When You are the Second Architect

how to earn a client's trust in architecture

I recently wrote an article encouraging architects to tell stories, rather than write boring emails. Here is an email from Quentin, who took up the challenge and sent me an educational story. It’s not necessarily a story an architect would send to clients, but it would be good for our community to consider Quentin’s approach for how to earn a client's trust in architecture. Here’s Quentin:

I’m asked for a bid for architect services from a job already permitted, but the owner wants someone else to finish.

Three red flags:
– Owner already canned one architect,
– Owner is not communicating well, he is unhappy, and
– HIS project is obviously difficult.

How to earn a client’s trust in architecture

“Why should I bid on this project?,” I asked, pointing out it would mean:

1. Finishing inferior work by others in my experience remains inferior.

2. You are an unhappy client. (In this case, they always get billed at a higher rate, because everything needs to be explained. Teaching Arch 101 is a totally separate job.)

3. You are coming from a difficult place, and you are frustrated.

Bingo, I acknowledged his problem, which puts us into trust.

Arrogantly, then, I taught him my value and provided solution.


He answered my question, and told me everything I needed to know. I said nothing. Until, that is, after 5 minutes of his diatribe, he asked me what it would take for me to accept this assignment.

That’s the trick. I pause before replying, reflecting … I had just listened, and the more he had talked, the more he liked me.

Let the client do the talking

I had said nothing about my qualifications. Nothing about how I will resolve this satisfactorily.
I just listened. Eventually he was tired of talking, and FELT UNDERSTOOD, so now I responded:

“I do not know your project specifics. This takes time to find out. Then, I’ll write a report and outline what we will do. With your approval, I’ll either correct what is needed, or get a Building & Safety opinion on what they require.

“This costs you a flat fee as a retainer, of $2,500 for anywhere from 20 to 32 hrs of our time. Not more, not less, flat rate. I’ll send you our 1 page LCC. Read it, sign it, and return our copy with the retainer. In two weeks, I’ll have the answers you want.”

He did.

By the end of ten hours, I presented a full outline in writing of corrections proposed, of a comprehensive contract and specifics as to estimated project costs, duration and the Schematic Design phase sketches. This resulted in a full $50K architectural services contract and best of all, this client did not argue, comment or complain.

I just did the job with as little talking as possible. I listened much, much more.

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