Sara Kolata is digital transformation specialist. She helps architects use online tools more effectively for their businesses, so she helps them to advertise to attract better clients, and to build a community so they can work on the projects that they love. She helps them to take their careers into their own hands as the digital world provides many great opportunities through making it easier to self publish research, to build a community, to get a higher following, and to really control the message that they put out there.

Why do architects need to transform how they operate?

The world is changing. There are so many opportunities to grow our businesses with the ways we can advertise and communicate our messages now. The internet is a very nourishing environment for businesses, because while it’s difficult and expensive to make many things happen in the analogue world, they can now be done very cheaply, quickly and easily in the digital world.

Many processes, such as advertising, used to be very difficult without the internet as if you wanted to advertise in the past, you may have to buy a billboard space, or go door to door, but right now, you can easily create a community of people who are interested in your products or services. When you’re online, you have a hugely enhanced ability to directly reach the people who will resonate with your message, as there are loads of forums and groups because we congregate by our interests, our hobbies, topics of discussions, and the different events we attend. The moment you start understanding where that audience is is the moment you can start cheaply and effectively selling.

Why are Customer Relationship Management systems important?

CRM systems are important as if you’re dealing with volumes of interested people, you need to store information about them: information about what they’re buying, who they are- so their gender and occupation. This helps you to craft a unique message to each of those individuals, so, for example, potential clients don’t get bombarded with emails offering them a course in architecture. It allows you to manage your conversation better, which creates a level of sophistication for your business and gives you more control over your sales.

Within the CRM system at Pride Road, we have an intranet to systemise processes and client data so we don’t lose any information whatsoever. We have automated messages sent to clients at each stage of the process, in order to push them through the sales funnel, so from a lead to a prospect to a workshop to a project, and then we keep them in touch and provide rich content for them to keep them engaged and to tell them what we’re doing.

Sara thinks fellow architects can learn a lot from Lisa’s CRM system as it was designed around Pride Road’s business model and it directs the clients towards the right service. A takeaway for architects is that every time you work with CRM and organise customer data, you get closer to being able to automate the sales. This really is the secret of making money online.

CRM systems also help you to scale up, as they help you sell products/ provide value without having to send an individual person along the whole customer journey, as emails and the website can do  it for you. Pride Road deals with larger quantities of clients, so we are offering a similar product with similar messaging all the way through.

What is a value ladder?

A value ladder maps out how the value of each product/ service you provide to your clients increases with time. So, sometimes you create a relatively cheap product that will sell to many potential clients just so they can find out more about you and get more engaged, so they will eventually hire you on an expensive project.

A lot of successful practices use this ladder by producing a lot of content outside of their main services, such as research, books, manifestos or online courses. These products nourish the community by responding to its different needs, and it shows potential clients that you are passionate about what you do, as you have come up with innovative solutions to help them. For example, Bjarke Ingels started his practice by writing Less is More, because the manifesto was an opportunity for him to get his thoughts published, so now clients understand his methodology towards design. This is also a great way to diversify your income because, as Sara says, you shouldn’t have all your eggs in one basket.

Digital transformation is vital in diversifying your income as it’s now easier to self publish research online, rather than in papers and book shops. You could easily publish research in blogs, and more advanced research could be self published through Amazon, who could print them for you.

What are the key steps architects should take when thinking about digital transformation?

At the beginning, you should start revisiting all your social media platforms and looking at them in terms of how well they communicate to clients, rather than to fellow architects. This is because other architects will know what it means that, for example, you worked for LMA, but your client might not know that that’s significant because they might not be interested in architecture, so they won’t necessarily understand how well experienced you are. So you need to think about who you care about communicating this information most to, and use that to navigate what message you promote to your clients. Stop thinking about promoting yourself to other architects, and promote yourself to clients, through explaining how you can solve their problems.

Then you should try to diversify your income by providing those cheaper products on the value ladder. So, you need to understand your clients: where they are at and problems they face, and think about how you can solve them. Sometimes, the best solution is organising a local meetup that can cover certain issues relating to your customers to show that you care and that you use your expertise to put solutions forward. You can do that through organising an event, a webinar, or by creating online solutions, such as a mini-courses. And, of course, you’ll charge for these events.

What tools should I use?

You should mainly use social media, so LinkedIn, Instagram and Google, which clients will use to find architectural practices. You shouldn’t necessarily try to get published in design magazines as most clients won’t read them; you need to be strategic about the types of media your clients consume, for example, Pride Road was recently in the Saturday Telegraph magazine. The magazines/ papers you use also need to have a searchable online presence, as if you’re just in one article of the hard copy of the newspaper, it will disappear quickly with only a few people having seen it. In speaking to one of the heads at Gensler, Sara learned that, although they have whole teams dedicated to marketing, they don’t care about being published in design magazines, but they go to the Times instead. Their relationship with the press goes against what we’ve been taught, but it’s a better way of engaging with clients directly.

Lisa has four clients whose projects have Instagram profiles, which is great as they tag her in, but she’s not sure how to capitalise on it. Sara suggests that Lisa should promote the bigger picture: her brand and her name as an architect, rather than individual projects because the moment the project is finished, you will naturally move on so it becomes dead content that people once followed but you can’t create anything new for. But, if you promote yourself and your brand, people will follow you through projects and through time as you grow, which is a better strategy for your business.

Are there any downsides to technology?

Sara doesn’t have any personal social media profiles, because she doesn’t think that it’s a good use of her time; she strategically plans all the content she puts out so it communicates her message as efficiently as possible. She doesn’t have personal accounts because she likes to disconnect with technology to be in nature, to escape the many downsides of technology.

But, technology is really useful if you find the right balance and connect your social media to your income. Sara uses a software called Hootsuite which allows her to plan her content and automatically posts it to different platforms, so she doesn’t have to post everything manually, she just has to plan her posts around once a week. This is so she isn’t plugged into social media 24/7. Sara thinks you should find your own balance and protect your brain and your creativity from the overload of social media. Post strategically and think about it like you think about your business; strategize about your marketing in the same way you strategize about your sales.

Where can I find out more?

Around 3 weeks ago, Sara launched a podcast and a publication series called Profitable Architect Online, in which shares hints and tips around digital transformation so you can scale your business and increase profitability, along with sharing her personal experiences and explaining why she does what she does. You can find her on LinkedIn, YouTube, her blogs, Facebook, or on her podcast, all under her name: Sara Kolata.

For sales tips from Pride Road’s marketing and social media gurus, click here.