Attention Architects: Learn to Say No to These Projects

Attention Architects: Learn to Say No to These Projects

The average IQ for a college architecture major is 118, according to Statistic Brain. That’s not half bad, but even the smartest professionals get pulled into the idea that picking up every job offered to them is a good idea. And as in all niches, architects get confronted with projects that hinder their businesses.

This problem rings particularly true with younger architects who are hungry to build their business and amp up their portfolio to impress future clients. The only problem is that these bad projects suck up your time, money, and energy to leave you in an exhausted state and trying to recoup the losses at the end.

Let’s take a look at the architectural projects that can look tempting, but require closer examination to see that they are not actually worthwhile for your architecture business.

The Project That’s Too Big for You to Handle

You only have so many resources to work with when you are running your architecture business, particularly for those who are just getting started. A big time client might make your eyes light up, but the first order of business is figuring out whether or not you can handle the size of the project.

Not having enough resources for a big project is not only going to make the client unsatisfied with your work, but your current customers—the ones who have been with you for a while and enjoy your work—are going to start noticing that you are cutting down on the time spent on them.

The final area that goes to the wayside during an overwhelming project is your own marketing and sales efforts.

When you take on a project that is too big to handle you might find yourself losing that job eventually and then not having any other jobs to fall back on because you weren’t out there marketing your services.

The Client With Unrealistic Expectations

Ah yes, the unrealistic customer. The one that tries to squeeze every last drop of work out of you for the smallest amount of money. The one that sucks up all your precious time by calling or emailing you to express their concerns or complaints. The unrealistic client is often a burden on the industry overall since they jump from architect to architect, draining resources and making architects work way too hard for their money.

Sure you want to take pride in your work and over-perform for your clients, but having unproductive, hour-long phone conversations is not part of that performance. The key to identifying these customers is noticing it during the early contact with the client. They start to propose unrealistic expectations right from the start and you realize that they might not even know what their own vision is in the first place.

Keep in mind that impractical deadlines fall into this category as well. You might want to wow a customer by beating out a short deadline, but chances are you will end up wasting your time and energy to only find that this customer is not satisfied with the work anyways. There are better ways to grow your business than working with people who don’t respect your time.

The Project That’s Not in Your Area of Expertise

It’s tempting to take any job that comes your way, even if it doesn’t particularly lay in your area of expertise. To start, you might not be licensed to work in this area, meaning that taking the job would land you in some serious trouble. If it is legal, but you haven’t mastered the area, your customer will eventually realize this and turn to someone else who is better than you.

Don’t touch any project when you don’t feel confident in the area. You’ll end up wasting your time and possibly hurting your business if word gets out about your performance.

The Client That Doesn’t Share the Same Interests

This sort of ties into the customer with unrealistic expectations area, but it focuses more on what ideas you both have on the project. If you propose a few ideas for the project and your client keeps shooting them down, maybe you aren’t on the same wavelength. When you can never agree on something you can bet that this trend will continue throughout the project.

It’s a recipe for a frustrating job and a disappointed client on the other end.

The Project That Doesn’t Align With Your Company’s Mission or Goals

Ideas about a project are one thing, but what if the entire project goes against the mission of your company? What if you have a mission to partake in projects with green initiatives and a project comes along that clearly goes against your morals for helping to make the environment a little better?

Yes, you might be able to finish this job and receive praise from the customer, but you go against your own ideals as a person, and you might even go against your company’s business plan. In this case you stray away from the ultimate goals that you put forth in the first place. Potential customers start to see that you aren’t as focused as other architects and you let off the idea that you simply take any project for a little extra cash.

This is a business and moral failure. Think hard about each project to see if it aligns with your own business and personal goals. The real problem here is that once you finish a project that goes against your mission, that client might refer you or ask you to complete more work for them, leading you down a slippery slope you never intended to fall down.

The Project for Family or Friends

When architects work with customers there are always going to be situations that put stress on the relationship. When you work on a house or office building there’s no chance your customer likes every aspect of the design. They are bound to push back on occasion and create a little bit of tension between you two. This is only natural, but what happens if this customer is someone you know, like a friend or family member?

The problems usually start early with friends and family members. There is usually an awkward relationship in terms of pricing, because the person might be wondering if you would be willing to do the job for cheap, or you might feel bad charging your full rate for someone you know personally.

Then, if you encounter a problem along the way you put stress on the previous relationship you had with the person. They won’t feel comfortable coming to you with feedback or they might feel too comfortable and become one of those overbearing clients we talked about before. Imagine completing some work with your friend. This gives them an excuse to call you and chat with you whenever they want.

Not to mention, even if you maintain a solid relationship they are most likely going to drag out the conversations with friendly small talk, wasting your time and draining resources.


Overall, the idea of any project coming through the pipeline is enough to start licking your lips, but many of these projects are disasters in disguise. You would be better off spending your time finding good customers or over delivering for a current customer to make them feel special. Work your hardest to stray away from sloppy or risky projects and spend more time on developing a lean office. Or perhaps you could work on streamlining your business processes.

Can you think of any other reasons to turn down a project? What has been the biggest red flag you ran into that made you “just say no”? Let us know in the comments below if you have had any experiences where the project turned into a nightmare because you should have skipped it in the first place.

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