Design on the Haus
Summer is the perfect time to do some strategic thinking, so we’ll continue our snapshot of “A Three-Phase Program to Fast-Track Your Design Business for Profit.” Dr. Tami Hausman participated in the panel at the 2015 AIA National Convention in May, along with Lisa Henry, CEO of Greenway Group, and Stephen Whitehorn, managing principal of Whitehorn Financial Group.
In this installment, “The Doctor” gives her prescription for communicating more effectively about your projects to win the next ones. And we’re particularly excited about this post because it’s the 200th for Design on the Haus. Go Team Hausman!
Communicate with impact!
Now that you have your strategic plan underway, you want to communicate more effectively. It’s essential to define your message(s) so you can differentiate your firm in the marketplace. Knowing your message or messages will point you in the direction that you want to go.
Mark Twain said that “Most conversations are monologues in the presence of witnesses.” But, sarcasm aside, clear and precise communcations is the cornerstone to any business. It sounds obvious, but we all know the kind of people who talk on and on and on and don’t listen, don’t we? My father calls these people “Books on Tape.”
But really good communication is a conversation between people. So whether you’re networking or selling or publicizing your work, you need to engage your clients and audiences – not talk at them.
This is particularly important in the AEC industry, because many clients do not understand exactly what designers do. It’s your job to educate them. The best way to engage with your audience is to provide information that they don’t already know. In other words, you should “teach not preach.”
Who are you talking to?
Keep in mind that you will never have just one audience, you have many. So your messages must be targeted to different groups, which include potential clients, existing clients, decision makers, your peers, and your broad network, among others.
What do communications with all these audiences have in common? That’s the golden rule of outreach, which is: It’s about them, it’s not about you.
First, they want to know that you understand their business. And, second, if you want to connect with them, there is no substitute for clear language that’s free of jargon. You also have to customize your language to your audiences, because different audiences will want to hear different stories about your work. The good news is that you can tell plentiful stories about each of your projects. It’s a great way to get wide coverage.
Make it matter
No matter what kind of outreach you do, remember that you must first, number one, support your strategic business goals. Focus your efforts on the PR campaigns that are going to yield the greatest results for you and your firm.
Second, use your resources wisely. Say, for example, you just finished a private house, but you’re really interested in designing hospitals. You need to decide where you should spend your time and money. You may not want to do a big campaign that’s focused on your residential work.
Last, you need to be timely. When you’re getting started to launch an outreach campaign about a project, always think big and be relevant. Connect the project to a holiday, a trend, a topical news issue, or an event.
One more good reason
Still on the fence? Here’s another good reason to do outreach: in most instances, your competition is probably already doing it. And if they are not, and you start an outreach program, it will put you that much ahead of the game.
The scary truth about using social media is that it’s not as hard as you think. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use it and which platforms suit your firm best. Social media is an essential tool for successful marketing efforts. Design professionals can share their work and ideas in real time, while simultaneously making connections with one another. Once you start to integrate social media, an inactive social media platform will be about the most frightening sight you’ll see. Here are some tips for how to scare away those communications ghosts that may be lurking in your closets.
Don’t be scared, it’s easier than you think. Twitter and basic LinkedIn accounts are free. They are fast and inexpensive ways to open up communication channels with professional peers and potential clients you don’t know and those you already do. It doesn’t cost anything to maintain, so there’s no need for those hairs on the back of your neck to stand up! If you’re nervous about handling multiple social media accounts at once, consider using dashboard applications such as TweetDeck and Hootsuite to help organize your social networks and make posting a little easier.
You can network quickly. A popular social media platform like Twitter allows you to share information about your work and firm in real time to your followers. Use #hashtags to share your tweet information with an entire Twitter network of like-minded people looking to engage on a similar topic. LinkedIn is an interactive way to make those same connections in a more professional online setting. Do you feel like a petrified mummy about sharing information because you fear it could be misinterpreted? Don’t worry. What’s valuable about social media is that it’s more personable and there are fewer formalities than traditional forms of communication, so leave the dark side and come see the light!
There are design-specific platforms. If it feels like you’re stepping into a house of mirrors and you don’t which way to turn, don’t be afraid! There’s no reason to fear that social media is not geared to the AEC industry because online platforms exist specifically FOR the industry. Useful AEC-centric social media sites include Architizer, Houzz, and Honest Buildings. Each of these web platforms is user-friendly and many have guides to walk you step-by-step through the sites. Their large online communities allow firms and professionals to showcase their projects, and many offer easy-to-navigate forums for exchanging ideas and making connections.
It’s October once again; when bumps in the night and creepy creatures can rattle even the bravest folks. But the scariest thing that can happen to you this season is when you realize you’ve let your professional profile slip into the darkness! Here are a few tips to help you change from an industry ghost into a highly visible professional and raise your profile from the dead.
Jump-start your presence on social media. We know that social media can be a scary prospect for those of you who have yet to become actively engaged in using it to promote your business. In fact, in our next post, we’ll lay out a detailed plan for how you can conquer your social media fears and get with the rest of the cyber-verse. But for those of you already on social media – and who may have let their activity fall into oblivion – a focused approach is the best way to get back into the land of the living.
If you haven’t already, you can create a blog that’s connected to your website. Write about topics that demonstrate your expertise, current projects, or design trends. Try to post to your blog at least three times per month.
Next, use Twitter and LinkedIn – probably the two most important social media tools you can use to raise your profile – to further augment your exposure to current and past clients, potential clients, and the media as well as to other architects, engineers, and designers. Use Twitter to lead audiences to your website, blog, and vice versa. A LinkedIn profile will help you maximize your professional connections. Additionally, A/E/C industry networks like Architizer, Honest Buildings, Houzz, Porch, and others are excellent ways to network with other industry professionals, build relationships, and get more work. Set a goal to post at least three times per week.
Get involved with professional organizations. Participation in key professional organizations can help you build and maintain valuable relationships, be more accessible to potential clients, and get in front of the right types of clients. For example, if you want to reach developers and other real estate industry leaders to get more commercial work, then participating in pro organizations where they are involved is an effective way to reach these decision makers. For greatest impact, you need to attend events on a regular basis, and participate in committees or join boards, in order to gain access to the most valuable networking opportunities.
Share your expertise and thought leadership at conferences. Another thing you can do to pull your low profile out of zombie land is to begin participating in panels and speaking opportunities. These can be excellent ways to share your experience, expertise and personality with your target audiences. If public speaking scares you to death, start off small and practice with colleagues in your firm. For your presentations, focus on topics that demonstrate your expertise in particular building typologies or industry sectors such as healthcare. Once you get more comfortable speaking, participate in a panel discussion at your local AIA chapter. If you find you’re good at it and you enjoy it, you can start submitting yourself to speak at bigger meetings and conferences for greater exposure.
Just because the daily grind has caused you to let your exposure slip into an early grave, doesn’t mean it’s dead. All it takes is a strategic, steady approach to social media, networking, and speaking opportunities to revive yourself and get the professional exposure you deserve. Your audiences will be screaming “it’s alive!”
This month we’ve heard from guest bloggers Brad Feinknopf on investing in good photography and Jessica Wyman on tips for designing an effective website. Now that you’ve got a great website with gorgeous photography, how do you actually get visitors? The answer is SEO.
Search engine optimization (SEO) improves a website’s visibility in online search results in order to increase the number of visitors to that website. Search engines like Google match users with the businesses and services they are looking for. In order to do this, they employ “crawlers,” special algorithms that read through the Internet, index each website, and rank it for different search terms. These search terms are known as key words (a single word, like “architecture,”) and key phrases (a group of keywords, like “architecture design firm”).
The goal of your SEO plan should be to make your expertise more evident to Google and other search engines, in order to increase its exposure and number of visitors. Once you place focused keywords strategically within the website’s text, the website’s ranking in search results will improve. The higher the website’s ranking, the more visitors will find it. In fact, a 2013 study found that 83.6% of searchers visit one of the top seven Google results in a given search.
In order to achieve this goal, you will want to select keywords that closely align with your firm’s signature services. Then, integrate these focused keywords throughout the text of your website in order to maximize your SEO. An effective SEO strategy encompasses several steps:
First, identify the terms that best represent your firm’s identity and services. Identify three or four key words and phrases that concisely convey your firm’s identity and services. These should be general search terms that someone might use to search for you such as “landscape architect” or “interior designer” or “project management.” It may seem like you’re stating the obvious, but for search purposes that’s exactly what you want to do. Once the user visits your website, you can demonstrate how you are different from all of the other landscape architects, interior designers, or project managers out there.
Next, research your chosen key words and phrases. Using a suite of SEO tools like Google Analytics, explore how often your chosen keys words and phrases are searched for. You should also determine if other, similar terms are more popular search terms – such as “corporate interior designer” or “workplace interior designer”. Further, you need to find out the level of competition for your chosen terms, i.e. how often a phrase appears on other websites. Google Analytics can help you find all of this data.
Then, evaluate your research and develop a plan. Once you’ve done your research using Google Analytics, take a look at the resulting data for each word and phrase you’ve chosen and prioritize a targeted number of final SEO keywords or phrases. Determining the most effective SEO keywords and phrases is a qualitative, not a quantitative process. In evaluating each key word and key phrase, you should take into account the following:
- Value to your firm: All of the keywords and phrases you choose should reflect your firm’s principal services
- Search volume: A higher number of monthly searches for a term brings more exposure to your website
- Specificity: Being specific when choosing key phrases ensures that visitors who discover your site through a search will find what they are looking for
- Competition: The fewer competitors there are for a key phrase, the higher your website will rank
Finally, optimize your website. Place your SEO keywords and phrases frequently and prominently within your website’s text. The “crawler” algorithms that Google uses to scan websites during searches take not only the keywords into account, but how often the keywords appear and even their proximity to one another. Be sure to work these keywords into your text as much as possible without overdoing it or ruining the overall narrative.
A top priority for every business is to direct the right kind of traffic to its website. A well-defined, effective SEO strategy will augment your online presence and ensure that more potential clients find your firm online.
Photographed by Sabrina Ahern
Jessica Wyman is principal and creative director of Wyman Projects, a graphic design and web development consultancy based in New York City. As a graphic designer with a degree in architecture, she has ten years of experience collaborating with architects, interior designers, engineers, and A/E/C consultants, to create meaningful print and web experiences that communicate professionalism and integrity. Jessica is currently art director for Oculus, AIA New York’s quarterly publication; and she regularly presents at the Chapter’s annual Fellows Workshop for FAIA candidates.
By Jessica Wyman, Wyman Projects
Have you ever visited a website where the copyright or blog posts date back to 2006? I have, and it saddens me to think that those companies spent a small fortune designing a website that quickly became stale and forgotten.
Thankfully, website development has come a long way since then. With out-of-the-box Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress and Drupal, building dynamic online experiences that are easy-to-use and easy-to-manage is within every design professional’s budget.
Still, building an effective website that will showcase your portfolio, communicate your expertise and get you new projects requires a thoughtful, strategic approach. Before you begin designing your new site, here are some things to think about:
Design Smart. One of the first things you should determine before designing your new website is its purpose. Who are you trying to reach with this new site? Potential clients? The media? Fans? All of the above? For most AEC professionals, a website is a tool to communicate your expertise and to convince prospective clients to take action and connect with you.
While your new site should reflect your firm’s personality and culture, its format, content, and design will need to appeal to prospective users. Unfortunately, design professionals often make the mistake of designing a site that they like rather than designing one that will be effective in reaching their target audiences.
So how do you do this? Understanding your company’s mission – and which clients you want to serve – is key to pinpointing the needs and habits of your target audiences.
Will your visitors be using a computer or mobile device to view the site? Is there anything you can learn from your current website’s analytics, such as pages with the highest bounce rate? What information does your target audience need most and how will you shape the user’s journey to satisfy those needs?
Think Big. Gone are the days of table-based layouts and small browser sizes, which resulted in small-scale images on the user’s screen. You are a design professional with beautiful project photography; so don’t be afraid to go full bleed. Consider using a full browser slideshow on your home page or project pages to make an impact and to define a mood.
Less is More. The impulse to feature or list every single project on your website is a mistake many design professionals make. A website should have enough curated content to communicate expertise and personality, while leaving the visitor curious enough to contact your firm for more information.
Cross-Pollinate. Create relationships between content and pages on the website to engage visitors. Curiosity keeps users clicking and strategies such as suggesting links to “Related Content” or crosslinking press items or bios will retain visitors and improve site analytics.
Don’t hide your contact information. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is surprising how many company websites hide contact information under submenus. Include a phone number and email address on the home page; and consider designing a special splash page with contact information and a map for mobile visitors.
Launch Strategy. Once you’ve designed and launched your website successfully…now what? Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. Create a content strategy that includes a schedule for updating your new website with new projects, news items, blog posts, and links to your social media platforms.
Clients and prospective employees want to work with design professionals who are active and innovative thought leaders; providing these visitors with fresh content monthly, if not weekly, is key to engaging, and ultimately working with, your ideal clients.