How to find clients

I focus on single-family modern residential in California. I started my practice right before Covid and in a place where I don't have very many connections (yes I know, great combo!).

I have managed to find a couple of projects on my own, one of them gave me several referrals for other small projects but it's coming to an end so I need to find more work.

I am planning to go to some networking events, maybe go to open houses, and try to connect with real estate agents but I am running out of ideas to find clients. Every very established office is turning down work and I am having a hard time finding some. 

I was wondering if any of you running your own practice have done things that led to finding clients when you started. A lot of architects I spoke with either had some wealthy family members who could launch their career or just joined an established office and became partners. 

I have thought about doing a competition, distributing flyers, paying for advertisements on Facebook, and getting an SEO expert. All of these might be good but not sure trying them all out is the best way to go.

Jul 6, 22 6:02 pm

Maybe reach out to the established firms that are turning away work? Let these firms  know that you're available and what sectors you work in.  

We don't do single family projects.  When we get calls for single family projects we refer people to other architects who do that type of work.  Everyone wins in this situation - we're still helpful to members of the community and other architects that aren't competing with us get possible work. 

Jul 6, 22 6:48 pm  · 
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Hi Chad, thanks for your response! I was thinking about that too but not sure how to approach such offices since they won't know me I don't know why they would wnt to help... Reaching out to firms that do different types of projects makes sense to avoid the competition. I would also think that since I am such a small and young office even if we were doing the same type of projects they probably wouldn't see it as competition.

Jul 6, 22 6:58 pm  · 

It's not easy. You need to network with the people from other firms.

Jul 7, 22 10:40 am  · 

idk just work & it finds you.  I was offered a reno but i was ashamed of my portfolio & lied & said it was at a firm i was trying to get a job at.

Jul 6, 22 8:09 pm  · 
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Honestly the best decision i've ever made. I wasn't ready

Jul 6, 22 8:14 pm  · 
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Sorry for the triple post. GIVE cigarettes to any1 who asks

Jul 6, 22 8:21 pm  · 
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Non Sequitur

Dude, you've never worked a day in this field... let alone anywhere else.

Jul 7, 22 12:24 am  · 
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Hi Marina, I'm in a similar boat as you. I work in the Bay Area and started my practice a few years ago doing SFR and only this year being full-time. Recently, some projects have been put on hold or slowed down, and there have been fewer leads the past few months. 

I don't have any answers, but I've found connections to real estate agents, contractors, and other consultants (engineers, architects) have been the most fruitful. In SF, there is a small firms message board where architects will sometimes post leads they can't take on. I'm happy to connect you if you're in the area.  

Jul 7, 22 1:47 am  · 
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Wood Guy

When I moved to a new area I wanted to build a local network so I started a monthly discussion group on the topic of building science. I hosted it at a local microbrewery and called it BS* + Beer (*building science), advertising on social media. It was just me moderating an open discussion and anywhere from 5 to 25 attendees. I live in a rural part of Maine so if I can do it, I'm positive you could do it in any city.

You really don't need much knowledge or guest experts to host such an event, though now we have a monthly Zoom show where we do invite experts. You just need to have a topic, ask questions and write down responses on a white board or similar.

There are now about 15 other BS + Beer groups around the US and Australia. You are welcome to use the name or any version of it, or just take the idea and make up a new name. In fact the most recent group to form is in Sacramento, with the first meeting planned for later this month. This is the company organizing it:

People in the design and construction fields seem to be drawn to these events and we have found them to be not only a great way to meet people, but to be good for marketing as well. As my friend and co-host Emily says, "those who educate the market OWN the market." We have some tips for starting your own group on our website: https://www.thebsandbeershow.c..., and a link to all of our 90+ previous shows.

Jul 7, 22 11:15 am  · 
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Networking with people helps. Make connections (in-person not just LinkedIn or something) with architects, engineers, contractors, developers. All of the above. Additionally, as time goes, making connection with people socially. In a smaller town community, say under 60,000 people, its easier to get noticed through local newspapers. In a big city, maybe not so much. Those serves like free advertising when they make a positive article about what you are doing and mention you. This is possibly a "next step" after the "first step". Any case, getting clients takes time but getting listed on various local listing of businesses that people look at to seek professional services. 

I agree with what most people here said. 

Jul 7, 22 1:06 pm  · 

Builders - do a good job for one and they will recommend you for future work

Jul 9, 22 1:12 pm  · 

Emma B, 

I'm a building designer up in Oregon, primarily serving in Oregon and Washington, so residential projects are among the projects I work on. I been doing that for the past 20 years or so.

What was said above by everyone, except maybe Jawknee, are valid ways. It's not about you finding clients but making it easier for clients to find you. They are the ones seeking out a professional. What you need to do is build "awareness". In business marketing, awareness is the measurement of them knowing about you, your brand (in your case, what you do, offer, perform, reputation associated with you and the name of your business.) Your reputation is a key aspect of this. 

At first, you will have some challenges because you have not been around for 10 years as a business. You may have some work experience and portfolio of work you done with . After 10 years of serving a community, you'll get more and more client inquiries. Of course, at that stage, they are prospective clients. Once they are inquiring, the next step is evaluate their inquiries and determining what prospective clients to continue the dialogue with and reach a contractual agreement with. The dialogue would be getting as much information about the client project to make a well-informed decision about whether to do the project or not, what the project requirements are, and preparing the contract, accordingly. 

Networking is good advice. Get to know the contractors. Get to know the local developers, local businesses, well known and respected members of the community in the area. These will help. This does not mean you will see instant results. When doing projects that are recognized and seen and reported on in local newspapers are examples of stuff that will gain you some recognition / awareness to the public connecting your name, your business name to the work you do and the services you offer and perform. You will want to have positive reports as good positive reports in newspapers are good advertisement without having to pay for it. 

Of course, you may still have to pay for some advertising as part of getting yourself known. The key is making it easier for them to find you. They aren't just going to dial every number in the phone book. They want to know that YOU are providing services they are looking for a professional to perform. Licensed or not, you're a professional offering to perform services requiring professional knowledge and skill. 

On the business side, my advice or suggestions as to build public awareness of your business. There's a lot of ways to do this and I can't advise exactly for what avenues are available to you. I also recommend that you do the things like what Chad Miller, small, chigurgh, the main point that Wood Guy said in his first sentence (vs doing exactly what he did), what they said as general guidance. Every minute you spend outside of working directly on client projects, continuing education during your business hours and to an extent outside those hours should be spent building connections, getting to know people, etc. 

Don't forget to set aside some time for your family to unwind so you have a life other than work, work, work. During your "start-up phase" which you are in, in every sense of the word, you'll have a bit of grind getting things rolling but that's obviously not something you would want to be doing continuously to that level of degree. You probably want to maintain some level of work/life balance. It might be a little more weighted to work now in getting the business going but once you got it going, you'll want to make way for balancing your life and maybe add a business partner or employee to the team so work load can be distributed and allow you time to make a more balanced work/life balance for a business owner. 

However, you will still need to continually work at procuring work and that will be an important part of the job of owning a business just as it was from the Principals for the firms you may have worked for. Best wishes to you.

Jul 9, 22 4:18 pm  · 

When you are not doing client projects, go around the community. Use even the time to go get a cup of coffee or whatever as "relationship building".... as in professional / business relationship building. A recluse has no business owning or running a business if they can't take it upon themselves to meet and develop relationships to be at a stage to have dialogue with people. If you don't, it won't work. Even introverts can learn to make conversational dialogue. It's important to do that. You'll need to do that to a degree to build awareness. This time, albiet, non-billable hours are time you spend to sow the seeds of connections that will help expand the public awareness of you and your business and the services. The idea is to not make it sound like a sales pitch. Don't do that. Letting the people you talk to know you __________ services and if you have a business name, your business name. If you have business cards for your business not that which was from a former employment, get them made if you haven't done so, already. Share the cards out when those you talk to ask if you have a business card. You know in a natural manner when striking up conversations.

Jul 9, 22 4:33 pm  · 

I started out by offering design services to contractors, allowing them to expand into design build.  One established contractor gets many leads.  Its far less leg work.  That led to many commissions, some good, some bad, which led to eventual referrals directly from clients.  Eventually, I began my own design-build firm.  I did some basic marketing, but 90% of my clients are referrals from past clients.  It takes time, but these are often the most reliable clients, and they are usually more serious than the random that comes through my website…so, If I were to give you some advice, I would say call local builders, offer to take them to lunch, and then pitch your services to them, and explain how they may benefit from teaming up with a designer.  It’s super important that you establish yourself as an independent business, and keep the relationship with the builder as a contractor-sub relationship.   You want to build your own name and reputation,  not be absorbed up and obscured by the builders firm. You are a separate company going into these projects as a joint venture type thing.

Jul 12, 22 11:50 am  · 
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