Three years ago architect Bob Borson decided to start a blog “as a creative outlet” and “to try something new”. Little did he know that within two years his blog would balloon to readership of over 250,000 views a month, making it one of the most visited blogs of an individual architect. As such, Bob has become a voice for architects as read by thousands of people. Bob’s experience has lessons for those who wish to use the internet to find the right clients and use the power of the internet for marketing an architecture firm. We discuss Facebook, Twitter, blogging and other social media for architects. We also discusses how his firm survived the recession, how he finds new clients as an architect, why he started a blog, and marketing for architects.
On his blog, Life of an Architect, Bob writes about life through the lens of an architect. Some of his most popular posts cover subjects such as the reasons to be an architect, the reasons not to be an architect, how much money an architect makes and the salary of an architect, and the communication skills needed by architects. You can read more at his blog Life of an Architect. This interview, and others, is available as an iTunes podcast or video below. If you like this video interview, please share with your friends and colleagues with the email or tweet links on the left!
Welcome Business of Architecture TV, all about marketing for architecture firms: helping architects conquer the world. In today’s interview we discuss blogging and social media for architects. Things we discuss are Facebook for architects, LinkedIn for architects, blogging for architects and twitter for architects. And here is your host, Enoch Sears.
Enoch: Hey there architects. Today’s guest is architect and reluctant celebrity blogger, Bob Borbosn. Bob Borson practices architecture in Dallas, Texas where he is currently an associate principal, or in the words used in this interview, the “grand overlord” with Bernbaum Magadini Architects. The firm has a broad portfolio of high end residential and commercial projects. Bob started his blog, lifeofanarchitect.com in January of 2010 as a creative outlet and in his own words, to learn something new.
His blog has grown tremendously and now gets over a quarter million views each month. Most importantly, Bob is a likeable and genuine guy. He won’t say so, but I have a feeling that this has contributed to the success of his blog, Life of an Architect. In today’s interview, we discuss finding the right career path in architecture, how Bob finds new clients in his firm, the role of social media in architecture and why Bob loves what he does. Without further ado, here’s our program. All right, Bob.
Enoch: So welcome first of all to the Business of Architecture webcast.
Bob: Thanks for having me.
Enoch: We really consider it an honor to have you on here. You’ve been sort of a figurehead for a lot of architectural bloggers out there, including myself. You’ve paved the way so to speak. Definitely feel like a mentor of sorts and so we thank you for that.
Bob: Thank you.
Enoch: Now, one of the purposes of our interview here is I wanted to go ahead and sort of let people know a little bit about you, talk about your progression as an architect, how you started out, how you got to where you’re at and maybe something along your journey will help some other architects figure out where they want to be at.
Bob: Okay. Well, let’s see here. I’m 44 years old. I graduated in 1992 from the university of Texas in Austin and interestingly enough, the economy in 1992 was not very good either and so I took the first job that I could get which actually I got as a result of my mum getting it for me almost and it was with a guy, very dynamic personality who designed retail environments, like genesis retail. We designed clothing stores and jewelry stores, that type of thing. It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot and I got a lot of skill sets that were far beyond what someone right out of school should – I was writing proposals and going to meetings by myself and doing billing within a year or two of getting out of school and part of it was because we were in a very large firm and so everybody had to wear a lot of hats.
So I got a skill set that was not normal for someone who was 24, 15 years old and at the time I thought that was great. When I ended up leaving that job after three years because I wanted to learn how to put a building together, most of everything we did was inside of another building and I thought, I need to – I’m not really becoming an architect on this path. I just have a job. So I ended up going through a series of getting jobs at other places and what I found is that the skill set that they wanted me to have which is what most people develop right out of school which is working drawings.
I hadn’t spent that much time doing that type of work. I could detail mall work, drywall, soffits and all kinds of great design things and I had a pretty good material palette sense, but they don’t need someone who’s 25 years old to write proposals for them or do billing. They have partners that do that kind of stuff. So I found myself over the next, almost probably 10 years changing jobs about every year and a half and I worked for interiors firms, I worked for land planners.
There’s rarely a job that you can think of that I didn’t do, but what happened is I used to worry about this a lot and then I had friends of mine who came out of school and got a job at some large firm and they stayed at that firm and they had progressed through the intern associate, the whole process, associate, principal, that type of thing and I was just some guy who had been at some job for a year and a half and what I realized is that I had tried to figure out without realizing this is what I was doing, a combination of what did I like to do and what am I good at doing.
A lot of people what they like to do is not necessarily what they’re good at. So me going through all these jobs essentially just let me find out what I want to do and for me what I like to do is I like to communicate with people. I like the personal exchange of ideas. So that led me from a small firm up to a very large firm, back down to a small firm and I went from commercial work all the way back around to residential work to where I’m at now with Bernbaum Magadini Architects. I’ve been there 10 years. We do — probably 90% of the work that we do is residential.
It’s I won’t say custom because it’s all custom, but it’s owner based meaning we get hired by the end user. There are a couple of times when we’ll work with a contractor to design a house for them that they’ll sell, but that’s one out of every 50, 60 houses that we do. Now what that allowed me to do is to wear many hats again. Now I’m back in the role to where I do designing. I write up billing reports. I do construction drawings. I do job site visits. I take phone calls from everybody that’s on the project.
So my day is not static. The days of me coming to the office and doing one things for eight hours have been long gone. I just don’t do that anymore and as a result, it’s kept me engaged, it’s kept me focused, it’s kept me happy. It’s rewarding. I have relationships with the people that I work with and the interesting part about this, for me this is what’s important to me.
It’s not necessarily important to everyone so it’s not necessarily a consideration for others looking for employment, but I like the idea that the person I’m working with, it’s their money that I’m spending when I work on a project and as a result they’re invested in the process and I like the user to be engaged with me during the design process, during the construction process because what I get at the end of it is true ownership, not just possession but ownership.
Everyone has a little skin in the game I guess as the phrase goes and I’m friends with these people. We exchange Christmas cards and I still talk to them on the phone and that makes it rewarding beyond just trying to be good at my job. There’s a personal aspect to it that I really like. So that’s what’s got me to where I’m at today which is actually an architect.
Enoch: Okay. Now, At BMA, what position do you currently hold? What’s your current job title?
Bob: I think my job title is associate principal. Basically I could make whatever title. I’m the grand overlord. Our firm has eight people in it and everybody has ownership. Our office works like a true studio, meaning everybody could work on every project if their skill set lent itself to that particular aspect of the project. So the way the hierarchy in my firm works as a flow diagram is there’s the two owners. There’s the two people whose names are on the door. They’ve been in business together for 15 years and I’ve been there 10. So I’m right below them.
Then below me or really kind of adjacent, maybe it’s a longevity thing, we have four project architects. Everyone in our office went to architecture school and is in the process of getting their license. We don’t have just drafters with the idea that if you’re a homeowner and you call for me and you can’t get me, there will be someone else who can take your phone call and who can answer your question and that’s really important to us. But we have titles just so we have something to put on our cards. They don’t really mean that much really.
Enoch: You bet. Okay. Now, when you talk about your job, your career progression, I find this interview is getting really interesting because you have, there’s a lot of architects who are in your position who have followed, there’s the couple of different tracks in architects. You have people that are sole proprietors, people that work for large corporate firms and then other people that end up at smaller design boutiques or smaller design firms. Could you speak a little bit to that early time in your career when you went from job to job, about a year and a half between them? That’s a pretty quick time to be switching from jobs and how you felt that that was either an advantage or a disadvantage in your career path.
Bob: Well, this is kind of what I think I’m good at. I can work anything from either angle because it’s just part of the nature I think that architects who communicate as part of their jobs to do is I want to empower you with information so you can make your own decision. So there’s both good and bad for everything and I would say that the good side of me changing jobs frequently as I did is I got to meet a lot of people. So in my community of architects which is in Dallas, I know a lot of people and luckily I didn’t burn any bridges. So as far as I know I don’t think that anybody has an unsavory opinion of me.
So I got to meet a lot of people. I also got exposed to a lot of different ways on how things can be done. The method of getting from A to Z is different and so every place I worked had their own methodologies in place and it was interesting to see how those methodologies were formulated, how they were executed and whether or not the varying degrees of success they might have had compared to the stated goals, what the purpose of the methodology was. The other thing is it allowed me to do is to get exposed to different types of practices in terms of this firm did historic renovation.
This firm did specialized and interior hotel projects. We did suites and bars. There was an interiors firm that we did interiors type projects, but we did them at five star resorts and what that exposed me to. I worked for a large firm where we designed malls, huge buildings and I was amazed when I learned that a team of four people put together a 2 million square foot mall. The design, the construction, drawings, the whole thing is four people. You kind of tend to look at it as here’s this firm of 800 people and they do these really big buildings when the truth is that it’s the same size team that’s doing a house that’s doing a big building. They just take more time to do it.
So the positive of that was just the exposure and the experience. The same things aren’t always done the same way unilaterally. The downside to that, the negative aspect to that was starting somewhere new in a lot of ways is almost like starting over. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I have never found myself working for firms where there was a round of layoffs and I’m worried about come to my office and bring a box with you kind of conversations.
But that does happen. You change jobs a lot. You’re the low guy on the pole. You’re the new guy in and so if things turn south they go that’s the guy that’s worried, the guy who just showed up. Also there is the idea that I like to think that I’m good at a lot of things, but I’m not great at anything. But I have friends of mine who have worked in the same role and the same job for 15 years and they are spectacular at doing one thing and they are, you can’t, it’s almost like, they’re so specialized that what they have to say and what they can contribute is beyond reproach.
They understand this process and they are specialists. For me that was boring, but for some people that would be a great strength. To be an expert at what you do. I’m good at a great many things. So I guess it’s almost like I’m a generalist instead of a specialist and I like it that way. It keeps me engaged.
Enoch: Okay. Now one thing that I read in one of your blog posts, Bob, was you talking about your employment at BMA and during this great recession that we’ve had and the fact that you guys have had enough work and you’ve avoided a lot of the furloughs that have plagued the other firms a lot, the layoffs. Now, I don’t think anyone is naïve enough to think that that is due to some special luck or gift from heaven. So what I’d like to know is what things do you attribute that to? What successful things has your firm been doing to maintain work throughout the flow and what do you do differently from other firms?
Bob: Well, it’s hard for me to say what we do differently from other firms. What I can say is that the way our firm is structured, one, we have great management. One of the partners who’s in charge of running the business of our office, he knows what he’s good at and he knows what he’s not good at and he goes and seeks advice and input from other people to supplement the things that he either doesn’t have the experience in or just for guidance, something he’s constantly doing and he’s exceptionally good at it. I have a lot of respect for him in the sense that we are fiscally very well run.
The other thing we did do is we did scale back, I’m sure that the partner, the people who make money after all the bills have been paid, I know that the recession hit them hard, but the way that works is when times are good, you sow hay while the sun shines and nobody is running around the – they’re not running around the office skipping, talking about how much money they’re making at the same time. When things are going bad they’re the ones that are not making the salary that they used to make.
They’re not shuffling around the office going woe is me, I ‘m not making what I used to make. So what we ended up doing is allowed everybody – we had no bonuses and we had salary freezes and there was a period of about four months that we went to a two-day a month furlough, 10%. We reduced everybody’s time by 10%. That didn’t last very long. I’d like to think that we did well because we’re good at what we do. We have really good reputation here in the Metroplex and I’d say that that was a big part of it. But I have to concede that in Dallas, where I live, that was part of it as well because our major economies here are driven by industries that are global.
We have banking, we have telecommunications, we have oil and gas and the recession here did not get as bad as it did in other places in the country. So what happens is our local economy is fairly stable. We don’t have the huge highs, but we don’t have the huge lows either. So we came out of it really because we planned for it. We didn’t – people who run the business don’t run things to excess when times are good so they had a plan and they had money in place to deal with shortages and thankfully we had enough work to keep things going to where we didn’t have to take any drastic steps.
Enoch: Okay. So when you talk about money in store, they have a conservative savings plan, there’s a war chest so to speak for lean years?
Bob: As I understand it, my role in the office is I don’t work with the money strategy for the office, but what I do know is that our office is set up to where we’re not working from paycheck to paycheck, meaning that they do – we’re a small office and we have a savings plan. Like I said, I think I mentioned it, we have eight people in our office and I don’t know too many eight-person residential architectural firms that have owner contributed 401 savings plans. So I mean maybe that’s the shortest way to say that financially we’re pretty well run.
Enoch: Okay, very well. Where do most of your clients come from?
Bob: Most of our clients, well…
Bob: How do we get them?
Enoch: How do you get your leads? Yeah. I’ m guessing a lot of it is referrals. Could you talk a little bit about how you get your work?
Bob: Most of our work is through – well, I’ll tell you how traditionally all architectural firms get their work and how we’re really no different but how that has evolved over the last say 10 years and like most small, and this is specific to residential firms because I’m going to speak from what I know, the firm started getting a lot of its work flow through personal relationships, existing relationships with people that key members of the firm knew. Like you start designing a house for your best friend and part of that is age driven.
When you’re getting into your 40s and your friends are at a stage in their life where they’ve started a family and they’re growing and they’ve had stable jobs and they have some money now and they want to design a house for themselves, they’re going to call the person who they know and the person who they feel is going to have their interest at heart which is what we do as residential architects. As that goes, you start to build up your portfolio in the projects that you’ve done and then we start getting work from referrals.
People see our projects or they have a good experience with the person who lives or owns the house that we did for them. So we start getting more and more business as a result of our name and our reputation and our workload. Now, we still end up interviewing for a lot of these projects, but it would be one thing if you sit down at the table with prospective clients and you have one project to show them and you did it while you were employed by someone else.
That’s a different scenario than when you’re opening up your portfolio and you’ve been in business for 15 years and it’s like here’s the 150 projects we’ve done, you can call any person on this list. Here’s all the photos. It makes it a little bit easier to sell that process. Another thing that we do is we do buy ad space in some of the local shelter magazines that are in our area. Dallas has a few and maybe not everyone knows the shelter magazines. Basically it’s like a home and lifestyle magazine. So we have a few of those and Dallas is a big city. So we have a few that are actually locally and regionally published. So we will buy an ad and it’s not – I think they’re pretty well done. They’re not gratuitous.
Basically it’s just this is our name, this is what we do, this is why we think we’re good and here is a picture of one of our projects. It’s a pretty simple formula, but what it does is that it gives some recognition to the name so that when somebody does say ‘hey, my architect is this firm’ and then go, ‘I remember seeing them in this issue of this magazine.’ So we actually get quite a few calls as a result of people who see our ads in the shelter magazines.
Enoch: What kind of percentage would you say if you had to guess versus referrals versus people that organically come to you through ads or your marketing?
Bob: I can’t answer that question because one, I don’t know. But the reason I don’t know is it’s normally not just one thing. People call us because if they don’t know somebody personally that’s on the team, normally what happens is now in the days of social media and internet and websites and all this kind of good stuff, the people who come to us have already done a lot of work. So they will say they’ve been to our website, they’ve seen an ad in a magazine, they’ve seen a project that we’ve done or they know someone who’s done something or they talked to this contractor who said that we were good and got our name from them. It’s many things. So part of – I don’t know if it’s a strategy more than it’s just a result of the process, but most of the people that come to us are familiar with who we are through at least two or three or four different channels.
Enoch: Okay. So what I’m getting from you, just to restate, is that it is important to have a couple of different channels where people will run across you.
Bob: Yes. It’s worked for us and I assume we’ll probably get into this in a few minutes, but it’s kind of like the website and blogging and having some type of social media presence. People will ask, how many jobs have you received as a result of having a blog and I liken that to someone saying how many jobs have you had as a result of you having a telephone? It’s just a tool. It’s just one step in the process. It’s just another way that you can add an additional layer of communication to somebody.
Somebody might want to communicate that way. Some people might not want to communicate, but if you don’t have it, you don’t have that option at your disposal. So that’s why it’s important. So knowing which one of those has more value or more benefit. I couldn’t tell you, but I know that having all of them has value.
Enoch: Okay, good. Now, you mentioned the blog of course. We’re going to jump into that, but before we go there I wanted to ask you one more question. One of the first things that really stood out to me when I got to know you initially was that you exuded a love for your job and you had a lot of positivity, I don’t even know if that’s a word, but it comes across and you talk about how you love your job.
There are a lot of other architects are not feeling that way about their jobs and I think, my guess is there’s probably a psychological attitude that you have, but then also some choices you’ve made to get to where you’re at. What I’d like to ask you is what choices in the past you think have contributed to your current love of your job?
Bob: I don’t know. I was with you on that question up until the very end in the sense that I made a conscious decision to try to be a glass half full guy. There’s a lot of days I don’t want to get out of bed and I don’t want to go to work and I dread certain Mondays and the ideas of the same old drudgery, oh this is terrible, I hate this, this is a drag. I’m not doing something that’s engaging. But part of it is just a mindset that I look at even the most dreary aspects of what we do and it’s just part of the process.
If you want to be good at what you do, then you want your clients to feel like you’re not cavalier with their budget, you’re not cavalier with their design, that you have their best interest at heart, you have to do the bad stuff to go along with the good stuff and I had somebody tell me once, you’re going to have to eat your vegetables sooner or later. You can’t exist without eating your vegetables and the analogy there is basically you may love to design, you may think you’re a great designer, but if you can’t back up that design with communication skills, with documentation skills, just be able to execute the big picture, you’re not going to be very well received in what you do.
So that mindset helps me on the days when I have to check window shop drawing for eight hours and I have to do that after hours because I’m going to be on the phone for half the day. They’re not fun. I don’t particularly care for them, but they need to be right and people are expecting me to do my job and so that’s just a mindset and that matters a lot I think.
Enoch: So what I’m hearing from you is that you really focus on the mindset part of it?
Bob: Yeah. There’s a great deal of what I do that I – I have a passion for sitting down with a piece of trace paper and a pen and solving it. It’s a puzzle. It’s a problem. How can I get it there, but what really motivates me is that at the end of the project, everybody walks away from it happy. The contractor is happy, the client is happy, I’m happy. Those are the real successful projects and I remember years later, I remember the people associated with the projects far more than the projects themselves.
I still remember the projects, but what I value is that these people still think highly enough of me after the fact they still want to talk and they still refer me to other people and we can still bump into each other somewhere and not have awkward moments. Putting myself in that position has made the biggest difference in how I go about doing my job.
Enoch: I got you. Now getting to where – looking at where you’re at right now, was it a process of very selective method of choosing particular jobs with an end goal in mind? Or did you just go from job to job and figured it out as you went?
Bob: Jobs in terms of where I worked or jobs in terms of projects I’ve done?
Enoch: Career. I’m trying to dig into you’re at a place right now where you feel you love your job. Obviously a huge part of that is due to your mindset. But I’m also trying to figure out, how can other people replicate what you’ve done?
Bob: Well, part of it is just trying to understand what it is that you’re getting and this is – I used to be and I might still be, but I hide it better, a huge jerk. I mean in the sense that I felt that I knew more than other people, which was not true. It wasn’t true and part of it was just learning, being immature, being young and there were jobs that I had that, and I wrote about one of them. I quit a job in a very unsavory way once. It’s the one regret out of all the job changes I’ve had in how I handled it.
Basically the guy and I and the irony was they were taking me out to lunch to celebrate a promotion and a raise and I quit during the lunch. During the lunch is when I quit and it’s one of my true regrets in my career. But what happened is I think that you need to pull back every now and then and assess are you getting any closer to what you think you ultimately want to do and there are jobs I had that I was good at and I didn’t dislike them, but they became mundane.
They became the same thing and I thought, I’m not growing anymore. I’m not learning new things and once the challenge got lost and that’s not to say that I couldn’t continue to get even better at doing the same thing over and over again, it’s just I felt no reward in doing that. So that probably accounted for me leaving one job and going to a new more than anything else was just I got bored or in a few cases I lost respect for the people that I was working with because you start getting to the point where you see things and that’s not how that should be done.
You’re not treating that person the way I think that they should be treated and you feel you need to extricate yourself from that environment. That’s a part of it too. But I would tell people, don’t be passive in how you’re going to achieve your goals. You need to be the one that sets the path and if you’re on a path that’s not going to get you where you need, then you need to change that path. That doesn’t necessarily mean changing jobs, but it means you need to take ownership of the process.
Enoch: Okay, very good. Thanks Bob. So let’s move on now over a little bit to the social media and websites which I’m sure you’ll have plenty to share on this. But in talking to a lot of architects, a lot of these architects there’s an age gap in terms of people who have run most of their careers without these technology tools available and a lot of them have difficulty seeing the relevance or seeing the importance or seeing what benefit things such as social media or website will have to an architect’s practice. What have you learned through blogging that you could tell those architects?
Bob: Well, I think there’s a lot. I have a lot of opinions on it. I started it simply to learn how to do something. I didn’t have a goal. My goal when I first started doing this back in January of 2010 I think is when I started was simply to learn something new. My role in my office then was not really to bring in work. It’s a goal that I have now because it’s happening, but I just wanted to learn something new. But what I found is through the blogging, through social media, my ability to connect to new people and be exposed to new things has gone up a thousand fold.
There are things that I know exist now that I would never have known otherwise. Like all things, that comes at a cost. It was one thing when I first started again in 2010, we were slow in our office. I didn’t have to work 50 hour weeks just to make sure that I got my own obligations done. We were able to fill our time with pursuits on how to make ourselves better, how to make our practice better, how to make our projects better. It wasn’t simply about doing billable work to achieve a deadline for a project.
So it was during this time that I started my blog and I was able to teach myself and make mistakes and learn how to do things just through the act of doing it and of course as we’ve gotten busy again, when I go to work, that’s their time, it’s not my time. So I’ve never really done too much of that up at the office. But social media encompasses, if I use the analogy kind of a wheel, a wagon wheel, I tend to think that the blog, the delivery method of the website and the blog, that’s kind of at the center and then the spokes that radiate off that are the methods or the means at which you connect and communicate with other people in the real time, like Twitter or Facebook or through videos on Vimeo or YouTube.
There’s a lot of different platforms that are out there and what’s made it hard is the more success that I’ve had, the harder it’s been to maintain the same type of rewarding relationship or exchange with people. It’s one thing when you’re getting 20 emails a week and you can respond in great length to the questions that people are asking and it’s something different entirely when you’re getting 200 emails a week.
It would be a full time job for me to respond to all the emails that I get and I feel obligated. It’s almost like if you’re going to put yourself out there [inaudible], then you need to be prepared to see that through. That’s just kind of my mentality. It has been incredibly rewarding. I can’t say anything negative about it other than it is a time requirement to which you can’t possibly understand until you do it.
Enoch: Do you think there’s any – is there any reason why an architect would want to get involved in social media?
Bob: I think so. Part of it is in traditional media and traditional websites and architects historically have terrible websites in my opinion, one of the things that I set out to do when I did mine was I was going to try to make the practice of architecture a little more transparent. One of my goals was I was going to talk about what I did as an architect, like what did it mean to be an architect? How did I spend my time? But I don’t want to make it a diary. That was not the point of it. But a lot of people have – what people think we do and their understanding of what we do really is not the same.
There are some similarities, but really on the whole it’s quite different. So the idea of explaining how we go about our business has allowed me to convey some personality into how I practice as an architect and at a certain level, at the very beginning, the very basis of considerations, if Mr. and Mrs. Smith are going to interview three architects to possibly design a new house for them, I’m going to make the assumption that all three of those architectural firms have the ability to design a house that’s got all the program requirements that Mr. and Mrs. Smith want and that it’s not going to leak and that Mr. and Mrs. Smith would generally probably be pretty happy with it. So what’s the wildcard?
The wildcard is the process and in my opinion you can either have fun and enjoy the process or it can be something that you just have to get through in order to get the end result. It’s a means to an end. So personality I think figures into the process. So blogging is one consideration that allows people to go in and see what my personality is before they ever sit down across the table for me and then when they do, a lot of times they feel like we already have some type of connection or relationship. One, because I make myself available, but two, because they know enough about me to they know that I think in certain ways and that has made a difference.
Enoch: Okay. How many people have mentioned coming to you because of your blog? Is it a significant number?
Bob: Well, that kind of ties into the question you asked earlier. A lot of people have seen it, but it may not necessarily be the reason why they’ve come in. now, we have gotten a handful of jobs as a result of they had no idea we existed, but they found my blog while they were doing their own research and they come in that way. But normally what happens is just like they see a magazine ad or they see a house that has one of our yard signs in front of it, people find it and they do a little bit more research and they go look at the website and then they see this and they see that and it paints a fuller, bigger picture. So when they come in, they’re more equipped to ask salient questions that are specific to their needs.
Enoch: Sure. So it sounds like all those that is contribute to the brand image. That’s what I would say of your firm. People know what BMA is and they can get to know you through the blog. Where would you say is your best place to market so to speak your blog? I know it’s not – you’re not doing it for financial reasons, but just for traffic sake alone, what have you found the best way to promote your blog?
Bob: Well, if you’re just looking for numbers, Facebook is pretty good. Facebook has been – refers a lot of traffic back to my site, but what happens is I get different demographics from every platform that I work with. So if I put something on let’s say LinkedIn, I get more trade people. If I put it on Facebook, I get more college students and high students that think being an architect would be great. If I put it on Twitter, I can control it a little bit more because I choose – Twitter has, I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter.
There’s a lot of times I think it’s one choir member talking to the other choir member on Twitter. I’m not really talking to a potential client, but there are people who would argue and I think they could argue it successfully is that you might be one step removed from the client. So let’s say that I have a relationship with you and somebody you know needs an architect who’s in the Dallas area. You might say I know a guy who’s in Dallas area and here’s his information. He’s got a site, you can go check it out.
But there are so many that are out there, I pretty much just focus on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Those are the three and even then, it’s hard to respond to people the way that I feel like I should. Twitter has a certain kind of protocol as to how it works and if you want people to retweet your message you need to tweet their message and you have to thank people for tweeting your message and it becomes very difficult from a time commitment to do that. It was one thing when I had 100 followers. It’s something quite different when you’ve got 7,000 followers.
Enoch: Yeah, you bet.
Bob: I feel like a jerk as a result of it because that’s how that process works.
Enoch: Okay. Now, I did have one architect who read something I had posted on my website and I’m not a huge advocate of only focusing on a website or only doing social media, but I like to expose all architects to these different options. So that’s what I write about is letting them know what’s out there, what it takes to get this stuff set up and what they can expect from it and one architect, when he read a little post I had about blogging, he responded a little indignantly and said, ‘what am I supposed to be, an architect or a blogger?’ Because he felt that blogging was going to become so all-encompassing that he was going to lose his focus on architecture. What would you respond to that?
Bob: Well, he’s not wrong. But there are ways and this is something that when we have – when I talk to the two senior partners in our office and they’re not the most technologically savvy of individuals, one of them, neither of them know any drafting software and if they didn’t have a mouse, they wouldn’t be able to function with their computer. They don’t know about tab and it’s like you could hit enter, you don’t have to, that’s okay, but what ends up happening is we have those conversations. I tell them because I go I can’t be the only one, I write for my own website because it was a hobby and it was on my personal time and they kind of dismissed it as time wasting.
Well, as things have progressed over the last few years, they have started to come on board which is amazing to me because you never met two people who were more against this than the two people who are the partners in my firm. But now they’re starting to say hey, we need to look like we’re more current and part of looking more current means maybe having an iPad that you show pictures on as opposed to pulling out a three-ring binder that’s got slip sleeves with photographs printed on it. This all contributes to the image and it also helps to do things like attract younger talent. Nobody wants these guys coming out of school.
They want to be able to work for someone who at least seems they’re in the current decade of technology. So they’ve come on board with it and when I talk to them, I say I can’t be the only one. Everyone in the firm, or at least the partners need to have some type of presence on the blog site and they look at me like, I don’t know how to do it and I have other things I need to be focusing on. Well, what I tell them is I say, you don’t write, figure out what you’re going to talk about has to do with only what you’re currently doing to do your job. Here is a good example.
I have a post that will come out the next couple of weeks on tornado shelters and you know why? Because I’m doing a tornado shelter in a house right now. So I have drawings for it [inaudible], pictures that I’ve taken because it’s under construction. This is my knowledge that I can share with people because it’s part of what I do as a practicing architect. I don’t go out to find the story and then create it. I looked at what I’m doing in the act of doing my job and I turned that into something that I talk about on the website.
That makes a big difference and that’s something that the older generation doesn’t seem to have – well, again maybe it’s not a generational thing, it’s an experience thing about what you do as an architect, then blogging is an extension of being an architect. It’s not a side responsibility.
Enoch: Okay. Good answer. Thank you, Bob. Now, I know we’re running out of time here, but I just had two really quick questions that I wanted to ask. I know we’re at our limit so I’m going to ask your permission.
Enoch: Should we end it now or do you have a couple of minutes?
Bob: I’m available.
Enoch: Okay. So one thing you brought up is that now you’re involved in business development. So what I’d like to know from you is, when you think about okay, I need to go out there, I want to go out there and get some clients, in your mind, what does that mean to you? What do you do? What are the steps that you would go through to make that happen? What do you focus on?
Bob: Well, I don’t know that I’m any good at it. So I’m not sure people should listen to what I have to say.
Enoch: Well, we want to hear it anyway.
Bob: My approach is I never leave the house or go somewhere with the idea of getting work. I think that what will happen is by putting myself out there and letting people know what I do, that’s my best calling card. I’ll help people. What happens is I get a lot of phone calls from as it is now, people will say hey, will you come look at my backyard? I want to put a pool in but I’m not sure what I should do. I just go do it. I don’t say okay, we’ll set up a meeting time and here’s my billing rate. I don’t do that. If someone looks at our website and goes wow, you do really expensive big houses and I don’t have the money to do a big expensive house, I tell them, we help people pick the front door for their existing house.
It’s a service thing. So when I leave the house, I leave the house to be me and to be a good person and to be helpful and to let people know that if they need something that I can do for them, I will do it. But I don’t ever go out to pitch and as a result, if I was more aggressive, maybe I would bring in more work than I currently do. But it’s not who I am and it’s not comfortable for me to do that.
Enoch: Well, I think that’s a wonderful example of how architects don’t need to be pitch machines. You don’t need to be the guy that goes out to all the mixers and hands out business cards. I think you’re a good example of someone that has achieved amazing peace with their career and personal success without need to be the company rainmaker so to speak. It sounds like you’re saying a lot of your BD or business development is more passive, that you focus on the relationships as opposed to focusing on exactly how you’re going to get that new client.
Bob: I read something or maybe I heard it, but the act of keeping a client takes far less effort than getting a new client. So what we end up doing is we think taking care of our existing clients is the best way for us to get new clients, because now it’s not just us advocating what we do to other people. I’ve just incorporated new people onto my team and anybody I’ve ever worked with will say yeah, they’re great people to work with. They respond, they answer their phone calls. If they need someone on a Saturday they’ll show up on a Saturday. You take care of your existing people, I think that’s the best way to grow your business.
Enoch: Excellent. Okay, now just to pivot over to Life to an Architect, now for those of you watching, if you haven’t watched Bob’s blog, Life to an Architect, you should definitely do it. He has a lot of material on there. He started it January 14th of 2010 if I remember correctly.
Bob: That’s right.
Enoch: What’s next for Life to an Architect, Bob? Is this going to be a thing you do into retirement? Where is this headed?
Bob: I wonder. It’s a big time commitment. I’ll tell you this. When I first started it would probably take me eight hours to write one 300 word post. It took a long time and I agonized over every word and every phrase and every typo and every grammar. It was agony and I’ve become – it’s almost like children. You have your first child and you think that child is going to break if you just breathe on it the wrong way and as you have more, I don’t, I have one, but as I’ve seen, you look back and you go, that was ridiculous what I did. I don’t need to be – they’re not that – they’re more resilient than that.
What I’ve learned is that I’ve written more and more blog posts, my content is not as contrived as it used to be, but I also write a lot less. When I first started I did a post every day for about three or four months and it almost killed me. You talk about stress and pressure and I went, I said why am I doing, this is [inaudible]. I started imposing all these restrictions on myself and all these deadlines. So I went to three a week and I did three a week for about two years and even when I went on vacation,
I would write them ahead of time and get them loaded up and that kind of thing and it just required so much time and as my life has become busier and my obligations to my family have become greater, I just don’t have the time to do it anymore. So now I’m down to one post a week generally. Sometimes you’ll have something will click in your head and you can, but now it takes me about two hours to write a post and that includes getting the – and most of it is not writing the words, it’s taking the pictures, editing them to size.
That’s the part that takes the most amount of time. But I will say that I am pulling back a bit. I still like it. I still like the format. I’ve still gotten a lot out of it. I can’t imagine not doing it, but the obligation that comes along with it, the responding to emails, that’s what – that weighs on me a lot because I would probably say there are probably 30, 40 emails that I have flagged that I should respond to that are probably a month old in my inbox.
If you’re me or at least for me, I feel guilty for not – these people are writing with questions that to them are the most important thing that’s going on in their life and to not respond and help them and guide them and provide them some comfort or direction, just and you know that they just want some help. They just want some guidance and you don’t do it. It makes me feel bad really.
Enoch: Are the questions a broad spectrum of people looking to build, future architects, just random people asking really strange questions or is it kind of focused in one area?
Bob: I don’t get too many – well, I get strange questions, but they’re not random strange. I’ll get people who will send me floor plans and say what should I do and then I usually respond back and say very kindly, well this is what I do for a living and this is how I feed my family. So here’s a little guidance. But I can’t really solve your whole problem for you because this is my job. This is something I never could have imagined, if you’ll indulge me a minute on this. I got an email from somebody and they were from the UK and a lot of times their email address is not anything that would give you a clue as to their gender or where they’re at, what station of life.
You never know when their email is something impersonal like email@example.com. You don’t know who that person is. So they were asking me questions about school and I responded and they wrote back and I responded again and then they made some comment about how they were 11 years old and is it hard as a girl to go into the field of architecture and I realized what? and I realized oh my gosh, I’m having an email correspondence with an 11 year old girl and I responded back and I said, I can’t talk to you anymore.
You need to tell your parents about this and it really, really rattled me. So yeah, there’s – I never could have fathomed that I would find myself having that moment of oh my gosh, I need to be more careful about what I’m doing here. But I get email questions from students, from other architects, from homeowners, from material reps, from people saying where can I find this or how do you do that and can you tell me what the best way for this is. Unfortunately I don’t get too many emails that are yes and no type questions that normally require a lengthy response.
So it makes it – I spend more time responding to emails than I do writing any of the blogs or putting any of the blogs together and that’s a result of it being a heavily viewed site. But like I said earlier, I almost feel if I want to one have, you have to have the other. You can’t put yourself out there and then not be welcoming to the reception and the questions, because I did to help people after a while. I write a post on how to do a shower that won’t leak. Well, you’re going to get questions. You’ve got to know you’re going to get questions. So you sign up for the whole package.
Enoch: Good. All right. Bob, you’ve been very gracious with your time.
Bob: I’m happy to help.
Enoch: Yeah. Really, really appreciate it. So once again, thanks for all the information we were able to get today and just to close it up, do you have any parting words for the audience?
Bob: I’ll say that if you think that social media and blogging is for you, I’ll say you should do it, you should try it. I think that even if you decide that it’s not for you in the end, you will learn something in the process that will make you better at what you do. I believe that completely.
Enoch: Very good answer. All right, once again, thanks Bob. Hope to talk to you again soon.
Bob: Thank you for having me.
Enoch: Okay. Bye bye. Well, thanks for joining us for another episode of the Business of Architecture. You can always find us on iTunes or businessofarchitecture.com. Please, if you enjoyed this episode, go to iTunes, leave me a ratings feedback. I’ll check every one. That’s all for now.