When we ran our company, we did both design/build projects and projects that were designed by architects.

How do you do that if you are a design/build firm? Isn’t an architect going to think that you will be taking over the project? How can you earn what you need if an architect is going to be reviewing your proposal? And doesn’t working with architects mean you will be one of three contractors providing free estimates just for a chance of getting the job?

I think a good design/build firm is a great partner for an architect. A regular contractor is not used to chasing down all the details as part of preparing a proposal. In fact, if a contractor is in the competitive arena, it actually is against his best interests to provide a complete proposal, as it is likely to be the highest in price and he will then be out of the running.

So, how to find and create relationships with architects who appreciate contractors who are thorough and would enjoy having a mutually beneficial outcome? Do these things:

Find Some Possibilities. Keep in mind that you are looking for a few special people. Not every architect looks at contractors as good partners. You want to work with those who do.

Look for Signs. Look for architects’ signs posted at construction sites that capture your interest. Ask fellow contractors who they think are good architects to work with. Ask same when you talk with trade contractors and vendors.

Call Them. Start with a phone call. See if it feels right. Do you like talking with this architect? Is he/she saying the right things, such as they prefer to work with a contractor during preliminary design?

Set Up a Meeting. Go to the architect’s office; later, you can have him come to yours. By going to his territory you will be able to question him at some length with him being more open than he might be if he were in your office.

Do Some Bonding. Compliment the architect on his work that you have seen. It is important that you can speak to specific aspects of the work instead of simply saying “I really like your work.”  The more specific you are, then the more credibility you have in the mind of the architect.

Here is a series of questions that will help you sell the architect on working with you, even if you are a design build firm.

* “Who Are the Contractors You Currently Work With? You want to find out who they are. Why? So you have some sense of what he thinks is important to have in a contractor. When you hear the names, NEVER denigrate any of the contractors.  Instead, try to find some pleasant thing to say--or say nothing.

“What Do You Like About Working With Them? Whatever the architect says, dig deeper: “That is interesting. Why do you like that approach?” Keep on probing so that you learn more about what is important to the architect.

*   “What Don’t You Like About Working With Them?" This is where you find out the architect’s pains, his problems with contractors.  Again, probe and dig deep.  Ask lots of followup clarifying questions.  Say periodically “How does this issue make you feel?”

“Would You Like to Hear About How Our Company Prevents These Problems?Suppose you heard about three things the architect is frustrated with. Only tell the architects about those aspects of your company that are solutions to those problems. Don’t tell the architect anything else.

“What Do You Think About What I Told You? Now you are looking for a decision about what happens next. Should there be another meeting? Should we talk about how it might be to work together? Is there a project where our approach might be a fit for you and your client?

In all the above there is little if no conversation about what kind of contractor you are. What you talking about is not what you do. Rather, it is what the architect is looking for.

Focus on what the architect wants and you will get what you want, whether or not you do design build. If the architect asks you about being design/build, explain how your company figures out things more thoroughly than any bid-for-free contractor ever will. The right architect will appreciate having that kind of partner.