How do you feel about this?

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Been on my own (with a partner) for almost 8 years now.........but these last few months have been scary..........projects have just evaporated in the last couple of months......clients that used to generate a couiple of thousand a month ave nothing. Three months ago I thought we would be having one of our busiest years next year....had a 200k, 80k, and a 35k building all in the pipeline........they are stalled / gone. We've generated a total of 20 billable hours between the two of us in the last month..........needless to say, the Mich. economy has a lot to do with it.

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What do you think we have been doing in our free time? Our main source of work has been real estate brokers and developers...(and not just one or two)......they are sitting on their hands as well............the phone calls to the office are mostly contractors begging to get on our "bid list"........wish we had one :-(
The automotive business is really killing everything in SE Mich. Delphi.....now in bankruptcy, wants to cut wages from 27/hr to 9.75 hr. Care to guess what that is going to do to the local economy???

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Ooo... doesn't sound good. I feel for you. We're trying to keep things happening here...fortunately, our economy is fairly "diverse." A paper mill closed a few years ago. This is a small town and you'd think 600 jobs would kill the economy. Not a blip. I felt bad for the guys who lost their jobs, but the market was able to asborb most of them in other jobs.
Now...as for Delphi cutting from $27 to 9.75...maybe it should have been closer to the 9.75 to begin with...(just market forces realigning to where they ought to be). Still sucks for them.
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Don't get me wrong........I think they were overpaid to begin with, gut it will put a drag on the economy here.
The real killer was we had a project that was pretty solid....200k office / light industrial building........unfortunately they were partnered with Delphi, so the thing has been put on indefinte hold.
I know about small towns......grew up in western Pa. ...........the entire country had only a little over 100,000 people.....and it is still the same 25 years later. That why I have always lived in a"big city" since.

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Paul,
I know it sucks to have to go to other means to create leads but I might suggest ServiceMagic. I know, I know, that's almost like begging but it's not so bad. I signed up for it a year ago for some very similar reasons to what you mentioned in your post and I reluctantly looked into it to find that it's been very efficient.
SM is a lead generating service and is highly customizable to maximize the potential for the leads to turn into jobs. I've bought about 20 leads to date in the past year and was able to convert 3 into jobs... Those 3 have since led to 3 more so I don't really buy leads from them anymore thought I keep the leads coming in and check them for some "fingerprints" I look for before committing to buying the lead.
The way it works is this:
Owners go to SM to find contractors, architects, interior designers etc to design or build their projects. They fill out a request form with type of work, Amount of SF, budget and other relevant info.
It looks like this: --------------------- Job Information
Description:Hire an Architect to Design a Project Job Code:F Location:Great Neck, NY 11020 Job Number:9444215
Service Description:
Request Stage: Planning & Budgeting Desired Completion Date: Less than 1 week Historical Work: No Request is for Commercial Location: No Consumer Owns Home: Yes Project Type: Whole house remodel Square Footage: 2500
Needs: Evaluate proposed project to determine feasibility and approximate cost; Prepare schematic and preliminary design drawings; Prepare construction documents (plans and specifications); Assist with selection of general contractor; Conduct final inspections
Approx. Budget (Fees + Construction): $200,001-$300,000
Expected Level of Quality: High End - I prefer the highest quality craftsmanship and materials Site Characteristics: Flat Willing to Work with Non-Local Architect?: Maybe Comments: Expansion project for a CHC house located in Lake Success (Great Neck), NY. Looking for a competent & experienced architech to provide recommendations & design. --------------------- You sign up and fill out your profile that includes desired territory/radius you'd like leads to come in from and that you're only interested in receiving leads under the category: Hire an Architect to Design a Project and other criteria.
Those leads are automatically sent out to you and any other architect in your area that has signed up for the service.
You go over the lead info and decide if you want to buy it. It's a pay per use system and If you buy it, you immediately get the owner contact information. Only the first three respondents get the owner info so you are - at worst - competing against two others.
From there, you are on your own to set up appointments with owners etc. and you need to "close the deal" by whatever usual means you use to get the job.
Now, the major problem with the service, not surprisingly, is that owners looking for architects via the 'net generally don't know a thing about the profession or construction so many are "first timers" with their projects. But that's why I don't even consider buying a lead unless the person fills out the type of project, square footage, and provides an estimated budget that makes sense based on those two other criteria.
I can assure you that the bulk of the leads that come in are described as something like "Whole House Remodel" with an estimated budget of "$25,000.00". Needless to say these immediately go to the Deleted Items folder.
But every once in a while, a legitimate looking lead comes in (I didn't buy the one I illustrated above - too small a budget for a 2500SF whole house remodel) I pounce on it.
The cost of the purchased leads follows a scale based on size of project, estimated budget etc... They cost from $25.00 to $50.00.
Like I said, I've bought about 20 leads over the past year (about $1000.00 total) and closed on 3 jobs which turned into 3 more projects (about $120K in fees)
So for me, it's worked out great... but it's not for everyone because as I said, a 15% closing (30% if you count the referral jobs) might be considered low for some...
Quite frankly, I see this service as more of a seed planting service... I planted 3 seeds and now it's blossoming into a tree of work :-)
Anyhow, good luck with your dilemna...
PL

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Thanks.......I will check it out.

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I'm sure all architects can feel your pain. I've been through this with multiple firms before. The first firm I worked for out of school had put all of their eggs in the Mexico basket in the early 90's, and after that big plummet of the peso they lost 80% of their billable work within a two week span. The firm went from 65 to 25 in a matter of weeks, with a few partners included in that number (they were top heavy anyway). The only thing I have seen to somewhat avoid this is diversify as much as possible, either by type of project, region, etc. (I know, it's easier said than done). The firm I now work at (which I am currently working towards becoming a partner in) has diversified to the point of working in over 12 different countries currently. It has taken many years of experience to get there, but the payoff is excellent. We are currently swamped with work, and NEVER stop chasing work. I'm sure you know this, but if you wait for work to slow down to really start chasing and marketing, then you're already dead. We're kind of stretched thin right now because of this, but who needs sleep anyway?
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There is that delicate balance of having too much and not enough. You do not want to take too much on, and then not be able to deliver......it takes far longer to restore a bad reputation that it does to create a good one in the first place. We were swamped during the time that most people were slow.....2002-2004, We have never had to do much "marketing" Our reputation has enabled us to expand are client base to a level a very comfortable level.....and by not caring much overhead, we have survived through the slow times when many other firms have not.....it has all ground to a halt in a instatn though......something we haven't seenin the years we have been together.

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I completely agree with you on your first statement about that balance. We have had many discussions on trying to maintain this balance, and it's very difficult to know when to say the NO to a client. We've recently had a real quandry about this when we had taken on a few new projects, and then received a call from a longterm client who also had a new project. We had already started on the ones with the new clients, and we just couldn't turn down this old client. Just gotta suck it up sometimes, and ride the storm out. One thing we have as a backstop for being overloaded is a longterm relationship we have with a firm in Buenos Aires that does some outsourcing for us in a pinch. Since they are primarily a "technical" firm they help us with our DD (and on rare occasion CD) sets, with us doing all of the front end design. They will help set up our documents sets, and even draw some of the details from sketches we send them. This is for rare occasions for very time/staff consuming projects, but this relationship works surprisingly well. Mainly because we know each other well, and they are a really talented and conscientious group of guys. It also keeps us from "overstaffing". Nothing worse than hiring a bunch of people and then the projects go on hold, and you've suddenly got all these people sitting around on their hands. I've seen this at other firms time and time again. It's not fair to them to do that, so we typically will be "understaffed", so to speak, most of the time.
Do you guys venture out of your general region often, or have you ever thought of joint-venturing with other firms in different parts of the country when times get tight? Just thinking out loud.
Good luck to you, hope things get "busy" for you soon.
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We did a little work in Fla, but to be honest it was too much of a hassle. We have always wanted to stay small and "practice our art" instead of becoming managers.....the personal relationship has always been a big factor in winning over potential clients. They know that their project will not get handed off to some lower level staff like in larger firms. I've always keep a couple people as backup when things got moving....one who could write specs, and another that could handle small jobs. We never wanted to be a "hire and fire" firm like many mid size firms around here...I've slept on the office floor many times because of it.....the really large firms here seem to have a pool of "draftsmen" that they shuffle around to each other on an as need basis. Years ago, I worked for one of the larger firms in town for a few months......(worked on the Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium in NY) about 15 people were actually employees for 4-5 different competing firms.......in talking with them, they moved from firm to firm as the needs arouse, always maintaining their original employer.
I think another reason for the slow down is that fewer and fewer people can produce more and more of the work, yet the architecture schools keep pumping out graduates, so more and more people are competing for the same amount of pie.. Our big project that we had for the last couple of years....a 250,000 s.f office building....we did pretty much on our own. Produced about 350 sheets of CD's in less than 6 months by myself.......that would not have been possible 10 years ago.

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Actually, that's true of *any* profession. Never lose old contacts! Always keep up with people with whom you worked well in the past. ((Rembering that "work well with" is not the same as "being best friends".))
You never know when someone froom 10 yrs ago might have a good lead for you - the main thing is to keep up with people. Heck, send Season's Greetings cards. It's cheerful, and it keeps in touch. Email people. Keep in touch.

Mainly, just have a mindset that is friendly. It doesn't mean one has to be all mushy and touchyfeelie-warmfluffy, it just means being friendly and keeping contact. "Hi, how are you doing? I was thinking about that project we'd worked on and it got me wondering how you've been, since we haven't talked in a while."
ANd like you said:

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jojo wrote:

Your bosses suggestion that you do architecture outside the office is less problematic to me than what you said: "we... only draft." He's right when he suggests you go out and enjoy architecture in your off time. But a good boss won't chain you to your computer and make you draft day in-day out. They'll give you a chance to help put together proposals for new projects, aid in early schematic design, do presentations, go out on site visits and surveys, help in construction administration and punch lists. Even when they do give you a drafting task, a good boss will take the opportunity to teach you things like constructibility, accessibility, building codes, egress.... that sort of thing.
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