The Genius of the LCC—TALKdesign with Richard Petrie and Adrian Ramsay

Podcast preview of Richard Petrie on Adrian Ramsay's TALKdesign. Start charging what you're worth for pre-design services. Communicate your value to architectural clients with the proven Low Commitment Consultation.

The LCC or Low Commitment Consultation is one of the secrets created by Richard Petrie. When Adrian Ramsay hosted Richard on his TALKdesign podcast, the two discussed the origin of the LCC and how designers can personalize this offer for their firms to win better projects (and likewise, attract clients who actually value the work they do). What a great idea it is for architects to actually charge for their services and not run around town doing all sorts of free work. 

As an architect, interior designer or landscape architect, you might wonder if this will work for you. You might be skeptical of the idea. Rest assured, it is proven and possible. So, how did the Architect Marketing Institute (AMI) get started? And how does offering an LCC communicate your value to architectural clients?

In the beginning

About eight years ago, Richard started mentoring architects and designers. He saw them driving around from site to site, meeting with clients, discussing design ideas and maybe doing sketches. These architects would shlep around town and do almost everything to win a design contract. 

What did these architects get paid for their 10 to 12 hours of work? Nothing. And that’s crazy!

Richard equated this with his years in the IT industry selling big-ticket solutions. To win a big government client, he would have to spend 10 to 20 hours worth of research just to prepare a proposal.  

He wasn’t the only one. There might be up to six companies doing the same thing burning up a couple of hundred thousand dollars. The government would end up with an inadequate proposal based on information that they themselves had provided. 

Instead, Richard decided to do his own research and analysis to determine the functional requirements. Putting all the findings together into a document, he started charging $2,000. This would let the company take the information, the functional requirements, and request an accurate proposal for the work. 

Now the government or the company could take the accurate proposal to several contractors and select the best person for the job. They could compare apples to apples. And for $2K, it was a bargain.

Applying this to architecture

To design a building, you need to do research to understand what you are dealing with. You don’t want to rush in and design without the details. Plus the advice you provide to your clients has taken you 20 or 30 years to acquire. Just because you can do it easily doesn’t mean that it isn’t of high value to your client. And it’s potentially highly profitable. In fact, the client should be happy to pay for Return on Design/Investment.

Package the advice up, give it a name and tell a good story about it. By doing so, you justify why you’re charging for it.

Understandably, there’s fear around doing this since lots of other architects are doing it for free. But you have to communicate your value to architectural clients – convey the impact of the design on the environment, whether it’s a house, an office work, or another building. The functionality of the space affects the people using it.

The difference in what a space is worth all comes back to the design being only as good as the brief.

The analogy of the prison

During the interview, Richard explains life without an LCC with an analogy of having a ladder in a prison with no roof. You’ve got four walls to climb, each leading to a different outcome. You can’t see which is the best option. Climbing one wall could lead you to the barbed wire fence, another to a snakepit and a third covered with spiders. There’s only one wall that will take you to freedom. 

Doing the diagnosis at the beginning is critical, so you know which wall to climb. You start doing a design, you lead your clients down the path on the journey where you want as much information as possible before you start. This will yield the best results.

You want to be paid, so you don’t begrudge or resent your clients. If you are paid, you won’t rush, and you’ll take your time to do the analysis. By establishing a good rapport from the beginning, you are setting the scene for a healthy client-architect relationship that can be mutually beneficial and ultimately best for the project at hand.

From the first date directly to marriage

With the LCC, you get to learn what it’s like to work with your client. It’s a slow, gradual buildup of your relationship, like the same reason you wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on your first date. Pre-design research is that first date where you don’t have to commit to the project.

You can be sure the client shares your values and is committed to the process. The design of a space can take a couple of years, so you want to be compatible with your client.

Keep in mind that you might not like working with the client. Isn’t it better to discover this with a short-term commitment rather than during a long project? If they aren’t prepared to pay for your Low Commitment Consultation, what will they be like on a multi-million-dollar project?

Communicate your value to architectural clients and additional benefits of the LCC

From our point of view at AMI, we are considering what is best for each of our clients — you, the architect. From your perspective, it's important to always reflect on how your offers improve the lives of your ideal prospects. In the case of the LCC, the clients get to benefit from all the information and research. This allows them to evaluate their different options and reduce their risks — give them a clearer brief. The client will know the environment, the regulations and how the design will fit with the landscape. Ultimately, the client ends up with the building, so you want the design to match their needs and values. 

The client can tell you're paying attention. And also when you get paid, you're not devaluing what you do for the client.

The LCC sets a new professional standard. And once somebody is already a client, it's easier for them to stay a client. The relationship changes. You become their architect, and they become your client. You both think and interact differently. The stats are that someone you've sold something to is 400 to 500% more likely to buy from you again. Get paid for your LCC, and you will likely be hired for the design phase. The project is yours to lose. 

The LCC gets your foot in the door. Before the prospect goes to proposals, you offer to do the research for them. Effectively you set up a consulting relationship. You can find out what the needs are, what the requirements are and what the current situation is. You are able to prepare a comprehensive document that communicates your value as an architect and evaluates the scope of your prospect's project.

Adrian shares the value of Architect Marketing Institute’s LCC and more

During Adrian's interview with Richard, he reflects on his journey of creating a Low Commitment Consultation and shares what else he loves about AMI. As he discovered by joining AMI's inner circle, architects and designers who sell an LCC report and move forward with the project do very well. (Often the LCC is the motivating factor.) Their conversion rate to design contract is 90 – 100%.

Reflecting on the big picture of marketing his design firm, he suggests a house is only as good as its foundation. You can’t skip steps or take shortcuts. The advantage of having a proven map gives you a community of hundreds of people who are doing it together, sharing their knowledge. There’s coaching tailored to the individual and buddy groups. You can unpack ideas, learn from each other, and fine-tune what’s working.

There’s a lot of work on your mindset and realizing your own value. When you have a different mindset, you can start charging higher fees. You can start leading the client, getting them to follow your process. You get control of your business and the projects. By implementing the LCC, you can effectively communicate your value to architectural clients. 

Richard’s 3 takeaways

Richard sums up the interview with three takeaways:

  1. Don't do free work. 
  2. Value yourself.
  3. Get rid of all the tire kickers (clients who don’t appreciate you or recognize your value).

Listen to this episode of TALKdesign here:

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