A Fun Look at the Differences Between Architecture School and Practicing Architecture

As someone that decided by the age of 10 that I wanted to be an architect…I thought I would take a break from the serious marketing strategy posts for a humorous look at the differences between life as an architecture student and life as an architect.

So I offer you my top ten list of differences:

School: Everybody assumes you are great at math because you’re an architect.
Work: Engineers assume you have never taken a math class ever because your design ideas just aren’t possible in their eyes.

School: You learn about architecture as one of the most revered professions in world history, along with doctors and inventors.
Work: Some days you feel like most clients would probably just try to do your job themselves if they knew CAD.

School: All-nighters were the norm and after a long night of work, you had peers and professors critique your work and offer feedback.
Work: All-nighters are still the norm, but the next morning you hear that the deadline has been moved because of changes in scope and you have to do everything over again…tonight.

School: You sketched, drew, water-colored, made silk screens and modeled to flesh out your design ideas to enhance the inhabitants’ experience.
Work: You sketch, draw and model to figure out how to fit the extra bathroom stall needed for code requirements.

School: Your friends all thought you were going to make tons of money when you got out of school.
Work: Your friends still think you make tons of money, but you just don’t buy anything because you’re into modern, minimalist architecture.

School: You hoarded and read oodles of books on architectural theory and the design process.
Work: You forgot to return those books to the architecture school’s library, so you still have them on your shelf at the office.

School: You took few, if any, tests in your design studio and graduated with five letters after your name, BARCH.
Work: You take a huge series of exams, and if you pass every single one of them, you get to add two letters, RA.

School: You added angles and features and unique materials because they helped express the design or addressed a societal need.
Work: You VE every unique material and non-90 degree angle out of the design because it doesn’t fit the budget.

School: You used words like evoke, express and feeling.
Work: You use words like budget, zoning and code.

School: Your friends in other majors were out to dinner and partying while you were in the studio working to meet a deadline.
Work: Your friends in other professions are out to dinner and partying while you are in the studio working to meet a deadline.

Please, feel free to add more in the comments!

Half Time – How Your AEC Firm Can Finish Strong in 2009

In honor of the conclusion of the NBA Finals and the fact that we are rapidly approaching the end of the “first half” of 2009, I thought it only fitting to dedicate a post to closing out the year strong (not a Lakers fan, but they DID close strong).

If the first half of the year has been a difficult one for your firm, you’re not alone.  But, it’s time to get to the locker room and evaluate where things have gone wrong and where they can improve for the second half.  Here are a few topics to cover during the locker room debrief.
The Game Is NOT Over!
This recent stimulus article from Architectural Record breathes a little life back into the situation. There is plenty of opportunity still knocking, but it might not come from the same avenues that your firm is used to.  However, you and your marketing team have to make a change between the first half and the second half if you want to see a difference in the firm’s bottom line.
Evaluate Your Game Plan
What do you change?  Take a close look at your marketing plan for the year.  Put all pride of ownership aside and evaluate which efforts have worked and which ones haven’t.  For example, just because your firm doesn’t have a large advertising budget, doesn’t mean you didn’t waste a lot of money from January to June.  Are you going after projects that are outside of your traditional target market?  If you’re winning that work, change your marketing plan for the remainder of the year to include more focus on what you’re winning.  If you’re losing that work, stop chasing it!  You probably had a reason for defining your target markets in the first place.
Go To Your Bench
Teams need strong leadership, no question.  Great leaders know when to rely on the strength of the rest of the team though.  Look to some of your stronger role players for skill sets that your firm may be able to market in a different way.  In the example from the AR article, interiors may typically be just a piece of larger projects for your firm, but in the second half, it may be worth it to market those services on their own to drive smaller and quicker turnaround projects for your design firm.
With or without the sports analogies, every company needs a pause at this midway point through the year to make swift and strategic marketing decisions.  2009 is far from over and with some major and/or minor adjustments, firms still have the opportunity to finish in the black.

Is Federal Government Contracting for Us?

Focusing on a new target audience can be an ominous undertaking.  Regardless of the new direction, there is much to learn to ensure that you are making a good decision and that your firm appears genuinely qualified.  

When going after government work for the first time, it’s even harder.  Beyond a slim portfolio of A/E projects for the federal government, there is also a not-so-slim learning curve of jargon, acronyms and forms galore.  So, how do you know if going after Federal Agency design work is for you?  Here are a few questions.
Are you looking for a “quick fix”?
A/E services in the Federal arena have a LONG lead time.  Just like projects in the private world they don’t always get off the ground, but even if they do, it could be months or longer before contracts are awarded.  Additionally, there is time needed to ramp up just to qualify for government work.  So if your firm is looking for new markets to fill gaps in the next few months, the Federal government won’t fit the bill.  
Do you have time to market?
Put quite simply, pursuing Federal A/E projects isn’t designed to be just a small part of your efforts.   One of the reasons that most smaller companies solely contract with the government is that they don’t have time/manpower to market to other industries too.  With the access to public information comes oodles of reports and websites to sift through to find the RIGHT public information.  And then you have to do something with it!  If you have the time, it can be very worthwhile though.
Are you willing to play second fiddle for a while?
One of the best ways in to Federal contracting is as a sub to a more established A/E/C firm.  Unlike in the private world, a great presentation can only get you so far.  Prior experience reigns supreme and without it, most agencies can’t even look at you.  Joining an existing team as a subcontractor or specialist builds your SF 330 resume and your relationships, both of which are crucial if you would like to win work as a prime eventually.  If your firm is willing to work on architecture or planning projects where you aren’t the lead, that’s a great place to start.
The nation is all-a-buzz with talk of stimulus funded projects and increased Federal spending.  The firms most likely to take advantage of it will have a well-crafted strategy and long-term view of how to approach Federal agencies for work.

Why do I have to be so specific?

One of the most commonly asked questions I hear about Markitecture is, “Why focus on such a specific market? Isn’t that kind of limiting?”

It’s also one of the first responses that firm management has when the advice to them is, “Choose only one or two specific target markets.”
Segmenting your market offers huge benefits when it comes to maximizing your marketing budget and time. For example, a clear focus on institutional design as a firm means far less wasted effort on RFP responses where you aren’t quite qualified but you think you have a good shot anyways. It also means fewer marketing dollars spent on advertising or events outside of your main area of focus.
Your content can be (and has to be) specific to your clients’ needs. Messaging written to highlight your strengths and primary areas of expertise lends more credibility and eliminates the “fluff.” Fluff proposals sound something like:
XYZ Design is a 15 person multi-disciplinary architecture firm that specializes in projects in the residential, mixed-use, commercial, institutional and educational markets.

While your fifteen person firm may represent project work in all of those markets, fifteen people probably aren’t specializing in that many different project types. Perhaps more importantly, as a prospective client reading your proposal, I likely only represent one of those! If you’re clear and concise about your target market, you can write proposals that are honest and specific. If you find yourself not able to be specific, you might be outside of your main target audience. (Of course, a strategic focus on a new target market is the exception because you know you’re outside of your traditional market)
Being strategic in your approach, and specific in your actions allows you to measure things every step of the way. Concentrating on only certain markets means you can track your success, benefit from and benchmark against industry data, and correct the ship if you’re going off course. If all of your marketing reports are just a mixed bag and your mailing list includes everybody you’re ever worked with, you can’t gauge your effectiveness as well.
For most firms under the national or multi-national threshold, the truth is that it would be very hard to specialize in and service six completely different target audiences. Yes, it IS a bit limiting to focus your marketing efforts on a smaller sample of people…it limits your losses, your expenses and your time spent barking up the wrong tree!