I have had a discussion with a fellow architect that suggested I be a bit more definitive about my post. Trouble is those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. What I mean by that is that I question everything I read. Some of it is very good and a lot of it I question. So I don't want people thinking I am telling them what they should do, all I can do is relate what I have learned based on my experience. I always wondered about these guys who have the seminars that will teach you how to successfully trade in the stock market. They have the 12 "must do" items to make you a successful trader and although they may not guarantee you will become rich, one gets the impression this is a no miss seminar. If they know the secret of trading then 1) Why aren't they in the caribbean relaxing and buying islands and 2) If they are so successful how come they aren't just giving this information away, because they have made so much money successfully trading, they don't need the money they just want to share because of the goodness in their hearts? I haven't figured that one out yet?
At 57 I do think I have figured some things out about life. Not a lot, but just a handful of things. Some of the obvious things are not specific either, but more on a concept basis. I can state them, I can believe them, and you can disagree and I may think you're wrong, but that is how the system works. I figured out big picture items, like don't worry about some things, because we will never know the answer, so get a life and move on down the road. Anger, is a terrible thing and eats at a person's soul. There is no benefit is being angry so just let it go. If someone takes pleasure in making you angry, don't get mad, it makes the instigator more upset that it didn't bother you. I keep telling everybody there are five main ingredients that make up a person, I don't know what they are, but I do know that it is better to be average in all five, than to excel in four and be missing one. I have the Tim Barber "green pencil theory", based on the last job I had working for someone else. When the boss tells you, "From now on we want you to draw with a green pencil" and your attitude is "OK, that's cool what ever you want" you should stay at your job. When your attitude is "WTF?, green? You know that won't show worth a damn when we run prints and you know how often the lead breaks with those green leads?", basically when your attitude is confrontational, then it is time to move on.
So this gets me to "How do we get work?". I wish there was a simple answer, but there is not a one step solution. We should get exposure so people know who we are. We should socialize so people know us. Socializing could mean going to church, joining a neighborhood pool, becoming active in your local groups or maybe even running for a political office. The problem is how do you find the people with a need to meet the people who can help give them a solution.
To bad people who need architects don't just hang around the Home Depot on Sunday afternoons, so we could ride by and poke your head out the window and ask "Anyone need help on a kitchen renovation?", "Anyone moving from their home office and into a new commercial space and need some upfit drawings?". So where do you go to find these clients? Where do these people go to find architects? I think the best method is still word of mouth (aka referrals).
I do mainly commercial work and I work for contractors and developers. Most of my work is by referrals. These client I service associate with bankers and commercial real estate brokers, so as they are trying to fund a project or lease a property and the person asks about an architects, they are the ones who would be giving out names just as your client would recommend you. The bankers and realtors have learned about many architects from the contractors and developers they have dealt with in the past. They may not even have had first had experience with the architect's name they given out. They do know that the developer,who had many apartment projects, if he uses someone on several projects then that architect must be doing something well, right?
Coming up through the ranks there was always a hush hush talking about other architects, engineers and clients. You had this secret relationship with your client. It was a tight one on one situation. Like dating a person, you don't openly talk about the other people you are dating, just not a cool thing to do! It has taken me a long time to get my client to talk freely about any of their projects. I tell them they are not my only client and I assume I am not their only architect. Some things I do extremely well and some things I have never done. So I don't feel it would best serve my client to get me to do a project that was outside my expertise and comfort level. We all learn new things as we take on new experience, but I am talking grand leaps in projects. So don't get the impression I won't take on something I have never done before, but don't ask this one man office to design you a 50 story highrise in downtown Raleigh either.
I also tell my clients and consultants, that if they have code questions please feel free to call, whether I am working on the project or not. Some other architects won't give them the information they need and apparently some can't. In the last four weeks I had a designer who works for one of my consulting engineers ask me a question about decks around above ground level indoor swimming pools. I told him I didn't know the answer, but would gladly go find it out. I found out the answer was not in a Building Code , but a requirement through the state's Department of Environmental Health. I tracked down the section in their documents and sent it to him. The question was for a friend of his who is trying to upfit and existing building to accommodate a local swim club. I told the consultant if there was anything else I could help with let me know. A few days later he asked if I would be interest in helping with the the project and I told him I absolutely would. A day later I was contacted by the friend and now have a preliminary meeting set up. I don't know if I will get the job or not, but by offering to help answer a question it got my foot in the door to a possible new project. Being nice, sharing your experience gets people to recommend you. This is one method of getting new projects that definitely works!
We as architects know sometimes how we can make things better. Even if the client doesn't appreciate it or understand it, but doesn't it make YOU feel better knowing that you did something or suggested something that will make the person's life better. Something as simple as changing a door swing. It is something you can see on a plan that you understand will not become that constant annoyance to the client every time they try to come in from the garage. We understand flow, we understand private versus public.
My wife had friends who renovated a house. There had originally planned on putting a half bath directly off the living room. I told them it was a bad idea and nobody would use it. I said people are to self conscience about noises they make in the bathroom and that their guest would end up walking upstair to the guest bathroom before they would use this half bath. We also redesigned the garage and ended up putting a small hallway out of the dining area. I told them to move the bathroom to the end of that hall, have the door open out into the hallway swinging toward the dining room. It looks a little awkward on paper, but it was at the end of the hall and I had space for a person to stand beyond the door when they opened it. The last thing I told them was to get the loudest exhaust fan they could find, for the comfort of the bathroom occupants. I can not tell you how many times they have thanked me for my suggestion. Everyone uses the half bath with comfort. After the renovation was finished they finally realized what I was talking about and told me it would have been a horrible mistake to put the half bath where they had it originally, but I already knew that and you would have too!