Did you ever turn down a commission?
There is more being said these days on social media about architectural professional practice. I like it. To be honest, apart from Mark and Enoch there’s little being written (that I’ve found) for small or solo practitioner firms, so I love any dialog that helps. Most of the time the discussion focuses on how to get more work or get THAT project. When we don’t have enough work, it seems every project must be taken so we can continue to eat. I used to believe that. I suppose at times that is still a valid reason. It is not that simple.
As a means to strengthen our place in this industry and reach out to our profession, my friend Greg addressed the subject almost a year ago by writing 7 Reasons Why Architects Should NOT Abandon Small Projects as a response that some architects might be choosing not to take on small projects. It was featured on another friend, Mark R. LePage’s blog. It brings up very good points. I told Mark and Greg back then I’d respond with the other side of the coin. This topic is long overdue and I respect Greg’s article and I hope that discussion continues. My questions, however don’t limit the exchange to the size of the project.
To widen the conversation I believe we need to consider when an architect should turn down a commission. I don’t think my questions are in opposition to Greg’s arguments or Mark’s ongoing quest to make us better business people. I think it all works together in Enoch’s pursuit for us to conquer the world.
This is not an attempt to be negative, but to give balance to an important discussion.
I don’t judge anyone or any firm for their decisions when it comes to marketing and selection of commissions. My method of exploring this isn’t to state reasons or even give advice, but to ask questions in my typical Socratic method. I invite you to join this conversation after thinking about your own reasons. That helps others to think.
We don’t need consensus here, so there’s no need to persuade. We need to think about our own businesses as well as our profession at large. Perhaps if you’re not an architect, your insights are equally valuable. Why should an architect take your commission? This is far more than a simple service industry or looking purely a more “sales” argument.
I believe each project, each client, each opportunity has to be weighed in its context and particular point in time. These are my questions.
- Is there good chemistry with the client (contract negotiation, initial meetings, and early relationship building) based on meetings and discussions thus far?
- Is the project interesting? (challenging, exciting, engaging, fits personal goals, can focus on it)
- Will this project type-cast you into doing more of this type when you might not wish to do more? (style, building type, project size)
- Do you have the time to do it well? (schedule, office load)
- Is it a high risk? (budget, building type, schedule, fee, changes, liability)
- Do you have the experience? (building type, project size, technical concerns, current knowledge base, ability to learn)
- Is it good business (profitable, lead to additional work, extend reputation, name, etc. into wider market)
If you answer no to any of these, let alone to many of these, you might consider not taking on the project. Don’t say no right away, but don’t say yes simply because you need the work.
I suppose each of these is a post in itself – have at it. I told a colleague last week I turned down a big residential project – more specifically I said “not now” to this person for reason #4 above. This week I said “how about in six months” to another inquiry this week because of reason #1 and #2. We will see if either comes back like the old quote (or song). Each of us needs liberty to choose – to take on work or to not take on work.
This business is strange and hard to explain. So I won’t try. Let’s talk about it though.
By the way, small projects can be great.