• The clients for a 2,300-square-foot house and studio were referred to Hutker Architects by colleagues of the firm.

    Credit: Thomas Wedell

    The clients for a 2,300-square-foot house and studio were referred to Hutker Architects by colleagues of the firm.

My firm, Hutker Architects, has a multifaceted marketing program. One key ingredient is our Web site. It took a good deal of capital and person-hours to create, and the site continues to require attention to remain fresh. When our leadership team considered creating it, we were motivated by the thought that this would be the end-all marketing tool to attract clients. Isn't that what all of the marketing seminar leaders are telling us? We were all fired up to get images of our work on the Internet as soon as possible so the magic could begin.

While we developed the Web site, we continued to pursue other marketing venues including mailings, seeking to be published, and advertising. More importantly, we utilized longer-term techniques such as working well with contractors, cultivating local professional relationships, and, most of all, keeping clients happy by providing exemplary design and project management. In the middle of our Web site development, I had a social luncheon with two colleagues and shared my enthusiasm for our Hutker Architects Web site. They said, in effect, “We will never have a Web site; we don't want to waste time culling through dead-end leads. We are going to rely on our tried and true referral network of clients and colleagues.” Of course, I congratulated them on their maturity, all the while thinking: This is great; we're going to leave them in the dust.

So we continued to build the Web site based upon large-format, professionally taken color photographs of our projects. We really wanted the images to speak for our architecture and interior design and kept projects in distinct style categories. There is nothing fancy about the navigation and the site maintenance is fairly easy by design, so we can take care of updates in-house.

web of intrigue

Following launch, early on we would receive interesting e-mails via the Web site about spectacular projects in Hawaii or Florida or other waterfront wonderlands. This is great, we thought. But we quickly learned that we hadn't asked for enough information from potential clients—not even phone numbers or addresses. Now if someone wants information or a phone call from us, they have to provide complete contact and basic project information and tell us how they were initially referred to Hutker Architects. Obvious, right?

  • A local Realtor connected Hutker with the owners of a 10,500-square-foot renovation.

    Credit: Brian Vanden Brink

    A local Realtor connected Hutker with the owners of a 10,500-square-foot renovation.

Since the site was launched four years ago, we have had hundreds of inquiries. I have followed up on endless great projects, on properties each more wonderful than the last. Along the way our business manager has been keeping track of all the prospects who contacted our office. Not just inquiries from our Web site, but initial contacts of all sorts. She noted which leads resulted in a Letter of Agreement and which ones turned into an actual project. The table opposite shows how our 2004 prospect list looked at the end of the year.

new reality

The wisdom of my luncheon colleagues began to surface. Our Web site generated many inquiries but no actual jobs. We realized that our business development continues to be solidly in the camp of referrals from clients and colleagues. Professional referrals are very important, especially from the real estate lawyers and Realtors who are at the front end of the custom home “food chain.”

Proportionally speaking, I now spend a good deal more time nurturing the leads that come from the proven personal client referral network and less on those that come from our Web site. We answer each Web inquiry with a short e-mail, but for us to spend more time following the lead we rely on the prospect to respond with further information.

The site is often abused, at least in the context of our expectations. Take this winning e-mail: “My husband and I loved your site, and have copied a lot of photographs for our architect.” We have learned that once we are online, our work is in the public domain, and protecting our ideas and creativity is a serious issue. Having homeowners copy our work directly to their building teams isn't the use we intended.

The most effective uses of our Web site include:

  • Showing current clients examples of past projects that may relate to houses we are designing for them.
  • Uploading current construction projects for client review.
  • Further developing a relationship with a prospective client who has come to know us through personal and professional channels.
  • Making colleagues aware of our work.
  • Recruiting.
  • Review by Realtors showing buyers examples of the types of homes that may be created on a property under consideration.
  • Review by editors looking for particular types of projects to fit into their magazine's editorial calendar.

  • Credit: Bob Gothard

We have found that nearly every potential employee who has contacted us in the last few years has walked through the site and is well versed in our firm and the type of work we create. As a matter of fact, if a potential employee has not taken the time to check out the site, it is a step in the wrong direction for her/his interview, demonstrating a lack of initiative.

We do not yet know the long-term productivity of the Web site, in terms of our future client list. However, we do feel that it is an important tool on many levels; even if it is not now the “prospecting” tool we expected it would be.

 

Mark A. Hutker, AIA, is a principal and founder of Hutker Architects on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and in Falmouth, Mass.

referral source summary, january–december 2004
source
inquiries
LOAs sent
HA hired
attorney
4
3
0
caretaker
2
1
0
client
19
26
20
colleague
17
4
3
contractor
5
4
3
drive-by/job sign
10
1
1
employee
3
2
1
landscape architect
4
2
1
magazine/newspaper
20
2
2
HA's mailing list
1
0
0
HA's reputation
14
3
2
prospect
2
1
0
Realtor
5
4
3
walk-in
2
0
0
Web site
39
3
0
Yellow Pages
4
0
0
unknown
2
0
0
total
153
56
36