This is part two of our interview with Architect Mona Quinn of Callidus Architects on marketing an architecture firm. In this interview, Mona tells us more about her lead generation pipeline and how working with a marketing consultant helped her sky rocket her marketing strategy for her residential architecture firm.
In this interview Mona Quinn takes us behind the scenes of the successful marketing strategy that Calllidus Architects has used to book the firm solid in less than 4 months.
- The follow up system she uses to turn prospects into clients
- The importance of having a clear marketing message
- How to use a “monkey's fist” to close high value projects
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Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:
Enoch: Welcome everybody to Business of Architecture. I want to welcome back Mona Quinn to the show today. She’s talking to us today from New Zealand. She’s the Principal of New Zealand’s leading character home Architecture firm. They specialize in renovating, taking care, and restoring the beautiful homes in New Zealand.
So, Mona, welcome back to the show.
Mona: Thank you.
Enoch: Last week we talked about your background about how you got your start in Denmark.
Enoch: In Architecture school. Then, met your husband who’s from New Zealand.
Enoch: Ended up moving to New Zealand, and completing your schooling. Somewhere along the point there, you started your firm.
Mona: That’s right.
Enoch: So, could you tell us from the time that you left school till you started your firm, tell us a little bit about that experience and what brought you to starting your own firm?
Mona: Yeah, alright. So, when you finish your degree, you think, “Oh, I better go out and, hey, get some work.” That’s the first adventure, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s quite hard to get work as an architect, so you, sort of, take what you can get. I did.
I took whatever job I could get. After that, I tried to move up and try to work for a big practice because, obviously, that must be the best thing that could possibly happen to you – working for a big practice. I did find as I was working in the big practice, I ended up taking all the heritage homes that were being restored in that practice and ended up working on them. So, that was an interesting exercise for me. Unbeknownst to me, I was already becoming a specialist in it even though it wasn’t consciously formed in my mind.
In terms of trying to get my registration, I found that the large practice was very busy being a very large practice, and not so busy maybe trying to help me get registered. So, I decided to leave because I thought I wasn’t actually getting the work required for my registration even though I was very busy hitting up this branch of restoring all these heritage homes for them.
So, I actually went home for my brother’s wedding, and when I came back, the phone was ringing. What had happened while I was away was all the clients that I’ve been working with on the heritage homes and the heritage restoration of the properties in terms of the… it was character restoration pretty much. They all went back and asked, “Well, where’s Mona? Why is she not here? We don’t want to work with you unless she’s here.” So, they had to hire me back on contract at a higher rate, of course.
I thought, well, if that’s the case, even if I wasn’t the director or anything – I was just a little person in the office – people were ringing up asking for me. I thought, well this is definitely a reason for me to try and go out on my own; in that vein as well because, obviously, I had this, sort of – I don’t know if you call it – jelling expertise, a jelling ability to make residential project work. Lots of people think, oh, the hardest thing to do is a commercial job, but I find, it’s the other way around. The hardest job to do is a residential job because people come with so many emotions – what they would like to do – and the process is longer and is more detailed, but the challenge and the satisfaction out of it is also great.
Enoch: So, Mona, one thing that I’m picking up from what you’re talking about is that you have an ability to connect with people, it sounds. It sounds like these clients wanted you back; they wanted to work with Mona.
Mona: Yes, that’s right.
Enoch: So, from your perspective, what is your superpower? If you have a superpower, what is it?
Mona: The ability to crack jokes on site? I don’t know. I’m not very good at advertising myself straight on screen, but people do say I have great communication skills. We talked about this previously at our last interview about having that ability to get everyone to focus on the end goal, and focus on the vision for what it is you want to achieve, and start the actual building of that vision, and what’s the steps required from all parties to make that in to a successful project.
So, I think, maybe, it’s the complete lack of ego. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think. If you try and have that vision or mission of trying to create a better place and you try and implement to people around you, then they become interested in talking to you about it, and wanting to become part of it.
Enoch: Would it be fair to say that you have collaborative approach to your relationships?
Mona: Most definitely. There’s no pyramid structure around here.
Enoch: Okay, alright. So, it sounds like your superpower is being able to collaborate with others, inspire them, and help them achieve their goals.
Mona: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to have people try and get you to say that about yourself, I guess. It comes back to having a genuine feeling about something and a genuine wish to do something. If people see that you have that, then you have it, then they become attracted to that, I think.
For me, good space is very important. Maybe it’s my background growing up in Copenhagen and biking the streets over there with my little bicycle when I was a student, I don’t know. It’s just all around you there’s good space in Copenhagen. How people interact –I had a fantastic teacher when I was at the University, [Inaudible 00:40:00] who is a famous person. I think London has currently hired him to see how they can make their public space better. He came out to New Zealand a couple of years ago, and I worked for him over the holidays. This is before I started my own practice. He’s just such an inspirational man. In reality, what actually happens to humans – they just want to be happy, and want to be in environments that make them happy.
I know a good example. There’s a franchise owner who builds versatile shits. It’s just the most horrible shit that you could possibly do, but they also make them in to houses of people. This guy who owns this franchise, he lives in a beautiful, old, restored character home himself. So, there seems to be this disconnect from, “Right, I want to make the money, but I don’t actually want to be in that environment myself.”
So, it’s almost that idea of having a wider responsibility. You could say, well, that’s almost going back to environmental issues. Yes, it is about environmental issues and about sustainability because if you have an old building that’s already been around for a 150 years, and it’s still working, and you can still make it work for today’s needs, isn’t that much more sustainable than building something that has a fifteen-year turnaround on it? Because, a lot of the neighborhoods that are being put up in New Zealand at the moment, in fifty years, I don’t think they’re there anymore partially because the materials are so substandard. People move in there with the intent, this is my stepping stone to a better place. They might not all actually make it out of there, but it [Inaudible 00:41:40]
Enoch: Exactly. So, they’re willing to settle for something that might not be the ultimate and, sort of, look at it as a stepping ladder instead of retaining what they have.
Mona: Yes. Part of that also comes back to marketing, I think. Because dealing with an architect is seen as dealing with an architect is seen as an intricate, complicated process.
If you buy a phone, there are so many market deals, and it’s so easy to buy a phone. I’m not saying Architecture is like buying a phone, but I’m trying to come up with some products around us that are so easy to buy. If you went back twenty years, no one had a mobile phone. I still remember when my uncle bought a mobile phone. It was this huge clunkers that was just like a massive brick and you had to carry a big box around – he was so proud of it.
Maybe, Architecture is the box and the clunky thing that you have to carry around with you stage. We haven’t made it in to something that’s easy to understand, easy to purchase, and easy to have all around you. Whereas, the mobile phone has made that quantum leap in what – is it twenty years or ten years? I can’t remember how long they’ve been around.
Sometimes, it’s just if you have that mental push to make something succeed, it already starts succeeding. We’ve certainly experienced, just by telling people that we want to grow and that we’re passionate about trying to do what it is we want to do about restoring old homes and trying to preserve character neighborhoods and character houses in New Zealand, the response we get out of people, not just clients but also other industry experts, and people wanting to work with you, has been huge.
That’s another thing we do. We write a monthly newsletter just talking about all these aspects. It’s a great way of keeping people on the loop of what’s happening. You can tell them, sort of, indirectly how great you are. Just from telling [Inaudible 00:43:40] invited to and nominated for. As I mentioned to you over the email, we’ve been nominated for the [Inaudible 00:43:46] Business Award in our local area, which has been really great for us because we’re still just a small practice – just me and four part-time staff. It’s not like we’ve got a conglomerate, massive office, taking over the world.
Mona: Maybe [Inaudible 00:43:59] Just from having all these lead generators and from actually being in a position to have too much work means that we can now – I think the Modative person you interviewed previously touched base on that – you can become selective about what you do. From the ability of having too much work, to [Inaudible 00:44:21] and actually starting to decline people that you’re interested in working with, while pre-vetting them.
Mona: That means that you would just continue to grow – you’re on the upward spiral. I think that’s a very great place to be.
Mona: For example, this is my typical day: I’ve got twenty-five leads that I need to get back to today – just today. They’re starting on our little process journey here. I talked about last time where they’re sent various information. If they’re still not interested, they just go on to the newsletter list. Filling our Circle of Love, so to speak, so we still have contact with them, and we still spread the word.
So, we’re already starting to get people who come back that originally didn’t take us up on our offer to work with us on the first round. But, because they are in the process of being in the Circle of Love, they come back and ask, “Oh, actually, we thought about it, and we would really like to work with you.”
Mona: So, in that short space, we’ve really only started thinking about this very actively in June, this year.
Mona: It’s gone superfast for us.
Enoch: Wow. How long have you had your firm, Mona?
Mona: I’ve been on my own probably since 2009. I started working on a contract from our old firm because they hired me back.
Mona: I did that for a year, year and a half. Then, I started out Callidus Architects as a proper company in 2010, just because work started coming in outside of the other practice. So, yes, maybe it’s a conscious decision to do it, but it was also sometimes the opportunity just arrives and that’s the time you hop in with both feet up, I guess.
Enoch: Okay. You said that one of your keys to success of your marketing plan has been working with a marketing consultant. Is that correct?
Mona: Yes. Because architects are crap at marketing, I think.
Mona: We’ve just never known about it. That’s not something that really comes in when you take your degree, does it? Again, because we come out with the sense that we are on par with lawyers and doctors, and we’re necessary for society, but the only problem is that society doesn’t know that we’re necessary for them. I mean, that’s about education, and it’s about changing the mindset of a lot of people. Everyone knows they need a lawyer if they [Inaudible 00:46:44] the world and stuff. It’s just not something that’s common knowledge in terms of trying to have a great house.
Mona: There are lots of other businesses out there trying to tell people that they don’t need architects.
Mona: There are no businesses that are telling people they don’t need lawyers.
Enoch: Or doctors.
Mona: Yes, that they don’t need doctors.
So, one of our, sort of, jokey pitches have been, “If you had a kidney failure or something, would you have your mother or your cousin operate you?” No, you wouldn’t. You’d probably go to a surgeon. So, we try to make that comparison with an old home. You know, you open it up and there are wires, and lagging, all sorts of stuff. But, it’s been scary, in the past, how much leverage their mother or sister’s brother’s uncle have in their decision-making, versus trying to take our recommendations instead.
Mona: But, just from doing all this marketing and education, we don’t have that problem anymore.
Mona: So, that’s been great for us.
Enoch: So, let’s jump in to the marketing that’s allowed you to get there. Just to rephrase and let everyone know that are tuning in right now in the middle of the interview for some strange reason: We’re speaking with Mona Quinn. She is the Principal of Callidus Architects in Wellington, New Zealand. They’re an Architecture firm that specializes in the restoration and the…
Enoch: Thank you. The preservation of character homes in New Zealand. So, Mona, you mentioned that you worked with a marketing consultant, and there probably some architects out there with little light bulbs going off, and they’re thinking, “Oh, that sounds like something I’d like to do.”
Just to let me finish setting the stage here, Mona, just explained to us that with her firm is now in the position to basically hand-pick the clients and the projects that they want to work on.
Mona: Yeah. We’ve just recently put up our fees quite substantially. It made no difference whatsoever.
Mona: So, that’s the other thing that you’ve got to get yourself over.
Enoch: So, you’ve raised your fees. Now, this is where this whole Business of Architecture show is going towards. It’s helping architects figure out how to get where you’re at. So, it’s really great to have you on right now.
There are maybe these architects who are thinking, “Okay. How do I go about finding a marketing consultant?” They may not know where to start. Can you give us any suggestions for how you found the person you worked with and what to look for in a marketing consultant?
Mona: I think it’s important to find someone’s who’s prepared to actually spend the time with you. Because we found, the guy we talked to had never tried to launch an architectural practice in terms of marketing. He didn’t know of anyone else who had tried to launch an architectural practice in terms of marketing, and he had been in the business for quite some time.
So, you have to, sort of, spend some time trying to explain. This is the other problem architects have. They think everyone knows what it is we do, and everyone knows what our process is. Of course they don’t. That’s the first thing that you have to get in to your own head is that no one knows what you do. So, take some time out and actually try and explain to the potential marketing guy/person/woman that you’re going to work with what it is you do and what the process is.
If they’re used to selling copy machines, it takes a little bit of time for them to actually get their head around trying to sell Architecture. A copy machine, you know, that’s a one-time thing, alright you might sell a service deal on top of it, but when we get a client on, we work with a client, for the first project, probably one or two years, if it’s a big project. So, you have to really explain to them what it is you do. By explaining that, you actually explain it to yourself as an outsider, and that just starts the whole process of thinking about: What is it actually that people see you as? What do people think that you do?
Mona: Sometimes, we felt like we’ve been told that we need to [Inaudible 00:50:53] so it’s stating the obvious, because of course everyone knows that. No, they don’t.
Mona: Also, what you touched-base on previously, you thought it was – I don’t know if you call it “long-winded” – but it was a long process in terms of converting the leads. I thought it was too. Why can’t they just think we’re great and hire us on the first contact instead of all these hoo-ha, pussyfooting – is what I want to call it – around.
Mona: But, what actually happens when you do that, especially with residential Architecture, by drawing out the process a little bit, that gives them time to think about it and time to realize I’m not actually pushing for a sale here.
Mona: So, that goes back to, “I must be interested,” “I must have a vision of making better places,” “I’m not actually here to make money.” Of course, I’m here to make money, but I would also like to see nicer spaces in our environments.
That’s probably why architects don’t make so much money because they’re all a bit interested in the better quality product more so than earning the money. If you were an Engineer, yes, alright, if you built the new London Bridge or something that could have great credibility and credo in terms of your popularity as an engineer, but most of the time they deal in concrete and steel that no one sees. So, their – I don’t say – love of the job is maybe a little bit different [Inaudible 00:52:16]
Mona: So, then they’re not so, you know, “I’m not going to do it for nothing,” sort of thing.
Enoch: Well, that is something that frequently that I hear people talk about in the online space and social media, and Twitter, is the fact that as architects, most of us are really passionate about what we do.
Enoch: There’s a higher goal involved. So, you’re right, I think that because of that it reduces… I’ve seen how it reduces our bargaining at the table a little bit because we just want to do the project so badly, sometimes we devalue ourselves, I find.
Mona: Yeah. You have to turn that around and make that in to your strengths. I think it’s the greatest tool we have that we are actually passionate about something. That’s also why architects are so exciting to talk to.
Enoch: Yeah, absolutely.
Mona: Even if slightly weird in the head sometimes.
Enoch: Now, tell me how you’ve taken that and made it your strength, Mona. Tell me how you use that principle.
Mona: So, for example, I think it was in our last interview, we talked about the Christchurch Cathedral and the earthquakes in New Zealand. So, we turned it around and said, “Well, we want to try and do something to save this.” So, we do these seminars. We are part of the money – if people pay to come along to them, we’ll go to try and save the Christchurch Cathedral. That is a mission.
But, what actually happens is people come along to the seminar and fill out the form because, obviously, they hear about what we have to say and want to know more because we offered this free booklet. So, all of a sudden, without them knowing it, they get in to our system and become one of our leads. It sounds terribly like you’re a devil or something like that. But, what we’ve used is that we’ve used our mission as a point of getting people to come and talk to us.
Mona: At the same time, we use the marketing strategies for them so that we can indoctrinate them – I guess, is what you could say – in to our way of operating in our system. So, when it actually comes to the fees – that’s almost a by-product in terms of the journey that we would like take them on.
Mona: So, you have the whole lead generation process and the lead conversion process. But, then, as I said previously, we have a one to two-year working relationship until a product is finished. So, that’s the next step. It’s called “A Remarkable Client Experience.” That’s what we’re working on at the moment. How can we make that journey, which is normally incredibly stressful, especially for residential and time-consuming, and etc., etc., – how can make that easier for them?
By actually helping them out in some of those and attaining value to make all of that decision-making, if we help deal with it, or if we did it, and consequently charged you more for it…
Enoch: Yeah, sure.
Mona: … then, that process could be a really enjoyable experience.
Enoch: Wouldn’t that be something.
Mona: Yeah. Again, it comes back to you have to try and teach them, or educate them about the value that you do so that you don’t end up just going for free to the lighting shop with them helping them to select lights. That’s your time, you should be charging them XYZ amount of dollars an hour because if you just do it for free, it’s got no value for them.
The other thing that we’ve been told and were told by marketing guy, people don’t go for the cheapest product. We can just take the mobile phone analogy again. They probably all have an iPhone or something to that effect. That’s certainly not the cheapest phone in the market. I would say it’s the most expensive. We, especially as architects, because we like design and style, we purchased one of those, haven’t we? We haven’t brought the cheapest Nokia at $45 or whatever they cost.
Enoch: Well, let me interject here, Mona, because I see where you’re going with this and it’s a very interesting conversation that you’re talking about. Here in the States, I don’t know down there in New Zealand, but here we call that “Commoditization.”
Enoch: I think, if I’m saying that correctly. Basically the fact that when you have cell phones… As architects, we need to differentiate ourselves somehow.
Enoch: We need to not be a commodity.
Enoch: I think that’s where you’re going with this. So, a lot of architects I’ve spoken with had difficulty seeing or making that case for value of differentiating themselves.
Mona: Yeah. The problem with that is we have fear of not getting the jobs. The first thing I would do – because I didn’t set my fees up straightaway, I did it when I had too much work. Well, I’ve already got another fifty leads coming next week from this other thing I’m doing. So, I’m just going to put my fees up now because rather than saying “No,” it’s much better to put my fees up and then continue it upwards.
If you price your concept drawings to the same cost that, say, a franchise home builder would do a concept for a client, why would they go with you? What’s the value you can do? It’s the same value.
Mona: The house will be cheaper to build. It’s just that architects are very keen to get the work and they love to do it. So, they think, “Oh, if I just squeeze my price down a little bit, they will take me on.” Actually what happens is the opposite.
It’s such a nerve-wrecking thing to do. I mean, we put our fees up by 30%, which is a huge number, and we’re going to continue to evaluate it. Someone said this phrase to me the other day, “If you take care of the pennies, the pounds take care of themselves.” We don’t have pennies and pounds in New Zealand anymore, but it is true though. Because if you could just add a 5% increase in your fees or in some component of your fees, that makes huge difference because you’re still doing the same thing, we’re actually just being paid a little bit extra for it.
Enoch: Sure, okay.
Mona: The other thing we are working in to our contracts at the moment is that the deposit – normally, architects don’t ask for a deposit. Everyone asks for a deposit.
Mona: I just bought a carpet recently. They wanted a 80% deposit upfront before they came to put it in. I thought it was outrageous. So, we charged all concept drawings and we package it up. That’s other thing. You’ve got to package it up. It’s just comes back to the deal, you know, like when selling a mobile phone. It sounds – I don’t know if it sounds – it doesn’t sound very sophisticated, but we’re talking about marketing today, right?
Enoch: That’s right.
Mona: So, we’ll take some of the sophistication out of it. Of course, it comes across as being a little bit more sophisticated when we pitch it to our clients.
It comes back down to packaging the deal. So, we have a three stage process. Initially, we do the [Inaudible 00:58:44] assessment of their property. So, that’s the initial consultation. Then, we move on to rather than just doing concept drawings, we do a concept package for them. Again, it comes back to the emotion, the emotive brief, the actual brief of what it is that they want to do, especially with residential. That cold stage needs much more time and effort spent on it.
People think, no, they’re not going to pay for that. But, if you sell it to them as of course this is the most important stage. Why shouldn’t you be paying more money for it? This is really important. This is about your home, and where your kids are, and where you’re going to grow up and have all your family memories. Why isn’t this important to you?
Again, because we defined what our USP is, we can do that. We can package it up very specifically to that. If we were just a generalist architect, we can’t just go in and start talking about the residential, emotional values at that stage.
Mona: So, you have to [Inaudible 00:59:43] previously to where we were initially in the conversation and take that conversation with yourself and your practice of where you want to pitch yourself.
Mona: So, anyway, going back down to this concept package. Once that’s sorted out and people are happy with it… Yes, it takes longer and you, as an architect, in the past will be so frustrated, “Why can’t they just make up their minds so that we can build them up.” But, we already asked for a deposit, so in terms of that we’re all fine. We actually would like them to be a bit slow in making up their minds because we’re so busy.
Mona: So, that’s the other thing. You’ve got to actually take on a 150% of work so that you can afford to allow the clients to be slow.
Mona: Once they do sign on with you, they always underestimate how much time they’d take to get back to you. The best thing you can do is actually be so busy so that you don’t ring them up every five minutes to ask where they are with their decisions. They ring you back. So they get the idea, “Oh, actually, we have to push it ourselves if we want this done.” So, again, you put yourself in the driver’s seat, I guess, is what you could say.
Mona: Then, from our concept package, then we do the construction or the rest of the package. That still gets charged with a deposit, not as much as the concept, obviously. That comes back to talking about cash flow – another thing unbeknownst to architects normally. It’s all about how you offset the mission-vision versus running the practice as a business.
Enoch: Good. Well, this is great, Mona, because this is a great case study right now. We’re getting a sneak peek at a well-oiled machine. It sounds like you’ve started to put in these marketing things in to place in your business, and you have a marketing funnel that’s actually working for you. That’s actually bringing in clients automatically with a little bit of effort on your part. You’ve already produced the materials, and it has momentum, so it’s going to keep on growing.
Enoch: Tell me about what is a USP and how you went about developing yours?
Mona: I didn’t know anything about USP before, four or five months ago. So, USP is actually “Unique Selling Point” – what’s your perch. It’s scary that we haven’t thought about it before in our practice and it’s scary that hardly any architects talk about it, even the large practices.
If I went in to the previous large practice I worked for and asked them what’s their USP… I think I have a couple of ideas now what their USP should be. They shouldn’t even be bothering about heritage restorations or character homes. Because, I reckon, in my opinion, that’s slowing them down having to deal with both this incredibly time-consuming residential stuff versus this huge, educational facilities they’re building for other clients. So, they’re trying to be everything to everybody and large practices are still trying to be everything to everybody. These guys got satellite offices in four, different towns, and they’re still trying to be everything to everybody.
It just takes courage, doesn’t it? It takes courage to say, “No, I’m not going to do this job because I’m not going to make any money off it. But, you’ve got to take a step outside of the box or off the practice and say, “Well, actually, is this job going to get me my next job that I would really like to do? Because my avatar or my best client would be this guy, and if I have done a garage alteration, is he going to come and hire you because of that job?” No, it’s probably not.
We’ve also been spending too much time treating all our clients the same. If we get the right clients, we would just spend time on doing them. Actually, you still follow to the smaller ones, but I normally just put our fees up and getting ready to say no or go away. If they continue to go on, obviously, they have become educated and committed people just like my aunt and uncle did [Inaudible 01:03:47] an architect for a one-room extension. Then, [Inaudible 01:03:51] because they’re committed to it, and you’re still going to make money out of it.
Enoch: Excellent. So, take me through the process. Let’s see if we can get just a really broad overview. You’ve already given it to us once before, but I’m just going to rephrase it here. So, we have you’re developing your USP, which is your Unique Selling Point, your Unique Selling Proposition, what differentiates you from others. You mentioned that you have a goal of having seven – was it seven lead generators functioning?
Mona: Ten. We are at five at the moment, I think.
Enoch: Okay, you’re on five.
Mona: Ten may be too much because it’s already quite busy.
Enoch: Yeah. So, you’re at five right now. I’ll just run through those. You said that you have a relationship with franchise renovators who are other builders in the area?
Enoch: That’s, sort of, your bread and butter – your baseline. Then, you have key referral partners.
Enoch: What industries are these referral partners in?
Mona: It’s all about relationships, really. Some of them are the builders that do good quality work. Again, just because architects have shut themselves in their fees so much lately, a lot of people go to a builder first for a project, they don’t go for an architect.
Enoch: Yeah. Sure.
Mona: So, that’s another good way. Find good quality builders in your neighborhood and try and set up. Just spend some time driving up to see them and having a chat, drink their horrible cups of tea or whatever they’re eating on the building site. Just see that you’re just as interested in what they’re doing as being in your flashy office – not that it’s flashy behind me at the moment.
So, just invest some time in trying to get some key referrers that are interested in working with you. Look around in your local neighborhood. Once you’ve sorted out what you’re USP is, then it opens up your eyes to find people that may be of interest to you.
So, I’ll just try and quickly run off a number of people. Another guy I work with is a builder, but he runs a franchise of heritage… replica homes of [Inaudible 01:05:47] which sounds terrible, but we are actually currently working on doing a six-property development with them. We wouldn’t have gone with such a big job unless we had previously established our USP and worked out, “Oh, it might not be the most award-winning project yet, but it will still be nice homes for people that we’re building.”
We’re also talking to a planning and surveying company because they specialize a lot in subdivisions of old properties. Old properties often have really large tracts of land around, unless they haven’t been chopped up previously – again, old homes. Back to the USP, what is it we’re doing? So, we have a working relationship with them. We run dual advertising together in other magazines, etc.
We have some previous architects that are now retired, but still, you go out to drink coffee, drink tea with them because people still ring them up. They’re at the tail-end of their careers, so they’ve already set up all their referrals more or less unconsciously. That’s great for us.
We just landed a really large job in two years time in Wellington through one of those retired people. They still want to work on it, but they just don’t want the hassle of running their own practice. The greatest thing about that is you get to work with someone who has been through all the ropes and you can learn a lot from them.
That’s the other thing you got to… Well, for me, what’s been important is that – I don’t know if you call it – humility or just willingness to hear or to listen. If you’re willing to listen, then they’re willing to tell you, and after that, they’re actually willing to forward you work.
Mona: So, just builders, other older architects, and just other people in the industry which is relevant to what you’re doing.
Structural engineers, we also get work through them. We send our newsletters to them, and we try to help them as our key referrals. Previous clients are, sort of, the next run down of the key referrers. Then, we run our newsletter which is another lead generator in terms of people who may contact with us. People who came through this initial selling process but didn’t actually decide to be a client at that point of time, but they’re still in the Circle of Love. So, we still keep in contact with them. Some of them have already come back and said, “Oh, well, you know, we’ve had time to think about it. Now, we really want to go ahead. Because we keep hearing from you, obviously, you spring to mind.” So, that’s quite good for us.
Enoch: Interesting. I love how the language… You’ve defined your marketing through certain language like you talk about the “Circle of Love,” things that are very descriptive. You coin these phrases. One of the things that you talked about was the “Monkey’s Fist.” What’s the origin of the Monkey’s Fist? There’s a story that goes along with that, right? Why they call it the Monkey’s fist?
Mona: Yeah. I have been told this. I think it was a guy who was telling dish washers or something in America many years ago. I can’t remember the name of him. He was not selling anything. He was despairing, thinking about throwing himself off in to the sea – no, not quite.
He was watching a cruise ship coming in to dock in the harbor. Then, he looked at the huge rope coiled on the deck and the massive anchor. He thought, “How are they going to throw that off it? It weighs a ton.” Throw this mess of rope and hook it up to the bollard. What actually happened was they threw a skinny rope, which at the end had this knot, which the sailor on the dock caught. Then, he use the little rope to pull over the incredibly heavy rope and then tie it on to the bollard. In sailor’s terms, apparently that little knot is called a Monkey’s Fist.
So, if you have a Monkey’s Fist… You have to see this is your free element in your marketing, and then that huge ton of money – the massive coiled rope – that is your fee that you could potentially get out of it.
Enoch: That is such a beautiful and descriptive story. One thing I love about stories so much, Mona, is that there is so much meaning behind them. Because as I hear you tell that story, I’m thinking of that huge coiled rope as the challenge of selling an architectural project.
Enoch: Because like you said, the stakes are high, it’s a lot of money clients are spending. It’s a long process of building trust. That’s a big rope.
Enoch: So, you have a smaller rope, in other words, the Monkey’s Fist that you attach to that, that brings the client along that process of selling.
Mona: Yes, that’s right. The other aspect, I think, I mean, we haven’t quite finished with what lead generators we have. We just keep talking, but that’s alright.
Yes, the coiling of the rope. The other aspect to that is also the respect for – if we keep with the cruise ship rope terminology – the guy throwing the rope and the person pulling it in. So, maybe you’re the one pulling them in, so to speak, but you also have to have respect for the guy on the ship because, especially in residential terms, it’s a lot of money as you just mentioned.
Another pitch we market is we don’t want to… It’s about the slowing down of the marketing process, right? So, in terms of slowing down our service, filling our fees, everyone wants to get to the construction stage because that’s where a lot of the money is because it’s a larger map. But, we say, “No we’re not going to rush in to that. We want to make sure that this project and our concept drawing package can be what we want it to be.”
So, if that means we’re going to take another month of filing around or getting a [Inaudible 01:11:16] to look at it so we get different pricing. Again, it goes back to the mobile phone packaging of different ways of getting the project priced depending on how they would like to work the project through to completion. From us actually saying, “No, we don’t want to do it until it’s been priced so that you could be assured that you can afford it,” they’re not used to architects saying that.
They think, “Gosh, why is she saying that?” “Is she actually interested in delivering us a project we can afford?” Whereas, normally, architects try not to talk about money too much because they’re too scared it would kill off the project. What we’ve only received incredibly positive responses from our clients from that.
Enoch: Can you repeat what that is because the sound was sort of getting out a little bit?
Mona: Oh, sorry. Just putting a halt to the process, wanting to make sure they can actually afford the concept package. What often happens is that they agree to the concept, everyone’s friends, and so all happy. Then, we draw it all up and it goes out for pricing, and it comes back at twice the price, and everyone’s unhappy. Then, the architects, because everyone’s unhappy, redraw it all at very limited cost or for free depending on how bad we feel about it. That’s a big problem. It’s not actually helping you as a practice.
So, it’s much easier to actually do that whole “No, we’re going to wait.” It might take us a month longer to get this project priced up or re-negotiate it down, but it’s downright faster to do it concept stage where it’s changing sketches around which is changing Sketch-up model around rather than having to do it when you’ve already received your billing [Inaudible 01:12:56] and it’s a mess of undertaking to change it all.
Mona: So, the clients react very positively to that, I find, saying that, “You know, I’m not interested in fleecing you out of everything you own. I’m interested in delivering a result that meets your expectations.” What’s interesting is that when the price comes back and it’s too high, and then we say, “What would you like to do?” All of sudden, they actually have to take the things out rather than feeling like they’re forced to do it because they can’t afford it so that we end up having to take things out. So, again, it comes back to them.
We currently have a client at the moment. Now, I think it’s slowly dawning on them that they are actually holding up the whole process. It’s taken them two months to realize that because, in the past, they thought we would be the ones wanting to rush them along. But, again, because we have so much work and we have so many leads, we don’t need to rush them to get the job, to get the commission, we can just let them stew on it – I guess, is what you can say.
Mona: Then to realize that it has to come from them. We can’t hold over their heads what it is they want. As much as we would like to, as much as we want to tell them what’s good for them, we have to just get that respect for the client and the client’s money. We all know how long it takes to earn a $150,000 – it takes a long time.
Enoch: It does. How much time and investment did it take, Mona, to put together this system because it sounds like it’s pretty involved. From what you told me so far, you talked about your marketing system, you’ve talked about each, individual little step of the process, and you’ve actually broken it down in to lead generators, and then you’ve broken those lead generators down to specific people or specific gift items, or things that you give them.
Enoch: Then, you talked about your remarkable client experience. So, you’ve actually set this goal for having this client experience. I mean, it would take me a month to try and think of all that. Generally, how much money and time, just, kind of, give us an idea of the investment you spent developing this for your practice.
Mona: It has taken a lot of time. But, as with everything, if you do the preparation the benefits after has been so great that it has greatly outweighed the time and money investment.
Mona: But, the thing about this, as with every marketing exercise for any business, is you can’t do it half-heartedly, and you can’t do it ad hoc. You have to sit down from the beginning. That comes back to defining your USP. If you haven’t got that, then there’s not much point in doing any of this.
So, you have to commit yourself and say, “Well, look, this is what we’re going to do.” For us, it was forking out this exuberantly large fee to this marketing guy. Flipping [Inaudible 01:15:42] if we’re going to pay him that, we’re definitely giving it all we’ve got.
Mona: So, we probably spent three months of working very hard – because it’s me who’s the boss, I’ve worked in the evenings and weekends. The benefit of that though is because you try to turn it around really quickly is that you become immersed in the whole way of thinking. Once you actually produce the first couple of items, it becomes that much faster and quicker to keep it going.
Mona: The other thing we’ve invested in after two months of frustration on a computer because, yes, we’re good at AutoCAD drawings, but we’re terrible at marketing and graphic design. I don’t know anything about that. So, we hired a graphic designer, and that’s been an absolute Godsend.
Because, now, the [Inaudible 01:16:32] are in the works, and I sent her the pictures, and she just puts it all together. The beauty of that is she was able to deliver us this consistent image. So, she’s designed every material, everything from what the letterhead is, how it all works, what the gift package is going to look like, etc, etc.
It frees up my time so I can actually do the work. That comes back to branding. Normally, you spend too much time and too much money on branding, but if you get the lead generation and you get the marketing in terms of getting the work, then all of a sudden, it makes sense to have an adherent and consistent image. But, again, you’ve got to earn some money so that you can start paying whoever for that as well.
The other thing, probably, people say about the newsletter, “Oh, my God. It’s so time consuming. I’ll never get around to it.” Now, it takes probably an hour to do the information required for the newsletter. I send it out to her, she spends twenty minutes on it, and it’s done, we can send it out to the printers. It goes out to two hundred potential clients at the moment, which is great for us considering the size we are.
I mean, it’s a lot of effort, that’s why no one else is doing it. It’s because it takes that amount of effort to upfront.
Enoch: It is.
Mona: So, in terms of hours, you ask how many hours… I don’t know.
Enoch: Also, let me interject and say how much of that was spent one on one with the marketing consultant? Did he give you the framework and then turn you loose and you had to come up with the specific action items, or did he develop it with you to map out this framework?
Mona: Yeah. I’m, sort of, gung ho normally as a person. So, I said, “If this is going to work, we’re going to try and do it really fast because there’s not much point floundering around forever and then get to Christmas and it’s not working, and I’ve spent a lot of money.”
Mona: So, I met with him once a week for two hours. Then, we emailed and phoned if required. Then, we had an action plan. I had to email him an action plan at the end of that day. So, we set goals for each week, and then I just had to work every weekend to try and meet those goals. [Inaudible 01:18:42] I have three kids myself. So, all around, all over the day, but because you’re doing it really fast… It’s like Masterchef. I don’t know if you have that program. Here, they work so hard in the kitchen, they [Inaudible 01:18:53] four weeks.
Enoch: We do. Yeah.
Mona: So, it’s worth it hitting it hard and going full on because if you just try and do a little bit all the time, it sort of becomes a bit half-hearted, or you don’t see results as fast so that you feel it’s worth the expense.
What’s happened is we did three months of intensive operations with this guy, and we have had most of it set up now. So, now we’ve gone to a monthly club. What’s been really great about it is this is his, sort of, build on packaging and become a member of this more exclusive club he’s in, but it’s actually with lots of other people. So, we’re a group of, I think, twelve with all having been through the process.
None of the other ones are architects, but that’s actually great. So, we’ve got builders, we’ve got people of [Inaudible 01:19:43] we’ve got PR consultants, and real estate agents. But, because they all know the process and have been through that marketing exercise, then they all instantly know what it is you’re talking about. So, on Friday, I have to give a presentation about what our business has been up to and what our latest breakthroughs are.
It just forces you to think that all the time, which is good. Not that you always think it’s 9:00 in the morning and you have to do these stuff. But, it is, you have to commit and you also have to put aside time for it. But, just thinking about, “Oh, I’ll give it till Christmas and see how far I’d get.” So, you put a timeline on all of that as well.
Enoch: Excellent. Mona, what would you say would be the two, biggest Aha! moments you had out of this marketing process?
Mona: The two, biggest Aha! moments for me is: If you’re going to get a $15,000 fee out of this, why aren’t you spending $500 of your client up front? That’s been the biggest thing for me to think about because I would say, “Why am I spending $500, it’s so much money?” It’s the changing around of your thinking in your mindset. Of course, you have to have some money in the beginning to do that because you’re not getting the fee straightaway. It’s having that belief in the system that it is going to work because it’s only going to work if you implement all of the things that you’re being told to implement. It’s just that whole thinking.
The other thing we do, once they’ve received our fee proposal, and we don’t hear from them, or even if we hear from them, within that following week I go to the bookstores here and buy… Because you’ve met your client by then, so you know what they like, what sort of people they are, you’ve seen the home. I just go buy twenty books at the time – some of them are in interior design, some of them are about landscaping because we do landscaping as well, and sort of try and tune the book to their personality. So, I just send that free of charge. It costs me $50 New Zealand to do it, but it’s nothing. It’s peanuts, isn’t it? If you’re going to end up with a big fee. But, people, the reaction you get out of people from sending this book is huge. They just can’t believe it.
Mona: “Oh, great! You sent me a book for $50. I’m going to sign you on for $3,500.” “Oh, perfect.”
Mona: But, if the mindset of, of course it’s fine to spend money on clients because they’re going to spend money with you. That’s been the biggest one for me.
The other one is he’s made this millionaire matrix calculation thing because unbeknownst to me I thought, in the old days, you had to get every job that came through the door, obviously. Maybe I would get ten or twenty contacts a week. If I didn’t get every single job, I would be depressed and drinking too much coffee or wine on Friday nights.
Actually, what I realized is that “Oh, alright, to earn this amount of income, I have to have three hundred leads at work a year. I have to pre-vet them through to maybe twenty meetings, and out of those, I have to get ten really well paying clients.” That whole notion of understanding that that’s what required so that you can plan your year in terms of how many seminars you’re going to do, how many articles you’re going to try to get in the news papers, how many ads you’re going to place, all of a sudden becomes a numbers games.
You can actually plan your income, whereas before we were just hoping we could get whatever we could get. From realizing that, you can set it up so it’s a numbers game or it’s a system to pre-determine your income for the following year in an Architecture business. [Inaudible 01:23:23] thought about that. That’s been a huge thing for us. It’s been a huge boost and a huge confidence [Inaudible 01:23:32]
Enoch: Excellent. Well, Mona, it’s been an awesome interview. We’ve talked a lot about money. We’ve talked a lot about business. There has been talk of millionaires and Monkey’s Fists, and USPs, but at the same time that there is a higher purpose to what you’re doing and that you’re not doing this simply because of the money but that the money allows you to do what you want to do.
My last question is going to be: What’s the future for Callidus Architects, and how are you going to change the world?
Mona: I think I would have achieved success in ten to fifteen years time if I’ll be walking down the street in New Zealand, or I’m reading the newspaper maybe [Inaudible 01:24:14] and actually seeing conversations, and articles, and people being passionate about design and Architecture to the same extent of what’s been published, and talked about, and written about in Denmark.
So, I’ll give you a little example. I don’t come from Copenhagen originally. I come from a small town and it has population of five thousand people, which is, fairly small. In that town, we have three businesses, three shops purely selling design items for your home. This is not talking about the supermarket having a sideline of stuff for your home, this is actually purely exquisite, expensive items for your home that you can buy to decorate or furnish. It’s not even talking about furniture shops, this is design. This is in a little town of five thousand people.
If you went to a town in New Zealand of five thousand people, you wouldn’t find that at all. You might find a gift shop, which would have anything from antique pieces with tea or something like that to something else, but we’re talking about high-quality items here. I don’t think the seller would get to that stage just as fast. For everyone to actually have joy and caring about good spaces, good environment, and god design, and that becomes just as valuable as everything else, I think that would be a great achievement for me.
I’m not saying I’m going to do that on myself, but if at least, I could keep that conversation and start that somewhere or just get the ball rolling with that, that would be great for me.
Enoch: Sure. Well, you have already demonstrated that you seem to have a knack for starting conversations. So, thank you for the wonderful conversation, Mona.
Mona: [Inaudible 01:25:55] too much.
Enoch: No, no, no. We really appreciated it, and it’s been a pleasure having you on Business of Architecture.
Mona: Great. Thank you so much.
Enoch: Okay. Bye bye.
Mona: Bye bye.[/DAP]