With rapid growth among architecture firms, leadership are spending a lot of time and resources updating and expanding human resources, infrastructure, onboarding, and operational processes. What’s missing from this list? Marketing.
There are things that are necessary when you’re a small firm. Resources can sometimes be scarce and decisions tend to be handled differently than when you have more people on your team. However, as you grow, the marketing that may have helped you get to where you are will no longer serve you – and may hurt your business.
We’re seeing more and more examples of architecture firms who have outgrown their marketing but don’t know it. Some of the telltale signs are:
- Marketing is assigned to a designer or an architect. This is bad for two reasons. First, the person who has been saddled with marketing isn’t spending their time on the thing they went to school for and joined your firm to do: architecture. You’re taking a big risk that they will get fed up and leave for another firm, especially in this market. Second, an architect is not a marketer any more than they are a mechanic. Firms often assume that marketing is not as difficult as architecture so that must mean that architects can be successful in marketing. This is not true, and can lead to costly and embarrassing mistakes by a well-meaning designer-playing-marketer.
- The marketing budget is less than 5% of revenue – or non-existent. Your marketing budget is an amount you are reinvesting in your firm’s growth. As your firm becomes larger, you will have a need to bring in more prospects and to fend off more competitors. This is why it’s calculated as a percentage, so that as your firm grows, so does your marketing budget. Many firms make the mistake of setting a number of $X, then either never increasing that number or increasing it by a percentage (for example, 5% a year). This means the marketing budget has no relationship to the firm’s actual footprint. It will be much smaller than what the firm needs to keep up. Not having a marketing budget line item at all is worse. Marketing should be a part of every business budget, especially as your firm grows in size and stature.
- Your marketing materials haven’t been updated. At some point, your firm may have created a website, project sheets, branded folders, RFP templates, and a brochure. These took so much effort that once it was done you never touched them again. They no longer reflect your firm’s capabilities, its team, its breadth of experience, or recent projects. Depending on how old they are, they may also look dated – making it very clear to your prospects that they haven’t been updated. Outdated marketing materials – including your website – are missed opportunities to sell to your prospects.
- Everything is decided by committee. When firms are small, decision-by-committee is often part of the firm culture. This is understandable; no one wants to feel left out. As your firm grows, though, this becomes impractical. It’s difficult to find times when all 16 people are available for a meeting, for example, or to build consensus without multiple intensive (and costly) meetings. Everything moves slower, and sometimes things simply die on the vine because the committee can’t reach a decision or loses motivation. Decisions like whether a contractor should be listed on a project profile should be the responsibility of one person to prevent bottlenecks.
- There is no marketing strategy. In the “old days,” your marketing efforts may have focused on telling people your firm existed and showcasing everything you did across every possible channel. This may have been the best way to use available resources, but it’s not going to support your firm’s continued growth. You need a marketing strategy that defines what kinds of projects you’re seeking, who you’re trying to sell to, how you’re going to do it, and how you’re going to measure success. Without documenting this information, people are left to make it up as they go along. This will result in wasted efforts and also makes it harder to delegate work.
- Nothing is templated. Templates aren’t the answer to everything, but they have their place. Things like RFP responses, PowerPoint decks, and project profiles should be templated so that you’re not reinventing the wheel each time one of these is needed. It also makes it easier to delegate the infilling of the template to a junior person. By locking down design elements, you ensure that your materials will look professional and consistent. You and your staff will also save countless hours of time by not designing anew.
The good news is that right-sizing your firm’s marketing is a straightforward exercise.
- Assign a budget line-item for marketing. It should be at least 5% of your annual revenue, more if you anticipate a larger initiative like a new website.
- If your firm doesn’t yet have a non-architect/non-designer marketing employee or department, determine who in the firm will be the marketing point person. Ideally, disband any pre-existing marketing committee. You can form ad hoc committees for specific larger projects as needed.
- Develop a marketing strategy, or hire someone to do this for you.
- Inventory all of your marketing materials. What needs to be updated?
- What needs to be in a different medium? (For example, a print brochure that also needs to be a digital download)
- Are there any new items that need to be created?
- What materials can be templated?
- Based on the marketing strategy and your internal resources, determine who will be responsible for executing the marketing strategy and what outside resources need to be engaged.
The time and effort invested in right-sizing will transform your firm’s marketing efforts from ankle weights into a tool that supports sustained growth.