The Truth About Business Development For Architects

Recently I sent this email out to the subscribers on the Business of Architecture email list.

Read the email I sent, the responses I got, check out my response at the bottom of this article, and then let me know what you would suggest regarding this question about business development for architects.
[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='From: Enoch Bartlett Sears AIA

Dear Friend,

Yesterday I talked with a friend and fellow architect.

He's struggling because project inquiries aren't coming in.

Like a doctor, I asked him a few questions about what he's done over the past 6 months to develop new work pipelines.
Here's what he did (see if you can identify what he should do next):

  1. Emailed 6 local contacts who could potentially refer him work.
  2. Got a positive response from 5 (so far so good).
  3. Met in person with 4 (good job!).
  4. Scheduled a follow up meeting with 1 (great).
  5. That 1 person canceled the meeting before it happened.
  6. Wondering what to do next, feeling down and under-motivated (I know the feeling).

How should my friend proceed from here?[/thrive_text_block]

I got some great responses to my query, proving to me that the Business of Architecture faithful are indeed the smartest architects in the world.

Here are some of your responses, in no particular order:

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Steve N. (Colorado, US)']
Chances of getting an immediate project from 6 emails are low. Depending on his age, experience, and need for short term $$$ to support his family, I would contact some architectural firms that need short term help. Do work on a contract basis where they don’t have to pay benefits.

In the longer term, 6-18 months at least, he needs a better strategic plan if he wants to be in independent architectural practice. Either that, or depend on his wife for the strategic life dollar plan.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Revati Shah']…he should reach out to the whole city, or state even, there's no harm in letting the world know he exists.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Matthew G. (Melbourne, AU)']I would firstly contact each of the six in order to try and get some constructive feedback, formally or informally, from those who had not moved forward. That way you are at least getting something positive from the exercise. I would then perhaps attempt to suggest some alternatives to the services that I might provide to meet their needs.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Denn Sigauke (Harare, Zimbabwe)']Add more lead contacts until one brings in a steady flow of clients.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Michael W. (Nebraska, US)']Get back on the saddle and quit being down… it takes a lot of no’s and a couple maybe’s and some rescheduling to make things happen…. Or ELSE) he needs to let his prospects know how important his time is… rescheduling will not be tomorrow, next week… it may be next month.

Example: no one wants to spend time in a lawyer’s office…. because every minute you're there you assume it is costing you money. Now it seems they put on a pretty good act about being busy.. and have lots of papers and folders on their desk. Mostly they are unorganized and have staff research and prepare most of the legal documents that you would ever sign. Ooops… off on my lawyer tangent. Fact is: The perception of what you believe your Lawyer or Doctor's time is worth is based on what you believe…

Now put yourself in the position where you have just won FIVE PROJECTS and you are scurrying to find some draftsmen to work on them. Lo and behold Joe who you spoke to a month ago stops in your office because he has narrowed his search to five firms to design his brand new two story office building. WOW!!! He sees you busy on the phone… your calendar marked up, blueprints and sketches out on your tables and thinks WOW!!

“Momentum tends to attract more work” [/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Joshua L. (US)']Go for a walk. (perhaps with some relaxing music). I've become a big fan of Bruce Hornsby.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='David M
‘]Pick up the phone and make personal contact with all 6 again. Approach the phone call from the position of being a networking contact for them, not what work they can refer to him/her. Find out what their needs are right now and how he can offer his own network/people as sources. Also, seek to expand his network of referrals.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Simon J. (Washington DC, US)']Make sure he is taking advantage of all the free internet publicity that exists.

Go out more socially and tell everyone you are an architect….Everyone!

Try and get published, anywhere.

Sit on juries so as to meet other architects for referrals.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Wisdom from Norbert Lemermeyer (Alberta, Canada)']This is a classic short term business development program most architects use.

  • This person should develop a systematic long term program.
  • This person should develop some business development skills.
  • This person should not expect instant results.
  • This person should develop a business development initiative.
  • This person should pay attention to what works and build off of that in the business development program.

Better yet this person should join the Architects Marketing Academy. He needs an architectural doctor's help.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Daniel H. (Ontario, Canada)']Phone up previous clients and ask them how their home / reno / office is performing. Does it live up to their expectations?
Then I’d ask them for a review on Houzz.
Both are really just an excuse to check-in with them and ask if they know someone who could also use my help.[/thrive_text_block]

[thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Galya I.']

  1. I would speak to the person, who canceled the meeting, to check what is the reason and try to pick a new time for it;
  2. I would call and try to schedule follow up meetings with the other 4, who gave a positive response on the first meeting;
  3. I would email and call more contacts who can potentially refer me work and follow the same steps with them.
  4. [/thrive_text_block]

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Charles H (California, US)']Since the process worked for him, do it again. No one bats 1000.[/thrive_text_block]

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Alden Neufeld (Manitoba, Canada)']
    This has happened to me as well. My response would be as follows:

    Re-schedule the meeting with the person that cancelled.
    Sounds like he got favourable feedback from his initial contacts………I would go back to them and see if he could schedule a follow up meeting with them.

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Paul I. (Manchester, UK)']

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Marcus M. (New York City, US)']Send the contractor one of his recent newsletters with a personal note about rescheduling.[/thrive_text_block]

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='David C. (Utah, US)']Get out the company card and start taking people to lunch. Architecture is a relationship business, just like any other. And yet, most architects are introverts. We have to overcome our “comfort zone” of just working the project and get out and network. Emailing people is not sufficient networking.[/thrive_text_block]

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Dan K. (Texas, US)']Don't stop at 6! In almost any market type of any sizable city, surely there are more than 6 key contacts or leaders in that industry who could/should be contacted.[/thrive_text_block]

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Brian Lewis (Trinidad and Tobago)']Call the other 3 and call back the one that declined.[/thrive_text_block]

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Kahina Ferreira (Angola)']I gotta admit that before subscribing to Business of Architecture I did the same.

    Your friend that will hopefully become mine as well should:

    • Make a list of the top 30 people that influence others; then narrow it down to the top 6;
    • Create a newsletter with solutions related to frequent problems in the built environment to catch the prospects attention;
    • Create a monkey's fist;
    • Arrange weekly meetings with prospects and with professionals from the same area counting with possible quitters;
    • Do a follow up on the ones that replied and start working on them.
    • Show how he can solve a couple of problems by giving good advice to prospects so that they trust him.
    • Keep them interested and make random calls even just to say ‘Hi'.


    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Claire McManus (Ireland)']Specifically ask them if they could refer work to him.[/thrive_text_block]

    [thrive_text_block color='light' headline='Susan T. (Pennsylvania)']I think that I am perplexed as your friend.[/thrive_text_block]

    Well Susan, thanks for being honest!

    Hopefully this article has given you some ideas.

    Finally, here's what I actually said:

    1. Reschedule the meeting with the contact who canceled. He is probably just busy. When you reschedule, make sure you approach it from the position of how you can help him (leave your portfolio at home!). See response from David M. above.
    2. Reach out to more contacts. Try 30 or 40, not just 6. As you can see, people fall out of the process along the way. To end up with a decent number of meetings, you need to go big! See many responses above, including that from Mike W!
    3. Lastly, shift your mindset. A no isn't a personal rejection. You need to continue to follow up a lot to get results! See response from Paul I. above.

    As you can see, business development is a process, and it needs to have a system.

    This cannot be overstated (see the response of Norbert Lemermeyer above)!

    Now, what do you think? Leave your thoughts below!

    Enoch Sears AIA
    Enoch Bartlett Sears AIA
    founder and publisher
    Business of Architecture



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.

4 Responses

  1. Very interesting point! we all have been through a beginning when one decided to work alone or start a studio.

    A piece of advise, all architects should be good doing housing, it is kind of intellectually dishonest to read an advertisement saying Architect – Housing specialist… so is important to attach to good Architectural marketing an honest differentiation factor (I even see this as a critical key factor to success)

    My strategy has been over the yrs to build a Net that will eventually bring to Orders! Later I’ve associated cash-flow principles to my thoughts… Something we architects should do just fine is to work with layers! So, let’s make a first decisive layer called website and have it as updated as possible, referring the possibilities and versatility of the services provided. Then a second layer should be social media and here is very important for each of us to select which can be better for his business, even because the social media tend to change over the times… some architects are houzz oriented, some are fb, on the consultancy level linkedin works well. Local platforms oriented to serve the community, reverse engineering – find an architect with this characteristics, if you can provide it, you have to be listed,!

    Then start associating a layer of differentiating services that can bring added value and differentiate of the competition, such as pre-construction surveying, 3ds (shouldn’t be so much added value these days), alternatives, run proformas, code searching, BIM service, council negotiation, approvals expert, having engineering services included in costs, furniture assessment, etc… The strategy to bring added value to any client is really decisive!!

    As the business grows one should rely more in trust relationships, get to networking groups has represented 50% of my studio sources last year and growing to the association level, to business associations and further.

    Another piece of advise, it is highly important to do a great job with clients but also represent your studio best interest, never rely on the referral expectation! Have that has another possible sourcing layer…

    The cash-flow principle comes when all the 6 contacts you were developing drop, but your network portfolio brings in another project that you couldn’t expect!! so the advise is to build as many layers as possible and keep housekeeping them…

    I never know how many opportunities are in the “network”, but I feel comfortable with a number of at least 10 hanging over my head! We should have around 10 clients/projects sleeping and waking-up continuously for a team of 3!!!

  2. I have 2 book piles filled with prospect phone numbers and emails, i got those from exhibition visitors, that time i enjoyed calling them one by one like sales person, from many rejection, i got deal projects but stoped because overwhelmed. the company claimed them self as broke and cut off all of employee after they got many income n buying personal stuffs.

    Years later, i tried to use the lists, but kindly ashamed of “hey.. u contact me late.. where were u 3 years ago.”
    I am not working for “that” company again, but keep trying to get prospect door to door.this strategies are not working good anymore,..

    I am wondering if you could give me the ideas how to use the prospect list for present time and the future. (Since june 2015 till now, i have no income, not looking for project, but trying to build my businesses again in the right way.

    Any suggestion will help me alot. Thank uou 🙂

  3. I’ve been there (here) where this person is right now, so I appreciate what you’re doing to help him and others. What I find helpful are the comments where people leave VERY specific suggestions. Leaving the comment “develop a business plan” is not useful – sorry.

    Architects love the abstract in design, but only very specific comments really do any good in business. There were many above. One method alone will not work long term. He needs to try many things and talk to many people. Most people won’t admit that some of their success can be attributed to serendipity. Knowing people really helps…and time.

    1. Good point Lee on making sure to offer very specific suggestions! Hopefully there are enough in this article to give someone lots to try out!

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