In this interview we discuss:
- The successful social media strategy that gets Martin 20,000+ followers on Twitter
- How he gets real projects from his website
- The architectural education of the United States university system
- The challenges of being a solo architect/sole practitioner
This interview is on iTunes. Subscribe above, and be a hero! If you know another architect who would benefit from watching this video, share away using the social share buttons.
- William J Martin Architect
- Architect William J Martin on Twitter
- Architect William J Martin on Facebook
Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:
Enoch: Welcome back agile architects. This is Enoch from Business of Architecture.
Today is our second segment with William J. Martin, Architect. He practices in New Jersey.
I first met Bill on Twitter, I believe with Frank Cunha because they both have this massive, massive Twitter followings. Bill is up to about 20,000 followers, and he really is excellent about engaging with people, and talking, and tweeting, and retweeting. I could tell that he has something figured out about social media that I wanted to learn more about.
So, welcome back to the show, Bill.
Bill: It’s good to be back.
Enoch: Well, it is great to have you. Like I said, I want to jump in a little bit to the more technical side that we talked about in our last episode about how you were an early adopter, it sounds like, with CAD.
Enoch: You were very early in adopting that, and also with Revit, and then with your website and social media.
First of all, before we get in to that, this is the question a lot of architects want to know. Are you getting any project leads from your web presence or from your website?
Bill: I do. Some of them I get directly. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether they’re coming directly or indirectly. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute. I’ve gotten leads off of Twitter and off of Facebook. Then, there are the indirect leads that come from people being aware that you’re out there in social media. So, just having a presence in social media can lead to people finding out about you and then being able to connect with you through websites and, of course, by picking up the phone and calling.
Enoch: Okay. So, that’s leads. Have any of those leads turned in to real projects?
Bill: Absolutely. Yes.
Enoch: How many leads would you say you get a month from your Internet activities?
Bill: I would say about half of my practice comes from Internet-related activities such as Twitter, Facebook, and specially my website.
Enoch: Okay. Because what I’m trying to get at here is: Is it a worthwhile use of time to get involved with a website or get involved with social media? How would you answer that?
Bill: Oh, absolutely yes, and it doesn’t take much time as people believe it does.
Bill: I only spend a few minutes in the morning, and I may check in at the middle of the day, and I spend some time in the evening. I happen to enjoy doing it, but it’s not as time-consuming as people would lead you to believe. Of course, I know that’s a fear from some in the profession that they’re going to be spending too much time doing something that they don’t see the value of.
Enoch: Absolutely. Now, to get motivated and to get started off today, give me one of your favorite success quotes.
Bill: Well, one of my favorites is from Robert Frost, poet. It’s, “Two paths diverge in the wood. I took the path less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.”
Enoch: That is a wonderful quote. It just gives me goosebumps. It’s so poetic and it’s so evocative. How is that quote and that idea influenced your life, Bill?
Bill: It has helped me to realize: Don’t wait. Do it now. It’s not going to get any easier. Do it now, choose your path, and go. This is what I have done with every aspect of my practice, my personal life, and it’s worked out for me very well.
Enoch: I love it. That works very well with the theme of our show. I don’t if you’re aware or not, our bump music that introduces that show actually says that we need to do it anyway. That one of the biggest things to worry about is the fear of standing still and not doing things.
Bill: Are you going to sing it for me?
Enoch: I would, but you know what? I want to keep our audience entertained.
Bill: You don’t want to drive people away, right?
Enoch: That’s right. That’s not the point.
Bill: That’s what the Internet is about. You want to bring people in, you don’t want to drive them away.
Bill: That’s a good point.
Enoch: Yeah. So, Bill, on that idea of bringing people in, what would you say are, maybe, three suggestions you could give to other architects out there who are thinking of getting involved in social media or who are thinking about revamping their website? Give me three pointers. Let’s talk about that a little bit.
Bill: First of all, I believe the gateway to the Internet is through a website. So, you need to have a website. By that, I mean a real website. There are a lot of firms that have placeholder websites where it’s one page, it’s a couple of pictures and they’re phone number, maybe an About Us. I always detest that term when I see it on a website because it’s not about us, it’s about, you, the client. That’s what you need to communicate.
You need a real website that has content, and that has information that will help the client even if they don’t use you. That’s your gateway in to the Internet as a medium to produce results for you business-wise.
Enoch: Okay. I did notice in your website it doesn’t say “About Us,” it says “About You,” and I was intrigued by that.
Bill: Yes. That is why I have it that way. I’ve had comments from people about that, that they were intrigued the minute they saw that. So, it’s working. It’s about service. I mean, we’re a service business.
It’s about drawings, it’s about creativity, it’s about design, but it’s about service. You want to make sure that the client understands that you’re there to help them achieve their goals whatever their goals may be. It’s not about our goals as architects, it’s about the clients’ goals. Social media is a good way to get that message out.
Enoch: Tell me a little bit about your website. How often do you update it? What are some action steps other architects should take if they want to take their website to the next level? Because you’ve been down that path, you’re having leads rolling now based upon your web presence. What does another architect need to do to get to that point?
Bill: Well, they need to have an actual website that isn’t a placeholder. They need to either sit with a web designer… I would recommend that they sit with a web designer, although I never personally have. You become their client, just like you interviewing a client, tell them what you want them to do.
Then, they’ll develop it for you and put content on it. The content should be related to what you do and how you want your image to be portrayed to the world. It’s your image of what you do that’s presented to the entire planet because anybody anywhere in the world could tap in to your website if they want that information. So, you’ve got to get a real website.
Enoch: Okay. So, I noticed your website is pretty non-traditional, Bill. The reason why I say that is because it seems to be pretty rich with information.
Enoch: When I go on there, there are quite a few links, there are a lot about different stuff you’ve done, there are a lot about how you handle the process of Architecture. What is your methodology or your approach to your website?
Bill: I need it to be able to communicate clearly from the beginning that I would be there to help my clients achieve their goals. I became an architect to help people, I want them to know that I’m here to help them.
Enoch: What are one or two things that you do to convey that?
Bill: Well, first of all, I try to make it easier to navigate. Now, I know some people are going to cringe when they hear this, but I designed the website myself. I wrote the HTML code, I learned how to write this code early on. I liked doing it. Because it’s non-traditional, which makes it unique in a sense, a path less travelled by, it doesn’t look like everybody else’s website.
Anyway, I try to make it easy to navigate. If you come to my portal, there’s a splash window that gives you a couple of quotes and a picture, and then, you enter from there. The second page is another splash that’ll take you to either residential design or commercial design directly, or if you want the content, you can click on the other links.
This way, if you’re surfing through a bunch of sites and you’re just looking for that eye-candy, you can flip through it and get to the eye-candy quickly without being bogged down in a lot of reading. If you are interested in the reading, and the content, as well as the eye-candy, you can go to the content and you can always go back to the eye-candy later. So, I try to make it easy for people to get in there and get what they’re looking for.
Enoch: Okay. So, let’s move over to Twitter now because you have a huge Twitter following, you’re very active on there.
Enoch: What is Twitter and why does it have any practical application for a service professional?
Bill: Twitter is a microblog.
Enoch: What does that mean? What is a microblog?
Bill: It’s like a traditional blog. I don’t know if the audience knows what a blog is. If they don’t know what a website is, they’re in trouble anyway. But, after you get a website, you get a blog. I consider Twitter to be a form of blogging. You’re limited to a 140 characters, which means you have to be creative in what you say in those short snippets. It also means you can be a little bit artistic and a little bit edgy with what you say.
It’s a way to engage the profession and it’s a way to engage the public in a way that you can, again, enhance that perception that you are there to help. You are there to help them achieve their goals – whether it’s another architect that I’m Twitter-ing with and reading my tweets, or whether it’s a potential client, or whether it’s an architectural student.
I tweet with people around the world. I have a lot of people interested in my tweeting and in my website that are in Asia and India. So, Twitter is a great way to engage the world without being bogged down in paragraphs, and paragraphs, and paragraphs of words, which we can easily as architects fall in to these diatribes of endless descriptive words about what we do – like I just did.
Bill: I like Twitter. I have a special affinity for Twitter. I think that Twitter allows architects to be edgy without being unprofessional.
Enoch: Okay. What programs do you use to work with Twitter?
Bill: I don’t use any robotic programs or scheduling programs. I just use the regular Twitter portal.
Enoch: So, is that the web portal – you go to Twitter.com and use it right there?
Bill: I have it on the web through my computers, I also have it on my phone. I check it periodically and I will respond to someone else’s tweet depending on whether I think that the subject is relevant. Sometimes, I will tweet or retweet support for someone else’s concepts and ideas.
It’s a micro-exchange of some very powerful ideas.
Enoch: Excellent. Take us in to Facebook. How involved are you with Facebook?
Bill: I like Facebook, but Facebook I have divided in to two sections. I have my personal Facebook where I have, you know, my personal friends that are on it. Then, I have a page that’s set up for my professional work, the WJM Architects.
I have a page for WJM Architects. What I do is I will comment on both – they’re interlinked – but my professional page, you can’t get to my personal page unless I allow that. This helps to keep some of my private activities separate from my professional activities.
I also have my website linked to the Facebook page for WJM Architect because it’s on that page that I comment on current projects, what’s going on, if there’s something happening on the news and I want to comment on it, I’ll post the link there. Facebook is nice because it allows you to have more than 140 characters. You can actually have a short conversation with a small group of people as they comment back and forth. That, then, links back to my website.
So, people find the Facebook page, they can link to the website and find me that way.
Of course, if they want to be friends with me, I have to see who they are and find out why they want to be friends with me. Like everyone on the Internet, you have to be a bit cautious about your personal information.
Enoch: Sure. Give me one tip for someone who’s getting started in social media to have success with it from your experience of working with it specially with Twitter? Give me one or two pointers about how to have successful interactions on there.
Bill: Alright. Well, the first thing is there are plenty of advice out there on the Internet about how to do this. The AIA has tips and suggestions on the website as to how, and what to do, and how to approach these things. My advice is: Just do it. Just jump, go out and do it. Sign up, get an account, and play around with it. Even if you send out a couple of Tweets and you follow a few people, and nothing happens for a while, you can always go back to it.
Don’t wait. Do it now. Because this is the future. The future is now for this profession. We need to engage in the education of the public as to what we do because so many people don’t understand. These formats, these Internet formats are a perfect way to do that. It’s important that we all do it.
Enoch: Bill, like I said, you have about 20,000 followers on Twitter.
Enoch: There are other architects I know who have been on Twitter for a long time, and they may have one or two hundred followers. What are you doing differently to get those kinds of followers that other people are not doing?
Bill: That’s a complex question. Let me break it down this way: If you project that image of yourself online that you are there to help, you will get followers. People will be attracted. People are attracted to someone that they feel can help them. That’s important. That’s what I do.
The next thing I would say is Content is King in the blogging world. You have to have content. You have to be tweeting content, and posting content on Facebook, and have content on your website that has value that can help other people even if they don’t hire you. The idea is to put your ideas out there. If other people are using your ideas, that’s fine. It spreads your message more. Eventually, the trail leads back to you because you’re the one that initiated that message.
So, “Content is King.” You’ve got to have diverse content on your website. You got to have diverse content in your tweets and on your Facebook interactions as well.
Enoch: Okay. So, you said your first point was let people know and project the image that you’re there to help other people.
Enoch: How do you do that specifically?
Bill: What I try to do is I post links and I give commentary on things that are happening in the profession that I believe may be useful to potential clients. You know: What’s happening in the office market in New York, or what’s happening in the office market in Chicago? Even though I don’t practice in Chicago, I’m going to post that content, and I’ll make a comment about the economics of designing in this market has now become this. It will spur a conversation, possibly from people in that market, or possibly from someone in India who’s interested in the United States.
You post content that helps educate other people. That’s what I mean by “help.” By educating them, they better understand what you, as an architect, do, so that when they need an architect – they may not need an architect right away – when they need one, they’re going to understand why they need one.
Enoch: Do you have any closing words about social media before we move on to another topic?
Bill: Get out there and do it. When I talk to my colleagues, I’ve appeared before AIA Section Meetings, I’ve given talks about this. I mean, if you’re not sure, join Twitter. Twitter is really safe. You don’t have to be posting every day, you don’t have to be tweeting every day.
Try it out. Use it. It’s your gateway to some of the other social media. But, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, any number of others. Focus on one to start, and develop a sense of comfort for it, and proceed that way. That would be what I would say.
Enoch: Okay. I just wanted to add a resource for those who are listening. I have a conversation that myself at EntreArchitect and at HawkinsArch had about social media and about some of the benefits that we’ve personally seen form it. You can get that by going to http://BusinessOfArchitecture.com/social.
What that is it’s about a twenty-minute conversation of the benefit we’ve seen from social media, and how you can use it, and leverage it to give yourself more success. So, I invite everyone out there to download that. It’s http://BusinessOfArchitecture.com/social.
So, Bill, let’s move on and talk a little bit about being a sole-practitioner.
Enoch: I haven’t looked at the numbers lately, but I believe in the AIA and in the United States of America, the majority of AIA members are sole-practitioners. But, it seems like, a lot of times, their voice is maybe not as heard as they would like it to be. Now, whether that’s a perception or a reality, I’m not sure. I don’t have numbers to back that up. I think that there definitely is a perception that there are a lot of sole-practitioners out there who are out there on the frontlines fighting from day-to-day, and maybe not getting as much support as they would like to have.
Bill: You mean support from the AIA?
Enoch: Correct. Support from the AIA and just more focus on the needs and concerns of sole-practitioners. I wanted to ask you: What are some of the challenges of being a sole-practitioner as opposed to having four or five people to work for you?
Bill: Well, I’m going to just say something before we get in to that. The AIA does have resources for sole-practitioners. There’s the Small Business Forum. There are resources for that. Remember, and I’m not up on the latest statistics, but it’s only about 40%, I believe, of licensed architects are AIA members.
There are a vast amount out there that are not taking advantage of the support that the AIA does give. So, I would encourage everyone out there who is not an AIA member to become one, and to get involved with your section and your state AIA sections so we can work collectively to enhance the profession as a whole.
Now, back to your question. What was your question again? I’m sorry.
Enoch: No problem. The question was: What are some of the challenges – your biggest challenge as being successful as a sole-practitioner as opposed to having four or five people that work for you?
Bill: Right. Well, I mentioned earlier that when you have four or five people working for you, there’s a lot of business that needs to be taken care of, a lot of housekeeping stuff that has to happen. I don’t enjoy that at all.
Fortunately, my wife is very supportive. She is my office manager, she is my confidant. She handles all the paperwork, the bills, and the insurance. She takes that burden off of me so that I can focus on what I love to do, which is the design, dealing with the clients, dealing with the contractors, producing the services that are of value to my clients.
Enoch: The challenge would be?
Bill: The challenge is when you’re a sole-practitioner, if you don’t have someone helping you with those items, you have to be prepared for dealing with them. They can be time-consuming – and that’s a problem. That’s what I found in my experience.
Bill: Having been relieved of that requirement, it was tremendous to helping me to get back and focus on what I do professionally. Now, remember, my wife does this for me in my practice and she’s got a very good business sense about her.
There are bookkeepers that you can hire to keep track of the books, and pay the bills, and things like that. So, that’s always an option as well, and I had that for a while also.
Enoch: Okay. Bill, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Bill: The best advice I ever got was don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. This goes for anything in this profession. You can do it. Set goals to achieve what it is that you’re trying to achieve and go out and do it. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it, or don’t let anybody tell you it’s too risky to do it. You just got to go and do it. If you don’t do it, you’re never going to do it.
Enoch: Awesome. Bill, what is one thing that’s really exciting you about your business right now – the thing that’s exciting you the most about your business?
Bill: The most exciting thing about business right now is having survived this latest economic downturn. Let me explain what I mean by that.
When I first started my business in 1991, we were just coming in to the recession in the early ‘90s. So, I figured if I can survive now, I can survive anything. That was until what happened in 2008 happened. So, I had come to realize that the way I have structured my sole-proprietorship to be agile, and flexible, and being able to modify what I do to deal with the changing economic environment – there’s that word “Economics” again – has allowed me to thrive through this whole period of economic downturn.
Now, I know the statistics are really bad, but I have been very fortunate. I’ve been affected very little by what has occurred because of the way I practice what I do. So, that is what excites me – surviving.
Enoch: That’s deep, but we don’t have time to get in to it. I think we already dove enough into that.
Bill: No problem.
Enoch: So, Bill, I really appreciate it. It’s been great talking to you today. Thank you for telling us about your practice, about what you’re up to today. Thank you for sharing that excellent quote about taking the road less travelled. That really ties in to what we’re all about here at Business of Architecture.
Bill: Excellent. I applaud you for doing this. We need more architects out there doing what you’re doing. We need all of our professionals out there, men and women, on social media and get their websites out to educate the public. The public needs to be educated as to how we can help them – and we can.
Enoch: Absolutely. You are being the voice out there. So, from the other architects in the world, thank you for representing us on Twitter, because I know that you are one of the most visible architects out there on Twitter. How do people connect with you, Bill? Leave us with that.
Bill: Well, if you’re trying to find me, just go to Google and type “WJM Architect” in to the search box. That will bring you to either my Twitter page, my Facebook page, or my website. My website has my contact information on it and I even have my cell phone on there. So, you can find me that way.
Enoch: Very well.
Bill: I’m happy to get emails from colleagues. I’m happy to get tweets from colleagues. I get questions and I like to reach out and help my colleagues whenever I can.
Enoch: Awesome, Bill. Thanks for being on the Business of Architecture.
Bill: Thank you.[/DAP]