Tags: marketingsales
Episode 200

Should Architects Advertise? A Conversation About Selling Architecture with Lance Cayko and Alex Gore

Enoch SearsJun 6, 2017

Today we speak with Lance Cayko and Alex Gore, partners at the architecture and design firm, F9 Productions based out of Longmont, Colorado. These guys are great examples of the entrepreneurial spirit. Since starting their firm in 2009, they've grown both the size and scale of the projects they work on, including a current project where they are actually developing themselves. Today, we talk about selling architecture among a bunch of other great topics.

In today's episode of the Business of Architecture show, you'll discover:

  • Should you launch a podcast for your design firm?
  • The worst advice I've received in architecture …
  • Should architects advertise? A conversation about selling architecture …
  • How to ‘sell' architecture

Resources for today’s show:

F9 Productions Inc
F9 Productions Inc Facebook

Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:

[DAP errMsgTemplate=”SHORT”]

Alex: Don't assume that even if it's a repeat client, it's a layup. I think every single time, you have to be prepared to sell yourself to the [nil 00:00:07].

Enoch: Business of Architecture, Episode 200, 200 episodes.

Hello. I'm Enoch Sears and this is the podcast for architects where you'll discover tips, strategies and secrets for running a profitable and impactful architecture practice. I'd like to invite you to discover how to double your architecture firm income and create your dream practice of freedom and impact by downloading my free four-part architecture firm profit map. As a podcast listener, you can get instant access by going to freearchitectgift.com.

Today's podcast is sponsored by AIA Advantage Partner, BQE Software, the makers of ArchiOffice. ArchiOffice is the only office and project management software designed specifically for architects. It helps you manage people and projects while you focus on designing great architecture. Whether you're working remotely or onsite, ArchiOffice allows you to monitor the status of your projects and tasks and send out invoices in an accurate and timely manner. Get your fully functional 15-day trial of ArchiOffice by going to businessofarchitecture.com/demo.

Today, we speak with Lance Cayko and Alex Gore, partners at the architecture and design firm, F9 Production based out of Longmont, Colorado. These guys are great examples of the entrepreneurial spirit. Since starting their firm in 2009, they've grown both the size and scale of the projects they work on, including a current project where they are actually developing themselves. Today, we talk about selling architecture. Yeah, that's right. Without further ado, here's today's show.

Alex and Lance, welcome to Business of Architecture.

Alex: Yeah, thanks. Hey, we're glad to be here.

Lance: Yeah, thanks for having us, Enoch.

Enoch: Yeah, absolutely. You guys just got finished recording an episode of your podcast, Inside the Firm. Tell our listeners about that podcast and that show. What's it all about?

Alex: Yeah. Lance and I, we're business partners and our firm is about eight people and we teach at CU. Honestly, we're running back and forth all the time that the only time that we get to talk is either going to CU or coming back from it. That's the University of Colorado Boulder. A lot of times, we might meet there or else we're talking about other stuff.

A lot of the things that we were discussing had to do with our design build project, what we want to do or lessons learned and we felt like this was interesting and that people might want to hear it. Instead of just doing it privately between us, we're basically just having that conversation and then putting it out there in the podcast and that's why it's simply titled Inside the Firm. It's an inside look of the entrepreneurial stuff that we're doing, regular business stuff. There's a little ARE talk too just because it's relevant. Then the major thing is this design build because I think that's always interesting to a lot of people. They'd love to be like Jonathan Segal or even going back to that kind of master builder concept back in the middle ages. We are stepping into that.

Now, we've done a whole bunch of architecture. We've built some small things. Privately between us, Lance was basically a contractor up in North Dakota. In the army, I built stuff. We built tiny houses. We built three tiny houses now, but now, we're going to do a development. It's basically eight units and then our new offices will be there. We're going through that as the weeks goes by and we've always found the more we give, the more we get so we just tell everything as it is. Who knows how that will go? Apparently, I was making fun of the city last week, but sometimes that happens.

Enoch: Lance, what's your take on it? What's your motivation for being part of the podcast?

Lance: I just like to talk and make jokes. No, we like to put ourselves out there as Alex mentioned and so podcasting is for us at least, the startup cost to do one, it can only be a couple hundred dollars. I think that's all we've sunk into this so far including microphones, recording equipment, getting the SoundCloud app up and everything like that, and the RSS feeds.

There was just so many conversations that Alex and I would have driving to a meeting or driving to go teach like he mentioned where I thought, “Man, it feels like this should be recorded because I think there's some valuable insight here that other people could use and we shouldn't be bashful about sharing it.” I think it took us at least literally seven years of being in business, of me also getting licensed. Alex on his way to his licensure and for us, and getting enough projects under belt including design build stuff to where we were confident about what we were saying, too. I think it was about the right time for us to do this.

We also have always tried to do one fun project per year. Like Alex mentioned, we built a tiny house. We built two more last year. We were on HGTV for the first one and we've done a couple other websites and stuff like that. For us, this is one of our fun projects that we like to continue and the feedback has been great.

Like you mentioned, we just recorded Episode 10. We're going to put that up later today, but we actually got an email from an architect out east in North Carolina and he said, “I just love how raw it actually is. There's no intro music. There's no [outro 00:05:38] music. You guys just turn the microphone on. You talk about what's on your minds in regards to your firm.” He said, “There's nothing like that out there.” I think we just stumbled upon doing something that we love to do and then, people are actually starting to respond to it in positive ways.

Alex: Yeah. The other thing that we do is we have a segment too when we aren't just talking off the cuff is that we go back through all of our old projects and old projects that have an interesting story. We'll say, “Okay, this is what happened and what we did and what was either right or wrong about that and then, the lessons learned from that.” I hopefully think there's a lot of value in it.

Lance: We're trying to include other members of … That other architect that I mentioned, he wrote us this awesome email just saying, “Hey, thanks for doing this. I really enjoyed listening to you guys. You guys are also entertaining.” We also started another segment and it's called Worst Advice, Best Advice. We have listeners or other people that we're interested in hearing from just record and tell us what the worst professional advice you've gotten is and what the best professional advice you've gotten and so we do a 3-minute segment about that. Then we just talk about what we think about their advice. Whether we agree with it or not, but it's a good way to get other people interested in the podcast and then also, people who are already interested in it just hearing more than our voices, too, sort of a way I think we'll get more guests on.

Alex: Yeah, we just got yours so you will be on there next week giving your advice, which was great. I don't know, there's really some interesting things. I really want to say what yours is, but that would spoil it.

Enoch: Go ahead because, yeah, our interview right now isn't going to go live for maybe a month or two so yours will be-

Alex: Could you expand on it? Say what was your best advice.

Enoch: My best advice that I got was learn how to sell.

Alex: Yeah. We think sometimes architects think it's dirty or that they're trying to be sleazy, but when you sell something that you're passionate in, I think it comes across as natural and I think that's just the vein that you have to find in whatever you're doing to be authentic because people can tell if you're being authentic or not.

Lance: Mark [LePage 00:08:05] said his worst advice was that architects don't have to sell themselves.

Alex: Yeah, someone told him that.

Lance: I think he actually was Episode 7 or something of our podcast, but because I think a lot of them have this idea that their art … Because it's this balance between art and science, right, that's architecture is that it's just going to sell itself and we don't have to be business people. Somehow we just get money magically, but at the end of the day, I don't know. I've never got money magically.

Alex: I haven't got any magic money.

Lance: Still waiting.

Enoch: Still waiting for that magic check in the mail. I don't know if anyone ever taught me that explicitly, but it's definitely something that I guess maybe I invented it myself. Back in architecture school, I had this idea like you guys said that hey, you just do good work and projects will just come in the door. Architects are in demand.

Alex: Yeah, yeah, and I always thought about this in the beginning, probably third year I think I caught on this idea because-

Lance: Third year in school, yeah.

Alex: Yeah, you always have crits and I think what's conveyed to you as a student is, “Oh, do good work,” right, but you actually have to market yourself in the crit or you have to market that idea and you have to say maybe how that idea relates to the program or the concept or a lot of times something larger than yourself, how it's relating to society, and there should almost be an architecture marketing or business class. There's professional practice, but there's not a business or a marketing class. I think crits are you marketing yourself.

Lance: Exactly. That's what I thought of [inaudible 00:09:39] 100% is I thought, “Oh, I am selling the project during the critique,” but like you said, I don't think a lot of other students come to that conclusion.

Alex: I bet you there are a bunch of students listening to your podcast and as you know, a lot of them, you might have a crit at 8 in the morning and they stayed up 'til 2:00, 3:00 and they just come in looking disheveled or all that. Please, because everyone learns better through iteration so start doing that now and start thinking of yourself as marketing your product now. We had a great guy in school. I think why we learned this in third year is his senior thesis was a beautiful church and then, he had this great logo that looked very professional and everything … He had the whole package. He dressed up, which you're supposed to do and we were just blown away. We were just blown away by him.

Lance: That's from the littlest part of his marketing … He developed his own personal logo and then it just infused all the way through. Even when we teach at CU, we try to instill that in students is that now is when you start branding yourselves. You should even be like after this class, go out and buy your domain name, actually buy your name, domain name. Alex, I think, Alex, we did that first-

Alex: Yeah, I bought yours, too, but you haven't set it up.

Lance: You're paying for that?

Alex: I own your name. I remember going up and asking him. Just because I wanted to know the concept, I actually asked, “How did you come up with this logo?” He goes, “Oh, I started it my first year and I've been refining it ever since then.” It wasn't the answer I was thinking. I was thinking, “What was your [parte 00:11:18], what was your inspiration?” He went back to process and said, “Since first year, I have been iterating.” It's never too early. You can keep refining that because a lot of times your first idea isn't your best idea.

Like Lance said, we teach at CU and we tell some of the … I think we forgot to tell them for midterms, but we'll tell them for finals to come up with a name and a logo. I still remember, one guy called his little firm like Red Dog Design and he had this outline of this dog and it was more of country aesthetic. I was like it fit him perfectly. I still remember him. Don't remember his name, but if his website was that, I'd go Google.

Lance: Back to the selling yourself, the last firm that I worked for before starting F9, I distinctly remember I landed us a meeting with a company that would go after government contracts, but then they would need architects to do that portion of it. They were just big enough … I don't know what exactly they did, but somehow they got these big government contracts for development and then, they hired everybody else out. We were in a meeting because we wanted to start getting into that work and one of the guys who's my cousin, was my age has nothing to do with architecture and he just simply asked them, he asked the principals of that firm, he goes, “How are you guys marketing yourselves or how do you guys get work? How do you guys advertise?” The look on their face was like they were asked, I don't know, they were asked just some crazy question that they never thought they would be asked, it was just like a blank face and they said, “We've never had to advertise.” I don't know if also some maybe-

Alex: That's also government work.

Lance: Right. Not government work though. We were going after the government work. They'd been in the private sector their whole professional careers with this other firm. You have to advertise I think. We do, but they had never had to. What I'm getting at is there might be some truth. If I played devil's advocate here, I think there might be some truth in some firms maybe don't have to do it at all. Maybe they're never forced to have to advertise whereas we just come at it from the complete opposite spectrum and we always have and we always will.

We started our firm from nothing. We just used renderings to start it and we've always had to advertise and put ourselves out there in any kind of way possible. We've just now this last year after seven years started to get residual work, referral work from other people.

Alex: I know that we're rambling, but I want to continue on this vein because we complain that schools don't teach this, but complaining only goes so far. I have an idea for you, Enoch. You obviously know technology. You have these Skype meetings all the time. I think you have a business mastermind group or something like that where you communicate with multiple people. Have you ever thought about going to the universities and doing an online elective where you actually meet with them and you teach them business of architecture? They'll pay you.

Enoch: Never considered it, man. I think that that's a great idea, but I wonder if students really care about it. Perhaps there's a reason why they don't teach business in architecture school.

Lance: Yeah, you're right, you're right. I've wondered the same thing, how many people actually really care about it versus people that want to go out there and start their own firm or just be a sole proprietor versus … I think probably a minority compared to most people that just want to get a job.

Alex: What might be the way to test it is email, call whatever dean at whatever university. You're out in California and just put a threshold on the elective and say, “If 12 people don't sign up, 15 people don't sign up, we just won't do it,” but man, I feel like you're the guy to do that.

Enoch: That's a great idea.

Lance: It's all in the name, right.

Enoch: Let's go back. Talking about school, what do you guys think is what's different would you both say, and we'll go one, each get your answer on this, what's different between the kind of persuasion that you do in a crit where you're persuading your peers, your professors versus the kind of persuading, the way you might give a presentation to persuade clients?

Alex: I think for me it depends on what stage you're going at. If it's to get the client, I think you're more talking about the fundamental structure of your firm and the knowledge that you can provide and not only … You can hit them with the images and if they see your aesthetic, that's probably a huge part, right, and that's what they think of, but I think you need to set yourself apart by saying either, “Hey, we've done this and we're taking the lessons that we learned and applying it to either save you money, make a better product, get through the city faster.”

Site plan review has become huge. I'm sure it's huge in every state almost and it's basically bigger than getting your construction documents, permits because the difference is there's five or six people from all different backgrounds from engineers to civils looking at it first. When you're getting your construction set, it's the one building guy and you can just point to that code and he can either argue or you don't argue and then you're done. You could take, “Hey, we've been through this five, six times for this specific project. We have a whole checklist. We're ready to go,” so that they see like time is money. They're just going to hit the ground running.

The other thing is that I think you have to bring enthusiasm and that enthusiasm come through passion. Sometimes, you see that in school, but I think you can't be low energy in those initial things. When you're selling your design to them, that first iteration, I think maybe it does more mimic school a little bit because you can have a sketch or an inspiration and speak to the heart and soul of what they're doing, which is more of what school does. It's more about that design and they just assume that you've already implemented those principles of sustainability or efficiency in that heart and soul presentation where in school, I don't even know if you have the vocabulary to talk about UL listing numbers and all that other stuff that goes into it.

Lance: Yeah. I think it has to be more like school. I don't know, I think both at the beginning are just like school for me. When I'm selling a client, I'm talking about I'm showing them pieces of our portfolio and why they should hire us, but there's no critique in the back end. It's as simple as that. Then if I'm selling a floor plan to a client right when we're in schematic design after we've signed the contract, then I get the critique comments and we go from there. It's one and the same though and that's why I really believe that that's when I realized it was the same as you in college.

Alex: Yeah. Speaking about school, it'd be interesting if they went through that exercise of pretending they were a firm, putting together a proposal, maybe listing some back stories. I don't know how they would mimic that, but we know for a fact that it's not always the low bid that gets it. I think we are only in the running between two firms and we were lower than the other firm, but the other firm got it because they had more experience in that specific project that they had. It's interesting and I don't think people think that they always need to be the low bid, but it would be interesting if students did that. They're like, “I was the low bid.” You're like, “It didn't matter because I like this guy better.”

Enoch: What have you guys learned about selling from the time that you started your firm up until now? What are some of the key lessons?

Lance: Never forget your fundamental sales pitch and that includes bringing all guns loaded so to speak as far as everything in your portfolio that is pertinent to the meeting. We've dropped the ball recently a couple times in the past year or two. When we first started the firm, I'd say for the first four or five years, Alex and I would double up on the meetings. He and I would both go to the meetings, especially if it was maybe … For us, a big project back in the day would be maybe a duplex. Now, it's townhomes, right.

Alex: Yeah, I just sent out a bid for 45 of them.

Lance: Yeah. We have admittedly dropped the ball in the past year or two and we've noticed that and we talked about-

Enoch: Tell me, what does that mean, dropped the ball? Explain that to me.

Alex: Yeah, we were going after some assisted living facilities down in Denver Lakewood and Lance and I showed up and we gave our little pitch and we did actually, both of us were there, but I think that was only because we were both down in Denver. I think our price was probably in line and we didn't get in. We asked, “Hey, why didn't we get it?” He said, “Well, these other people, I think they have a little bit more experience and they're a bigger firm than you guys.”

Lance: Then he said, “And it's just you and Alex and we don't think, if it's just you two, you guys can handle it.” We go-

Alex: “Oh. We got eight guys.”

Lance: “Oh, we have eight people.”

Alex: We've done eight of these projects. Why didn't we bring all of our portfolio …

Lance: We dropped the ball by not bringing A, our portfolio and then B, here's a list of our personnel. Here's how big we are. We can absolutely handle it. Just bringing all the [confidence 00:21:03] to the meeting and not missing a beat when we should be talking every single point that we could about ourselves and our firms and our capabilities up. That's a pretty good example.

Alex: Didn't we work with these guys in the past?

Lance: We actually did. This would've been a repeat client. We did a remodel to an existing house. We turned it into a group assisted facility and then they said that one was successful. We helped them be successful through design and then we just thought it was a layup of “Oh, they're going to be a repeat client.” There you go, that'd be the second thing is don't assume that even if it's a repeat client, it's a layup. I think, every single time, you have to be prepared to sell yourself to the nil.

Alex: Yeah. I think we assumed that they knew where we were and that we are growing, but we never told them. I've heard advice many times and my dad worked at IBM and he was up in a leadership position and basically they'd say, “You repeat yourself.” I don't know where I heard this, but repeating yourself like you do need to repeat yourself. I think it becomes … Who's the money guy who has the baby steps?

Lance: I don't know.

Alex: Enoch, do you know who-

Enoch: Dave Ramsey?

Alex: Dave Ramsey. Yeah, he says leaders need to repeat yourself because you're instilling a culture. The other reason they repeat yourself in marketing or as business leader is that we're out getting jobs all the time, everyone's getting out jobs, you probably haven't said that to that client. That's a new client. You met 10 people this week. You said that nine times, but you do have to say it the 10th time because they don't know.

Every time even if it is a repeat client when you're going after that bid, what I would just say, even if it's the third or fourth, update your proposal. You have your proposal with your terms and conditions and contracts and boiler plates. We now have a header that has our images and it says that we've been on HGTV Sell That Stuff Too, but I would almost update like, “Hey, we're now this big. We've done more of these projects,” just that could be your reminder points where they'd be like, “Oh, yeah.” Then they, “Oh, yeah, of course, they've grown. We like them so I'm sure other people like them, too.” That could be the way that you keep letting them know.

Lance: My most recent lesson about sales is sales never stop. We do a lot of online marketing. We use two different websites and with those websites, there's an app that's on my phone that I can respond to request for service. Sales never stop and that means it doesn't stop on the weekends and it doesn't stop at night either. I used to … Generally, we have a pretty hard and fast rule at our firm that we're not going to take meetings if it eats in the family time, but I can at least respond to that person who has a request for a proposal from me or something on a weekend or something … What does it take me? Five minutes to respond back to them in an email and stuff like that? For me, sales never stop and it's helped me land extra clients most recently.

Alex: Yeah, but I would say as a caveat not to run yourself into the ground because as you get older, we're not too old, but we're feeling the effects that you need that break so we do when they say, “Hey, can you come on the weekend?” “No, we cannot.”

Lance: Yeah, I'm still hard and fast about that, but I will digitally communicate with them and sometimes do a phone call too after-hours, but the in person stuff is still pretty hard and fast.

Enoch: Awesome. Is there anything in addition to what you already said that you felt made you drop the ball in that one instance, that one example you gave?

Alex: I would just say complacency and-

Lance: Getting comfortable. Gosh, just getting comfortable. The last two years, we've finally got to a comfortable level of work to where we're not panicking and that's why we've expanded like we have. I think this applies for almost everything I would think that you just get to a comfortable level at whatever you're doing and how do you remind yourself that it's not okay to be comfortable-

Alex: Someone else wants to eat your lunch.

Lance: Exactly, every time.

Alex: That actually goes-

Lance: Somebody's always hungrier and younger too, 100%.

Alex: When the first project I got was for a commercial project and it was what, seven, eight years ago, and I asked them why I got it and it was during the recession. They said, “You respond the quickest. You're professional and then you over delivered.” Guess what? There's someone eight years younger than me or someone who's just remembering this, it doesn't even matter the age, that are trying to do those fundamental things too and if you drop the ball on any of them, why would they not? Why would they not go with someone else? They're looking to get the best value. They're looking to make sure that you're on task and all that stuff. Just keep up with that. That's what I'd say.

Enoch: I really like that word hunger. I think it really describes a desire. How would you guys say that you cultivate that hunger to keep that edge?

Alex: One, the fundamental one that always boils down to and I don't know if this is a good thing is that I always remember the recession. I always remember literally working from school … I know everyone works hard at school, but nights, weekends, even drinking on Friday night, being at studio at 8:00 in the morning, being in the army, working at [Libeskind 00:26:46], working 'til midnight all the time, 1, 2 in the morning, and guess what? Nope, the recession happened. Legs are cut out. You're literally back at mom and dad's that I could only take for a very short period. You win awards. You do the “right thing,” from your own perspective and you go, “I am poor and have nothing.” I try to spin that into something good.

Now we're doing fine. We're doing stuff that is really fun, but there's other guys that count on us. My wife counts on us. Lance has a family. I have a newborn baby, all that and I want to go, “We can't go back there. It's not an option to go back to that low place.” There are circumstances that you cannot control, but we even found we started in the recession, it was still the recession and it was a hard ax to grind, but now hopefully, even during these times when we're more comfortable, we actually want to build up that base so that when that hard ax comes, we don't want to be complacent and say, “Oh, we have a slush fund that we can just chill at.”

We want to keep hitting that and keep bringing that enthusiasm so that maybe one, if we're still grinding and if the recession lasts for a year and a half or two years and things almost come to a halt, then that's when you use that fund to maybe gap that six months, not where nothing's coming in, but where it's very dry. That's where I try to get my passion from or where it comes from naturally.

Lance: Yeah. My most recent passion refuel I'll call it is bills never stop. The more money you make, the more bills you have. We had our most profitable year to date so far last year and we got the tax bill and it was huge. Then at the same time that we got the tax bill, we took a significant amount of our own personal money and a significant amount of the firm's money to purchase this piece of land for which we're going to do the development on. That two-headed snake is now driving Alex and I up to just sales as much as possible, be as profitable as possible, still do absolute quality work and all that, but the bills never stop. Biggie Smalls said it right from the beginning is he said, “More money, more problems,” but for better or for worse, but that's recently the most relevant or the most recent reason to keep stay hungry is the plate got bigger and you got to get more food to fill it.

Enoch: That is a wrap. Thank you for listening today. If you're looking for more time freedom impact and income as an architect, get instant access to my free four-part architect profit map by visiting freearchitectgift.com.

Today's podcast is sponsored by AIA Advantage Partner, BQE Software, the makers of ArchiOffice. ArchiOffice is the only office and project management software designed specifically for architects. It helps you manage people and projects while you focus on designing great architecture. Whether you're working remotely or onsite, ArchiOffice allows you to monitor the status of your projects and tasks and send out invoices in an accurate and timely manner. Get your fully functional 15-day trial of ArchiOffice by going to businessofarchitecture.com/demo.

The views expressed on the show by my guests do not represent those of the host and I make no representation, promise, guarantee, pledge, warranty, contract, bond or commitment except to help you conquer the world.


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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.


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