Inspiring Success in Architecture for Small Firms and Sole Proprietor Architects

How To Turn Prospects into Projects

San Francisco Art Institute

San Francisco Art Institute

I just returned from a quick three-day trip to San Francisco, California. I was invited by architect Rosa Sheng, the co-chair of the Missing 32% Committee at AIASF, to present as a member of a panel discussing entrepreneurism in architecture at the Equity by Design Symposium.

The symposium was a fantastic event. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to visit their website and follow them on Twitter.

My partners on the panel were Maia Small and Frank Pitts. It was a very interesting conversation and I hope that those who attended walked away with a few new ideas. I heard lots of possitive feedback following our session, but I know that the hour we were allotted was not enough time to answer all the questions or dive too deep into any single subject.

One question that was asked, and is a request I hear often, is “How do we small firm architects get more work?”

Even as the economy improves and our chosen markets wake from their slumber, it is still tough to turn prospects into projects. How do we fill our boards with more work?

It is an often repeated rule that people buy from those whom they “know, like and trust”. That phrase is easy to remember and sounds great as a tweet, but what does that really mean? How do we do that? How might we connect with more people and become better known? How is it possible to be more “likeable”? How do we build real trust we those whom we seek to serve?

How To Become Known

In order to know more people and to have more people know us, we need to intentionally connect with others. We need to build a network of friends and followers both online and off. We need to find ways to meet more people within our target market or those who may be connected with that most important group.

The only way to know more people is to put yourself out there to be known. You will not make the connections that lead to more work by sitting in front of your iMac detailing crown molding. I know it’s sad, but it’s true.

Put on your networking hat and find local live networking events in your area. But be selective. You don’t want to waste your time and effort connecting with people who are not within or will not lead to those in your target market.

Think beyond the surface though. A local chamber of commerce networking breakfast may look like tables of businesses seeking connections with other businesses, and you may be a residential architect. What good is that? In fact, it may be very good. It may be the perfect group. Each of those businesses are run by people who own homes within your region. One layer down, that event may be the perfect place to plant your seeds.

Clubs and memberships are also great ways to connect with others. The price may be high for entry, but if the other members are “your people”, one new project may pay for the privilege of membership.

You may also consider organizing your own event. Create a free seminar or invite influential people to an exclusive “happy hour” where you may become the connector.

There are also many opportunities to connect with people and become known online. I’ve written about the power of blogs and social media before. Become active online, find your prospects and share your knowledge. Give away your secrets and reveal the recipe to your “secret sauce”. You will very quickly make connections and become known as the authority in your market.

How To Be More “Likeable”

This one is a bit more difficult. We are who we are. Can we really be more “likeable”?

Likeability has much to do with confidence and body language. When we speak with authority and hold our heads high, we become more attractive. Please note that I am not referring to overconfidence or arrogance. There is a level of confidence that begins to result in the exact opposite effect as we desire.

This takes practice. Many of us architects are introverts and prefer to stand in the corner when given the choice. We shy away from any opportunity to interact with others. I know this first hand. I am a life long introvert. Confidence is often learned.

To become more confident and feel better about being the focus of attention, put yourself in uncomfortable positions. Volunteer to speak in public on a topic which you find interesting and for which you have passion. Do it often and in time, the fear will lessen and your confidence will increase.

With more confidence and more pride in your presentation skills, the effects will spill over into your everyday life. You may find that you will be friendlier to strangers and connect with others you don’t know on a daily basis. People will want to speak with you. You will attract those with whom you want to interact. You will become more likeable.

Oh… One other quick tip. Smile more.

How To Build More Trust

Trust building for any business is about telling your story and building your brand. A few weeks back, I spoke with Bob Fisher, the Associate Publisher of DesignIntelligence magazine on the podcast about storytelling and the power of a strong brand. That show has become one of our most popular episodes. If you haven’t yet listened, I invite you to do so (then leave a review on iTunes).

Brands are about crafting the story that you want your market to hear and see and share. Your website, your letterhead, your business cards, your employees, you… Everything that is experienced by your prospect must be telling the same story. A clear story will build a powerful brand and powerful brands, over time, are trusted.

Trust is earned. It’s not something you can buy. With each touch point, each conversation, each time your story is experienced and shared, the level of trust is increased.

Your greatest ally in building your brand and earning trust is a happy client. Leverage the relationships you have developed during the design and construction administration phases. Request and promote testimonials. Ask them to be references for new prospects and encourage them to refer you to their friends and neighbors.

And how do you ensure a happy client? Do great work and serve them well. Over deliver and under promise. Be “remarkable” with all you do and your clients will be more than happy to “remark” and spread the story of your brand.

People buy from those whom they know, like and trust. Remember this rule and you will soon be turning more prospects into projects.

Let’s share in the comments below. How are you connecting with more people? How have you become more “likeable”? Have you found ways to build more trust with your prospects? Leave your thoughts. Let’s have a discussion about this topic here on the blog.

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