This blog is aimed at other practicioners rather than potential clients. But clients may find it interesting also.
I have spent a lot of time in the last year or so researching and educating myself a little about the business of architecture. Those of you interested in this topic should check out http://www.businessofarchitecture.com/ and http://www.entrearchitect.com/ as a great resource.
I also swear by http://www.winwithoutpitching.com which is not specific to architects but is applicable to us and all design professionals. It was this manifesto, and I must say more importantly my wife, that made me realise that offering free initial consultations was professional madness. As architects we are conditioned by competition to believe that, if I can just get in a room with a potential client, they will be awed by my professionalism, amazing portfolio, immaculate grooming and attentive ear to sign a contract.
In reality, a huge number of ‘leads’ have no intention of employing any architect, and are just looking for free ideas and advice, and will DIY or get a builder or friend with some drawing skills to do it for nothing. I would often finish 50% of my free consultations and could immediately say to my wife, ‘that will go nowhere’ or ‘maybe..’. She couldn’t believe how much time I was spending on dead-end leads. Each one could take up 2 or 3 hours if I was making a written fee proposal after the meeting.
This ended when I did my research, particularly http://www.winwithoutpitching.com/we-will-not-solve-problems-before-we-are-paid
If you do not believe that you are solving problems for a potential client in that first conversation, then you are giving your time and expertise away. In a first meeting, I will (as I am sure you will)
– explain the Planning implications of the proposed works
– start generating information on potential costs
– begin giving advice on Building Control compliance and considerations
– start generating ideas on potential design solutions
– advise on appropriate energy efficiency methods and technologies
Quite often, all these will be assimilated into a preferred strategy and basis of a design. To have this ability takes years of experience and considerable investment of time and money. Therefore expecting payment is completely appropriate.
However, there are other benefits in charging for this besides financial reward that greatly effect the running of your business.
But firstly, I do no work without the ‘lead’ signing up to it. But not everyone does, say 10% of calls have not read the website page discussing this and price, and do not go ahead. But eliminating this ‘lead’ and the others who do read the webpage and choose not to call, is the whole point! These are the people who have no budget for design services anyway. So I rejoice every time my offer is rejected because these were never going to become paying clients anyway. (This is why I have inverted commas on the ‘leads’ above, because these are not true leads at this stage).
Generally everyone who engages my feasibility study service are delighted with the results, even if the news is bad in terms of viability.
However, after about 50 feasibility reports, I have just had my first feasibility study recipient who has not paid, and has blocked my phone number and not answered emails. She had an offer on a property and I worked out her budget to renovate it. This took me almost a day’s work, for which I will not be paid. Now she has never even contacted me, to say she was unhappy with the report, found it inadequate, inaccurate or anything. She just dissappeared off the face of the earth. So I assume so is either dead or she learned from my report that her budget was grossly inadequate, and was sale agreed on a site she could not afford to develop. I have no doubt she pulled out of that deal too. But to not pay your advisor because you don’t like the truth is low…
From a business point of view though, this was a bullet dodged. We have all had the nightmare clients before who are not prepared to take responsibility for their actions and look for a target. My gut instinct is this would have been one and I am well off not being involved.
And this brings me back to the start, I would gladly lose the fee for the feasibility report, to unearth a potentially disastrous client before the job proper proceeds. So the advice to all architects out there is, charge for your work at the outset, you will get a better class of client and do better work as a result.
And to potential clients out there, you can rest assured that because I work this way, when you appoint me, you are only paying for the work I do for you, not for all the time otherwise spent chasing dead end leads and dealing with messy clients whose projects have turned sour at too late a stage.