Regardless if you are a large architecture firm or a boutique design studio, everyone must create a plan for generating new business. Fortunately, RFPs (Request For Proposals) and RFQs (Request For Qualifications) are not the only path to attracting new projects. In fact, the most effective business development strategies involve more time spent on proactive relationship-building, and less time responding to RFPs and RFQs, which are available to the open market.
Identify the ideal project, and then work backwards
What are the ideal projects for your firm? Who are the people who can lead you to them? Do some research into their social environments and find ways to meet them there. Understand the emerging markets, understand where your consumer is, and meet them there. Do not make them come to you. The best projects initiate through direct commissions. Make the personal connection by networking in the same places that your ideal client spends time in.
Export your design and portfolio as portable, and shareable objects
Do not just showcase your portfolio, make your collateral a design object itself. Your design philosophy should be manifested in any tangible object (books, business cards, etc), so that whenever you meet a potential client, you can offer a sample of what makes your firm great. Follow up with well-designed and articulated emails, and ensure that the website is easily navigable to the non-design professional. The worst is for a client to be turned off by a slow or complicated website.
A great example of portfolio brand marketing is Apple’s “Designed by Apple in California,” which chronicles 20 years of design history.
Always have business cards on hand and enter contact information you receive into your email list and CRM systems and stay in contact through periodic, personal emails. If you want to send out occasional updates with a mass mailing service like Mailchimp, be sure to ask if they would like to be included in the mailing list. Do not be that sales guy, though, and just send mass campaigns out all the time.
Turn your culture and logo into a brand
Become an expert in a specific area of design. Few top brands rose to the top because they had a diversified portfolio that appealed to any client. Determine the expertise available in the office, and the kind of projects that you want to define your firm. There needs to be something that potential clients can associate with your firm’s name. If you want to be more of a generalist, and be known for creative solutions and high quality design, then make “process” and “philosophy” the brand.
Create brand ambassadors, advise others on branding
Your employees are the greatest brand ambassadors. Create a company culture that reflects the firm as approachable and enjoyable. Ensure there is fluid communication within the office so when staff is outside of the office walls there is an inclination to spread information about the firm, company vision, and creating new business contacts.
Design is the silent ambassador of your brand, so use your design expertise and assist clients with building their brands through interior architecture, custom FF&E and graphic design.
Grow your online presence
It is now 2017 and it is about time everyone started marketing like it. Regrettably, it appears like most everyone is still marketing like it is 1997. There are two places that companies need to be focusing to fulfill their marketing strategy. One is mobile, and the social networks contained within mobile. The second is video content. The biggest thing people do not understand is that quality content is so important to marketing to anyone under the age of 40. Anyone in that demographic discovers a business for the first time by either: (A) Google searching or (B) finding their content on social media. If you are not crushing it and focusing on the content that you put out on the most important social platforms, you are going to become mute and obsolete in the modern day of doing business.
Maintain a blog and publish frequent updates. Use Instagram and Twitter to boost your online presence. Instagram especially is quick and visual, so designers can “seduce” clients with beautiful images that relate to their design aesthetic without having to spend so much time. And for the statistic nerds, the ROI (Return on Investment) on Instagram is better than on any other platform, because it reaches so many people without much effort. With Twitter, you can retweet articles about your firm, drive people to your blog, or post updates and images as well.
Network with colleagues
How often do you network with industry professionals? Rather than considering other firms as competition, consider them as potential collaborators or partners on future projects. The combined, complementary expertise from each firm can only help to strengthen a business proposal and increases the collective value proposition to clients.
Architects from AB design studio and Shubin + Donaldson
Generating new business opportunities involves marketing and PR, but most of all it involves nurturing relationships. If you continue networking effectively and keep your contacts talking about you, then your firm will most likely pop up during conversations about new projects. If you proactively pursue new information, the more likely it is that you will be included in shortlists and be receiving direct commissions.