The Secret Society of Successful Architects: 5 Problems & Solutions from AMI
Richard Dudzicki is the director of RDA Architects, a London based firm specializing in ecologically sound buildings on difficult sites — Passivhaus. With growing concern for the environment and net zero sustainability, RDA Architects has 25 years of experience creating buildings which are innovative and beautiful while encouraging a better, cleaner way of living and working.
Richard Petrie’s interview with Richard Dudzicki reveals how AMI helped solve 5 problems every architect faces. Even after years in the business with a successful practice, Richard D. is delighted by what he learned from joining AMI in March of 2020. It was like joining a secret society.
Richard D. says, “I didn’t know half the architects I knew had already done it and the successful ones have done it, which was quite interesting—but that’s the secret that I’m telling you now. So there’s a lot of names and people that have appeared out of the woodwork. Oh, they’ve done that, they’ve done that which is interesting and kept it quiet as well.”
Problem #1: “I don’t want to be a run-of-the-mill general practitioner architect.”
Like most architects Richard was too general, going after all sorts of projects. Sound familiar?
Richard’s solution was to take action with one of the first steps in the program.
“So once I did the chart at the beginning of the program, I looked at the different niches that we had. I realized doctor surgeries only got 6.5 and beautifully interior-designed passivhauses came out at 9 on the slider scale. And I thought, hang on a minute — we are doing something wrong here. I re-energized the practice, re-energized the website and re-energized everything to focus on this particular niche. And that’s helped me hugely. Because that’s now kicking into gear; we are getting further referrals, we are getting more of the work we want to get. So since I started the program, we’ve probably got 5 or 6 new built houses now.”
Problem #2: “I would go out and see clients, the client would usually pay me, and I would get 100 pounds for a site visit.”
Of course this would weed out the clients who weren’t willing to pay a penny, but still …
“I’d spend an hour, maybe an hour and a half to take the time to go there, come back to the office, write the appointment in the architect's appointment book … that’s a day’s worth of work … and would I get the job? 50/50. Maybe I’d get it, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe they’d come back and say ‘oh, you’re too expensive, maybe you’re not.’”
The Low Commitment Consultation (LCC) is the perfect solution.
“What I love about the program is the small steps and the steps to take before you get the contract. We’ve done about 20 LCCs now, maybe more … We started off with a flat fee for the very first one of 795 pounds, I thought, oh my gosh, that’s too much, oh no way. Clients are going to run away from me. They didn’t.”
Problem #3: “Making sure that the client knows what they are expecting.”
Clients often expect drawings right away. You aren’t going to get sketches in the first stage, first we need a diagnosis.
“I love Richard Petrie’s analogy with medicine. I think it’s exactly that. You are analyzing. So we won one project last week … He was an RAF base commander who got in touch with us. He said, ‘The reason I really like you is because you analyze and you analyze the problem like a general would.’ I thought — bloody hell, something is working here.”
Problem #4: “You have to have time to do it properly and paid to do it properly.”
AMI teaches if clients don’t want to pay you to do it properly, then go hey, “I don’t like projects which aren’t done properly because I like happy clients.”
“I turned down my first LCC. That was a huge learning factor … I set up the Ask the Expert call and this lady called me up. It was an interesting project, but she wanted it done in 3 phases and she said she had 40 grand for the first phase … I said, ‘It’s going to cost you 80 grand at the minimum. And that’s me doing it with mate’s rates…’ She said she has a plumber and an electrician to redo the whole house with a new boiler, new tank and all new pipework for between 3000 and 5000 pounds. I said, ‘ if the boiler is going to cost you 1500 quid and the tank 1500 quid, where is their labor and the parts? It doesn’t work.”
“It was an Ask the Expert call and I gave her professional advice in my half hour, but at the end of that I wrote her an email saying that this job doesn’t really fit with us and I do think that you really need to evaluate your budget.”
Problem #5: Finding clients
Pretty much everyone looks at what everyone else is doing and they copy it. They end up being plus or minus 10% what everyone else is. They never talk marketing at design school.
“The referral network is fantastic. It’s one of the later stages in the program and that’s worked fantastically for me. We’ve done postcards. Postcards of Directory of Experts. We publish a project. We have 10 or 11 experts on the back and we give them out to clients … We’ve got 1 beautiful image on the front and they are listed on the back with their numbers for other people. But we are on top. It works brilliantly. Suddenly we are getting more work. People are talking about us. We are getting phone calls.”
“We’ve now done 2 sets of newsletters … I got a phone call from a client, a client I haven’t spoken to in 2 years. He said, ‘Oh, Richard, fantastic, lovely to hear from you.’ People forget you’ve done this work for this person. And they forget you. And then suddenly you are in their circle. And you are getting referrals for other work from them.”
Richard Petrie is the leading architect marketer who is helping Richard the Architect find this place of prosperity. He comments, “You are focusing on wanting referrals, you are making yourself more referable. By being in touch, it allows you to stay top of mind. But also by having those offers, you have the Ask the Expert, you’ve got your Monkey’s Fist, you’ve got your LCCs — there’s things for the referral network to refer people to. They can refer them directly to you, but sometimes if I refer someone to you…. if something happens, it’s back on me. But if I refer them to one of your tools or resources, that’s a little bit different. It’s easier to refer people to resources sometimes than it is to a person.”
Richard D. responds with, “I think that’s very true. The resources, the Needs and Options being the best thing… the little step … to take you up to the Monkey’s Fist is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. If I had known about this 25 years ago, when I started my practice. Even though I got to a certain aspect of it, I was charging 100 quid. Why didn’t I think of doing something a bit different? Why? It’s obvious when I look at it.”
At AMI, we are so grateful Richard D. has shared all these insights and congratulate him on becoming our Sunshine Island Hero of the Month.
“It’s so lovely the group, it’s a really great group,” he closes with. “There’s so many people that actually share and you don’t feel like you are in competition. The problem is that when you are in a slightly more local group, you feel the competition. Here, I have a few people in the group who are quite close, but you feel like you are sharing rather than competing, which is lovely.”
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