My First Architectural Gig
One of my favorite architecture professors always recounted during class about how hard it was for him to land his first client. He spoke on how many interviews and requests that he would get that eventually fell through only to lose the bid to another competitor. He said one of the worst feelings he had was when he would draw up plans for buildings that would go on never being built; he said that this felt like such a waste.
I always thought my professor what somewhat embellishing his stories as he recounted them to his classes. Surely it could not have been that difficult could it? But his experience was something that I would fully understand until I was starting my own firm almost five years after taking his class in advanced architectural studies.
The year was 2002, and I was starting my own firm. I was an eager young architect living in Dallas, ready to leave my mark on the architecture of that wonderful city. I had just purchased a small office space located on the outskirts of Dallas and I was completely unprepared for the uphill battle I was about to face.
At first I think that I thought the clients were just going to call up my phone and ask me to design their buildings. Boy, was this far from what happened. After I learned that I need to meet with these people, get to know them and what they needed, and explain to them why the services I offered were so much better than everyone else’s I quickly began to see how much work it was going into business for yourself.
Now I don’t remember the exact number of interviews and prospects I had been turned down by before I realized this, but I know there was at least seven. Now seven doesn’t sounds like a huge number, but when you consider the amount of work I put into each of these prospects, the number seems a lot higher. For each of these prospects, I spent on average a month and a half worth of work, only to be turned down in the end. Think about that; that is almost 11 months worth of no customers and contracts. I quickly saw exactly what my professor meant about his struggle to land his first client.
Then something went off like a light bulb in my head. I had just started this firm and I was already trying to land gigantic projects that were well out of my league. If I started with some smaller renovation projects, not only would I be much more likely to land some of them but I would also be able to establish a name for myself in the area.
Well, that is exactly what I did. I stopped looking for high-dollar skyscraper projects and started looking for smaller floor-wide renovations of existing office buildings. Within three months I was able to land my first client and it came right around Christmas 2002. It was a great Christmas present, and was exactly the kind of cap I needed for the end of the year 2002.