Questions before you start:1. What is your business? This is more in-depth than a simple “I am in the Architectural business” answer. You need to define what area and focus your business has now… and where you see yourself going within the next 5 years or so. The reason for this is you need to focus on specifics, not just generalities. Everyone marketing a design business is in the design business. What do you do, or want to market, that makes you stand out from the others? I specialize in Energy Efficiency. How about you?2. Do you have a website? This is critical to every business in today’s marketplace. If you don’t have a website, you might just as well be conducting your business out of the trunk of your car. If you are operating out of your car trunk, then a website makes you look like your business is much larger than it really is.3. Do you have a Portfolio or Catalogue of your products or services? You need to show off what you can do, based on what you have already done. This builds your credibility as well as becomes a source for samples of what the client can also have done. No matter how many years you have been in business, if you don’t have one put together, you look no different than someone else just starting out. Be proud of your designs.4. Can you make money from the clients that don’t buy your product or service? Strange as this may seem, this is a very important step in developing your credibility. Since your credibility takes time to develop, you need to find a way to pay for that process until you can use your credibility to sell yourself. This will be explained in greater detail in a future article.Now, to get started:Once your website is up and running, you will need to add a few things to it:1. Sign up for Affiliate Programs. These are free links from other businesses that allow you to sell their products or services through your website and they pay you a commission per sale. You just put the coded (in your name) links provided from them on your site. The client clicks on these links and is taken to the affiliate’s site where they buy something, the same way they would have if they went there direct, but since they arrived there from your site… you get paid a commission. How great is that? You don’t deal with the client, the money, delivery, complaints or returns… you just cash the check. Remember when choosing which affiliate sites to promote to pick products and services that compliment yours… and not the competition. Also, remember to buy from yourself. You may say that as an Architect, you don’t see how this applies to you. My answer is for you to be as creative here as you are in design. Look into one of those easy design software packages. No I’m not saying your clients should use them to design, just to put down on paper what their thoughts are. I find this to be an easier way to communicate the client’s desires to me. Not every visitor to your site becomes a client, so provide them with a means to access the products they will need for construction.2. Start and online photo Gallery. There are a number of free and pay sites that will host your portfolio. Start with the free ones and work your way up to the pay ones. The free ones are just that… free. They have a number of great features, but the pay sites have many more. By starting your own portfolio site you can link to it from many different sources including your own website as well as blogs… and even other sites that you don’t own, but give permission to link to your portfolio. The more links you have going to your site, any site, increases relevance in the eyes of the search engines and increases your SEO (search engine optimization). Plus, you only need to change pictures in one place, and it automatically changes them on all linking sites. I know a few designers that sell some basic plans that they can make changes to. Think of it this way, if someone buys a plan from you in digital format, but wants to make some changes, who do you think they will go to for these changes?Education is the Key:Education is the key to success in anything, especially in business… and by extension marketing. Too many prefessionals leave the marketing to referrals. Architects whould get most of their work from them, but they have to have a starting point. Funny, but what I am describing here is actually a form of building a referral base. Using Attraction Marketing as your focus means you will be using an entirely new set of tools and rules to market your business online. The importance of developing a systematic, cohesive strategy to place yourself in the front of everyone you want to as an “expert” in the field you’re business is in cannot be minimized. If you want to be known as the “go to person”, you need to prove you are worth going to… thus the “expert” tag needs to be believed by the client viewing what you are presenting to them. Make it count, and make it organized… cohesive. A sloppy, disjointed approach can do you more harm than good. Think of that presentation to your client. How organized and cohesive is that? Just apply that same end result here.Like I said initially, it all comes down to education, and the first steps to that end is to learn what it is all about and how to use it. There are a number of “social” sites that you will use for different reasons, but they all must link together to complement each other and thus feed off each other so they can all act to capture clients interest, develop that interest, and then lead that client to you as the expert that provides what the client is looking for. You need to learn the “why’s and how’s”, and the best sites for this provide the education for everything that I speak of in this article and much more. Plus, they provide the means to implement that education as well as a way to make money while you’re learning. Can’t beat that.One of the best places to use the Social sites is in the discussion groups. Answer questions about design, architecture in general, different aspects of design or presentation, and more.Here are some of those Social Media sites you will be using:1. Facebook and MySpace. Establish your design “business” presence, not your “personal” presence on these sites. These sites will allow you to place what amounts to your business resume’ on the internet for all to see… with pictures, links and all… for free.2. LinkedIn, PartnerUp and MeetUp. These are just a few of the many good business networking sites on the web… and they are free to join. You can put up your “profile” in detail and participate in group discussions on topics that are relevant to your business. This is crucial to developing your credibility on the internet… and all it takes is a few minutes of your time each day. Your name is visible, your answers are visible, and your “expertise” grows with each posting. The key here is you are NOT marketing yourself. Don’t advertise here, just answer the questions with valuable information, and sign your name… with a link to your blog, email and/or website. That signature is how they will contact you to get more information from the “expert”, and that is a very subtle way to advertise… without really doing so. That is very important.3. Blogging. Here you have a great opportunity to keep new information updates coming on a regular basis… or as needed. This is a great tool to use in conjunction with your discussion group participation. When you are ready to answer a question on a group post you can refer to one of your blog posts as a source for added info. Don’t have a post for that info yet? Write it, then answer the group questions and refer to the blog post you just wrote. Can’t be more current and effective than that, can you. Link to your blog from everywhere you can, and make sure that link is in any group postings and in your email signature.4. Group Discussion. This is an extension from the networking sites above. Start your own group and group discussion either on other group sites or start your own group on one or more of the group networking sites. Want to get a point across or a new product/service presented? Start a discussion that you know will lead naturally to you “needing” to present that new product or service in that discussion. Make it natural and it works much more effectively than just saying, “Here is what I’m selling, what do you want to know about it and how many do you want?”… not going to work. You make yourself an “expert” by presenting answers to questions, providing a service of knowledge if you will, and the sales will follow since buyers will buy from people they trust and are knowledgeable rather than someone that is just selling to them.Here are some more advanced Social Media sites you will be using:1. Writing Articles. This is a more advanced form of writing a blog and a great way to express your knowledge and spread that around the internet. There are many directories on the internet that post articles that are free from owners of website to download and add (as is, with NO CHANGES… including links) to their website as content. You get published and your words and knowledge, and linking power for SEO, gets spread all over the internet. Make sure you have links to your affiliate programs where allowed, on your websites and blogs embedded in the articles. Not everyone is a writer, or has the time to keep their websites updated and current, so they rely on this method of adding content to their sites. How cool for you. Write about different design options, using specific materials, styles, anything that makes you stand out in the field of Architecture.2. Write your own eBooks. This can be all new material or just a series of articles put together in book form and made available for free or at a cost to those wanting more info. It also increases your exposure and thus increases your expertise… and your income if you are selling it. Provide the first 2 chapters for free, then have a link on the last page of the last chapter that allows them to buy the rest of that book… and maybe other books or memberships ore whatever you can add to make a sale more appealing. If everything is downloaded by the client instead of printed and mailed by you, the cost is non-existent… and the profits are all yours. You can take this to the next level and turn this into a Private Label Program, which is a combination of the Article Directory concept applied to eBooks, but that is a discussion for another day. Suffice to say, this program has you allowing others to sell your eBook in their name, without changing anything, and they keep all the profits, but you get all the free advertising through the many times this is distributed. Publish using the eReader formats and all of this can be done for you for free. I wrote an eBook, published, on Energy Efficient Design a while back. It works wonders for your cred.3. Video Marketing. The only thing more powerful than the written word, is the video. People love to watch to get their information. Especially when you in provide it in the form of a Power Point presentation, a speaker presentation, a “white board” presentation, or any combination of them. Very, very powerful. Approach it just like you would a blog, but it’s a video instead of just words on paper or screen. In other words, a video blog. Did I mention this was very powerful?Take it to a level above and use Internet Television like I do. For 10 years, I used to be the featured speaker at a national seminar on energy efficient home design and construction. I’ve taken that presentation, and put it on Internet T.V. Education is a big reason for people to use the internet, and education in Architecture, whether you are providing a source for students of Architecture, or potential clients, this is a great way to get yourself into the “limelight”.4. Online Catalogue/Portfolio. This is who you are and what you can do. Put your designs, even your non-built designs, here. There are many different sites to post your portfolio, and many different forms it can take. The photos can be in a simple slide show format, or a very elaborate series of photos with detailed descriptions and even client comments. You can even take the viewer through the design process, from the conceptual stage (tissue paper) through the many changes (explaining the thought processes for making the changes), to the final design. Take your viewers through the budget process as well. I find this to be a great tool to keep my clients “in the ballpark”. You can organize them in one slide show, or in many different “folders” linked to each other… and linked to either in its individual sections or as a whole.Action Plan and Following through:Once you learn what all these sites are about, you need to put them into action… and if you follow the rules laid out in the education, the leads… and the clients, will come. The better you get at implementing the education in the form of a cohesive system, the bigger the quantity of leads you will see… and the quality will improve as well.1. Start with the Social Media Sites… the Facebook and MySpace sites to “register” yourself and your business on the internet. Make sure you set these profiles based on your business and not your family… do that with another profile.2. Start your blogs. Notice that is plural, as in more than one. Don’t try to cram everything into one blog. Why? It is better to separate them based on content, and then link them together as needed. I have separate blogs for design, presentation, and plan conversion.3. Add Groups to these sites. Join the groups that are part of these sites first, then join the specific group sites and network, network, network. Answer and ask questions. Start your own group and post your own topics taking the group in the direction you want to market. This allows you to control the direction of the group which in turn allows you to “soft sell” your product or service in a subtle way… but very effective. Don’t forget to link to your blogs at every opportunity.4. Put together your Portfolio. Link to your portfolio at every opportunity. Remember the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, imagine what a slide show of pictures, with descriptions, is worth? Set up a PowerPoint presentation showing the construction in action from digging the hole to moving in. It’s actually easier than you think…. and, the Follow Through… What you do with these leads… 5. Email programs. Auto responders and aggressive email are parts of a critical ingredient to any marketing campaign. Why? You can’t possibly follow through on all the leads you get, especially when you come across the one lead that won’t stop asking questions… or talking about how much they know, but in no way intend to buy anything. Auto responders allow you to filter your leads before you make physical contact, or phone contact, with them.6. Cards and other mailers. This may sound like “old school”, and it is, but people still like to “touch and feel” sometimes before they buy. Cards, like thank-you and giveaways, and post card flyers and other “reach out” methods can keep the client feeling important, and get your message out. Make sure all of your printed material has links to your blog, website, portfolio’s and email addresses as well as the usual telephone number. Always give them a way to see more marketing of yours. How about giving your clients a calender using pictures of their house. Put your name and contact info on the calender, and you have a year round marketing piece.7. Paid marketing like SEO programs, professional attraction marketing programs, Pay Per Click programs and List Building programs can cost money and should be reserved for use when you think you are ready to move into, and are able to handle, the budget for these… but they work, and should be a very important part of your marketing programs.Updating your Material:You can’t just post and leave it. You have to keep everything up to date with new posts… especially on your blogs. If you want to keep people coming back, and the more times you can present yourself to them the odds of a sale go up, you have to give them a reason. Provide a membership option that has built in incentives to come back and join. Things like free items, eBooks, discounts on other sites and programs (you can negotiate this with other sites since this is advertising for them as well).If they keep coming back, they will eventually buy, but you have to attract them to your sites the first time… then keep them there. Present yourself as a very knowledgeable source… an expert, and they will… especially if the start of that information is free.
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