architecture blog

Modative Interview by Business of Architecture

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 @ 06:04 AM

Last year we had the pleasure of having Enoch Sears from the Business of Architecture visit our office and conduct an on-camera interview. We've always really appreciated Enoch's approach of focusing on the business side of architecture, something that has been a vital part of our practice. So, last week, Enoch published the interview on his website and we are very happy with the results. It's an open and honest depiction of the critical issues we've faced in the last few years, which include (taken from Business of Architecture's website):

  • Promoting a hands-on approach for staff.

  • Creating a process to help your clients believe in your brand.

  • Learning to say “No” and staying focused on your firm’s goals.

  • The benefits of showing your clients an open and honest process.

  • A design-driven website vs. an informative website.


modative business architecture interview

If you're interested, you can see the interview (and a transcript) on the Business of Architecture site - THE SECRETS TO A SUCCESSFUL ARCHITECTURE FIRM: INSIDE THE MODERN ARCHITECTURE FIRM MODATIVE

Enjoy!

Tags: Marketing, Organization, Architectual Practice, architecture resources, modern architecture firm, employees, Project Strategy

A Modern Architecture Firm's Approach to Organizing Marketing Leads

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, May 2, 2012 @ 06:05 AM

At the tail end of 2010, we realized that the worst of the recession was over for us. Things were getting better. New marketing leads were coming in and we needed to better manage them if we were to take full advantage of this potential increase in business.

As with most small architecture firms, the three principals split up the core roles of running the company. As a principal, one of my roles is marketing manager. So, as 2011 approached, I worked with Christian and Michael to come up with a system for managing leads coming into the office.

When it comes to lead generation, our office is a bit different than most architects in that about 90% of our leads come through our website. So, unlike many older offices that get high probability referral leads, we have to sort through significant noise in our web leads to find the valuable ones. This only increases our need to be more organized.

We began this process by generating two simple diagrams. The first diagram is a simple breakdown of how Modative acquires projects.

modern architects project aquisition

 

The basic idea in this diagram is that you get leads and filter them down to determine which ones become RFP (Request for Proposal) projects (a small win) and then, after proposals and contracts, which ones become real projects (a big win).

The second diagram describes our process of organizing and managing active leads.

modern architects lead funnel resized 600

 

Let's take a closer look at what each step entails.

Document and Assign Lead

1. Add Lead to Master List - This is a simple Excel spreadsheet (we use Numbers, a Mac program) that tracks the basics and is used to give incoming leads a number. Lead numbers begin with an "L" for "Lead" and the last two digits of the year, followed by three digits - L11-001. Here's a sample of the Master Lead List.

Lead # Lead Name Start Date First Contact Date Assigned To Project Type Lead Type Notes
L11-044 John Doe 06.12.11 06.13.11 CDN SFR Phone W. LA Home
L11-045 Jane Smith 06.18.11 06.19.11 MDS SLS Web Form Venice Beach

2. Create Lead Folder - Active leads are assigned to managers and the following folder structure is copied into the lead managers folder (on the server) and given the appropriate name - "L11-044 John Doe 06.12.11".

architecture lead folder structure

In the "Lead Log and Checklist" folder, there is a word processor file that is filled out with the same info from the Master Lead List and most often, a copy of the the web form data. Below that is a log for the lead manager to keep track of all correspondence with the lead.

modern architects marketing lead log

 

3. Add Lead to Clothesline - If you missed last year's post on "The Clothesline", check it out to see one of the ways we stay organized. Similar to the Master Lead List, the lead info is added via permanent marker (old school, I know) to the Clothesline in the office for everyone to see.

 modern architects marketing leads clothesline

As marketing manger, this provides me with a quick visual on how leads are progressing.

4. Email Lead Assignment to Manger - After the lead has been documented and assigned, we send out a simple email to the lead manager, letting them know that they now have an active lead.

 

Contact Lead & Follow-Up

1. Initial Lead Contact - It is the lead manager's job to contact the lead within 24 hours and log this contact in both the Lead Log and Clothesline. Most lead managers print out the Lead Log and hand write in the information while on the phone.

2. Lead Follow-up and Determination - After contacting the lead, it is the lead manager's job to determine whether the lead is "Dead", "Inactive" or has the potential to become an "RFP Project". If the lead has potential, the next step is often an in-person meeting. If that goes well, the project graduates to become an "RFP Project" when the potential client asks for a proposal.

3. Weekly Updates - At our regular Monday morning meetings, we review all active leads and managers give a quick update.

Does This Lead Management Process Work?

I'm sure for many, this process seems like overkill. There are several steps and many of them accomplish similar things. But for us, this system has created a series of checks and balances that has worked well versus the alternative of Post-it notes and haphazard internal conversations. No matter how you look at it, without proper lead management, we would be lucky to get any new projects. Besides, any aspect of running our office where we can be more efficient, only leaves us more time to better serve our existing clients.

What systems do you have in place at your office for lead management?

Post by Derek Leavitt. Contributors to this post include Christian Návar, Krystal Návar, and Michael Scott.

Tags: Marketing, Organization, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, Starting an architecture firm, modern architecture firm

Rules for an Architect’s Blog - Guest Post on Life of an Architect

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jun 8, 2010 @ 09:06 AM

A few weeks back, Bob Borson, AIA asked me to do a guest post on his Life of an Architect blog. Bob's blog is a favorite of mine and one of the few architecture blogs I follow regularly. The post, titled Rules for an Architect's Blog, is about the history and philosophy of our Modative blog.

The post even briefly covers the blogging history of some of architecture's greats like Frank Lloyd Wright.

frank lloyd wright blog

I encourage you to check it out and stay for a while. Bob's blog is full of great content for both architects and those trying to learn more about architects.


Tags: Innovation, Marketing, Architectual Practice, Inspiration

5 Things Architects Should Do Instead of Entering Open Competitions

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Jun 2, 2010 @ 08:06 AM

Obviously, not everyone agrees with our last post "Why Architecture Competitions are Bad for Architects". A day after our post, archdaily, posted "Why open architecture competitions are good for Architects, a counter argument". 

The archdaily post, some blog comments, and a few twitter posts claim that our argument against competitions is an attack on creativity and passion within the architecture profession. This couldn't be further from the truth. A few questions to ponder:

Do open competitions have a monopoly on creativity?

Are competitions the only way to progress the architecture profession?

Absolutely not.

Open architecture competitions actually take much of the creativity out of what architects do. They provide everything: the site, program, objectives, and deadlines. Then they judge your work in private, without any back and forth collaboration.

It's comforting for architects to have all of this delivered to them. It's exactly how architecture school works. All the architect has to do is design in a bubble. I can certainly see the appeal.

Many architects will never be convinced that open competitions are bad for them and that's fine. But I would feel bad ripping on open competitions without providing some viable alternates. 

Architects will at some point inevitably find themselves with free time and/or needing a release from the daily grind. Instead of doing what architects have traditionally done (open competitions), consider one of these options instead:

1. Pro Bono Architecture

Pro bono work is more rewarding and has far more upside than an open architecture competition. And there are plenty of non-profit organizations that need an architect's help, but can't afford it. 

The 1% program website is a great starting point to learn about pro bono architecture and connect with with non-profits looking for architects. The 1% program asks that you donate at least 1% of your time to providing free or deeply discounted design work. In exchange, you get a rewarding experience working with people and building connections. Your work is also likely to be constructed and the publicity and experience you'll receive can lead to future paid commissions -often times in project types where you previously had no experience. 

2. A Design Intervention

This is how the 1% program got started. Public Architecture, a firm in San Francisco, decided that instead of entering another pointless competition, they would use that time and energy to improve their neighborhood through actual design interventions. They took an unused portion of the street and made it a temporary public park. The project was built with donated materials and labor. The neighborhood praised their efforts and the Mayor of San Francisco spoke at the project's opening. Now that's a great use of an architect's time.

mayor at architectur event

Mayor Newsome at the opening of Public Architecture's Pavement to Parks Project. Photo from Public Architecture's website.

Your Mayor doesn't give a shit about your open architecture competition entry.

A design intervention is essentially like doing your own competition. If you're going to do free work, you might as well do it for yourself and for something you're passionate about. Find a problem in your neighborhood, your city, and solve it. Get the community involved. Publish the process and the results, even if it never gets constructed.

3. Non-Architecture Projects

If you want a release, try out your design skills on something new. A few ideas:

Furniture - A coffee table for a modern lifestyle (laptops and ipads).

Building Materials - I have yet to see a building facade system that can be easily removed and recycled (like carpet tiles).

Products - Why let Karim Rashid have all the fun?

Karim Rashid Designs Stuff

Karim is laughing at you because you're letting him and Phillipe Stark design all the cool stuff. Photo by Roman Leo, New York

Textiles - There's a serious shortage of great modern rugs. I know, I've looked.

T-Shirts - A flooded market, but an easy one to get into nowadays.

4. Architect as Entrepreneur

Architects should be more entrepreneurial. We have some of the best problem solving skills around, yet we mostly wait for the phone to ring to get projects. We wait for the problem to come to us.

Imagine how much better our cities would look and function if more architects got involved in real estate development. Creating their own projects and developing them. Well, you don't have to imagine. Jonathan Segal, FAIA and Sebastian Mariscal have been doing this for years in San Diego with great success.

5. Go to a Bar

You are more likely to meet a stranger at a bar that will hire you to design them a real building than to win an actual architectural commission from an open competition. And even if you don't, you'll at least leave happy and having spent less money than you would on a competition.

 

If you have any additions to this list that you'd like to share, please add a comment.

Let's keep in touch - subscribe to this blog via email (top of right column) or RSS (for the techies).

Tags: Innovation, Marketing, Architectual Practice, Inspiration, Architecture Competitions

Why Open Architecture Competitions Are Bad for Architects?

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, May 18, 2010 @ 07:05 AM

Architects need to stop entering open architecture competitions. 

Most architecture competitions are not worth it, but none more than the complete waste of time known as the open architecture competition.This type of competition is what it says it is: open to anyone. Sometimes they are for a real project, but most often, they are fake, or as they're often called, an "ideas" competition.

As you may have seen in our last post, we're currently in the middle of a team competition for homeless housing, which is neither open nor purely architectural.

Our office has participated in only one open architecture competition in our four-plus years in business. And although the beach hut competition was fun and inspiring, it was a great example of why competitions are not worth it.

architecture competitions

Our inspiring, but financially draining Sand Hut competition entry.

Since the Sand Hut experience, there have been many opportunities to enter competitions, and of the three Modative partners, I'm often the biggest proponent of entering competitions. Thankfully, my logical business partners are able to convince me not to enter open architecture competitions. They use any number of the following five reasons why open architecture competitions are bad for us:

1.Waste of time and money

An open competition is a project. A project you are going to work on for free. Whether you like it or not, architecture is a business and businesses are in the business of making money, not working for free.

If you're one of the rare architects with idle time, there are plenty of more productive things to do with your time.

2. Projects are almost never built

Every architect knows this. Even the competitions that claim to be for real buildings almost never get built because competition budgets are nonexistent or ignored. The most eye catching and extravagant design wins. The most extravagant design rarely meets budget.

3. Too much competition (You won't win)

Obvious but true. Open competitions have few barriers to entry - it's free-for-all. No matter how good your competition design skills are, you're competing against hundreds or thousands of other architects.

So, for example, if the competition jury reviewed submissions for 8 hours (a generous assumption), and they received 1,000 submissions, that would give them about 28 seconds to look at your project. The same project you just worked on for 100+ hours is getting judged in less than half a minute. You get the point.

4. Provide little publicity, if any.

If you don't get gold, silver or bronze, no one cares. Even if you are recognized in the competition, the publicity will rarely match the effort.

Besides, the world of publicity has changed significantly in the last few years. Hoping to get press through a competition win is an old-school mentality. Nowadays, you can design great stuff then let the world know on the interwebs. If you're really good, and decent at getting the word out, people will find you. You don't need a competition for publicity.

5. They devalue architects

Ooh look, we can get all these silly little architects to work for free. Have you ever seen doctors or lawyers sign up in droves to do free work?

Exhibit A

A few weeks back I received the following open competition email announcement from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). This clearly highlights some of the problems with these types of architecture competitions.

architecture competitions suck
 

Disclaimers: I'm an AIA member, and like anyone that pays a lot of money towards a professional organization, I have the occasional right to gripe. Before everyone gets all cranky, I do realize that this competition is for a good cause. However, there are many other ways for you to use your skills as an architect for a good cause which we'll touch on in a future blog post.

Problem #1: Submission Fees: Not only is this not a competition for a real building, nor do you get money if you win, but you have to pay to enter. Pay them, then work for free. Does anyone else find this crazy?

Problem #2: The Reward: So, if you're lucky enough to win this competition, you get to show other architects your work for a few days at the AIA National Convention in Miami. None of these architects will hire you to build your genius temporary relief housing scheme. Not such a great reward for all this work, huh?

 

Instead of just complaining about open competitions, we've got some solutions. In a future post, we'll discuss some alternatives to architects wasting time with open competitions. UPDATE: That post now exists - 5 Things Architects Should Do Instead of Entering Open Competitions

 

Side Note: This post has been sitting in the draft box for several weeks. A few days back, I noticed that a very talented fellow architect blogger, Jody Brown, AIA, LEED AP, posted a very interesting article about architecture competitions on his "Coffee with an Architect" Blog. At first I was hesitant to publish this after seeing his post on the same topic. Who wants to be seen as a topic copycat? But we have very different takes on open competitions. I encourage you to check out his post - Architectural Competitions are a Glorious Waste of Time. He makes some very interesting points that go against most of what I just said. He's pretty convincing.

 

What are your thoughts on open architecture competitions?

Tags: Business, Marketing, Ethics, Architectual Practice, AIA, Architecture Competitions

Advice as a Marketing Opportunity for Young Architects

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 @ 09:01 AM

As a follow-up to our last post, 7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm - Tip 03: Get Advice , I thought I'd touch on a related marketing strategy, a big secret:

Aside from gaining valuable information, your start-up advisers are also your best marketing source.

When starting an architecture firm, trust can be difficult to attain. This is especially true if, like us, you start your firm at a relatively young age. When you launch, you'll have very little to show potential clients. So while you can and should show potential clients work you completed while working for other firms (see How a Young Architecture Firm Can Show Its Experience), in all likelihood, your first projects will come from people you have a prior relationship with - such as the people you're asking for advice.

architecture firm marketing Just thought this post could use a pretty picture. It was either this or a cheesy stock photo of business people shaking hands.


Asking for advice is a great way to meet with people, let them know you're starting your own business, and gain their trust, all while not seeming like you're looking to gain anything other than free advice. So while marketing your new firm may be secondary to getting advice, there's a good chance you may get some projects out of it. We did.

Tags: Marketing, Architectual Practice, Architecture Experience, Starting an architecture firm

The Kayo Connection

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Jul 31, 2008 @ 13:07 PM

Design

Although Modative is at its core an architecture firm, we have always been interested in expanding beyond this traditional role into both development and construction. Hence, the whole "Design, Develop, Build" tag line (see below) and philosophy. As of several months ago, I'm happy to announce that through collaboration, our push into these two other fields is complete.



Develop

As previously announced, we have had an ongoing collaborative relationship with Pacific Beacon Properties, LLC, a development company, working on two small lot subdivision projects in Los Angeles. We not only provide architectural services for Pacific Beacon, but assist with development analysis and decisions.



Build

For the "build", we have teamed up with Libiano Construction Inc., headed by Mark Libiano. We have known and worked with Mark for many years and the results have been great. Libiano Co. is also involved the the two small lot subdivision projects, offering his construction expertise throughout the design and construction process. Having a close collaboration with Mark has proved so successful, that we have decided to offer this collaboration between architect and contractor to other potential clients as a true design/build team.



The Kayo Connection

With this design + build collaboration comes the opportunity to collectively market our services as well. This is where Kayo comes in. Kayo is a long time (11 year) friend and colleague of the three founders here at Modative. She also happens to be Mark Libiano's wife. So, who better to go out there and spread the good word of both entities.

Just as we here at Modative have let you know a bit about ourselves in the profile section of our website, we thought we would give you a sneak peak into the life of Kayo N. Libiano...



Early Years

Canadian born, Kayo moved to Southern California at the age of 3 and began her training in classical ballet, continuing as an avid dancer for over 17 years. She attended dance academies in the OC, LA and even studied ballet in Japan for a year, so it was not surprising that she greatly appreciated the arts and cultures of different countries from an early age. Though, what did come as a surprise, was when she wrote in an essay in Junior High English class that she wanted to be an architect, NOT a dancer when she grew up. Her thought process was that the body deteriorates with age, but the creative mind lives on... What sealed the deal of her conviction was when she fielded comments like; “There aren’t many famous female architects in the world” or “How will you succeed in such a male dominant profession?” Kayo’s stubborn and tenacious personality took hold and she set out to prove everyone wrong.

Fight On!

The instinct to create personalized spaces always interested Kayo and she was constantly rearranging furniture, designing accessories and painting pictures on the walls in her family home. Her first sewing machine was gifted to her at the age of 10 and though dance was her #1 passion, making her own clothes and throw pillows came in as a close second of her favorite things to do. By the time she graduated from High School, she had completed 3 years of technical drafting courses as the only girl in the classes and her hopes of attending architecture school were cemented in place. USC served as a training ground where she honed her skills and where she met many of her future colleagues whom have greatly influenced her career thus far.

Experiences in the Field

Post graduation, Kayo went to work for David Jay Flood Architect (DJFA) with her friends, Derek Leavitt and Michael Scott whom both graduated a year before her from USC’s Architecture school.As a team player, she worked on several architecture and interior projects.From DJFA, Kayo took a job as Project Manager at Jacquez Marquez Architects (JMA), where she got a taste for designing high-end homes and day-spas in Beverly Hills and Greater Los Angeles.

Going Corporate

Knowing the importance of the great American Corporation on the economy in the United States, Kayo worked for Merle Norman Cosmetics as a franchise designer, where she built-out stores and oversaw installations for studio owners across the nation from Las Vegas, Chicago and New York.

One of the Guys

As girly as Kayo might appear on the outside, she has no problem sporting a hardhat and a construction belt on-site, or dealing with city officials.Whatever it takes to get the job done, she is up to the task, even if it means roughing it with the boys.Her path crossed with Christian Návar, another old friend from USC at Studio 9one2 Architecture when she moved to the South Bay. As a designer and project manager, Kayo kept the office organized and had the opportunity to collaborate on beautiful contemporary homes, commercial buildings and most importantly, developed contacts with a slew of subcontractors which are vital connections in the building industry.“It's all about who you know and how well you can keep up good public relations!”

To Have and to Hold

The little secret to Kayo’s success in architecture comes from her husband Mark, whom she dated since her senior year at USC. Being a General Contractor by trade, Mark has steered and coached Kayo through the nuances of the architecture/construction world and while letting her make her own mistakes, has above all, taught her what it takes to survive in the admittedly “male dominant” building industry. Today, Kayo works hand in hand with Mark (whom she married in 2007) to build his growing construction company and also acts as the link between Modative and Libiano Construction, Inc. as a Design + Build team. She heads-up the two companies’ marketing and is an enthusiastic supporter of both thriving businesses.

Tags: Building, Development, Small Lot Subdivision, Business, Communication, Marketing, Organization

Smaller, More Attentive, Better Quality

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jul 8, 2008 @ 10:07 AM

Following up the last post on why selecting a younger, energetic firm (such as Modative) can be an advantage over going with a more established firm. Here is something that we have always considered an advantage:

Larger, more established firms often have many more projects and larger staffs. This is not necessarily a good thing for you as the client. With those many projects and staff comes less attention to your project. The principal (boss, lead architect) that you initially met with, will probably have very limited time on your project. They will often hand it off to someone lower on the totem pole to manage, such as a project manager. That project manager may even have most of the work done by someone even lower on the pyramid, a draftsperson or intern. The quality and attention you receive will no doubt be somewhat diluted.

In an office such as ours, there is no grandiose hierarchy. The principals you meet with with manage, design and most often perform most of the work on your project. That kind of attention is hard to beat.

Tags: Business, Marketing

Battling Ageism in the Architecture World

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Sat, Jul 5, 2008 @ 14:07 PM

A few months back, the partners here at Modative had lunch with a very well known international architect. The three of us admire his ability to have achieved success at a relatively young age. So given this opportunity, we had to ask him, "How were you as a young architect (such as ourselves) able to convince clients to go with you over older, more established names in the industry?"

His insightful answer was ripe for the taking. He said that there were two clear reasons for selecting a young energetic firm over a more established firm:

  1. With older firms, there is a reputation that is already established. Whereas with younger firms, your project is critical to the building of our reputation. We have a vested interest in making sure your project is great in order to build our reputation.
  2. Older firms typically have an established ego. This is not meant as a negative jab, but rather that they often have a set way of doing things. So, when you hire the established firm, you will often find yourself competing with this ego. With a younger firm, we keep your "client vision" as the priority. We are more flexible and open to new ideas.

Tags: Business, Marketing