The Secret To Great Partnerships Is Really No Secret

Tom Fernandez

Recently, I was asked to speak at AIA Minnesota’s Innovative Practice Forum on the topic of Owner’s Advocates and Partnerships.  When I was preparing my talk, I wanted the audience to have a light bulb moment about how to create lasting and meaningful partnerships with clients.  In truth, it’s not that complicated.  Creating solid partnerships with clients is about understanding the obvious.  It’s no different than building any other kind of relationship; it’s about trust.  To build trust we have to show our clients that we care about them and what they care about.  We need to take the time to walk in their shoes, to understand them, know what they value, what is important to them and we have to understand their challenges and the challenges of their industry.  When they need us to listen, we have to not only listen we have to truly hear what they are saying.

Architects by nature are problem solvers.  Helping a client with a problem is a great way to build the relationship.  We regularly get calls from clients asking if we can do things that we don’t normally do.  We are not going to miss an opportunity to help them, even when it is simply finding someone outside SHP to meet their needs.  Through the years, some of the requests we have received have even resulted in new services at SHP.

Research is another important component.  Industry related research on new technology, new delivery methods, materials or systems or the social science of behaviors relative to space help add value to projects and relationships.  Benchmarking processes in other industries, both related and unrelated is equally beneficial.  Nothing adds more value than engagement.  Keeping the owner and the clients they serve engaged in the project process is one of the most important pieces of building strong partnerships with owners.

When a partnership is strong there are a host of benefits, and for design firms, it’s a great business model.  The stronger the relationships and the more a client relies on us, the better we are positioned for the next opportunity.   Generating repeat business through long relationships is important. The higher the rate of repeat business the more efficient and targeted we can be with our marketing dollars and the more predictable our annual revenue will be.

SHP has been in business for 112 years.  Education is one of our target markets.  Our first education project was 90 years ago and we still work with that client today.  The relationship is highly valued on both sides and we have done substantial and transformative work together. Through the years we have advocated for them and they have advocated for us.   We have learned and grown together.  It is a true model of partnership.

Partnerships start with people communicating with one another and building trust.  Once trust is established the potential to learn and benefit from each other is tremendous.

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