Getting new work


I've recently been noticing A LOT of additions and a few new builds going up in my neighborhood.  I'd love to be doing some of them!  How does one market themselves in order to get some of these?  Website?  Mailer?  Send pamphlets of some of your work to local real estate agents that who can direct their clients to you if work arises? Any strategies that have worked for you?

Feb 13, 13 4:39 pm
Feb 13, 13 4:40 pm

Be related to someone with lots of dough.

Feb 13, 13 5:04 pm

Kill their cats (or grandma). Frame their current designer. Step in just at the right time and offer your services.

Feb 13, 13 6:04 pm

You have to have old work in order to get new work.

Feb 13, 13 8:34 pm

Sort of like the Screen Actors Guild. You can't act in a film unless you're a member of the guild, and you can't be in the guild unless you've acted in a film.

Feb 13, 13 11:25 pm

There's an old saying about the marketing of architectural services that goes something like this: "clients give work to people they know, people they trust, and people they like."

I've always thought that statement sums up the importance of relationships pretty well. All three aspects are substantially - if not equally - important.

To get work you've got to find ways to position yourself so potential clients know who you are, have respect for what you have accomplished, and can learn to be comfortable with who you are as a person. There is no "easy button" for making this happen. It involves putting yourself out there repeatedly and consistently over a long period of time. It's hard work.

Feb 14, 13 12:40 am

You need to start somewhere, try registering on freelancing sites, you will probably get shit clients to start with but at least you are building connections with people out there. As some has mentioned above, client give work to people they trust, these are your family and friends, then the word will spread to their family and friends. Hopefully one of them know someone who got a big dough. Also you colleagues are a good source, keep in contact with all your college friends, one of them might be overloaded with work and need your help. Try entering competitions to get your name out there. Hope that helps

Feb 14, 13 1:19 am

I've done some side gigs with a friend and he gets tons of jobs just by going out to the same bars and restaurants in the local community and just knowing everyone. Like we walk down the street and we would always bump into 2,3 people he knows. Jobs just find their way to him. You've really just got to get out there. Skills in the office don't translate into marketing skills, although you need to know what your talking about to inspire confidence once a client engages you.

Exactly what Quizzical said, only this guy just loves to go out and chat with people, so is never really "work" for him.

Feb 14, 13 7:22 am

- when you see a project under construction, make a point of stopping by, introducing yourself to the contractor, and finding out more about his business.  Show interest in what he is doing.  A lot of times, remodeling work is done without an architect, or from drawings that are not very good. and the contractor might want to have an architect to refer to homeowners who approach him first.

- meet realtors, and offer to meet for free with clients who are looking at houses but not sure, and may want to remodel or add on.  You can help the realtor make a sale, and gain a client.  I currently have three client that I met with before they bought the houses we are now either remodeling or adding on. 

- When you do land a job in a neighborhood, post a job sign with your information on site.  Write letters to home owners in the few blocks around the house.  The letter can explain that you are working on a nearby house, and they should call you if there is any problem with the contractor or workers on the site- it shows you go above and beyond.   Include a business card they can keep.

-If you know what you are doing, offer to hold a seminar at a local club or the local library on improving property values by remodeling and adding on to your home. Pass out brochures.

- advertise in local inexpensive newsletters, or things like garden club brochures.  These are usually in the $50 range. 

- If your own house looks decent, offer it up for a local house tour- lots of non profits do this as a fundraiser.

- go to the local kitchen cabinet company- the high end one in the neighborhood.  Make nice.   Tell them that you would love to get leads from people who want a fabulous kitchen but it goes beyond just replacing cabinets- they need to move walls, add on, etc.  Tell them you will bring your new clients to their show room as well, and that you will not step on their toes when they give one of their clients to you:;  ie, you will not suggest the client go buy cabinets somewhere else.

- join some activity, club etc where lots of local homeowners hang out- is there a local community group, garden club, book club etc that you can join that interests you?  these usually are no or very low cost. 

- Find out who the really good contractors are in your area, ask then to lunch, establish a relationship, and get their advice.  You would be surprised how much work comes from contractors to architects.

- establish an identity on Houzz, and have a very good web page that appeals to home owners.

- Do you have relationships with larger architectural firms that don't do residential?  Ask them to refer work to you.  They get clients asking them to do residential, and random calls all the time.

- who is the architect in town that does the really high end stuff?  establish a relationship- believe me, they get calls all the time for stuff like little additions and remodels, new garages, etc that they don't want to do.

- should i keep going?  I could do this all day.   There are lots and lots of ways to get work.

Feb 14, 13 4:28 pm
Yes plz keep going good stuff
Feb 14, 13 6:20 pm

Wow, thank you all.  Very insightful!  Very good stuff.

Feb 14, 13 6:35 pm

Archie, thank you for your post. For those starting a practice in the US have a look at the US Small Business Association. While it is not a direct link to clients it has some information about starting a business.

I am told by the previous generation of architects that starting a business was not as complex of a process as it is today. Old architects make me laugh when they tell me - in their day they could get a building done with a roll of paper and a piece of burnt stick [pencil].


Feb 16, 13 3:54 pm

Hi Adam;

You can still start a business simply.  In fact it might be easier than in the old days- we had to buy lots of books and reference materials, (no  'on line'!),  buy printed stationary, fax machines, copiers, etc.  Now if you have a computer and software, you can be a virtual office just about anywhere.  I do suggest start ups get liability insurance.   You can start as a sole proprietor and keep things simple, doing business under your own name. 

The SBA can be helpful, but the most expensive/difficult  start up cost is still the time and effort that it takes to develop a strong repeating client base, or one that comes in from referrals. You can have all the fancy equipment, furniture, and software in the world, but if you do not have clients, you are pretty much out of luck, and will soon be out of money.

Feb 18, 13 5:06 pm

Why has someone not mentioned the AIA yet ?

Feb 18, 13 5:08 pm

Because the AIA isn't much use for getting new work.

Feb 18, 13 10:08 pm

Wanted to bump this up.  Any other ideas?

Jul 22, 13 12:40 pm
vado retro

here are a few things if you live in a smaller community or a nonarchitectural centric area...

  • get involved in any local art museums/historic preservation/downtown revitilization groups. these people are interested in the arts and most members are monied professionals who may be in need of an architect's services.
  • give a talk about architecture at your local library. seriously, people will come.
  • join the regional home builder's association. here you will meet vendors and contractors. usually there is an annual "convention". get yourself a booth and show your wares.
  • take out an ad in the free style magazines that are all over the place. Get your name out there.
Jul 22, 13 1:16 pm

shave your head....wear old persons clothes...wear musk oil.  Wear fake glasses if you have to...and always always  carry  a scale in your front pocket.  That should get you thru the door .  Ya Right.  There is no real way to do it. as it just happens after you have been out their long enough.  My most profitable job was one where  I showed up in a tee shirt and shorts during the middle of summer  to meet the client  about a project, just because I gave them some pro bono work the year before  designing  a lunch time eating area for students.  Oh ya the same year  I interviewed the former head of Sony Music to move  his art gallery from one side of his vineyard to the other side of his vineyard.  The project didn't happen.

Jul 22, 13 7:44 pm
Learn to enjoy small talk. Not just bear it, but participate in it and be really interested and engaged. It's amazing to watch, and it works in building relationships.*

[*I'm horrible at this.]
Jul 22, 13 8:02 pm

Has anyone had luck posting a regular ad on Craigslist?

Jul 24, 13 1:55 pm

Hi - wanted to revisit this thread.  Any suggestions on how to get new work in the commercial field??

Who to connect with, how to find out about opportunities?

Nov 2, 14 11:02 pm

it's been over a year - has the previous advice helped you out? If you're serious about this, stay off craigslist and plan on putting in some serious time and a bit of money.

Find out who the local developers are - read the local business news, go to business networking events (not AIA etc, look for chamber of commerce and such) and introduce yourself and your firm.

Get involved with local chapters of the ULI, ICSC, NAA, BOMA and other development and owners' groups - great way to meet key people and show them what you know. Also good to give you a better understanding what developers and owners are looking for in their buildings.

If you've got good projects to show, get some nice quality firm profiles printed up and mail out to key people at local developers - follow up with an offer to meet in person and introduce your firm. Most won't respond, but the few that do are solid connections and a great chance to show your potential.

None of this yields fast results, but if you decide to pursue this line of work you need to plan for marketing as part of your workload. It does pay off if you can show you know what you're doing and offer services better than your competitors. And remember - many local developers / owners don't actually know that much about architecture and will be interested to talk to someone who seems to know what he/she is doing.

Nov 2, 14 11:41 pm

fake it until you make it

Nov 4, 14 4:33 pm

Thanks, good advice.  The advice above has helped a lot in the past year.  I've found my best lead generation comes from contractors.  I'll really go after the developers now.

One thing is I'm not sure how to find the right developers for the kind of work I can do.  I'm a single architect and when I think developer, I think of large city block sized towers.  I'm completely out of my league on those - big firms get that work.  How do I find smaller developers who are looking to do modest sized work?

Nov 18, 14 2:07 pm

Hi Jefferson, me again, Archie.

Getting commercial work is no different than residential.   If you do not have a lot of experience in commercial, then you will need to start small.  

- first, go to all of your old contacts, old clients, contractors etc and tell them you are ready, willing and able to do commercial work.  Ask them to make references.  Ask them if their business is planning any architectural work.  One of our major clients ( a developer) started as a residential client, and now we do all of his work, at least $300,000 in fees a year, continuous.  Some of it is small stuff, like tenant build outs, but we do it all. 

-  And by ask them, I mean directly.   If you just make it easy, like an email, they will let it slide, it is just human nature.  Take them for coffee, or breakfast or lunch, and really pick their brains about who you should contact . Maybe they work somewhere that needs an architect, or know of someone who wants to remodel their office. 

- then follow through.  In commercial work, you might make a contact and then no business for a year.  So you have to keep in touch so that your name is in front of them.  If you meet with someone and they do not have work now, tell them you will call them in three months, then actually follow up. 

- there are tons of small projects that big firms do not want to go after, like tenant build outs in existing buildings, HC ramps, minor renovations for facilities that change a lot like universities, hospitals, etc.   Get your foot in the door with these, and grow the relationship from there.  

- leasing agents-- get to know them!  They are the start of most small projects like retail stores and office space.  Find out what clients are unhappy with their current architects . help them out a bit by doing walk thrus with them and their clients for free to give advice about how the space could be reconfigured for the prospective tenant.  The good thing about this is that now you know the tenant that is looking and you can become their architect no matter what space they lease.  

- building owners- if you meet with a building owner at one of those meetings with a leasing agent, follow up with them.  Give them some advice on their building.  Tell them to call you next time they have some building issue.  I have done all of the tenant work for four or five large building in my town- anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 in fees depending on the scope. 

- one good way to get in with building owner is to offer to keep their leasing plans (LOD's) for them.  If they have just purchased a building   (ask realtors!!!)  and they hire you to produce CAD plans or are able to give you CAD palns, you can offer to keep their plans up to date, and give them LOD drawings or layout drawings for perspective tenants whenever they need them.  Basically you work as their facilities department for them .

- facilities people at universities, small local hospitals, big medical practices, large businesses, charter schools, WHATEVER-- find them!  They constantly have lots of little projects going on.  Target specific larger groups, like a local college, and call and find out who their facilities person is.  It does not even have to be a huge facility .  Lots of smaller organizations have a guy the is in charge of upkeep, renovations, etc.  

- Civil engineers are usually at the front end of projects too, especially for clients that are big box or feestanding type national retailers or restaurants. Not the most glamorous, but they usually need a local architect to help them adapt their building plans to the local site, and to get permits.  This can be good repeat work, and helps build a portfolio.

- Contractors- find out who does small commercial projects.  A LOT of work comes from contractors.  Help them out when they have some small job but need minimal drawings to get permits . Ask them what they need from you, then do it .


So I could go on and on again.  This all takes time of course.  Work will not fall in your lap initially, but if you are careful about building a relationship with someone   (it can be just a work relationship- you help them with what they need- you don't have to golf or whatever if that is not you-  in a few years, the work WILL fall in your lap.  

Good luck!


Nov 18, 14 4:01 pm

I get all of my work from about a dozen contractors.  the work that I do is very specialized and by possessing certain skills, the contractors can offer a new area of services that gives them an edge.  I basically started my business out of desperation in the middle of the recession.  I got the first contractor that I started working with (and still work with) by driving around and looking for work sites...I handed his employees a case of water with my number attached and asked them to pass it to the contractor...cheapest and most effective advertising is a small gift.  Gotta be creative not only in the work that you do, but in business also.  

Nov 18, 14 4:20 pm

Thanks all...excellent advice!

Nov 19, 14 11:19 pm

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