Winning Clients: How Architects Can Stand Out Above the Competition
In today’s tough economic climate, an increasing number of architects are abandoning or being laid off from salaried positions and instead working for themselves as freelance contractors or even establishing their own firms. The shift towards entrepreneurship and contract-based work has many positive aspects. However, one downside is that there is now more competition between architects than ever before.
It can be daunting to bid against many other architects for a single project, but the main thing to remember is to believe in yourself and the service you are providing. While there may be many bids for every job, not all of them will be of a good quality and if you can make sure you are one of the better candidates, you will always be in with a good chance of winning the work.
In this post I have outlined some key tips for placing yourself above other contenders when bidding for work.
Be Easily Contactable
There is no point in putting together an excellent proposal if the prospect can’t get hold of you. It’s likely that there are several bids under consideration and the prospect will attempt to contact each bidder he is interested in for more details. If you’re not available to discuss your proposal further, it’s likely that the prospect will choose the easier and faster option of awarding the project to one of your more easily-contactable competitors.
It’s best to leave a variety of ways for the prospect to contact you: an email address, telephone number and even some kind of instant chat option. If you leave a telephone number, make sure that you are available to answer it – don’t force the prospect to leave a message if possible, as he may just move onto the next contractor if he can’t talk to you in person.
If you do use an automated telephone answering service, make sure to include the times you are available to talk and let callers know when they can expect to have their call returned in your recorded message.
Respond to Emails Promptly, Politely and Comprehensively
Email is a fast and easy method of communication, but that does not mean that you should get lazy with your email management. If a prospect sends you an email asking for further information, don’t let it sit in your inbox for several days before getting back to him – you may just find that he’s offered the job to someone else in the meantime.
If you’re busy working on another project and don’t have the time to reply to the email with a full proposal right away, it’s always a good idea to send back a quick note to let the prospect know that you received the message and will be back in touch soon. This lets the him know that he’s on your radar, even if you’re not available immediately.
It’s easy to be overly casual in email but try to stay polite and professional – you don’t have to start each email with “Dear Sir”, (on the contrary, such a formal way of writing might seem very out of place in an email and can actually put people off). However, remember that you are communicating with a prospective client, not your best friend. Once you start to build up a working relationship with a client you can follow their lead and adjust your style to suit, but for first contact it’s best to stay professional.
When prospective clients request specific information in an email, make sure to answer them as comprehensively as possible – you don’t want to force them to repeat themselves (which can cause endless frustration). If you need further clarification or detail before answering, sometimes it’s easier to pick up the phone and have a conversation so you can be clear on everything before getting back to them.
Deliver on the Promises You Include in Your Sales Copy
Over-promising and under-delivering is one of the fastest ways of ensuring the failure of your business. If you’re not 100% sure you can deliver on something, don’t say you can do it in the first place.
Deadlines are a great example of this – if the client needs elevation drawings back within a week but you’re already booked solid, be honest and offer a more reasonable date. This may cause you to lose bids if the work is really urgent but in many cases the client will appreciate your honesty and may well extend their deadline if they want to work with you. Conversely, if you agree to go ahead but end up delivering the work late, you’ll have lost their confidence and risked your reputation.
If a client asks for something that is beyond the scope of your skill set, don’t agree to it in the hope that you can learn as you go along. For example, if you have little experience in structural engineering and usually work with an engineer appointed by the client, don’t take on structural work in the hope that you will be able to find someone reliable to fill the knowledge gap. Instead, be honest about your capabilities and explain to the client that you would be happy to work with them if they appoint a structural engineer. Alternatively, tell them that you are happy to find an engineer on their behalf, but it will not necessarily be someone that you have worked with before.
It is possible that the prospect may still be keen to work with you on the project, despite your lack of experience in a particular area. If that is the case, it gives you a great opportunity to expand your skills and learn as you go, while at the same time having the reassurance of knowing the client is aware of your inexperience and the potential consequences.
Otherwise, the prospect will appreciate your helpfulness in finding an alternative and will probably return to you if he has a project that is more suitable for your skill set in the future.
Put Together a Professional Bid
It should go without saying that your bid is one of the most important aspects when it comes to winning clients. Unless you’ve been recommended by someone you’ve worked with previously, or they’ve sought you out through your website or online portfolio, your bid is the first chance you’ll get to make a positive impression.
With that in mind, never submit a “canned” pre-written generic bid. It can be helpful to construct a template to help when writing bids but always make sure to tailor it for each individual client’s requirements.
Make sure to read the client’s expectations clearly and if you need clarification on anything, it may be worth dropping them a quick email or message first to ask any questions before submitting your bid. This shows you are really serious about working with them and want to get things right first time.
As with your email communications, bids should be written in a formal and professional manner. If spelling and grammar isn’t your strong point, ask someone else to read through and check for errors before you submit your bid.
It can take a bit of practice to write proposals that will stand out and be appealing to clients, so take your time and polish your writing until you’re really happy with what you submit.
Remember that the main point of the bid is to solve the client’s problem, not to talk about yourself. Always structure it around what you can do for them and how your skills and experience will achieve this, rather than just listing your qualifications and previous clients.
Go Above and Beyond in Catering to the Prospective Client’s Queries
Being responsive in client communications, submitting a well-written bid and remaining professional at all times will help you to win work the majority of the time. However, if you really want to rise above the competition and impress prospective clients, you need to stand out by going the extra mile.
There are many ways you can do this and you may want to consider:
- Offering complementary additional services
- Delivering your proposal ahead of schedule
- Taking calls outside of normal business hours
- Referring your client to other recommended contractors and services
- Suggesting methods or materials that will save them money
- Anything else that will make their life easier
You don’t have to spend a lot of time or effort in doing this – even small gestures will help you to stick in the client’s mind. However, there is a fine line between providing excellent service and underselling yourself – be careful not to go down the route of constantly offering free extras, as your client will come to expect it as standard and you’ll end up reducing your overall rate.
Winning the Job Is Just the Start
It can be tempting to bid on every project that loosely fits your skill set but it pays to be choosy from the start and bid only on projects that you’re confident you can knock out of the park. If you’re not 100% committed to a job, this will come through in your bid (and in the work itself).
Remember that relationships count in business and making yourself likeable and someone who is enjoyable to work with will go a long way towards your career success. When a client accepts your bid, they are putting their trust in you and it is then down to you to provide an excellent service.