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Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Pitching Architectural Designs

Selling architectural services is a challenge, regardless of your firm’s size. You’ll have to pitch for projects, which requires solid presentation skills. Unfortunately, there are several mistakes that can trip you up.

When you’re working for a large firm, you can focus solely on designing. But what happens when you decide to break out on your own?

Starting your own firm offers excitement and freedom. You can finally chase your passion projects, and have more control over what you do. However, it does have its pitfalls. Suddenly, you have to think about how to sell architectural design. You may have never done it before, and it’s a shock to the system to find out that work doesn’t just find its way to your desk.

So, how do architects get work?

It’s all in the pitch. A great pitch can set you apart from your competition and convince a client to go with you. If you can’t convince clients during the pitch, you won’t get any work. Your design skills matter. But you have to talk the talk as well as walk the walk.

Pitches create nervousness, which leads to mistakes. Here are 10 blunders to avoid when pitching architectural designs.


Mistake #1 – Too Much Talking


Yes, a good pitch involves a lot of talking. But there’s such a thing as too much. You may think you’re painting a picture for clients. But they’re just sitting there with blank expressions, wondering why you’re telling them rather than showing them.

The fact is that many of your clients don’t understand the specifics of architectural design. They didn’t study it like you did. As a result, finding architectural clients is all about bridging that knowledge gap. If all you do is talk, you’re not showing your clients something tangible that they can latch onto.

Anything that can help your client to visualise your design will help. Instead of bombarding them with jargon, use your talking to support your models and images. Remember that you need to get your potential client excited about your work. Selling architectural services means putting your clients inside the building that you have in your head. Words alone can’t do that.


Mistake #2 – Not Preparing

It seems like the simplest of tips. Yet, many try selling architectural services without preparing properly.

You have full control of the room during your pitch. While that means you have the freedom to try new things, it also means that all eyes are on you. If you start meandering around the point, you won’t impress clients. They’re expecting you to pitch efficiently. They’ll notice if you’re trying to make it up as you go. In the end, they’ll see you as unprofessional, which is not how to sell architectural services.

Preparation includes more than the basics too. You need your models, both digital and real-life scale. You also need to know what message you want to deliver. A script isn’t always necessary. In fact, scripts can make you sound robotic. However, you need key talking points and information to deliver during the pitch.

After that, it’s all about practice. Spend hours, or even days, refining a half-hour pitch. That preparation will pay off when you talk to potential clients.


Mistake #3 – Only Focusing on the Look


Creativity in design is key to selling architectural services. But it’s not the only thing to consider. Clients want their buildings to offer practicality as well as aesthetics. Too much focus on the look shows that you haven’t paid attention to what the client needs.

This is especially important in modern architecture. Take energy efficiency as an example. Many clients prioritise it in today’s environment. Energy efficiency means lower ongoing costs and a better public profile. It’s not surprising that the Building Information Modelling (BIM) method has gained popularity. BIM focuses on sustainability, and its increasing adoption shows that your clients do as well.

Furthermore, the building you pitch must suit the needs that the client outlines. Does it have the required number of rooms? Do they have specific requests in terms of lighting? What else must the building offer?

Anything that the client outlines should find its way into your pitch. Don’t sacrifice their need for practicality for your desire to show off your creativity.


Mistake #4 – Going over Your Time Limit

Your clients have a lot on their plates. The more successful the client, the more balls they’re juggling on any particular day. If a client has allotted you a certain amount of time, they expect you to stick to it. Show up on time and prepare a pitch that you can polish off within the time allocated to you.

It seems simple enough. However, many architects go over their time limits. Perhaps it’s because they think that delivering a longer pitch shows they’ve put more thought into the design. Or, maybe they’re genuinely excited and let time run away with them.

Whatever the case may be, going over means you’re wasting your client’s time. They’ll start checking their watch and getting more frustrated with you. It’s remarkable how much of an effect this seemingly minor slight can have on your chances.

You may have more to say than you can fit into your time. That’s okay. It means you can build some teasers into your pitch to encourage the client to invite you along again.


Mistake #5 – Losing Your Cool

No matter how much you prepare, things can go wrong. Perhaps your projector breaks down, so you can’t use a large display space for your model. Or, your virtual reality equipment malfunctions.

These tools help you in selling architectural services. But losing them isn’t the end of the world. Unfortunately, too many architects lose their cool if things don’t go exactly as they expected. Losing part of your presentation makes selling architectural services more difficult. However, your reaction is what influences the client.

Instead of losing your temper, keep a cool head. Ask your client for a moment so that you can think about how you’re going to adjust the pitch. You still know what message you want to deliver, even if the method you use has to change.

Take a minute and then get back into it. You’ll show your client that you can handle yourself under pressure, which may influence their decisions.

It’s not an ideal situation to find yourself in. But you can use it as an opportunity to work out how to sell architectural services in new ways.


Mistake #6 – Standing Completely Still

How much thought do you put into your body language when you’re selling architectural services? If you’re new to the pitching game, you may not realise that clients look at you as well as your designs. They want to see that you carry yourself with confidence. This assures them that you’re capable, assuming they give you the job.

Standing still while you talk is one of the sure signs that your nerves have gotten the best of you. In some clients’ eyes, you’ll look like a terrified bird. Frozen in place, doing whatever you can to just get the situation over with.

Moving around shows that you’re not afraid. Of course, you don’t want to do laps around the conference table. But pace back and forth. Use your body movement to emphasise your points. When you want to highlight something in an image, stride confidently to it before pointing it out. Movement shows confidence, as long as you don’t overdo it. Standing completely still creates a strange atmosphere that takes the focus away from your design.


Mistake #7 – Having a Poor Physical Prototype


Most look at digital design software when thinking about how to sell architectural design. Your digital models carry plenty of importance. However, they’re not the only tools that you have. For many clients, a physical prototype lends them more confidence in your abilities.

A good scale model makes your building tangible. Virtual reality and 3D models can help, but it’s the prototype that really shows the client that your ideas work in real life.

Skimping on the prototype is one of the biggest architectural pitching mistakes that you can make. Cheap materials, poor craftsmanship, and rushed work are self-evident. Clients can see that you haven’t put the work into the physical model. As a result, they may assume you’ll do the same with the full building.

3D printing can help here. Some see this as the next big thing in architecture, and it allows you to mesh your digital work with the physical. If you struggle to build prototypes manually, consider investing in a 3D printer. You’ll find the money you earn when you start selling architectural services outweighs the initial costs.


Mistake #8 – Not Looking at the Client

You should know that making eye contact helps when pitching. Eye contact creates a connection between speaker and listener. If you watch public speakers, you’ll notice they train their eyes on the crowd. If they look away, it’s only for the briefest of moments before their focus returns to their audience.

But looking at clients includes more than making eye contact. In fact, looking is not the same as paying attention.

Don’t just catch your client’s gaze. Judge their reactions too. Something as simple as a smile or a shake of the head can tell you everything you need to know about how the pitch is going. Your client tells you what works without saying anything. Over time, you learn to adjust your pitch based on these reactions.

Not paying attention to these little details is a huge mistake when selling architectural services. You limit your pitches and show you’re more absorbed in what you say than what the client thinks.


Mistake #9 – Offering One Design


You may have a design that you’re passionate about. However, selling architectural services requires variety. Your potential clients want to see that you have several ideas that will help you to achieve their goals.

What happens if the client doesn’t like your design? At best, you’re going back to the drawing board to prepare another pitch. At worst? The client moves onto another firm and you’ve lost your chance of getting the work.

Multiple designs show that you’ve put real thought into solving the client’s problem. You’ll have your favourite, but it’s the client’s favourite that matters most. Show off your preferred design, but have others that offer something different. This also gives you some flexibility. The client may like your main design, but want you to incorporate a feature or two from the others.

The “Rule of Three” is a tried and tested pitching method. This involves pitching a client-centric model, designer’s model, and a “wow factor” model in the same pitch.

The “wow factor” model serves a purpose. Clients usually don’t accept it, but it makes them more willing to listen to your case for the designer’s model.


Mistake #10 – Pitching and Forgetting

Think about your last pitch or public presentation. What did you learn from it?

If you can’t come up with an answer, you’re guilty of pitching and forgetting. If you don’t think about how the pitch went and what you can do to improve, you’ll keep making the same mistakes.

Take a few minutes after the pitch to analyse your performance. With any luck, you’ll have avoided the above mistakes. If you haven’t, make a note to refine your pitches further.

Additionally, think about what you learned about the client. Their responses to your pitch will guide any future conversations you have with them.

Don’t make the mistake of letting the pitch go once you’ve made it. There’s a lot to learn from both failed and successful pitches. Give it some thought and make notes. Use them when you’re preparing your next pitch to stand a better chance of selling architectural services.



Pitching an architectural design involves more than confident speaking. Pay attention to how much you say, and use images and models to your advantage. Don’t skimp on your prototypes, and stay professional at all times. Pay attention to your client, and offer them plenty of choices as well.

This list highlights the key mistakes that prevent you from finding architectural clients. Avoid them and you’ll improve your firm’s chances of attracting more business.

When it comes to your digitally designed models, ArchiStar Academy can help. Through ArchiStar Academy, you can buy a range of digital design software training packages with which you can create detailed models. We also offer courses in several other packages, including Revit and 3DS Max. Contact us today to find out how our courses can improve your pitches.

ArchiStar Academy offers several courses across the spectrum of digital design software. You’ll develop your skills, allowing you to create more accurate and functional models.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Archistar Academy today if you have any questions.

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Posted on 20 Jan 2020

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