Dear Architect, Are You Seen As A Commodity? Here’s How Your Website Can Help…

Next week is “architect website week” at Business of Architecture, when we'll be discussing all things relating to architect websites. In preparation we are kicking off this week with a couple of articles on how architects can leverage the web to get more work and better projects. Grab your spot in the free training on “Internet Marketing for Architects” by clicking here. (link will open in new window)

Architect as Commodity

How Your Website Can Get You Out Of The Commodity Trap

Dear architect, what do your professional services have in common with wheat, corn and beans?

Not much, hopefully.

Each of these items are basic food-stuffs – subject to commodity pricing. Because all products are basically the same, buying decisions are based on price, and price alone.

“Can you get me a good price on that?” he asks. “Johnny over here is selling for $x, can you match that?” she inquires.

This is not the conversation we architects like to have. Please, just go to Johnny.

A Story

A friend of mine once worked for a shipping broker. His job was to call companies with cargo to ship and try to convince them to use his company to ship their product.

It is an extremely competitive industry with razor-thin margins.

After a few days, he realized that he was fighting against commodity pricing.

A few weeks later, he quit. He just couldn't take making cold calls all day and getting rejected again…and again.

He was offering the same ol' thing as every other guy on the block, and the conversation always came down to price.

If you think selling architectural services is hard, try selling a true commodity.

Escaping the Commodity Trap

So how can you escape the commodity trap?

How do you escape having a client look at your fees alone…without considering the unique skills, abilities and value your firm brings to the table?

Well, to get some ideas, let's take a look at a commodity. If someone can charge a premium price for a commodity, surely they've got something figured out.

I found this bottle of milk in my fridge the other day. It costs twice as much as the milk we normally get.

Architect Add Value

But why? Why am I willing to pay twice as much for what otherwise would be very…commonplace?

Well, this milk comes in a real glass bottle. It has contoured hand-grips on the side. When I pick it up it feels solid, substantial. It doesn't give way like the flimsy polyethylene jugs. It feels cold, and wholesome.

The label says it is locally pastuerized, 10 miles away. But other than the packaging, it is the same as any other milk in the store. And it costs the same as a gallon of milk, for half the amount (i.e. twice the cost).

Imagine for a minute you could double your fees – and your clients would be glad to pay. What would that mean for you? What would that mean for your business?

Would you be able to hire an assistant to take care of the billing and invoicing? Would you be able to stop worrying about the “cash flow crunch” of running a small practice?

You could reclaim your evenings. Take an extra vacation or two. Or three. Attend the kid's ball games on Saturday – with a peaceful conscience.

This is the equivalent of the high-priced milk.

Now I'm not suggesting any collusion here on raising fees, lest the anti-trust nazis come knocking on my door. How you set your fees is up to you.

But we've got to turn the conversation with the client from one of cost, to one of value.

Your Website, Commodity v.s. Expert

Since next week is Architect Website Week here at Business of Architecture, here's a suggestion on how your website can help you escape the “commodity trap”.

Like the example of the milk above, the value a client places on your services has as much to do with perception as it does with the actual service provided.

One sure-fire way to escape the commodity trap is to become the expert.

People will pay almost anything to the right expert. And they'll pay gladly, without batting an eye.

It is all about positioning.

So when you are looking at your website, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will a visitor to my website be convinced that I am an expert in my specialty?
  • Am I packaging my services in a way that will command a premium?
  • Is my website information rich?
  • Does my architecture firm's website provide useful content that addresses my prospects' needs and fears?

If you can be perceived as an expert, you can escape the commodity trap. For more tips on turbo-charging your firm's online presence, join us next week (December 8-14) for a free online training on “Internet Marketing for Architects” by clicking here.

Besides, who price shops heart surgeons?

Reserve Your Seat For Next Weeks Online Training “Internet Marketing for Architects”



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Enoch,

    That’s a nice little piece on leveraging the web and positioning yourself as an expert.



  2. Hello, I am currently National President of the Association of Licensed Architects. Many of our members are small firms (1-5 architects). Are you a licensed CE provider? If so, do you provide seminars on firm management? Please let me know since this is an area that I would like to expand within our association. I believe our members would benefit from this type of seminar. The ALA office is located in Palatine, Illinois. I can be reached at 630-617-5990 and the ALA office is 847-382-0630, Joanne Sullivan is our Executive Director.

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