Five tips to build your clientele

AIA members who have started their own practices

Two young architects who recently started their own practices strategize at AIA's Practice Innovation Lab

Some say that that if architects design great buildings, clients will come calling. But as many practitioners know, it takes more than that to build a clientele, especially when working at a smaller firm or as a sole practitioner. Whether you’re starting a new practice or stuck on how to broaden your base, keeping these tips in mind may help.

Listen carefully

When meeting with prospective clients, do much more listening than speaking. It’s likely that they have already checked you or your firm out online, and they may have even spoken with past clients. They know who we are and some of what we can offer. Our job during the initial meeting is to ask the right questions and listen very carefully. In doing so, we demonstrate that we are willing to be collaborators and sustain a partnership long-term.

Hold their hand

A big key to success is making sure your client is happy – not just with the final product, but throughout the process. Designing great architecture and developing expert documentation will result in a smooth experience and strong results. When we hold our clients’ hands and let them know we have things under control from beginning to end, they’ll remember that when the project is complete. They’ll also tell their friends.

Over-deliver

Working with a client could lead to a dream project or a worst nightmare – for both parties. Managing expectations is one of the most important responsibilities we have as architects. Most clients have never experienced the architectural process or lived through a construction project. Our client’s trust is in our hands, and it’s our duty to remain trustworthy by keeping expectations on track. A key to retaining and adding clients will be delivering results that exceed their expectations.

Take professional photos

Enough cannot be said about the importance of professional photography. Professional photographs take client development to the next level because they can be used in many types of marketing material. Posting photos and links to your projects on social media encourages followers to share, giving your work more visibility. When our clients see their projects posted online or published in a magazine, they are so proud of the work we’ve done together and are more likely to spread the word.

Follow up with a gift

When a project is complete, schedule a visit and ask the client to give a tour sharing what they like and what they don’t like. Following up shows that we appreciate their patronage and that we truly care about their satisfaction. Give them a physical token of your appreciation. One idea? A bound book of before and after project photos – not only a great gift, but also a marketing tool for a new fan to share with others.

AIA is committed to providing business education and resources for young architects and small firm owners.

Mark R. LePage, AIA, is partner in charge of operations at the New York-based residential architecture firm, Fivecat Studio. In 2012, Mark launched EntreArchitect.com, an online educational resource inspiring small firm architects to build better businesses.

Image credits

AIA members who have started their own practices

MediaXperience Film House

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