In this week’s blog, we chat with Sarah Hobday-North about her business Value Architects Group, the architecture industry, and how using a .com.au domain has helped her business.
Tell us your elevator pitch for Value Architects Group.
Value Architects Group is your architect GP. We make getting expert design advice for your home or workplace as easy as seeing your doctor about health advice. So when you get the feeling that your home has a “niggle”, that something could be better about your kitchen, the connection to your garden, or how to bring more staff comfortably into the office, we’re here to help. Like a doctor listening to your symptoms and looking at some test results, you’ll be amazed by what an architect can diagnose about your building.
Building is expensive. Design maximizes your investment, however modest. Architecture is for everyone.
So where do you see the role of architecture in today’s world?
Architects should be more important than ever, but in reality we are under-utilised. At a time when the upfront capital cost and ongoing energy consumption of buildings is headline news…there is a vacuum of expertise! The fact is that registered architects are the most highly trained design profession, and we specialise in buildings and spaces. Our professional knowledge will improve a building’s energy efficiency, its spatial efficiency, its thermal comfort and, importantly, create a feeling of delight.
There is often a perception (and sometimes a reality) that architecture exists “up there” on major projects and in the Grand Designs of unusually wealthy people. Some architects do serve that market, but Value Architects Group is one business within a growing community that is working to change that.
What made you decide to register a domain for your business and create a website?
If you don’t have a website you don’t exist. Simple. The days of an architect working purely through word of mouth are over. Some good builders still work this way, moving from job to job, but to connect with clients an online presence is essential.
A website allows you to tell your story and explain your value. It is the front door even before a client has stepped foot in your office.
Your website uses a .com.au domain. What made you choose that extension over the others that are available?
A core part of my business is visiting people in their homes or workplaces. I come to you in your space. A .com.au address sets me firmly in the Australian market. Most of my work is in and around Melbourne, but I have had clients in Tasmania, referrals from Sydney, and work with consultants in Perth. I’m in the Australian market. It is a good fit.
And how do your customers use your website?
I have a lot of content on my front page, which allows a client to learn a lot without having to “commit” to the next click. Unlike almost all other architects, my next most prominent section is a list of Services and Pricing. This gives prospective clients confidence that they can approach me without fear of over-commitment or me “taking over” the project. It’s like a menu for architecture!
My blog is an intellectual foundation for my business. I can promote news, reviews, and issues in the architectural community and contribute to broader peer discussion. I can also engage with highly motivated clients. The deeper you go into my site, the more you learn about me.
Where have you seen your website benefit your business?
The website has been very well received by clients and other architects. It is being used as an exemplar by Sounds Like Design, a specialist architecture marketing company in their training programs. (It’s also a .com.au business!) Amazingly, it is still unusual for architecture businesses to present a client-focused website, as opposed to in image-heavy gallery of past work. My work is about the process, the relationship and the outcomes will vary depending on client needs. This depth comes across in my website which means I attract “my kind of people” to work with from the outset.
You do a lot of work with the local architecture community, so what advice would you give to a budding architect starting out?
Get involved. Attend events and forums, whether in person or online and hear what others are talking about. Get to know the issues and the increasing breadth in the profession. Get a mentor. Your career should not and will not be “stuck in the back office” forever, but learn everything you can while you’re there. Do whatever you can to attend client meetings, site interactions, and consultant coordination. Eavesdrop. And remember that we are architects, not emergency room doctors, so that detail can wait until tomorrow.
And looking more broadly, what advice would you give to a small business starting out?
Keep your costs as low as you can and give yourself as much time as you can to figure out what your business really does. Keep small and retain control while you are figuring out your niche and how you’re going to serve it. Don’t be afraid to change. I changed my trading name three times in five years in the quest for the right fit! When you stop trying to please everyone and find your niche you can focus your expertise and increase the value you offer your customers and clients.
Find your professional “tribe” and be generous in sharing ideas and knowledge with them. Business is better when you know and trust the people you are working with and alongside. And even when you “make it” you will know you have so far to go, so embrace the uncertainty. Good luck!
Thanks to Sarah for providing us a little insight into her business and her business’ online presence with .com.au.
Want to find out about other businesses and their experiences online with .au domains? Check out these blogs:
Reckon you have a business domain ready to go? Check your preferred domain name is available and where you can register it here.