Architects and their firms, today, are looking out over a very different landscape—and not the landscape surrounding their latest building. It is the landscape for marketing and sales in their industry created by “life online”— the world of digital marketing on the internet, via email, and the related opportunities they open.
Does that mean that all the old marketing fundamentals are obsolete? Of course not! Architecture like other professions is still about building client relationships. And Architects still do this by speaking at conferences, publishing in professional journals, joining country clubs, and attending their college reunions.
But even traditional marketing strategies for making contacts have their counterparts online, today. For conferences think webinars, an increasing widely used and effective means of converting clients. For publishing in journals think blogs, now a feature of virtually every firm’s website. And for country clubs think Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram (among others).
Are the 21,000 or so architecture firms in the US, with their 130,000+ employees, on top of this digital marketing revolution? Many firms seem to be. But commentary from architectural professionals keeps asking why so many Architects are still doing business the traditional way and if that is by choice, from inertia, or failed initial online attempts.
Boosting Your Architecture Business
Let’s look at three promising ways for architecture businesses to boost their business and impact their financial bottom line. All of these to some extent relate to digital marketing strategies—or to implications of the world of online marketing.
Search Engine Optimization
Overwhelmingly, customers for every product and service–from a dermatologist to a divorce attorney to a car mechanic—begin their quest online with a typical Google, Bing or Yahoo search. And they pursue that search to websites, where their awareness of what is available begins, and their choices begin to narrow. It is fairly certain that every Architect, knows that (and does it in his or her personal life).
But one implication is that firms coming out on top of the search have a huge advantage. Of course, every business tries to achieve that by search engine optimization (SEO), but the firm already in a narrower niche category can be further ahead. A firm that conceives its field as “architecture,” and promotes itself as such, may have a challenge competing in search due to the overload of competitors. If your firm already specializes in hospital architecture, urban restorations, retail space, or one of the hundreds of other niches that Architects serve you are more likely to achieve success in search. By working such terms into the core statement of what your firm offers, you will stand out in searches for an Architect—all of which, are for a specific type of project in a specific field.
Niche markets have always given firms (especially small and medium-sized firms in large competitive markets) a certain edge in marketing services, today the strategy could be decisive. Here is a decision not about digital marketing techniques, but about the wider implications of the online revolution. A useful exercise might be to consider “hot” niches and where your projects have clustered, and let that define your “brand” for marketing. It can become a “virtuous” of more clients in the specialty and a stronger case in presenting your services.
The digitalized “sales funnel.” The route that a typical new prospect follows to your firm has changed—and it has changed drastically—the nature of initial contact, of cultivation, and of sales have changed as well. The classic marketing schema—the sales funnel—can be a way to think about this. Expect the majority of your initial contacts to be made online: a search leading to your website (or a response to your email campaign or interest shown in a webinar you publicize). That is our era’s first handshake in the bar of the country club. Then comes the follow-up.
Competent, well-designed websites today are structured to create an effective sales funnel. The landing page, where the Google search is directed, appeals to initial interest, reinforces the mini-pitch you made in the search-engine entry, and orients the visitor to other pages (more information, how to get in touch, sign up for emails)
An effective website channels the visitor to definite next steps, such as checking out your blog. And your content, including blogs, systematically answers the questions you have come to learn are frequently asked by someone seeking an Architect for a new restaurant, a hotel lobby, a clothing boutique, or a custom home.
Additional cultivation means inviting and guiding your visitor through getting the information they sought (and information they did not know they needed), gaining trust in your expertise and professional integrity, returning to your site for more help, and making contact. Today, Facebook pages, LinkedIn pages, and email all can be tightly tied-in with your website. Above all, email is the next step for both web page and LinkedIn contacts. You want to invite visitors to leave their email contact information or to reach out to your email for more information, a free booklet, or answers to questions. Your role is to continue the cultivation with periodic useful contacts not pushing services but deepening the customer’s understanding of what you offer, the depth of your expertise, and your approachability.
It should be mentioned that email is likewise a tool for seeking initial contacts. But not, emphatically, by means of what are called “email blasts” or “hitting the whole list.” Any professional email services firm (the best known is MailChimp) will help you to program your email system to make contact that is far more personal and directly relevant to the recipient.
Different approaches should get different email responses, programmed into the system. Mailings should be segmented: for example, blog subscribers, new contacts, etc.
Existing contacts and lapsed contracts get priority attention. That brings up a frequently overlooked or minimized use of systems of digital communication: existing clients, former clients, and, crucially, lapsed contacts. Any existing relationship with a client—in those three categories—represents potential. Follow-up contacts should be as regular and imaginative and even more personalized than new contacts.
The entire process of planning, engaging in the work, ensuring understanding and appreciation of the outcome, and billing the customer lays the groundwork for additional fruitful contact. Fair, well-documented, and understandable bills promote the trust and appreciation your firm has spent so long cultivating.
In architecture, like most professions and businesses, the permanent foundation of success is word of mouth recommendations, clients introducing friends to your firm and services. Today, that can be effectively leveraged by continuing the digital marketing sales funnel into the world beyond the first completed deal. Clients can be kept in touch by follow-up email inquiries, regular useful information applying to their facility, appropriate holiday greetings, and notices of special offers.
Automating Time and Billing
Continue to grow your bottom line by accurately keeping track of client and project time and billing throughout the client relationship. Time Tracker from eBillity is an outstanding choice to save time and money by automating your employee time-tracking with software that gives you the data you need, in the form you need it. Try Time Tracker for free for 14-days and automate your time and billing.