Architect Interview: Blogging for Architects with Bob Borson on Business of Architecture TV

Architect Interview: Blogging for Architects with Bob Borson on Business of Architecture TV

Intro: This is The Business of Architecture. Helping architects conquer the world. And
here is your host Enoch Sears.>>Todayís guest is architect and reluctant
celebrity blogger, Bob Borbosn. Bob Borson practices architecture in Dallas, Texas where
he is currently an associate principal, or in the words used in this interview, the ìgrand
overlordî with Bernbaum Magadini Architects. The firm has a broad portfolio of high-end
residential and commercial projects. Bob started his blog, in January
of 2010 as a creative outlet and in his own words, to learn something new. His blog has grown tremendously and now gets
over a quarter million views each month. Most importantly, Bob is a likeable and genuine
guy. He wonít say so, but I have a feeling that this has contributed to the success of
his blog, Life of an Architect. In todayís interview, we discuss finding
the right career path in architecture, how Bob finds new clients in his firm, the role
of social media in architecture and why Bob loves what he does. Without further ado, hereís
our program. Bob.>>Yes.>>So welcome first of all to the Business
of Architecture webcast.>>Thanks for having me.>>We really consider it an honor to have
you on here. Youíve been sort of a figurehead for a lot of architectural bloggers out there,
including myself. Youíve paved the way so to speak. Definitely feel like a mentor of
sorts and so we thank you for that.>>Thank you.>>Now, one of the purposes of our interview
here is I wanted to go ahead and sort of let people know a little bit about you, talk about
your progression as an architect, how you started out, how you got to where youíre
at and maybe something along your journey will help some other architects figure out
where they want to be at.>>Okay. Well, letís see here. Iím 44 years
old. I graduated in 1992 from the university of Texas in Austin and interestingly enough,
the economy in 1992 was not very good either and so I took the first job that I could get
which actually I got as a result of my mum getting it for me almost and it was with a
guy, very dynamic personality who designed retail environments, like genesis retail.
We designed clothing stores and jewelry stores, that type of thing. It was a lot of fun. I
learned a lot and I got a lot of skill sets that were far beyond what someone right out
of school should ñ I was writing proposals and going to meetings by myself and doing
billing within a year or two of getting out of school and part of it was because we were
in a very large firm and so everybody had to wear a lot of hats.
So I got a skill set that was not normal for someone who was 24, 15 years old and at the
time I thought that was great. When I ended up leaving that job after three years because
I wanted to learn how to put a building together, most of everything we did was inside of another
building and I thought, I need to ñ Iím not really becoming an architect on this path.
I just have a job. So I ended up going through a series of getting jobs at other places and
what I found is that the skill set that they wanted me to have which is what most people
develop right out of school which is working drawings.
I hadnít spent that much time doing that type of work. I could detail mall work, drywall,
soffits and all kinds of great design things and I had a pretty good material palette sense,
but they donít need someone whoís 25 years old to write proposals for them or do billing.
They have partners that do that kind of stuff. So I found myself over the next, almost probably
10 years changing jobs about every year and a half and I worked for interiors firms, I
worked for land planners. Thereís rarely a job that you can think of
that I didnít do, but what happened is I used to worry about this a lot and then I
had friends of mine who came out of school and got a job at some large firm and they
stayed at that firm and they had progressed through the intern associate, the whole process,
associate, principal, that type of thing and I was just some guy who had been at some job
for a year and a half and what I realized is that I had tried to figure out without
realizing this is what I was doing, a combination of what did I like to do and what am I good
at doing. A lot of people what they like to do is not
necessarily what theyíre good at. So me going through all these jobs essentially just let
me find out what I want to do and for me what I like to do is I like to communicate with
people. I like the personal exchange of ideas. So that led me from a small firm up to a very
large firm, back down to a small firm and I went from commercial work all the way back
around to residential work to where Iím at now with Bernbaum Magadini Architects. Iíve
been there 10 years. We do ó probably 90% of the work that we do is residential.
Itís I wonít say custom because itís all custom, but itís owner based meaning we get
hired by the end user. There are a couple of times when weíll work with a contractor
to design a house for them that theyíll sell, but thatís one out of every 50, 60 houses
that we do. Now what that allowed me to do is to wear many hats again. Now Iím back
in the role to where I do designing. I write up billing reports. I do construction drawings.
I do job site visits. I take phone calls from everybody thatís on the project.
So my day is not static. The days of me coming to the office and doing one things for eight
hours have been long gone. I just donít do that anymore and as a result, itís kept me
engaged, itís kept me focused, itís kept me happy. Itís rewarding. I have relationships
with the people that I work with and the interesting part about this, for me this is whatís important
to me. Itís not necessarily important to everyone
so itís not necessarily a consideration for others looking for employment, but I like
the idea that the person Iím working with, itís their money that Iím spending when
I work on a project and as a result theyíre invested in the process and I like the user
to be engaged with me during the design process, during the construction process because what
I get at the end of it is true ownership, not just possession but ownership.
Everyone has a little skin in the game I guess as the phrase goes and Iím friends with these
people. We exchange Christmas cards and I still talk to them on the phone and that makes
it rewarding beyond just trying to be good at my job. Thereís a personal aspect to it
that I really like. So thatís whatís got me to where Iím at today which is actually
an architect.>>Okay. Now, At BMA, what position do you
currently hold? Whatís your current job title?>>I think my job title is associate principal.
Basically I could make whatever title. Iím the grand overlord. Our firm has eight people
in it and everybody has ownership. Our office works like a true studio, meaning everybody
could work on every project if their skill set lent itself to that particular aspect
of the project. So the way the hierarchy in my firm works as a flow diagram is thereís
the two owners. Thereís the two people whose names are on the door. Theyíve been in business
together for 15 years and Iíve been there 10. So Iím right below them.
Then below me or really kind of adjacent, maybe itís a longevity thing, we have four
project architects. Everyone in our office went to architecture school and is in the
process of getting their license. We donít have just drafters with the idea that if youíre
a homeowner and you call for me and you canít get me, there will be someone else who can
take your phone call and who can answer your question and thatís really important to us.
But we have titles just so we have something to put on our cards. They donít really mean
that much really.>>You bet. Okay. Now, when you talk about
your job, your career progression, I find this interview is getting really interesting
because you have, thereís a lot of architects who are in your position who have followed,
thereís the couple of different tracks in architects. You have people that are sole
proprietors, people that work for large corporate firms and then other people that end up at
smaller design boutiques or smaller design firms. Could you speak a little bit to that
early time in your career when you went from job to job, about a year and a half between
them? Thatís a pretty quick time to be switching from jobs and how you felt that that was either
an advantage or a disadvantage in your career path.>>Well, this is kind of what I think Iím
good at. I can work anything from either angle because itís just part of the nature I think
that architects who communicate as part of their jobs to do is I want to empower you
with information so you can make your own decision. So thereís both good and bad for
everything and I would say that the good side of me changing jobs frequently as I did is
I got to meet a lot of people. So in my community of architects which is in Dallas, I know a
lot of people and luckily I didnít burn any bridges. So as far as I know I donít think
that anybody has an unsavory opinion of me. So I got to meet a lot of people. I also got
exposed to a lot of different ways on how things can be done. The method of getting
from A to Z is different and so every place I worked had their own methodologies in place
and it was interesting to see how those methodologies were formulated, how they were executed and
whether or not the varying degrees of success they might have had compared to the stated
goals, what the purpose of the methodology was. The other thing is it allowed me to do
is to get exposed to different types of practices in terms of this firm did historic renovation.
This firm did specialized and interior hotel projects. We did suites and bars. There was
an interiors firm that we did interiors type projects, but we did them at five star resorts
and what that exposed me to. I worked for a large firm where we designed malls, huge
buildings and I was amazed when I learned that a team of four people put together a
2 million square foot mall. The design, the construction, drawings, the whole thing is
four people. You kind of tend to look at it as hereís this firm of 800 people and they
do these really big buildings when the truth is that itís the same size team thatís doing
a house thatís doing a big building. They just take more time to do it.
So the positive of that was just the exposure and the experience. The same things arenít
always done the same way unilaterally. The downside to that, the negative aspect to that
was starting somewhere new in a lot of ways is almost like starting over. Iíve been lucky
in the sense that I have never found myself working for firms where there was a round
of layoffs and Iím worried about come to my office and bring a box with you kind of
conversations. But that does happen. You change jobs a lot.
Youíre the low guy on the pole. Youíre the new guy in and so if things turn south they
go thatís the guy thatís worried, the guy who just showed up. Also there is the idea
that I like to think that Iím good at a lot of things, but Iím not great at anything.
But I have friends of mine who have worked in the same role and the same job for 15 years
and they are spectacular at doing one thing and they are, you canít, itís almost like,
theyíre so specialized that what they have to say and what they can contribute is beyond
reproach. They understand this process and they are
specialists. For me that was boring, but for some people that would be a great strength.
To be an expert at what you do. Iím good at a great many things. So I guess itís almost
like Iím a generalist instead of a specialist and I like it that way. It keeps me engaged.>>Okay. Now one thing that I read in one
of your blog posts, Bob, was you talking about your employment at BMA and during this great
recession that weíve had and the fact that you guys have had enough work and youíve
avoided a lot of the furloughs that have plagued the other firms a lot, the layoffs. Now, I
donít think anyone is naÔve enough to think that that is due to some special luck or gift
from heaven. So what Iíd like to know is what things do you attribute that to? What
successful things has your firm been doing to maintain work throughout the flow and what
do you do differently from other firms?>>Well, itís hard for me to say what we
do differently from other firms. What I can say is that the way our firm is structured,
one, we have great management. One of the partners whoís in charge of running the business
of our office, he knows what heís good at and he knows what heís not good at and he
goes and seeks advice and input from other people to supplement the things that he either
doesnít have the experience in or just for guidance, something heís constantly doing
and heís exceptionally good at it. I have a lot of respect for him in the sense that
we are fiscally very well run. The other thing we did do is we did scale
back, Iím sure that the partner, the people who make money after all the bills have been
paid, I know that the recession hit them hard, but the way that works is when times are good,
you sow hay while the sun shines and nobody is running around the ñ theyíre not running
around the office skipping, talking about how much money theyíre making at the same
time. When things are going bad theyíre the ones that are not making the salary that they
used to make. Theyíre not shuffling around the office going
woe is me, I ëm not making what I used to make. So what we ended up doing is allowed
everybody ñ we had no bonuses and we had salary freezes and there was a period of about
four months that we went to a two-day a month furlough, 10%. We reduced everybodyís time
by 10%. That didnít last very long. Iíd like to think that we did well because weíre
good at what we do. We have really good reputation here in the Metroplex and Iíd say that that
was a big part of it. But I have to concede that in Dallas, where I live, that was part
of it as well because our major economies here are driven by industries that are global.
We have banking, we have telecommunications, we have oil and gas and the recession here
did not get as bad as it did in other places in the country. So what happens is our local
economy is fairly stable. We donít have the huge highs, but we donít have the huge lows
either. So we came out of it really because we planned for it. We didnít ñ people who
run the business donít run things to excess when times are good so they had a plan and
they had money in place to deal with shortages and thankfully we had enough work to keep
things going to where we didnít have to take any drastic steps.>>Okay. So when you talk about money in store,
they have a conservative savings plan, thereís a war chest so to speak for lean years?>>As I understand it, my role in the office
is I donít work with the money strategy for the office, but what I do know is that our
office is set up to where weíre not working from paycheck to paycheck, meaning that they
do ñ weíre a small office and we have a savings plan. Like I said, I think I mentioned
it, we have eight people in our office and I donít know too many eight-person residential
architectural firms that have owner contributed 401 savings plans. So I mean maybe thatís
the shortest way to say that financially weíre pretty well run.>>Okay, very well. Where do most of your
clients come from?>>Most of our clients, wellÖ>>Leads?>>How do we get them?>>How do you get your leads? Yeah. Ií m
guessing a lot of it is referrals. Could you talk a little bit about how you get your work?>>Most of our work is through ñ well, Iíll
tell you how traditionally all architectural firms get their work and how weíre really
no different but how that has evolved over the last say 10 years and like most small,
and this is specific to residential firms because Iím going to speak from what I know,
the firm started getting a lot of its work flow through personal relationships, existing
relationships with people that key members of the firm knew. Like you start designing
a house for your best friend and part of that is age driven.
When youíre getting into your 40s and your friends are at a stage in their life where
theyíve started a family and theyíre growing and theyíve had stable jobs and they have
some money now and they want to design a house for themselves, theyíre going to call the
person who they know and the person who they feel is going to have their interest at heart
which is what we do as residential architects. As that goes, you start to build up your portfolio
in the projects that youíve done and then we start getting work from referrals.
People see our projects or they have a good experience with the person who lives or owns
the house that we did for them. So we start getting more and more business as a result
of our name and our reputation and our workload. Now, we still end up interviewing for a lot
of these projects, but it would be one thing if you sit down at the table with prospective
clients and you have one project to show them and you did it while you were employed by
someone else. Thatís a different scenario than when youíre
opening up your portfolio and youíve been in business for 15 years and itís like hereís
the 150 projects weíve done, you can call any person on this list. Hereís all the photos.
It makes it a little bit easier to sell that process. Another thing that we do is we do
buy ad space in some of the local shelter magazines that are in our area. Dallas has
a few and maybe not everyone knows the shelter magazines. Basically itís like a home and
lifestyle magazine. So we have a few of those and Dallas is a big city. So we have a few
that are actually locally and regionally published. So we will buy an ad and itís not ñ I think
theyíre pretty well done. Theyíre not gratuitous. Basically itís just this is our name, this
is what we do, this is why we think weíre good and here is a picture of one of our projects.
Itís a pretty simple formula, but what it does is that it gives some recognition to
the name so that when somebody does say ëhey, my architect is this firmí and then go, ëI
remember seeing them in this issue of this magazine.í So we actually get quite a few
calls as a result of people who see our ads in the shelter magazines.>>What kind of percentage would you say if
you had to guess versus referrals versus people that organically come to you through ads or
your marketing?>>I canít answer that question because one,
I donít know. But the reason I donít know is itís normally not just one thing. People
call us because if they donít know somebody personally thatís on the team, normally what
happens is now in the days of social media and internet and websites and all this kind
of good stuff, the people who come to us have already done a lot of work. So they will say
theyíve been to our website, theyíve seen an ad in a magazine, theyíve seen a project
that weíve done or they know someone whoís done something or they talked to this contractor
who said that we were good and got our name from them. Itís many things. So part of ñ
I donít know if itís a strategy more than itís just a result of the process, but most
of the people that come to us are familiar with who we are through at least two or three
or four different channels.>>Okay. So what Iím getting from you, just
to restate, is that it is important to have a couple of different channels where people
will run across you.>>Yes. Itís worked for us and I assume weíll
probably get into this in a few minutes, but itís kind of like the website and blogging
and having some type of social media presence. People will ask, how many jobs have you received
as a result of having a blog and I liken that to someone saying how many jobs have you had
as a result of you having a telephone? Itís just a tool. Itís just one step in the process.
Itís just another way that you can add an additional layer of communication to somebody.
Somebody might want to communicate that way. Some people might not want to communicate,
but if you donít have it, you donít have that option at your disposal. So thatís why
itís important. So knowing which one of those has more value or more benefit. I couldnít
tell you, but I know that having all of them has value.>>Okay, good. Now, you mentioned the blog
of course. Weíre going to jump into that, but before we go there I wanted to ask you
one more question. One of the first things that really stood out to me when I got to
know you initially was that you exuded a love for your job and you had a lot of positivity,
I donít even know if thatís a word, but it comes across and you talk about how you
love your job. There are a lot of other architects are not
feeling that way about their jobs and I think, my guess is thereís probably a psychological
attitude that you have, but then also some choices youíve made to get to where youíre
at. What Iíd like to ask you is what choices in the past you think have contributed to
your current love of your job?>>I donít know. I was with you on that question
up until the very end in the sense that I made a conscious decision to try to be a glass
half full guy. Thereís a lot of days I donít want to get out of bed and I donít want to
go to work and I dread certain Mondays and the ideas of the same old drudgery, oh this
is terrible, I hate this, this is a drag. Iím not doing something thatís engaging.
But part of it is just a mindset that I look at even the most dreary aspects of what we
do and itís just part of the process. If you want to be good at what you do, then
you want your clients to feel like youíre not cavalier with their budget, youíre not
cavalier with their design, that you have their best interest at heart, you have to
do the bad stuff to go along with the good stuff and I had somebody tell me once, youíre
going to have to eat your vegetables sooner or later. You canít exist without eating
your vegetables and the analogy there is basically you may love to design, you may think youíre
a great designer, but if you canít back up that design with communication skills, with
documentation skills, just be able to execute the big picture, youíre not going to be very
well received in what you do. So that mindset helps me on the days when
I have to check window shop drawing for eight hours and I have to do that after hours because
Iím going to be on the phone for half the day. Theyíre not fun. I donít particularly
care for them, but they need to be right and people are expecting me to do my job and so
thatís just a mindset and that matters a lot I think.>>So what Iím hearing from you is that you
really focus on the mindset part of it?>>Yeah. Thereís a great deal of what I do
that I ñ I have a passion for sitting down with a piece of trace paper and a pen and
solving it. Itís a puzzle. Itís a problem. How can I get it there, but what really motivates
me is that at the end of the project, everybody walks away from it happy. The contractor is
happy, the client is happy, Iím happy. Those are the real successful projects and I remember
years later, I remember the people associated with the projects far more than the projects
themselves. I still remember the projects, but what I
value is that these people still think highly enough of me after the fact they still want
to talk and they still refer me to other people and we can still bump into each other somewhere
and not have awkward moments. Putting myself in that position has made the biggest difference
in how I go about doing my job.>>I got you. Now getting to where ñ looking
at where youíre at right now, was it a process of very selective method of choosing particular
jobs with an end goal in mind? Or did you just go from job to job and figured it out
as you went?>>Jobs in terms of where I worked or jobs
in terms of projects Iíve done?>>Career. Iím trying to dig into youíre
at a place right now where you feel you love your job. Obviously a huge part of that is
due to your mindset. But Iím also trying to figure out, how can other people replicate
what youíve done?>>Well, part of it is just trying to understand
what it is that youíre getting and this is ñ I used to be and I might still be, but
I hide it better, a huge jerk. I mean in the sense that I felt that I knew more than other
people, which was not true. It wasnít true and part of it was just learning, being immature,
being young and there were jobs that I had that, and I wrote about one of them. I quit
a job in a very unsavory way once. Itís the one regret out of all the job changes Iíve
had in how I handled it. Basically the guy and I and the irony was
they were taking me out to lunch to celebrate a promotion and a raise and I quit during
the lunch. During the lunch is when I quit and itís one of my true regrets in my career.
But what happened is I think that you need to pull back every now and then and assess
are you getting any closer to what you think you ultimately want to do and there are jobs
I had that I was good at and I didnít dislike them, but they became mundane.
They became the same thing and I thought, Iím not growing anymore. Iím not learning
new things and once the challenge got lost and thatís not to say that I couldnít continue
to get even better at doing the same thing over and over again, itís just I felt no
reward in doing that. So that probably accounted for me leaving one job and going to a new
more than anything else was just I got bored or in a few cases I lost respect for the people
that I was working with because you start getting to the point where you see things
and thatís not how that should be done. Youíre not treating that person the way I
think that they should be treated and you feel you need to extricate yourself from that
environment. Thatís a part of it too. But I would tell people, donít be passive in
how youíre going to achieve your goals. You need to be the one that sets the path and
if youíre on a path thatís not going to get you where you need, then you need to change
that path. That doesnít necessarily mean changing jobs, but it means you need to take
ownership of the process.>>Okay, very good. Thanks Bob. So letís
move on now over a little bit to the social media and websites which Iím sure youíll
have plenty to share on this. But in talking to a lot of architects, a lot of these architects
thereís an age gap in terms of people who have run most of their careers without these
technology tools available and a lot of them have difficulty seeing the relevance or seeing
the importance or seeing what benefit things such as social media or website will have
to an architectís practice. What have you learned through blogging that you could tell
those architects?>>Well, I think thereís a lot. I have a
lot of opinions on it. I started it simply to learn how to do something. I didnít have
a goal. My goal when I first started doing this back in January of 2010 I think is when
I started was simply to learn something new. My role in my office then was not really to
bring in work. Itís a goal that I have now because itís happening, but I just wanted
to learn something new. But what I found is through the blogging, through social media,
my ability to connect to new people and be exposed to new things has gone up a thousand
fold. There are things that I know exist now that
I would never have known otherwise. Like all things, that comes at a cost. It was one thing
when I first started again in 2010, we were slow in our office. I didnít have to work
50 hour weeks just to make sure that I got my own obligations done. We were able to fill
our time with pursuits on how to make ourselves better, how to make our practice better, how
to make our projects better. It wasnít simply about doing billable work to achieve a deadline
for a project. So it was during this time that I started
my blog and I was able to teach myself and make mistakes and learn how to do things just
through the act of doing it and of course as weíve gotten busy again, when I go to
work, thatís their time, itís not my time. So Iíve never really done too much of that
up at the office. But social media encompasses, if I use the analogy kind of a wheel, a wagon
wheel, I tend to think that the blog, the delivery method of the website and the blog,
thatís kind of at the center and then the spokes that radiate off that are the methods
or the means at which you connect and communicate with other people in the real time, like Twitter
or Facebook or through videos on Vimeo or YouTube.
Thereís a lot of different platforms that are out there and whatís made it hard is
the more success that Iíve had, the harder itís been to maintain the same type of rewarding
relationship or exchange with people. Itís one thing when youíre getting 20 emails a
week and you can respond in great length to the questions that people are asking and itís
something different entirely when youíre getting 200 emails a week.
It would be a full time job for me to respond to all the emails that I get and I feel obligated.
Itís almost like if youíre going to put yourself out there [inaudible], then you need
to be prepared to see that through. Thatís just kind of my mentality. It has been incredibly
rewarding. I canít say anything negative about it other than it is a time requirement
to which you canít possibly understand until you do it.>>Do you think thereís any ñ is there any
reason why an architect would want to get involved in social media?>>I think so. Part of it is in traditional
media and traditional websites and architects historically have terrible websites in my
opinion, one of the things that I set out to do when I did mine was I was going to try
to make the practice of architecture a little more transparent. One of my goals was I was
going to talk about what I did as an architect, like what did it mean to be an architect?
How did I spend my time? But I donít want to make it a diary. That was not the point
of it. But a lot of people have ñ what people think we do and their understanding of what
we do really is not the same. There are some similarities, but really on
the whole itís quite different. So the idea of explaining how we go about our business
has allowed me to convey some personality into how I practice as an architect and at
a certain level, at the very beginning, the very basis of considerations, if Mr. and Mrs.
Smith are going to interview three architects to possibly design a new house for them, Iím
going to make the assumption that all three of those architectural firms have the ability
to design a house thatís got all the program requirements that Mr. and Mrs. Smith want
and that itís not going to leak and that Mr. and Mrs. Smith would generally probably
be pretty happy with it. So whatís the wildcard? The wildcard is the process and in my opinion
you can either have fun and enjoy the process or it can be something that you just have
to get through in order to get the end result. Itís a means to an end. So personality I
think figures into the process. So blogging is one consideration that allows people to
go in and see what my personality is before they ever sit down across the table for me
and then when they do, a lot of times they feel like we already have some type of connection
or relationship. One, because I make myself available, but two, because they know enough
about me to they know that I think in certain ways and that has made a difference.>>Okay. How many people have mentioned coming
to you because of your blog? Is it a significant number?>>Well, that kind of ties into the question
you asked earlier. A lot of people have seen it, but it may not necessarily be the reason
why theyíve come in. now, we have gotten a handful of jobs as a result of they had
no idea we existed, but they found my blog while they were doing their own research and
they come in that way. But normally what happens is just like they see a magazine ad or they
see a house that has one of our yard signs in front of it, people find it and they do
a little bit more research and they go look at the website and then they see this and
they see that and it paints a fuller, bigger picture. So when they come in, theyíre more
equipped to ask salient questions that are specific to their needs.>>Sure. So it sounds like all those that
is contribute to the brand image. Thatís what I would say of your firm. People know
what BMA is and they can get to know you through the blog. Where would you say is your best
place to market so to speak your blog? I know itís not ñ youíre not doing it for financial
reasons, but just for traffic sake alone, what have you found the best way to promote
your blog?>>Well, if youíre just looking for numbers,
Facebook is pretty good. Facebook has been ñ refers a lot of traffic back to my site,
but what happens is I get different demographics from every platform that I work with. So if
I put something on letís say LinkedIn, I get more trade people. If I put it on Facebook,
I get more college students and high students that think being an architect would be great.
If I put it on Twitter, I can control it a little bit more because I choose ñ Twitter
has, I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter.
Thereís a lot of times I think itís one choir member talking to the other choir member
on Twitter. Iím not really talking to a potential client, but there are people who would argue
and I think they could argue it successfully is that you might be one step removed from
the client. So letís say that I have a relationship with you and somebody you know needs an architect
whoís in the Dallas area. You might say I know a guy whoís in Dallas area and hereís
his information. Heís got a site, you can go check it out.
But there are so many that are out there, I pretty much just focus on Twitter, LinkedIn
and Facebook. Those are the three and even then, itís hard to respond to people the
way that I feel like I should. Twitter has a certain kind of protocol as to how it works
and if you want people to retweet your message you need to tweet their message and you have
to thank people for tweeting your message and it becomes very difficult from a time
commitment to do that. It was one thing when I had 100 followers. Itís something quite
different when youíve got 7,000 followers.>>Yeah, you bet.>>I feel like a jerk as a result of it because
thatís how that process works.>>Okay. Now, I did have one architect who
read something I had posted on my website and Iím not a huge advocate of only focusing
on a website or only doing social media, but I like to expose all architects to these different
options. So thatís what I write about is letting them know whatís out there, what
it takes to get this stuff set up and what they can expect from it and one architect,
when he read a little post I had about blogging, he responded a little indignantly and said,
ëwhat am I supposed to be, an architect or a blogger?í Because he felt that blogging
was going to become so all-encompassing that he was going to lose his focus on architecture.
What would you respond to that?>>Well, heís not wrong. But there are ways
and this is something that when we have ñ when I talk to the two senior partners in
our office and theyíre not the most technologically savvy of individuals, one of them, neither
of them know any drafting software and if they didnít have a mouse, they wouldnít
be able to function with their computer. They donít know about tab and itís like you could
hit enter, you donít have to, thatís okay, but what ends up happening is we have those
conversations. I tell them because I go I canít be the only one, I write for my own
website because it was a hobby and it was on my personal time and they kind of dismissed
it as time wasting. Well, as things have progressed over the last
few years, they have started to come on board which is amazing to me because you never met
two people who were more against this than the two people who are the partners in my
firm. But now theyíre starting to say hey, we need to look like weíre more current and
part of looking more current means maybe having an iPad that you show pictures on as opposed
to pulling out a three-ring binder thatís got slip sleeves with photographs printed
on it. This all contributes to the image and it also helps to do things like attract younger
talent. Nobody wants these guys coming out of school.
They want to be able to work for someone who at least seems theyíre in the current decade
of technology. So theyíve come on board with it and when I talk to them, I say I canít
be the only one. Everyone in the firm, or at least the partners need to have some type
of presence on the blog site and they look at me like, I donít know how to do it and
I have other things I need to be focusing on. Well, what I tell them is I say, you donít
write, figure out what youíre going to talk about has to do with only what youíre currently
doing to do your job. Here is a good example. I have a post that will come out the next
couple of weeks on tornado shelters and you know why? Because Iím doing a tornado shelter
in a house right now. So I have drawings for it [inaudible], pictures that Iíve taken
because itís under construction. This is my knowledge that I can share with people
because itís part of what I do as a practicing architect. I donít go out to find the story
and then create it. I looked at what Iím doing in the act of doing my job and I turned
that into something that I talk about on the website.
That makes a big difference and thatís something that the older generation doesnít seem to
have ñ well, again maybe itís not a generational thing, itís an experience thing about what
you do as an architect, then blogging is an extension of being an architect. Itís not
a side responsibility.>>Okay. Good answer. Thank you, Bob. Now,
I know weíre running out of time here, but I just had two really quick questions that
I wanted to ask. I know weíre at our limit so Iím going to ask your permission.>>Okay.>>Should we end it now or do you have a couple
of minutes?>>Iím available.>>Okay. So one thing you brought up is that
now youíre involved in business development. So what Iíd like to know from you is, when
you think about okay, I need to go out there, I want to go out there and get some clients,
in your mind, what does that mean to you? What do you do? What are the steps that you
would go through to make that happen? What do you focus on?>>Well, I donít know that Iím any good
at it. So Iím not sure people should listen to what I have to say.>>Well, we want to hear it anyway.>>My approach is I never leave the house
or go somewhere with the idea of getting work. I think that what will happen is by putting
myself out there and letting people know what I do, thatís my best calling card. Iíll
help people. What happens is I get a lot of phone calls from as it is now, people will
say hey, will you come look at my backyard? I want to put a pool in but Iím not sure
what I should do. I just go do it. I donít say okay, weíll set up a meeting time and
hereís my billing rate. I donít do that. If someone looks at our website and goes wow,
you do really expensive big houses and I donít have the money to do a big expensive house,
I tell them, we help people pick the front door for their existing house.
Itís a service thing. So when I leave the house, I leave the house to be me and to be
a good person and to be helpful and to let people know that if they need something that
I can do for them, I will do it. But I donít ever go out to pitch and as a result, if I
was more aggressive, maybe I would bring in more work than I currently do. But itís not
who I am and itís not comfortable for me to do that.>>Well, I think thatís a wonderful example
of how architects donít need to be pitch machines. You donít need to be the guy that
goes out to all the mixers and hands out business cards. I think youíre a good example of someone
that has achieved amazing peace with their career and personal success without need to
be the company rainmaker so to speak. It sounds like youíre saying a lot of your BD or business
development is more passive, that you focus on the relationships as opposed to focusing
on exactly how youíre going to get that new client.>>I read something or maybe I heard it, but
the act of keeping a client takes far less effort than getting a new client. So what
we end up doing is we think taking care of our existing clients is the best way for us
to get new clients, because now itís not just us advocating what we do to other people.
Iíve just incorporated new people onto my team and anybody Iíve ever worked with will
say yeah, theyíre great people to work with. They respond, they answer their phone calls.
If they need someone on a Saturday theyíll show up on a Saturday. You take care of your
existing people, I think thatís the best way to grow your business.>>Excellent. Okay, now just to pivot over
to Life to an Architect, now for those of you watching, if you havenít watched Bobís
blog, Life to an Architect, you should definitely do it. He has a lot of material on there.
He started it January 14th of 2010 if I remember correctly.>>Thatís right.>>Whatís next for Life to an Architect,
Bob? Is this going to be a thing you do into retirement? Where is this headed?>>I wonder. Itís a big time commitment.
Iíll tell you this. When I first started it would probably take me eight hours to write
one 300 word post. It took a long time and I agonized over every word and every phrase
and every typo and every grammar. It was agony and Iíve become ñ itís almost like children.
You have your first child and you think that child is going to break if you just breathe
on it the wrong way and as you have more, I donít, I have one, but as Iíve seen, you
look back and you go, that was ridiculous what I did. I donít need to be ñ theyíre
not that ñ theyíre more resilient than that. What Iíve learned is that Iíve written more
and more blog posts, my content is not as contrived as it used to be, but I also write
a lot less. When I first started I did a post every day for about three or four months and
it almost killed me. You talk about stress and pressure and I went, I said why am I doing,
this is [inaudible]. I started imposing all these restrictions on myself and all these
deadlines. So I went to three a week and I did three a week for about two years and even
when I went on vacation, I would write them ahead of time and get them
loaded up and that kind of thing and it just required so much time and as my life has become
busier and my obligations to my family have become greater, I just donít have the time
to do it anymore. So now Iím down to one post a week generally. Sometimes youíll have
something will click in your head and you can, but now it takes me about two hours to
write a post and that includes getting the ñ and most of it is not writing the words,
itís taking the pictures, editing them to size.
Thatís the part that takes the most amount of time. But I will say that I am pulling
back a bit. I still like it. I still like the format. Iíve still gotten a lot out of
it. I canít imagine not doing it, but the obligation that comes along with it, the responding
to emails, thatís what ñ that weighs on me a lot because I would probably say there
are probably 30, 40 emails that I have flagged that I should respond to that are probably
a month old in my inbox. If youíre me or at least for me, I feel guilty
for not ñ these people are writing with questions that to them are the most important thing
thatís going on in their life and to not respond and help them and guide them and provide
them some comfort or direction, just and you know that they just want some help. They just
want some guidance and you donít do it. It makes me feel bad really.>>Are the questions a broad spectrum of people
looking to build, future architects, just random people asking really strange questions
or is it kind of focused in one area?>>I donít get too many ñ well, I get strange
questions, but theyíre not random strange. Iíll get people who will send me floor plans
and say what should I do and then I usually respond back and say very kindly, well this
is what I do for a living and this is how I feed my family. So hereís a little guidance.
But I canít really solve your whole problem for you because this is my job. This is something
I never could have imagined, if youíll indulge me a minute on this. I got an email from somebody
and they were from the UK and a lot of times their email address is not anything that would
give you a clue as to their gender or where theyíre at, what station of life.
You never know when their email is something impersonal like [email protected] You donít
know who that person is. So they were asking me questions about school and I responded
and they wrote back and I responded again and then they made some comment about how
they were 11 years old and is it hard as a girl to go into the field of architecture
and I realized what? and I realized oh my gosh, Iím having an email correspondence
with an 11 year old girl and I responded back and I said, I canít talk to you anymore.
You need to tell your parents about this and it really, really rattled me. So yeah, thereís
ñ I never could have fathomed that I would find myself having that moment of oh my gosh,
I need to be more careful about what Iím doing here. But I get email questions from
students, from other architects, from homeowners, from material reps, from people saying where
can I find this or how do you do that and can you tell me what the best way for this
is. Unfortunately I donít get too many emails that are yes and no type questions that normally
require a lengthy response. So it makes it ñ I spend more time responding
to emails than I do writing any of the blogs or putting any of the blogs together and thatís
a result of it being a heavily viewed site. But like I said earlier, I almost feel if
I want to one have, you have to have the other. You canít put yourself out there and then
not be welcoming to the reception and the questions, because I did to help people after
a while. I write a post on how to do a shower that wonít leak. Well, youíre going to get
questions. Youíve got to know youíre going to get questions. So you sign up for the whole
package.>>Good. All right. Bob, youíve been very
gracious with your time.>>Iím happy to help.>>Yeah. Really, really appreciate it. So
once again, thanks for all the information we were able to get today and just to close
it up, do you have any parting words for the audience?>>Iíll say that if you think that social
media and blogging is for you, Iíll say you should do it, you should try it. I think that
even if you decide that itís not for you in the end, you will learn something in the
process that will make you better at what you do. I believe that completely.>>Very good answer. All right, once again,
thanks Bob. Hope to talk to you again soon.>>Thank you for having me.>>Okay. Bye bye.

2 thoughts on “Architect Interview: Blogging for Architects with Bob Borson on Business of Architecture TV

  1. HI from Pakistan.
    Loved the interview! Gives me a boost! i recently started out with a design and travel blog, and this gave me strength to keep working on it. Bob is the inspiration. 🙂

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