Build a Client-Attracting Website
The year was 2005 and I was a newly licensed architect at a small architecture firm. Some of the younger staff and I were excited when we convinced the firm principal to revamp the firm’s website. We could already hear the phone ringing in our imaginations with big-budget homeowners wanting to hire us to design their dream house.
The new website went live… and then… crickets.
No new phone inquiries. No emails about glamorous projects (at least none that we could trace back to the website redesign). I was left scratching my head wondering what went wrong.
Perhaps you’ve done something similar—invested in a beautiful, up-to-date website featuring the latest web technologies and most eye-catching project photos. If you’re ambitious, you even included a blog. After the website failed to create new demand, you resigned yourself to the sombre thought that a website is just a branding exercise—something people find after they hear about your firm from other sources.
While it is true that a website is a powerful tool for conveying your firm’s brand, if that is all a website does, it is woefully underutilized.
Going Beyond the Brochure Website
Architects’ websites have a predictable format: a prominent portfolio page, a services page, and an “about” us page. By nature, as architects we are visually inclined: we like images. However, when we limit our websites to a pretty portfolio, we sell our firms short. These websites are little more than online marketing brochures.
After my first website experience in 2005, I researched firms that were using their websites as an effective tool to bring in new work. I came across Modative.com—a young startup practice based in Los Angeles, California. At the time, they were getting 90% of their new work from their website.
How did they do this?
Well, the City of Los Angeles had recently passed the Small Lot Subdivision ordinance to address the tight housing market. However, many homeowners and developers were unclear about the exact requirements of the ordinance. So, the team at Modative started publishing information on their website about how to develop successful projects under this new framework.
Modative’s informative, consumer-focused website got noticed by the media, and the Los Angeles Times published a profile of the firm. All of this combined to produce the “perfect storm” for the young firm, allowing Modative to hire additional staff and grow into larger and more interesting projects.
Modative currently has five educational offers on the resources page of their website, including a sample site planning and evaluation report, an architecture process guide, and a residential client checklist. Because of this useful, client-centric information, people reach out to the firm consistently.
The Client-Centric Website
Having followed my passion for the business side of architecture, I’ve discovered the power of a client-centric website. A client-centric website is one with useful information that educates and delights prospects and clients, instead of solely focusing on a firm’s achievements and projects. This simple strategy can be used by firms small and large.
Canadian-based international firm Stantec has an area of their website devoted to “Ideas”—client-centric information and stories produced by the firm’s practitioners (ideas.stantec.com). Resources available include articles such as “Biophilic design: What is it? Why it matters? And how do we use it?” and the firm’s Design Quarterly publication.
The Strategic Advantage of Being All About the Client
While claiming to be a client-centered firm is easy, delivering on this promise and weaving it successfully through a firm’s marketing materials is challenging. However, firms that invest the time and resources in implementing this approach have a distinct strategic advantage over their “all about us” competitors.
Depending on your offerings to potential clients, they could arrive on your doorstep already understanding what an architect will need from them. Or, they may realize what they don’t know about their project—site challenges, infrastructure considerations, municipal regulations.
At the very least, you’ve given them something useful, and people like to reciprocate, meaning they may feel receptive to your proposal. Maybe you’ve clarified the meaning of new regulations (like Modative did), maybe shown them a step-by-step flowchart that helped them understand the design process. That “take-away” concept is key: this is not just a dolled-up way to promote your own firm.
Once you have offered a real value that they’ve accepted, you are now an architect that they “know.” You may not have met in person, but they know you have expertise in their area, and that you are generous (within limits!). They may even have your email or phone number. This is a powerful strategic advantage.
Think You’re Ready for the ‘Level 3’ Why?
Having a client-centric website has advantages beyond just educating your prospective clients or even making sure they can easily reach out to you. Because of the way search engine algorithms work, an information-rich, client-centric strategy will also help a firm’s site appear first in rankings. And because clients do research before they hire a firm, this strategy exposes your firm to a potential client early in the project planning process. It’s like being the first person in line to enter a sold-out party.
Adding client-centric information doesn’t need to end with blog posts and free white papers, however. With all the social media channels that are available, it’s also easy to share rich content like videos and podcasts.
Firms that embrace a “clients first” approach with their websites are rewarded not only with a more educated clientele, but also with improved search engine rankings and visibility for their firms. More importantly, they’ll lead the conversation in their respective markets for years to come.
Enoch Sears is a licensed California architect and co-founder of The Architect Marketing Institute, which helps architecture firms around the world build highly profitable and impactful practices by giving firm owners access to unprecedented support for success in a competitive market. More information at archmarketing.org.