Process Isn’t SD, DD, CD, CA…
I always laugh when I see an RFP that asks for a description of an architectural firm’s process. Inevitably, when I review proposals, I see Concept, Schematic, DD, CD, CA. If it’s written about it sounds something like, “First we have a kick off meeting, then we decide on the schedule, then we make sure we all agree to the budget, then we start meeting with your people, then we start designing.” Booooooooooorrrrrrriiiiiiiinnnnnng. And it’s boring because it’s exactly what all the other proposals say.
Aside from claiming a deep and narrow expertise, describing your process is a critical component for differentiating your firm. Yes, the general process is the same across the board. Investigate, plan, design, get it built. But naming your process makes it proprietary, makes it unique to your firm, and helps your firm to see how what you do can be more clearly communicated at each phase from everyone in your firm to everyone on the team and within your client’s organization.
Let’s look at an example from a non-architectural firm, so I don’t influence your thinking up fresh ideas for your own firm.
Studio Graphique is a firm that specializes in Branding, Placemaking and Wayfinding. Their process has a very simple, hence memorable, name: Dig Down, Build Up, Move Forward. Because the firm works closely with architects on many projects, their process borrows language familiar to the field. I’ll walk through their process as it relates to helping an architectural firm brand it’s practice.
First the firm does an analysis of all of the branding elements currently in place (logo, qualifications materials, website, etc.) to see what the firm is saying about itself. Then they conduct interviews internally and externally to learn how the firm is described and perceived. They work to understand where the firm is headed to see how they can create an appropriate brand look and message for the firm.
Once the analysis is complete they begin to develop the tools: new logo, palette, fonts, website, stationery, and qualifications materials.
Once all of the design is approved the firm helps you move forward, first by getting the tools up and running (stationery printed, website up, etc.), and they help you to understand how the systems work together.
This is a typical 3-step process for any type of design. Plan, Design, Build.
Or Analyze, Develop, Implement. Or Investigate, Explore, Initiate.
There are any number of ways you could label a process like this, but Studio Graphique knew their audience and named it to own that niche. What name could you give your process to appeal to your client base? Your process might have four or five steps, and you might just explain it in brief words.
Let me offer Practice Clarity as an example. When people ask me what I do I say that I help architects build business. If they’re at all interested in hearing more, I’ll add that I do this by helping them to generate business from new and existing clients. Then, if they’re still engaged and express an interest (facial, verbal, some cue), I explain my process in one sentence, “I do this by helping them to clarify their business purpose, create strategy, claim marketplace presence through thought leadership, and coach them on how to cultivate relationships that lead to work.” And that is my process. We work strategically to set direction through positioning, then create a plan for business development and marketplace ownership, and finally we work together on specific client pursuits and situationally.
So this is the Practice Clarity 4-Step Process:
- Clarify Position
- Create Strategy
- Claim Marketplace
- Cultivate Relationships
After sketching several ideas about how to illustrate this process, the following information graphic was created to visually demonstrate how Practice Clarity helps clients build business.
Recently I presented this approach as a case study with a client at the SMPS Heartland Conference. The CEO of the SMPS Foundation, Ron Worth, said to me afterwards that no one is connecting strategy, client development and marketing in this way, which was reassuring. It’s not that others aren’t involved in these activities in our industry. It’s that no one has clarified and named their process in the same way. It’s different.
So speaking from experience, investing in the development and naming of your process is hard work, but well worth it when it comes to differentiating your architectural practice from others.
Up Next: Part 2 of this Newsletter…
Next we’ll look at the remaining 2 Differentiators of the 4 Ps of Marketing for Architects: Professionals and Portfolio.