Dave Sharp advises architecture firms on social media, communication and marketing strategy. More.
I started Vanity Projects the first day I moved to Melbourne from Perth.
Back then, I was calling my business "Instagram for Architects" because I figured that most of the architects I knew took Instagram, something I knew a lot about, quite seriously.
I was charging $65 per month to help grow and manage Instagram accounts for small architecture firms.
I had three clients, and all three were mates I met in coworking spaces.
I took my laptop to the State Library, and sat there all day, every day, working my ass off to get clients.
The problem was that absolutely nobody knew who I was. Put my name into Google and all you got was a Guitarist from Manchester.
I had 0 followers on social media, no blog posts, nothing.
I decided to start sending cold email to complete strangers. If you're an Australian architect, search your inbox/spam folder for "Dave from Instagram for Architects" - because I'll be in there. I'm sorry about that.
Every weekday was spent researching leads, writing 20-40 emails per day, and turning at least five of those into calls with qualified leads (yes, cold email actually works if you know what you're doing. Still, I am sorry.).
I signed up 16 paying clients in the first month in Melbourne, and 12 the next month.
It worked, but I was exhausted. Even worse, I actually had clients to do work for. I couldn't spend all day writing cold emails. Marketing that way was totally unsustainable.
So I hired help. I recruited a virtual assistant to help me send emails - but they didn't work.
It turned out that my emails and research worked better because I knew my customers, and my V.A. didn't.
Lesson learned: It's really hard to outsource marketing.
I had to do it myself.
That was frustrating, because it meant that my business was only growing when I was there doing something.
If I had a bad day, or had to focus on work for my paying clients - it would all grind to a halt.
When you focus your energies on marketing, you get results.
When your focus shifts to something else, your phone stops ringing.
How can architecture practices move away from that to a more consistent lead-generation strategy that doesn't distract us from our day to day work?
The answer is content marketing. Put simply, write, or make videos. Or both.
Content marketing works. Just ask Voldemort.
To explain what it feels like to have content out in the world, I point you to the master of duplication: Lord Voldemort.
In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort places fragments of his soul into hidden objects: helping him to attain immortality.
Content marketing works the same way.
You're taking copies of yourself and spreading them across the internet in the form of writing and videos.
Those copies will talk to your prospects, on your behalf. It will educate them, make them smarter, make them happier, inspire them and prove to them that you know how to solve their problems.
Meanwhile you, the original Dark Lord, will be busy doing work that matters (like killing Harry Potter!).
Architects are smart people. We have an immensely broad knowledge base, a knack for solving problems, loads of intellectual property, ideas and insights. But, one of our biggest shortcomings is that we keep all of this knowledge trapped inside our firm. Or more specifically, in our own heads.
"Once I get someone sitting down with me, I'm usually very successful at turning them into a client"
I hear that so often from Architects, it's crazy. We don't see ourselves as salespeople, but in a lot of ways, we're the best salespeople. We want to help people.
The things we say, on the phone, over a coffee, or in a meeting room are clearly having a big impact on the people we're hoping to serve.
Please, architects, take some of that information, those things you tell your clients, and find a way to copy it so that people can find it online.
If you do, your videos, podcasts or articles will become an army of tireless employees, working much harder than you do.
Mine have already overtaken me.
My architecture marketing blog gets 3000 readers per month on average, my podcast gets about 1000 downloads per month and my Linkedin videos get 5000-10000 views per month.
Sure, there are bloggers, youtubers and podcasters who get 100x more traffic - but my content isn't for everybody, just architects looking for marketing ideas.
This growing pile of content will generate about the same number of views next month, and the month after that.
I'll add a couple of new posts, a video or two and possibly a podcast. And I'll do that every month.
It's just compound interest. Add to the principal each month and time becomes your friend.
These views turn into leads, which turn into paying clients.
I stopped doing outbound marketing (cold email) two years ago. Every client that I have picked up since has come from my content.
They're better clients too. I'm not a stranger to them. I don't have to "sell" them or convince them that they should work with me.
They've read a lot of my stuff. They know what I do, and how I think.
They know that my clients read my blog and watch my videos too, so the things I say here are the same things I tell my clients. That builds trust.
The snowball effect has really stunned me. If you're just getting started writing, video or podcasting for your firm - don't be discouraged by the small size of the ball right now.
It will start outworking you very quickly.