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.
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???
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.
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.
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:
Description:Hire an Architect to Design a Project
Location:Great Neck, NY 11020
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
Expansion project for a CHC house located in Lake Success (Great Neck), NY.
Looking for a competent & experienced architech to provide recommendations &
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
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
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...
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
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