How to Win Better Commercial & Institutional Architecture Projects

Photo courtesy of Jaipal Singh, principal and founding owner of Chaatrik Architecture and Urban Design based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jaipal is a member of Architect Marketing Institute's SIX+MAPS program, which helps ambitious proactive architects with marketing commercial and institutional architectural projects (and residential). Learn more about the

Just in case you don’t know, SIX+MAPS is our 9 step system for winning high value projects. Our clients are an interesting mix of designers marketing commercial and institutional architectural projects, as well as residential… so if that's you, you've come to the right place. 

SIX stands for Sunshine Island Express, inspired by my story The Village of Archville. Behind the system are 3 core strategic principles:

  1. Be positioned as the​​ expert, not a salesperson.
  2. The client follows your process for buying or you’ll end up following their process for not buying.
  3. Real experts charge for diagnosis, advice and expertise (not just their drawings). That applies before, during and after the design phase.

Not only do these principles apply in any design project, but they also apply to any high fee service including medicine. 

Marketing commercial and institutional architectural projects? Follow the first 6 steps within the SIX+MAPS program:

  1. Set your goals

Do I need to say much about this? Probably. If your objectives are to win new commercial projects then you better be specific.

What type of projects do you want to win? How many? What value? By when? Put your neck on the line and be specific for the same reason you cannot build an office block without a specific concept plan and a specific set of working drawings. 

In business, most people wander around with wishy-washy goals where no one holds you accountable for delivery. Wishy-washy concept drawings don't get award-winning projects completed on time or on budget.

2. Select a high value niche you want to dominate and position yourself as the #1 option.


Because top-end buyers always gravitate towards the best — the expert, the specialist, the “go-to”  guy or gal. 


“If you think it is expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.” – Red Adair

Because they can't afford to screw it up. When you are spending really big money you hate RISK. With an expert, you will pay more in design and consulting fees but that is a small when compared to the cost of getting things wrong.

A bad designer might cost you 8% and a great designer might cost 14%. Either number is inconsequential in the big picture. A project going wrong is seriously expensive. 

So that's why you position yourself as the specialist/expert. You are more attractive even if you are more expensive because you represent better overall value. “Better value” might be better design or less risk or more pleasant to work with.


So now the only question is HOW can I position myself as the expert? 

Your positioning — SIX Step 2 (Niche and Positioning)

Your value statement — SIX Step 3  (Million Dollar Message)

Your educational resources — SIX Step 4 (Monkey’s Fist)

3. Million Dollar Message

This is simply a format that allows you to communicate your unique value. 

We know commercial clients invest a lot of time trying to work out why they should choose one firm over another. The simpler you can explain your difference the faster they can understand your value. Most firms cannot explain their unique value. If you're marketing commercial and institutional architectural projects, this probably applies to you too. 

I won't do the exercise here, but the core components are as follows:

You need a HIGH VALUE CLIENT (this is a typical commercial client within a very specific niche).

You identify the high value client’s HIGH VALUE PROBLEM.

You develop a HIGH VALUE RESULT for that problem.

You outline the HIGH VALUE PROCESS YOU USE and make it proprietary (i.e. only you have this method). 

You explain the before and after results gained using your HIGH VALUE PROCESS and voilà, you are floating in a rare air that less than 1% of businesses can ever reach.

A big hint here, focus your HIGH VALUE PROBLEM and HIGH VALUE RESULT on something which happens BEFORE the RFP. (shhhhhh!)

Don’t wait until you are lined up against 6 other design firms in an RFP to pull out your magic tricks. (And don't wait to sign up for our Million Dollar Message webinar:

4. Monkey’s Fist

“Whoever educates the market owns the market.”

The SIX+MAPS approach is that you also become the thought leader for a specific market. It can't be too broad because everyone thinks “my project is different.”

If you are a local guy claiming to be the best architect in the city, then since we’ve never heard of you, we might not believe you. But if you said you were the leading designer for university libraries then … maybe you are.

What if I did a google search about university libraries and found “The definitive guide to writing a design brief for a university library construction project.” How perfect!

Let’s imagine I downloaded and this is actually a really useful document and, better still, it also came with a set of emails outlining a university library construction communication plan to get early stakeholder feedback. Handy.

Other resources on this page could be:

  • Checklists
  • Cheatsheets
  • Flowcharts
  • Articles
  • Interview with consultants and other experts on successful university library projects
  • Case studies 
  • Laws and regulations explained
  • Directory of university library construction experts

Looks like a perfect resource centre for people wanting to do a library project. 

Okay, I am making this up, but you get the idea. If you had a web page full of tools and resources perfect for anyone planning to build/renovate a Long Term Care Facility then people would go there. Others would refer colleagues to go there. People coming would see the author of the page as an expert. That could be you. 

AMI does this for our target market on our new home page:

Let’s say you are marketing commercial and institutional architectural projects…specifically trying to win Long Term Care renovation or new build projects.

You want a very specific type of person responsible for Long Term Care renovation or new build projects to FIND your useful resources early in their investigation. 

Obviously, your resources DO need to be relevant and useful. If your content is targeted to them and on-point, you have the ability to shape their thinking and selection process. With an ongoing sequence of communication already set up (SIX Step 9: Circle of Love) these new “students”  don't just find you, they end up opting into an ongoing relationship with you. You become their Long Term Care renovation construction coach.

Now the Long Term Care project manager has opted onto your list and is consuming your useful resources — checklists, step-by-step flow charts, etc. The Long Term Care renovation manager is also reading your opinions on design philosophy and the opinions of other Long Term Care projects experts you have interviewed and included. You are not just educating these lucky people, you are indoctrinating them into your way of thinking, into your methods, and while doing this, they are getting to know you. You might share who you are, what your family looks like. Tell some funny personal stories about lessons you learned that may be relevant to them. The best mistakes to learn from are other people’s and who doesn't like a good story?

Your status as an expert, and maybe even a Long Term Care project construction celebrity is established. Bravo. 

But we need more. We need them to book a meeting …

5. Ask The Expert

Would it be useful to have your ideal commercial client download checklists, flowcharts and cheat sheets that relate specifically to their project and read your articles, opinions and commentary on their type of projects?

Yes, it's not everything but it's a good start. And remember there is leverage in this. You only need to produce these documents once but can use them many times and have many ideal clients in your niche consume them. You don't even have to create them yourself, you could outsource the job. Fortunately in SIX+MAPS, we have many 80% ready-to-go examples you can adapt or just use.

If your material seems relevant enough and you offer a chance to chat to discuss their projects, some will jump at the chance to speak to the “guru.”

So you offer a 30-minute chat, nothing too heavy where you might help them develop a one-page action plan, depending on their situation. Or 30 minutes to discuss their project with you, ask a few questions and get your expert feedback. 

Many clients put out ridiculously inadequate, poorly written RFP’s because … wait for it … buying Long Term Care renovations is not their day job. 

Yeah, so actually what they do is either, do-it-themself — and do a poor job, or they hire someone, like a consultant to help them. That could be you.

But first, we need a no-obligation chat. Like a first date.

The secret to this ‘chat’ is never to answer specific questions, or at least if you do, you answer in a generic way. For example, “Great question Bob, the answer could be A or B or C, it really depends. In your case, it's probably C but I’d really need to know your situation a lot better before I could give you a definitive answer.”

If you can collect 3-4 questions they want answered, you can come back with

“Bob, it seems you have 3-4 questions and I think there are another 5-6 things you need to know before you can accurately define a scope of work. I can research these and a few other questions you haven’t asked (but should). This is the “Ducks in a Row” service I run to help people get everything they need in the early stages of a Long Term Care facility renovation. If you go to RFP without providing this information then you’ll end up with inferior responses and may not be able to compare proposals. It’s only $1,500 and exactly what you need — that is your next step — what do you want to do?”

6. L.C.C.

What I discovered wasting my time with incompetent or unethical clients is that I needed to dictate the process. 

I have a friend, Frenchie, who sells shoes. Lots of shoes. He owns a nationwide franchise network.

Runners go to him and his Shoe Clinic stores because they are seen as “fitting experts.” Each store has a running diagnostic treadmill and video software set up. The “consultant” reviews the video and “prescribes” shoes that provide the most stability. Some people's feet lean in when running and some lean out. You can see what you are doing on the screen.

By trying different shoes and watching the video, you can see the best shoe for you. This process feels more like going to a doctor than a shoe salesman.  Shoe Clinic is the shoe-fitting expert.

If I am spending ANY time researching your situation to give you a proposal then we are going to do the Sinatra … “MY WAY” and you are going to pay for it. 

LCC stands for Low Commitment Consultation.

This is what all SIX+MAPS members do to win clients and projects. 

Consider this… Research tells us it is 5X easier to get an existing client to buy again than it is to sell to a new client. If you can charge a fee for diagnosis, like my hypothetical “Ducks in a Row” service, no matter how small the fee is then you now have a “client.” Of course, clients have a different relationship with an architect than a prospective client. You become their advisor, their advocate, coach, everything feels different.

That’s why SIX+MAPS members sell low commitment, pre-design advice, prior to any proposal for the design work. It is an easy, low-risk way for a client to have their situation investigated more closely without any big fee commitment. Joining our program has worked wonders for architects marketing commercial and institutional architectural projects, as well as residential. 

The LCC reduces their risk and improves the client's end design.

The origins of the LCC 

I worked for a software development company. We developed big applications for government and large commercial clients.

So a government department would call us up and ask us if we were interested in putting a proposal in. We’d read their document and go in to find out what was required.

This was the problem. They didn't know what they needed. They only knew what they didn't like about their existing system and what they liked. They had NO idea what was required so their proposal document was woefully inadequate.

That meant we needed to do a pile of analysis first, just so we could respond with a proposal.

This was crazy!!!

It took us so much time and effort, just to provide a proposal they could reject.

Does any of this ring a bell with you?
Free site visits, free analysis, free brains being picked.

No WAY. I thought. This has got to end.
This was a fool’s game we were no longer willing to play.

Get connected with ambitious, proactive architects on your side

The #1 thing people say they love about the Architect Marketing Institute Facebook community is the giving and sharing nature of the group. Every other group of architects tends to be flooded with their competitors who don't want to share sales and marketing ideas freely. 

Join the profitable conversations you won't get anywhere else. Click here to request to be a member.

Get inspired by examples of marketing commercial and institutional architectural projects

If you are ready to trade in lousy fees and lousy projects for a better life, explore the services we offer at Architect Marketing Institute. Check out my short Q&A with our content queen Sienna Heath here:

That awesome project photo at the top is courtesy of Jaipal Singh, principal and founding owner of Chaatrik Architecture and Urban Design based in Cincinnati, Ohio, who works in residential AND commercial niches. Get inspired by his journey in the SIX+MAPS program here:

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