there are plenty of architectural projects going on at the moment, future growth prospects in the architecture industry are forecast at just 4% between 2016 and 2026.
This rate is well below other industries.
As growth slows and the number of architects continues to increase, competition for projects will ramp up.
When this happens, you’ll need a rock-solid business development plan for your architecture firm. Firms without business development plans will get left behind and those with plans will rocket ahead and grow.
How do architects get clients?
No matter what size of architecture firm you run, having a business development plan for your architecture firm will help you focus on how to get more architecture clients. It’ll make growing your brand easier, help you improve your standing in the industry, and help you network with peers.
All of this will help you grow your architecture firm. Here are five top business development strategies, plus insight from successful architects, to lift off your business.
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Business development strategies for architects
We’ve broken down five of the key ways to grow your architecture firm that should be implemented into a great architecture business development plan.
1. Identify your ideal client
Look through your recent work and determine which projects best:
- Show off your firm’s strengths
- Are the most profitable and fulfilling
- Suit your future growth plans
From there, you can focus your marketing and outreach efforts toward those initiatives. If you’re known for green building practices, go all in and make connections in that area of focus.
If your firm excels in health care building, forge relations with that field so that you remain top-of-mind for new projects.
Knowing who your ideal client is and who you can best serve will allow you to focus efforts and remain on track toward your business development goals.
2. Network for success
Networking is a powerful aspect of architecture business development. Getting to know contractors, designers, agencies, and builders can be a hugely powerful way of helping to grow an architecture firm.
Meeting new people in your field of business, who provide services you’ll need, can be an incredibly powerful way of architecture business development. Contractors, designers, agencies, and builders all need new business, too, and all look after specific parts of projects.
Getting to know them not only introduces your services, skills, and expertise to them, which will get you new business in the future, but it also helps to increase the chances that you’ll use them for a coming project. It’s a win-win.
To start networking with your industry, look for any small business forums, meetups, or other associations in your area catering to your type of business. Have a look for any clubs, groups, or industry conferences in your area that you can join or visit to help you meet new people.
As you start to increase your exposure within the local community, you’ll find the number of people who approach your firm increases.
What’s more, you’ll have established key relationships with people your firm can rely on for aspects of your future projects, too.
3. Invest in social media
Social media is how we communicate, share, and discover. For businesses that deal in visual creations — like buildings and interiors — social media is a treasure trove of new business opportunities that can help grow your architecture firm.
Instagram now has over 1,000,000,000 active users who spend countless hours each day looking through images from their friends and from brands. The hashtag #architecture has been used over 100,000,000 times in photos.
This means there’s a huge audience of people interested in the work you do and looking for more of it on the platform.
Architectural firms like Foster and Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects use Instagram to show off their latest commissions, highlight the design process, and connect with their audience. Over time, as their profiles grow and their work is seen by more and more people, their client list will, too.
Start to grow your architecture firm with Instagram by posting photos of your latest commissions, your design process, the builds, and any awards you might win. Take photos of sketches, your team, site visits, and more.
If you have no time to do it yourself, you can always outsource social media management.
Showing off your work and your achievements is a positive thing and will help draw more people to you over time. This can include new business opportunities, as well as new staff or partnerships.
The more visible and memorable your brand is, the more likely people are to think of you first over others.
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4. Grow online with architecture digital marketing
Becoming a go-to place for architecture news, thoughts, and opinions can help draw people to your firm. A key part of architecture business development should be growing an online presence. You can do this with written blogs, articles, and case studies.
After major projects, create an in-depth case study that shows off any innovative or interesting materials, design practices, or techniques you used during the case study. Share how you met the client brief and how you translated their wishes into reality.
The best part is that these case studies fulfill multiple needs. You can use these case studies for future RFP responses, as well as promotional materials for your firm.
Another opportunity to share your expertise is in blog posts or articles. Writing about your experience and industry will help your firm establish itself as a key voice on architecture.
If your business is focused on a specific area, make sure to write about that and how architecture, planning proposals, or developments affect it.
As you write, share your firm’s articles on social media and with friends and colleagues. Over time, you’ll see your architecture firm be established as a key thought leader in the industry and you’ll be the first point of call for any future project.
5. Get referrals and share them
In conversation with Hubstaff, Enoch Bartlett Sears of Business of Architecture spoke of the power of referrals. He said, “It is so important for architecture firms to have a systematic method to foster referral relationships as these can form the majority of an architecture firm’s business.”
Referrals are such a powerful way to grow an architecture firm because they come with the hardest thing to generate: trust.
Having trust right from the beginning allows you to connect with a client, discover their needs for a project and then deliver on that. Referrals break down barriers of discovery and uncertainty because referrals are a sign that you’ve done it all before, and have delivered.
Encouraging referrals can happen easily by keeping a good relationship with the client after a project has finished.
Reach out to them for follow-up site visits (if it’s not already part of your process). If they have anything else they’re working on that you could lend a hand to, or if they know of anybody else who’s looking for an architect.
You don’t have to be pushy about this; lead with genuine curiosity and wanting to make sure everything is going well. Referrals can grow from there.
As well as tapping past clients for referrals, be sure to ask your wider network for referrals. The more people you’re friendly with in the industry or local community, the better.
You can get your name out into the community by sponsoring local events, speaking at business gatherings, and supporting other businesses in your area.
Introduce these audiences to your past projects and let them know that you’d love to be referred if someone is looking for an architect. If someone does know a company looking for an architect, be direct and ask if they could put in a good word and get you in touch.
6. Bonus: Start managing your business and save money right from the start
Once you start scaling your business, you might notice one of the common challenges business owners face: how hard it gets to keep track of billable hours and invoices.
The paperwork starts taking too much time; time that could be spent developing a business.
Many smart entrepreneurial architects use a time tracking software that helps them save money by automating their work and tracking time to specific clients and projects. With time tracking software like Hubstaff, your life will get easier thanks to accurate time tracking, automated timesheets, budget management and invoicing features.
Get started growing your architecture firm
Now you know the key fundamentals of a great architecture business development plan, it’s time to get started growing your architecture firm.
Start looking out for events and conferences to go to, begin posting and connecting on social media, and reach out to past clients for referrals. You’ll find that it might take a bit of time to have an impact on your business so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see great results right away.
Over time, you’ll start to see new business rolling in and you’ll see your architecture firm grow.
If you’ve got any other great tips on what to include in an architecture business development plan, let us know in the comments!