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Stop Obsessing Over How Much You’re Charging Your Client


Let’s say you’ve already found a client right now. You’re in negotiations and you want to present your services in the best possible light.

The first typical mistake is when the firms focus on what they’re charging the client. Why is that a mistake? What else were we supposed to focus on when we’re writing our proposals? 

Read: Structuring Interior Designer and Architect Fees, Part 1: Types of Services and Corresponding Fees

The fact is, people generally don’t make decisions that are 100% logical, right? We make the decisions emotionally, but we justify with the logical brain.

To illustrate: A few years ago, I walked into the tire dealership to get tires for my Volvo. We have this nice little Volvo station wagon that we drive around in, and it was time to get new tires. The shop owner pulled up his list of tires and he gave me a range of options. There was everything from $250 down to $89 each, and I was just confused by the options. So I said, hey, look, help me out here. Which one do you recommend I buy?

Of course, my inner Ebeneezer Scrooge was eyeing the cheaper $89 option. They all kind of seem the same to me. They all had steel belts, they were rubber. They all were rated for certain speeds on the freeway. 

He paused for a minute and looked out into the garage where he could see my car. He said, hey, that’s your Volvo, right? I said, Yep, that’s it. So you probably have kids, right? You have the station wagon model? I said, Yep. He said, well, you probably, you know, you’ve probably got that car because it’s really safe. Right? And I said, you know, kind of proudly — Why yes, I did. I’m a smart consumer and I care about my children. I did get it because it’s safe.

He said, well then in that case, I definitely recommend this mid-grade version for safety and driving kids around. 

As far as I know, I’m sure the cheaper option of $89 was like 100% okay. I’m sure those tires would have done the job. This is like the cheap architecture firm, right? It would have got the job done. Well, sometimes that can be in debate whether the cheaper firms actually do get the job done. But I went ahead and I bought the tires for $160 because, what am I going to say when he says, well, you care about your kids, right?

Now, what’s the key here? A lot of times, you’re overly obsessed with the fear, overly obsessed with how much that fee costs. You’re looking at that number thinking, my goodness, that’s a big number. What is our client going to say about this? Is there anything we could do to reduce the fee?

This obsession with the fee, well, what ultimately happens is our clients respond to that, because they become obsessed with the fee as well. Let’s go back to that example with the tires. What the guy knew intuitively after having sold tires again and again and again, is that he needed to focus on what I really cared about. He needed to focus on something that I cared about more than the money.

So here’s the key for you and your clients. Your clients have things in their business, in the organization, in their school, in their university, that they care about more than the money. And it’s your job as someone presenting architectural services to understand what that thing is. 

Read: Structuring Interior Designer and Architect Fees, Part 2: Establishing Scope of Work

A lot of times, we’re approaching this from the idea of, “Here’s what it’s going to cost you.” No one wants to hear what it’s gonna cost you to invest in your services! Maybe a better conversation is, “What would it potentially cost you not to invest in my services?”

You need to understand the key driving motivation. What is really driving the business decision of your clients? This is something as simple as it sounds, as easy, and as common sense as this sounds. 

However, this is something that I would say 90% of all firms get wrong because I see it again and again and again. So what’s the fix here? The mistake is focusing on what you’re charging the client. The fix is to focus on the value that your client is getting. 

Here’s the tricky part, though. When we talk about value for clients, a lot of times, architects actually approach this conversation from their own perspective.

So the architect’s thinking, okay, here’s the value. Let’s see — here’s my experience and the fact that we have a huge portfolio of these projects. There’s even the fact that maybe we have a few change orders in our projects, and we keep them under certain percentage, maybe 2% of the project or something like that, right? 

Read: Construction Contract Law: What You Need to Know About Scope, Price, Time, and Payment

The problem is, the client doesn’t care about these things. Think back to the tire shop. The owner could be saying, “You should buy this one, just because I believe it’s the best, and I have 30 years of experience of selling tires and these are the ones that I find are best for people like you.”

Again, you need to understand what it is that your clients actually care about.

So here’s another example: There’s a local architect here in the Fresno area where I live. And he was a colorful character. He does this amazing organic architecture. He studied under Frank Lloyd Wright. He was the previous dean of an architecture school. 

One time, I had the opportunity to go on an a tour of a university building that they had just completed. It was interesting to see the way he talked about the project and the way that he approached the architecture: He was speaking to a bunch of architects, so he was talking about things like the material selections and the way the space is built and some of the programmatic requirements. But — he was also talking about things such as the student outcomes, safety, and security of the students.

See the difference between these two conversations? In one of these conversations, it’s all about what the client actually cares about. I mean, these are real motivating factors. Having students get good test scores, making sure that the day lighting in there encourages positive learning environments, making sure that students are going to be safe. You’re not going to have some crazy, you know, incident at the school where people get shot by some crazy gunman, right? So when we enter the conversation on this level, the conversation changes.

Featured image by Juliana Vieira.

This post is an excerpt of a webinar and podcast by Enoch Sears, hosted by Fohlio Inc. You can watch the complete webinar with visual aids here, or listen to the complete podcast here:

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Published May 31, 2019