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The mission of the AIA Small Firm Exchange (SFx) is to advance the mutual interests of architects practicing in small firms. The objectives of the AIA SFx are three-fold:

1. Advocate for small firms within the AIA and in outside organizations and agencies.
2. Promote leadership in Small Firm professional development and practice; and
3. Facilitate and support the local component round tables and small firm networks.

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Marketing Director - When do I need one?

  • 1.  Marketing Director - When do I need one?

    Posted 06-12-2019 01:29 PM
    To all my fellow principals of small firms,

    Our firm currently consists of a staff of eleven (11).  The breakdown of those staff are as follows:
    3 Principal Architects
    4 Project Architects (15+ years experience)
    2 Project Associates
    1 Interior Designer
    1 Office Administrator

    We have a high ratio of experienced to entry-level staff, with 6/10 professional staff being licensed Architects.  This has allowed us to take on a consistently high volume of work with less "hand-holding" by principals.

    At this point in our firm's growth, all three principals are managing different elements of the architectural process, one manages design/creative efforts, one manages staffing of projects and oversees production, the other manages business aspects and quality control.  In other words (and in my opinion), we have a well-balanced system of practice management (though we're always trying to improve).  In our firm's eight years of business (primarily in the private development sector) we've not needed to "market" in the traditional sense.  We've managed to procure plenty of work simply by maintaining existing relationships and networking through those relationships.

    At this stage, however, we've decided to be more proactive in marketing the public-sector in a couple of different market segments in an effort to diversify our client base.  The problem we're seeing is that none of the three principals have the time to devote to proper, full-scale marketing efforts.

    My question to the SFX is this: At what point - as a small firm - have some of you made the leap, taking the relatively significant financial risk, of hiring a dedicated Marketing Director/Coordinator?  What factors lead to you making the decision to either hire or wait?

    Thanks for your participation,

    Joseph Rasnick AIA
    integrity / Architecture, PLLC
    Lexington KY

  • 2.  RE: Marketing Director - When do I need one?

    Posted 06-13-2019 05:40 PM
    When you see the need for marketing, are you needing business development or public relations, or both?  Do you have a growth plan and analysis complete for your existing staff capacity?  Are you simply needing to "make a name for yourself" outside of the word-of-mouth crowd?  Define amongst yourselves the tasks you specifically need.  If it's PR, your admin assistant may be able to handle it, or you could outsource as needed.  My experience in Comm/PR is that it's not a full-time job unless the company has a reputation to uphold / protect.  Business Development might be by a Business / Financial Consultant, in helping your team identify and implement a growth strategy into your new market.  You might find that task suited to one of your existing team members.  You may also find a potential new hire with a business development background that can also do billable work.

    In my experience, public work projects come from public work experience... the chicken and egg.  If you're aiming to grow in that market specifically, the only marketing you need is proof of qualifications and higher-than-normal insurance coverage.  Pairing up with another firm is a way into the public project realm.

    Best of luck!

    Mandy Freeland AIA
    Owner / Principal Architect
    Mandy Freeland, Architect, Inc.
    Bakersfield CA

  • 3.  RE: Marketing Director - When do I need one?

    Posted 06-13-2019 06:20 PM
    When looking for a prospective new employee, be sure to specifically identify what tasks you want them to do and the expected outcome. "Marketing" in the A/E vernacular is generally the department who assembles proposals once they have been requested. "Business Development" usually involves identifying and hopefully acquiring new clients. Many use them interchangeably, so important to be sure everyone understands what the expectation is.

    Might check with your local SPMS chapter for more information and potential candidates.

    Betsy Nickless, FSDA
    SDA - Orange County Chapter
    Newport Beach CA

  • 4.  RE: Marketing Director - When do I need one?

    Posted 06-13-2019 11:43 PM
    Interesting subject. 
    We're a firm of 16 and are going through the same thought process. 
    Look forward to some ever useful previous experiences. 

    Rafa Selman
    Principal | MArch, AIA Int'l Assoc.
    m. USA 786.303.2245
    twitter: @selmanasociados

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  • 5.  RE: Marketing Director - When do I need one?

    Posted 06-14-2019 01:02 AM

    You may not like this answer, but here goes -

    As some who has worked with firms over the past 5 years in the "marketing" of their practice, I can tell you most marketing coordinators or directors don't have the skills, ability or know-how to form the new relationships need to win new work. This person will be dead weight.

    Save yourself the money and invest in training one of the principals to be the rain-maker. Then you can hire a marketing admin (part time) to do the busy work that is part of your marketing plan.

    Think of it this way -

    In your business there is $10/hr time, $100/hr time, $1000/hr time and $10,000+/hour time. Project management and design falls into the $100/hr time. Business development and the forming of new relationships is $10,000 time.

    Ok, so that really isn't an answer to what you asked. My answer would be: hire when you know that this person will give you a 3x - 5x return on your investment in him or her.

    A marketing person shouldn't be an expense if they know that they're doing because they'll bring in more work than they cost you in payroll.


    Enoch Sears AIA
    Founder and Publisher
    Business of Architecture

    You're an awesome architect, don't you think you deserve to be paid more?
    Go here to discover how to earn 300% more on your next architecture firm proposal:

  • 6.  RE: Marketing Director - When do I need one?

    Posted 06-14-2019 08:20 AM

    Hi Joseph.

    My name is Rohit Jain and I am an Architect from India. I have been working on the west coast for almost 19 years with large architectural firms.


    At my firm we are 4 partners and we had a similar situation like you have, we were Top Heavy just like your firm.  Just like you, we took pride in  the Repeat Clients we worked with as most of our business came from Repeat Clientele. The 4 of us look after different aspect of project like Design/CD's/Codes/Accounts  etc. It worked for us in the early stages and this made us comfortable in our early years and we never bothered about marketing , we principals ourselves used to reach out to our potential clients and secure their business. We found it out later that this model is not scalable and the firm growth remains limited.


    If we had a chance of revisiting our decision, I would rather have  one of the partners be exclusively handle marketing and find new pastures. There is no doubt it would be expensive, but it would be wise to create a budget for a marketing director and appoint one to find newer pastures. My experience tells me  that this is a specialized role and it may pinches a firm financially  in the early years. But it pays back many times over if it works.


    To create a budget for this kind of role, I have seen firms cut down the expenses and use that money to budget for this need. The expenses that can be trimmed are easily identifiable by looking at the book of accounts. Cutting Expenses usually needs reinventing the existing workflows in one's office.


    One option is avoid using Adobe kind of software and use Opensource and you can easily save a few Thousand every year. Others have opted to cut down the DD/CD costs because they are pure expense stages of project. The really smart firms have reinvented how they deliver projects at lower costs.


    I hope this gives some clues.




    rohit jain l founder partner

    RSMS Architects (P) Ltd.


  • 7.  RE: Marketing Director - When do I need one?

    Posted 07-15-2019 02:19 PM

    I received two responses offline that I wanted to share:

    "Per the question, I am frustrated to tell you there isn't any good data on when to hire marketing staff. For each firm it's a different decision making-process and, of course, depends on their financial capabilities. Ultimately, a marketing team should more than pay for itself by securing new business and increasing the retention rate of existing. Besides the "can we afford it" question, things to consider: are the technical staff capable (expertise and time) and/or interested in doing marketing/business development?; can a consultant help first?; is there a new territory or business line (e.g., medical, public, academic) we want to pursue?; do we just need administrative marketing support like creating proposals?"


    "Regarding hiring a Marketing Director/Coordinator....from my experience as an in-house small firm Marketing Director, I've been brought in to a nine-person firm (which was unique; they were rebranding). My gut says if the principals are feeling the need, it is time. If their next question is where to find this person, or what the job description would be, I'd point them to the job board at SMPS (Society for Marketing Professional Services) -- either national or their local chapter."

    Kathleen McCormick CAE
    Director, Firm Engagement
    The American Institute of Architects
    Washington DC