Sunshine Island Hero of the Month: Mehran Gharleghi

How did a Norman Foster employee turn £2000 into 80K in fees when none of the traditional marketing methods were working?

Welcome to Part 5 of the Sunshine Island Hero of the Month series, which highlights the marketing of architectural designer Mehran Gharleghi. We celebrate the way he takes action and gets results — ideal clients and dream projects now land on his doorstep! Sunshine Island is based on AMI marketing coach Richard Petrie's story about the mystical city of Archville … where architects can live in the Old Quarter, the Artists Quarter, the New Quarter, or Sunshine Island. Architects work hard to reach Sunshine Island where they find financial freedom by consistently securing the best projects and fees. When “living” anywhere else, we find that architects continuously struggle to find clients, are afraid to ask for the fees they deserve and spend a lot of time doing work for free. At Architect Marketing Institute, we provide the tools to move from where you are now to Sunshine Island. Mehran, here, uses those tools wisely. Let’s find out how he made his way to the paradise where every architect can find success.

When Mehran Gharleghi moved from Iran to London, it was 2007. Over the years, he has taken both global and local approaches to marketing his architectural services. 

As a student, he thrived and then went on to work with famous British architect Norman Foster. Organically, Mehran grew ready to step out on his own. He started his own practice and for a while things were pretty good — the firm even landed several multi-million-pound projects. But as the stars faded into the distance, Mehran realized his team was still green. They lacked the skills needed to get a steady stream of work. “That’s when the downfall started,” he remembers. 

Receiving most of his projects through personal contacts, life was exciting. He’d fly to Dubai and Shanghai to meet with prospects. Every plane ticket and lavish dinner cost money that could not always be reimbursed. Not every prospect turned into a client. The unknown loomed over his head and translated for his whole team as unpredictable (not the kind of feeling you want to associate with your bread and butter).

Still, he remained curious. How could he attract international clients while not breaking the bank? Being born outside of the UK opened up that market. Weary of flying around the world, he realized the difficult reality that not all his friends could become his clients. But his clients, when chosen carefully, could become his friends.

“We were attending to everybody who was coming our way and to much of the art world and international design firms,” he reflects. “It was very expensive to win a lead. Every trip cost a fortune.” 

Weary and skeptical, Mehran tried the LCC

Left feeling depleted and skeptical, Mehran reached out to AMI. The coaching by Richard and Eric helped him discover systems he could put in place to land clients — ideal clients. To begin with, it was a fantasy: From your computer, how would you win the trust of someone with a huge budget who you have not even met before? 

Trial and error was a painful process. Finally, he found the tool that worked like magic for his firm — the LCC. This Low Commitment Consultation proved a major opportunity for growth and connection. Paired with Google ads, he began to shift his mindset. There was hope.

Mehran studied his own behavior on Instagram and Facebook and realized he buys a fair amount of products inspired by those ads. 

He thought: “What if I apply the same thing to my marketing?” 

So he took a leap of faith. He invested in Google Adwords. Implementing lessons taught by AMI, the LCC concept was easily applicable to online advertising because when you break a very large commission (a whole project) into something very small (a consultation), the risk lessens and the reward increases. All of a sudden, prospects are making more “impulsive” choices. With a click of a button, they can meet Mehran.

As his marketing approach changed, so did his audience. A different group of people will pay a small fee, rather than a high fee to get their project done as soon as possible. Soon, his firm was gravitating toward the residential market in the UK.

Hotel and commercial clients still hire the firm to transform their spaces. But for marketing, Mehran has set an intention to focus on Londoners who want to renovate, transform or build their dream homes. Why? Because he is passionate about the designer’s primary role — enriching people’s lives. 

Google Ads worked wonders (eventually)

Despite good intentions, his first Adwords campaign was a total failure. But he felt intrigued by the idea of being able to reach a countless number of prospects online. He kept trying. 

“Find the ones who match your ideal client profile,” Eric advised. “Get in front of the people who appreciate what you do.” 

Mehran made yet another major change for his firm — this time it worked! Targeting demographics transformed his firm for the better. Now, they seek clients within a 10 mile radius of central London, with lucrative jobs such as lawyers, financiers, businesspeople, who are already interested in design. The secret to these adword filters is both inclusion and exclusion. Mehran includes contractors on his list, while excluding architects and students who would probably not be interested in hiring a designer.

As a result, by spending only £2000 his firm has reached 80K+ people and spoken to about 30% of them. A very small percentage turn to clients but that far outweighs the cost. The lead cost is about £17 but customers are worth many thousands of pounds. One customer can pay for the whole of the year.

“I turn on Google Adwords every time I want some customers,” he says. “I get clients on demand. The beauty of it is you know a percentage of those people will convert to clients and they are some of my best — good people who appreciate my work.”

Adjusting an AMI template, he can easily offer free 30-minute phone consultations. “If you think about it, you’d have to interview your client anyway,” he says. “This way you’re giving some value.”

From the consultation, that lead is no longer a stranger. It is a connection. Then, if the client is the right match for him, he offers the LCC.

“Nothing is more effective than one person connecting with another,” Richard coached. “You want to get a yes or no and then move forward.”

Success! Where did the £80K come from?

The firm can navigate inevitable ups and downs because they have a system in place. Mehran has been generating high quality leads and clients from online advertising. So far he has generated over £80K in fees. 

His Facebook and Instagram ads include a slideshow with captions like “transform your home” (examples of motivational captions are at 28:15 and 52:52 in the video above). The message just clicks … and so do ideal prospects. A homeowner can discover the whole family’s potential for happiness. Everybody wants to stand out, including architects and designers. We’re all human. 

Mehran’s firm stands out in more ways than one. For example, the team can build something better with what the client would be spending with another designer or contractor. And in a world where people are scared to work with architects, Mehran is different because he cares for the quality of his clients’ lives. 

This worldly architect also takes an international approach to marketing. Most of his marketing strategies, primarily from AMI, came from outside the UK. Now, he is able to implement them from the comfort of his home office. 

Looking ahead to this new year, his resolutions are to: speak with at least 40% of the prospects that come through Google ads, and create a webinar to educate prospects on his process and in the long run, save a lot of energy. 

“Do heavy lifting before the prospect turns up,” Richard advises. “Then they are indoctrinated. You’ve trained them on how to be a good client for you.”

This all means Mehran’s team feels financially and creatively free. “Show your firm’s value,” Mehran says. “If prospects really need those services and have a vision, they will come to you. When you’re the right match, it’s brilliant.”

All because Mehran now realizes he has TWO jobs:

1)     Marketer of architectural services

2)     Architectural designer

Mehran Gharleghi is this month's Sunshine Island Hero.

About Mehran Gharleghi

Mehran Gharleghi is an architectural designer, researcher and educator. He received his M.Arch in Emergent Technologies and Design (EmTech) from the Architectural Association (AA) in London. He has worked for distinguished architectural practices including Foster and Partners in London and Plasma studio. In 2011 he founded studio INTEGRATE.

Mehran Gharleghi is an architectural designer, researcher and educator. He received his M.Arch in Emergent Technologies and Design (EmTech) from the Architectural Association (AA) in London. He has worked for distinguished architectural practices including Foster and Partners in London and Plasma studio. In 2011 he founded studio INTEGRATE. 

His work employs sophisticated design and analysis tools along with rigorous physical material studies. He looks to synthesize design and performance, establishing new relationships with the built environment and ultimately leading to novel spatial experiences. 

Mehran has lectured and taught internationally; he has also written extensively. He currently teaches at a number of academic institutions, such as The Architectural Association and The University of Brighton. He is a studio tutor and teaches the EmTech Masters program at the AA and is a studio tutor at the University of Brighton.

His research focuses on the synthesis of geometric, material and fabrication logic with spatial quality, context, and culture. This has been pursued by unfolding the potentials of material systems and their fabrication logic such as inflatable structures, draping fabrics and fiber reinforced concrete. This research is being continually investigated in academia, through workshops such as Airbone in TU Graz and the Maeda Workshop at the Architectural Association, as well as through installations and within practice. Examples of award winning projects carried out in practice include the City Vision Inflatable Pavilion and the Saba Naft Complex.

In parallel to his other research, Mehran also carries out research on vernacular architecture. This line of research helps him to understand the underlying principles of performance driven architecture across various contexts and cultures. He has pursued this research in the publication “Iran: Past, Present and Future” guest-edited with Michael Hensel published by John Wiley and Sons in April 2012 and System City, Architectural Design (AD) along with Michael Weinstock.

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