no free lunch
15 February 2013
I started thinking after posting on a recent discussion board on the CRAN Knowledge Group Web Site regarding an architect who was asked to provide free design services to a wealthy client for a large project. Many shared their opinions and most applauded the architect for not giving away something for free in hopes of “landing the big one.” I’m not even going to touch that one today.
However, this lively online discussion went on to explore the topic of whether an architect should charge for initial client visits. This blossomed into a few tangential discussions, but I was surprised at the strong opinions for both sides of the argument. I was also intrigued at many of the variations of how architects deal with this subject. I sat idly by reading each day and then I had to comment. Aren’t you surprised?
So I’ll take my response and edit it a bit to circulate my thoughts on the matter and invite your thoughts too.
First of all, it’s not my place to tell you how to run your business other than to make general comments on how I believe the profession of architecture ought to operate. Therefore, we can debate all day long with vastly different opinions on whether we ought to charge for an initial visit. I am okay with that and we can gladly agree to disagree. However, unless you can afford to ‘dabble’ in architecture, the rest of us must look at it as a business.
Throughout this discussion the critical component to be clarified is the difference between meetings where both parties are getting to know each other (to confirm if they are compatible like a first date) and a consultation. For the “meet and greet” meeting, I try to keep them brief and the topics should be broad and more about the architect’s process. I can’t see charging for this type of meeting; I consider it overhead or marketing.
When the architect is called out to meet to discuss a specific issue, give practical advice or solutions for a question asked, then there is an “exchange of value.” The architect has offered solutions or some level of expertise for a specific condition or aspect of feasibility. In that case, the meeting has gone from “meet and greet” to a consultation. Professionals charge for consultations. Otherwise, clients will continue to want to pay you the same amount as you charged before…nothing. They’ll also value it the same amount. It’s not arrogance or any other negative trait, it’s just business. This applies to any income level and project type.
No one sits down at a restaurant and eats for free. It’s well-known that people will value what they have to pay for out-of-pocket.
I don’t expect people searching for architectural services to initially understand this distinction. However, I try to make this difference known before the first meeting. I actually have a consultation brochure that I ask to send them. Nevertheless, in some cases it remains unclear. When that happens, I keep it to meeting type #1. At that meeting, I try to demonstrate to them why they need my services and endeavor to instill a sense of confidence for how I can help them. The success rate is overwhelming if don’t try to sell but demonstrate my capabilities and knowledge. People don’t like to be sold and I try to treat people the same way I like to be treated. People are capable of making informed decisions without a sales pitch.
To my architect colleagues, what do you do in these situations? To my non-architect readers, what would you expect us to do in this situation? I am interested in making this an ongoing dialogue.
Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch and yes you get what you pay for. Cliché, but true.
photos are from Alan / Falcon’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)