One of the things I was most excited about when starting Board & Vellum over four years ago, was the prospect of “pulling back the curtain” and giving clients a view into how Architects work. More importantly, how our work impacts our clients. I can come up with a ton of great design ideas, but without willing clients who feel they can trust us and our process, I’d be left to rely only on those willing to take a leap of faith. Endless leaps of faith are not what a sustainable design business is built on, and I think that our approach to transparency has proven that most clients would prefer not to jump blindly into a business relationship.
The Board & Vellum blog is not just entertainment; we like to think of it as a tool to educate the public about what we do. For this purpose, I wanted to dive into the actual process of how we go from a project inquiry to a real project here at Board & Vellum, and what it could look like if you were to drive down that road with us.
Typically, potential clients find us online and send an email (via our web site, our profile on Houzz.com, or Facebook), sometimes through a friend (word-of-mouth advertising can’t be beat), or often they see our name and phone number on a job-site sign, posted at project that is currently under construction, and give us a call (we are very surprised how many inquiry calls we receive from job site signs!).
Because of the number of inquiries we’ve been receiving in this booming economy (hint, it is a lot), we had to put a system in place. Usually Tina, our Marketing coordinator, will field the calls and emails, and respond with a request for some additional information, so that once she passes the client on to a Project Associate, the first conversation can be more productive. It is OK if you don’t have all the answers on the first phone call, we’re really just gathering information on your anticipated timeline, scope of work, budget (usually the thing that people know diddly-squat about, but again, perfectly OK), and your goals for the project. At that point Tina will set up a call with one of our staff to answer more of your questions and talk a little more in depth about your project. This is kind of a “pre-interview” to see if we could be a good fit for each other. Once that happens we schedule a complimentary in-person meeting at your project location. We’ll typically send two people to this initial meeting (not necessarily the project team) to talk through the details of how we work and hear about your goals for the project. We’ll walk around the site taking everything in, and maybe throw out some initial ideas, if appropriate.
Following the walk through, we’ll prepare a formal proposal that outlines in detail, the specific phases of the project, our approach to cost savings and value engineering, our approach to sustainability, representative project photography, and, of course, our estimated fees. Included with the proposal is a brief Terms of Agreement and a Contract document, that once signed will get you on our schedule and start the process with us.
We take this match-making with new clients very seriously, because hiring an Architect is really a personal experience. We will attempt to get inside your heads and design a space that works for you. In order to hire us, you should not only like us, you should feel that we truly understand your needs. I like to say that we not only listen to what you are saying but we listen to what you are NOT saying as well. Architects have to be inherently great communicators (are our drawings not just a visual form of communication?), so from the initial phone call through the subsequent walk-through meeting, we’re learning about you and you’re learning how we communicate, all of which helps build a level of trust which is the foundation for working together.
We’re also interviewing you to determine if you’ll be a great partner. Some of the things we look for are:
• Is your budget realistic given your scope of work? It is VERY understandable at the early stages of a project, if you want more than your initial budget will allow. Most people have no idea what things cost to build. But it’s our job to educate you on what your budget will get you, so that you can determine if you need to pull back scope or increase your budget.
• Is your timeline realistic and does it work with our availability and workload? Not only do clients not know how much it costs to build, they don’t know how long it takes. We try to be realistic with your anticipated schedule and make no promises about fast project completion. It’s a process and we want to get it right.
• Do we think you’ll be fun to work with? To be perfectly honest, lots of fun clients come our way. Typically, the reason we don’t fit with a new client has more to do with bullet points one or two above. But every now and then, we meet with a client and we just don’t jibe. We want you to have the best experience remodeling your home, even if it’s not with us.
If, at this point, all the stars align, and you sign the contract, then we get the pleasure of working with a client with whom we have already established a solid foundation of trust and understanding. It’s a win-win situation, and has served us and our clients well.
Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you’re a little less overwhelmed about the process of hiring an Architect, and maybe you’ll give us a call or shoot an email. We’re a friendly bunch of people, just waiting to make your dream(home)s come true.