To stand out, an architect or architectural practice, must have something to distinguish themselves from the next. One way to do so is through skills differentiation. Being better designers, communicators, managers, negotiators, etc, or it might be being faster, more efficient and cheaper. All architectural practices possess these skills in various combinations of excellence. Being better at one or many of these regular architectural skills helps a practice stand out. Alternately they might develop a unique style, process or expertise, and there’s substantial opportunity when this is framed as skills development.
Developing the skills they have or acquiring new ones requires architects to think differently about their skills. I’ve previously written about developing The other architectural skills, on human (or soft) skills, leveraging them to elevate architectural practice. There’s also another way to think about building skills, and it’s called skill stacking.
What is skill stacking?
Beginning with a consideration of the incomparably skilled. If you’re an author, for example, it’s unlikely you’ll reach the heights of JK Rowling. She’s one of the most successful writers of all time and in the top 0.00001% of successful writers (give or take few zeros). Harry Potter is unobtainium to most authors.
The key is not to focus on being tops in one skill, but instead work on being very good at a number of skills or expertise. Attaining a position in the top 5% of a given expertise or skill is more achievable than the top 0.001%. By adding a second 95th percentile expertise or skill and then a third, it’s conceivable you could be in the top 0.001% of people with those three skills (or the only one). If those three skills are of value to your clients, then you’ll be highly valued by them. That’s skill stacking.
The key is to know what skills have value, will elevate your work and are being sought by your clients and target market. It’s worthwhile considering what uncommon combinations makes you both valuable and unique.
Examples of skill stacking architectural practices
Here’s a few smaller practices that are doing skill stacking really well. There are many, these were just the first few off the top of my head. Please feel free to let me know of others who are doing this well too.
JDA Co. : “Leading Australian architects for flood, fire & storm resilience.”
Bloxas : “A practice for empathic and experimental architecture”
AR-MA : “AR-MA works across all project types and scales, collaborating with architects, engineers and builders to create innovative folios that transform experience.”
Lymesmith : “Lymesmith works with architects, designers and private clients to realise the colour potential within their projects.”
CPlusC Architectural Workshop : “CplusC specialises in designing and delivering site specific architectural projects.”
Your smallest viable market
It’s always worth considering what extra skills might be of value to your architectural practice. More importantly consider what extra skills and expertise your clients, and those you seek, will value. It doesn’t need to be of value to all possible clients, just the ones you want to work with. There doesn’t even need to be a very large number of clients, just enough to be a viable proposition for the ongoing success of your business.
Also worth noting, the additional skill will not only improve the chances of landing specific projects for your practice but it may also give new and valuable insights into the work that you’re currently doing. Doing so by identifying passions, strengths or otherwise unrecognised connections.
Be unique – no more fee bargaining
If you have a unique combination of skills. That means you have the market to yourself. If potential clients value that combination and have nowhere else to go, they’re not in the position to leverage alternative fee proposals for bargaining purposes. It might even be that you will charge a premium for your services.
It’s therefore worthwhile considering what unique combination of skills are worth developing. What will help you to stand out and corner your smallest viable market? What skills do you need? What ones are complimentary and exemplary?
Here are are random ideas to get your juices flowing:
- If you’re already designing multi-residential, develop Real Estate skills;
- Combine designing projects for not for profits with fund raising skills;
- Working for local government, build your stakeholder engagement chops;
- If you’re work is remote, expertise in off-grid delivery becomes valuable; and
- If interested in an unusual construction technique or material, become the expert in that.
Some more questions before you start stacking
Who is your market?
Who are the clients for this work and what do they value?
What work are you wanting to do? What skills do you need to do this?
What skills will give you an advantage and help you stand out?
Your ideal client
The key here is to give this thoughtful consideration. Really get into your ideal client’s head and understand them and their needs. The more precise you can be with your thinking, the better you are able to identify what skills it is that gives you an advantage over anyone else for their projects. It’s also worth noting that the more precise you can be in identifying everything about who it is you’re seeking as clients, the more insight you should have in how to find them, market directly to them and identify what skills they value.
Stack ‘em up
Skill stacking is an invaluable way for an architectural practice to differentiate themselves from the next and corner a specific or unique market. You don’t need to reach the heights of Frank Gehry to be unique. Be unique and favoured by offering a combination of skills that’s valuable and highly sought by your future clients.
Picture by Karolina Grabowska [edited and cropped]