Hopefully, this narrative will help you get more business and make more money. If so, then maybe you might need my help with Bim and/or CAD production.
In order to make over $200,000 in 6 months, doing CAD-BIM from my home in Hawaii, a couple of things had to happen. First, I will share with you some descriptions of how I obtained, produced and got paid for the work. Then, I will share with you how my wife, Corinne, and I, originally from Dallas, Texas, found ourselves as of six years ago, living and working in Hawaii. None of this information is complicated. It’s not difficult, and you may be able to see how you could adapt much of what is written here to variations, which would be more appropriate for your particular circumstances. So, let’s begin…
DETERMINING WHO YOUR PROSPECTS ARE AND GETTING THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION
I have over 14,000 contacts in an online CRM application, called Hubspot. First, I want to share with you how I got these contacts. Then, I will share with you how I use Hubspot and other tools to manage them.
Online lists, such as Professional Builder’s annual Giants in Housing, can help grow your contacts by several thousand in very short order. Simply make note of a company’s domain name and enter it at www.hunter.io. DR Horton Homes, the nation’s largest home builder for example, when you do a search on www.hunter.io, nets over 1000 email addresses of which about 10% also have phone numbers and/or company titles. The thing here to concentrate on are lists, where the contacts’ website addresses are included. You want to look for the company’s domain name, which is essentially the company’s website so that you can enter it in a www.hunter.io search. The hunter website charges a modest subscription fee. It’s a bargain. However, I would not attempt to filter any hunter list down to what you might think are the most likely “suspects”. I have landed big accounts, where the initial contacts were lower level employees in larger organizations.
One of the greatest ways to increase your list of contacts is by accessing the Internet Yellow Pages. Do a Google Search for the “Best 30 (fill in with a subject category, which in my case would be “architects”) in (fill in with a city name). So, an example search could be “Best 30 architects in Houston”. I actually did a search like that, and fed it through an exercise, described in a pdf file I wrote. This pdf file is available to you free of charge at the following DropBox link:
It’s called “Notes on Capturing Excel Data from Internet Yellow Pages”. This pdf file explains in detail how to obtain the names, email addresses and job titles for people, who work for the companies, listed in the Internet Yellow Pages. However, this file does much more. If an architectural firm, such as RTKL, has a branch office in the target city, where you are doing your search on www.hunter.io, you can harvest all of the email addresses found on the internet for that organization wherever they are to be found all over the world. So, when I did a search on the Internet Yellow Pages for Houston architects and ran it through my little exercise, I wound up with over twice as many contacts as were listed on the Internet Yellow Pages for Houston architects. The data output is in Excel CSV format and includes separate cells for first name, last name, email address, job title and so on and it is in a format, which is easily imported into Hubspot.
Another excellent source of lists are the Business Journals for almost fifty cities in various parts of the United States, such as the Dallas Business Journal or the Phoenix Business Journal. Each of these periodicals publishes lists in a wide range of categories, such as the fifty largest architectural firms in each respective market, or the fifty highest paid executives and so on. Wherever there are websites listed you can run that data through www.hunter.io and harvest a treasure of contact information on various personnel, employed by the listed organizations.
Linkedin is an excellent source for adding contacts. Linkedin is also an excellent vehicle for establishing credibility in your experience and qualifications…sort of like an elaborate business card. However, in my opinion Linkedin is not a good resource for emailing. Looking up contacts in Linkedin is awkward, and you have to send all Linkedin emails one at a time. The main advantage to Linkedin is in growing the number of contacts. You can export your Linkedin contacts to an Excel CSV file, and then import that data into Hubspot, and that is what I do.
Linkedin will allow you to be active in a maximum of fifty discussion groups. So, seek out and join fifty Linkedin discussion groups. This will take a while as some groups are slow to review your application to join. Some groups will never take any action on your application, so eventually you just have to drop those applications and concentrate on other groups until you reach fifty. In my opinion discussion groups should be selected to seek to join on the basis of two criteria. First, the group should have at least SOME categorical similarity or interest to your business. Second, the group should be as large as possible. Being connected via those discussion groups can allow you contact to over 7 million Linkedin professionals. This is more coverage than many major magazines have, and you have access to that audience every time you post in those discussion groups. Additionally, if you send an inmail message to someone, where both of you are members of even one discussion group, then that message does not count against your otherwise very limited quota of inmails for the month.
As a result of my 50 Linkedin discussion groups activities I have collected almost four hundred unsolicited endorsements in almost fifty skills categories. I have become recognized to some extent as an authority, regarding the special work, which I do and upon which I have commented extensively. I regularly provide links to prospective clients to my Linkedin Profile, because this is a quick way for me to increase my credibility with prospective architect clients, who otherwise don’t know anything about me.
If you are just getting started on Linkedin, or if you only have a few hundred Linkedin connections, don’t worry that you cannot function well, because you can grow your connections quite quickly. It is beyond the scope of what I am writing here to explain to you how to do that. I will devote a future email to that subject. The main thing is to grow that list. I have over 3,000 Linkedin conncections. Others have many more than that.
CONTACTING AND ENGAGING YOUR CONTACTS
So you have a bunch of contacts. Now we need to figure out what to do with them. The first thing you need to do is to verify deliverability. There are a large number of online resources, who can scrub your email database and report back to you on deliverability, such as www.kickbox.com. Kickbox charges $70 to scrub 10,000 emails and $150 for 25,000. They go on up to 2.5 million emails, but that is way beyond what we are looking at here. Every bounced email comes back to your inbox. If you send out 10,000 emails and 25% of them bounce, then you are going to get 2500 emails coming back to you, and sometimes those bounced emails bounce several times before things settle down and the Internet doesn’t try to send the emails anymore. The second thing you need to do is to insure that you are using an email address OTHER than the one, where you usually get your email. Email merge campaigns can create a lot of email traffic, and you don’t want to get important business email mixed up with your sales and marketing emails.
There are tons of different tools, applications and cloud platforms for sales and marketing. I have looked at and tried a lot of them, and mostly I have been frustrated and disappointed except for Hubspot.
I highly recommend that you take out a couple of subscriptions to Hubspot. One is their Starter Sales Account and the other is their Starter Hub Marketing Account. The Sales Account costs $50 per month. The Marketing Account starts at $50 per month for 1,000 contacts, and increases in price as your number of Hubspot contacts increases…two or three hundred dollars tops. These two subscription accounts are very much well worth the money.
Hubspot helps me manage my contacts in a continuing and accumulating data base of information about each contact, such as recorded phone conversations, emails received and sent, including email tracking, indicating how many times, where and when each of my sent emails were opened or replied to. I can send out highly personalized email merge messages and sequenced email campaigns as often as 5 times per month per contact. Hubspot allows cold emailing, which is unusual.
Hubspot has top quality 24/7 tech support, which is run by technicians, who speak impeccable English and really know their stuff. It is a pleasure to seek and always to have their help. I don’t get any benefit from promoting Hubspot other than the satisfaction of knowing if you also become one of their customers I am pretty sure you will be happy with them.
Hubspot is the only CRM I know of, which is available at reasonable prices, and which allows you to do tracked email merge campaigns, while automatically and simultaneously updating your contact data base. It is a one stop shop. Everything you need is right there inside their portals. Of course you can also do tracked emailing for one to one messages. You can set up email campaigns, using all or any filtered part of your Hubspot contacts. Start by creating a template, which is tagged to the emails you want to send. Tokens are provided for first names, last names, email addresses, titles, company names and all sorts of variables, which can be fed into the template to create a highly customized and personal message. The templates are created via what you see is what you get input. There is no code or hyperlink text to fool with. You can link email and website addresses and insert images and videos. An unsubscribe button is made part of the template so that any recipient, who does not want to be contacted again in future email broadcasts, can click one time to be removed. When a recipient has been removed from emailing, they are still in your data base. You can tag their email address for additional email messages, but the messages will not be sent, because of the override of the unsubscribe condition. There is a toggle, which you can set to remove from any email list those contacts, who have received 10 email messages, but have not opened any of them.
I have found that the number of recipients, who answer my emails is low, and the same can be said of recipients, who click through to my website. However, a few of my recipients open my emails thirty or forty times. These opens can sometimes take place days, weeks and even months after the original email was sent, and sometimes these emails may be opened in a dozen or more different cities, which either means the recipients are doing a lot of traveling, or they are forwarding my emails to others in their company. I try to make it a point to call recipients on the phone, who have repeatedly opened my emails or where those emails have been opened in several different cities. I have found from experience that I am more apt to be able to do business with those recipients eventually. I am notified in real time, when a recipient opens one of my emails. Hubspot research has found that if I call within 5 minutes of a recipient having opened my email the probability of my call successfully going through to the recipient goes up by a whopping 400%, and that allows an engagement process to begin. In this day and age it is mandatory to engage prospects in order to close deals, but you have to make contact in order to begin engaging.
You have to be careful how you use the power of merged email broadcasting. Although Hubspot allows you to send emails to each of your contacts up to five times per month, unless you have a very compelling message, what you will see happening is a healthy number of opened emails from your first broadcast, which then falls off significantly in all subsequent broadcasts and finally either reaches no opens at all or you will start getting requests to unsubscribe.
Recently I did a small test email broadcast (1500 contacts), which included three emails sent to each recipient over a period, separated by several days between each email. Each email was a simple variation on a central theme. I described what we do and made a pitch for the recipients’ business. Although some emails in the first broadcast were opened a couple of dozen times, subsequent open rates dropped dramatically after the first email. So, I think you can conclude that a series of simple business pitches and calls to action will quickly fall flat.
Looking at the email broadcast I am currently doing, where you are one of the recipients, I am trying a different approach. I first sent out an email broadcast to a filtered 1,000 contacts from my data base of 14,000 Hubspot contacts, which carried the following subject line, “How I made $200K in 6 mos doing CAD-BIM from home in Hawaii”. The recipients were instructed to provide certain personal contact information as a condition of receiving a short narrative with descriptions of how I did it and how you can do it too, and if you choose, to do it from Hawaii. As I am sending out each of the emails for the narrative, I am including a short call to action at the end, including a suggestion that each of the recipients and I get together on the phone to discuss our possible mutual interests in doing work together. I will send you a future email to share with you how this campaign performs. If this experiment works well I will expand it use to my entire data base.
Everything I have been describing about emailing having been said, the best results I have had in promoting business over the years has been with down and dirty brutal cold telephone calling. Regarding the $200K I included in my email subject for the 1,000 recipient email broadcast, that work was the result of an intensive three month cold calling campaign, where I used contacts I had assembled from the Internet Yellow Pages for architects listed in Houston and Dallas, Texas. One of those calls was made to a sales office, located out in the boonies somewhere, which got bumped upstairs to one of the architects in the company, who also happened to be one of the company’s vice presidents. The company’s corporate offices are in California, and that is where this architect vice president called me back. He had been on the job for two months, and he was charged with completely overhauling the company’s standard operating procedures by bringing in new blood. I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and landed an account, which earned well into 6 figures and is still producing income for me.
NEGOTIATING AND CLOSING DEALS
Where I was paid $200K, my work product included over 1,000 sheets of working drawings and over 600 sheets of preliminary drawings, which translates to less than $125 per sheet. These numbers are low in anybody’s book. There was a lot of repetition, and I had a world class quality team, located in a very low cost of living country.
The architect was a vice president for a very large publicly held corporation. I really wanted the deal, so I let the architect set the price and the terms of payment. When the architect proposed what he thought the pricing should be, I think he was truly surprised, when I did not counter with a higher price. Obviously, the architect thought he was getting a helluva deal, but my multiplier for this work turned out to be well above 4.0, and I could see during negotiations what that multiplier was going to be, so there was no reason to rebut with a proposal for increased compensation. I did well.
For this deal I allowed price based negotiations to go to the bottom of the list. There was one important constraint though. This particular architect insisted on making no payments until we were 100% completed with our work, and the work had been submitted, reviewed and approved. During the particular six month period in question this represented sequential work on several projects, so I received part of the $200K incrementally during the six month period, but the work for each project was totally complete before I received any payment. My team made this situation more tolerable by agreeing to wait on their payments until I was paid.
I was able to deliver a high quality service at very low pricing, because I have extremely low overhead and very low labor costs. My entire business model is based on virtual operations. My work station is in a walk-in closet for a bedroom in my home. My wife, Corinne, does our accounting and bookkeeping from a workstation in her bedroom. We have no employees and none of the facilities, which would be necessary if we had employees. All CAD-BIM production is online with individual contractors, who work on a project by project basis.
I usually use written proposal agreements to help close deals, but they also can become constraints to moving deals ahead, and after they are signed they can become instruments, which can rip apart the delicate relationships of trust we all seek with one another. I have tried to keep my proposal agreements and my signed-written agreements simple, short and non-confrontational if I even use them at all. I worked with a design builder many years ago, who proclaimed he always used one page agreements with his clients. He claimed everything important that needs to be said in an agreement can be put on one page, and if it can’t be then it’s information not worthy of being included in the first place. I avoid terms for additional services and litigious terms, such as mediation or arbitration.
I am working now with the architectural department of a very large publicly held company, and they don’t even use written agreements. They use numbered work orders, usually issued as email attachments in pdf format. They are one page in length. Often this company will just call me on the phone with an oral work order number, and sometimes we start work on a project with no work order number at all. The crucial factor, which makes that relationship work is trust. The most articulately written agreement in the world is not worth the paper it’s written on without trust, that mystical meeting of the minds on all sides of the table, where constructive bonding takes place to get things done.
MANAGING WORK – THE MAGIC OF OPW – OTHER PEOPLES’ WORK
Management of other peoples’ work (OPW) is the key to minimizing YOUR time in doing value added CAD-BIM work product. During the 6 month period in question I had up to about 15 people, working on the $200k account. I coordinated work flow, checked drawing production for quality and produced markups, redlines and memos. I designated one of the people on my team as a team leader, and most of my team communications were with that person. The architect and I communicated totally separately from communications I had with my team leader. Almost all communications were by email, text messaging and DropBox. I had live telephone conversations with my team leader about once per week and with the architect about once every two weeks. All telephone conversations tended to be short, possibly 5 minutes or less.
It is important to find people, who are capable and available to do the work for compensation amounts, which are low enough to allow you to realize a satisfactory income for yourself. Too often the cost of CAD-BIM labor will be too high unless you engage help from outside the United States. Unfortunately, most of the people, who do CAD-BIM work outside the United States use English as a second or third language. They are used to working in the metric system, and they are not familiar with materials and methods of
construction used in the United States. You have to check bandwidth. I have prospective collaborators run a test on www.speedtest.net. If their upload speeds are significantly under 1 mps, there’s something wrong. I give those candidates a pass and move along. Some people, who are otherwise fairly well qualified to do the work, are using dial up Internet connections, which are hopelessly too slow. Other people have poor phone connections, which make it almost impossible to carry on a decent conversation.
There is always the question of whether to have CAD-BIM collaborators work hourly or lump sum. I strongly advocate lump sum. Hourly work tends to get out of hand. When you work lump sum you know before the work starts what your margins are, and it is much easier to sleep at night. I have never paid an initial amount or retainer. Generally, I like to see a multiplier of direct personnel expense be in the range of 4.0 to 5.0. My understanding is that’s a significantly better rate than what is experienced by most architectural firms.
My best experiences with CAD-BIM collaborators outside the US have been with architects or engineers, who are professionally licensed in their local countries and have firms with people working for them. I am currently doing a lot of work with a firm in Eastern Europe, and not too long ago another firm in the Philippines. These two firms each have 15-20 computer operators working for them.
I avoid firms, where there is a sales person, who acts as an intermediary for the production department, where I never get to communicate with the people actually doing the work.
When you pay for CAD-BIM services, provided by resources in other countries, you are dealing with a moving target economic proposition, because currencies between countries are constantly moving up and down in relationship to each other. If you are working with collaborators in countries with still developing economies, the chances are pretty good their rates of inflation are a lot greater than here in the US. What is a bargain or reasonable transaction today may not be reasonable in a couple of years, or even quite suddenly if the currency of your trading partner is devalued.
For example, I had been working with some architect collaborators in Argentina for several years. We were working on an hourly compensation basis. I began noticing they were starting to turn in their time sheets later and later, or they would turn in additional time sheets sometimes a couple of months late, amended to include time they had originally “forgot”. Frequently I had already long since billed a lesser amount, based on the original time sheets. So I had to absorb the extra compensation as losses. As time passed I realized my labor costs were going up. I concluded that these guys were increasing their compensation rates by padding their time sheets. Working lump sum gets rid of time sheets.
Moving payments from the US to other countries can sometimes be problematic. Several years ago I sent an overseas payment from Merrill Lynch via the US Postal Service. A long time passed, and the architect I had paid never received his payment. Merrill Lynch investigated and found that the payment had been intercepted in the destination country and cashed by a party other than the one intended. How that happened I have no idea, but fortunately Merrill Lynch made good on the loss. The next time I sent payment I used FEDEX, and I never had any problems after that.
Another problem you can run into is the reluctance of the receiving bank, where your collaborator has an account, to fork over the money, when it hits the bank. One of my architect collaborators routinely had to wait 6 weeks for a check to “clear”. Translation? Banks sometimes kite funds. I had another overseas architect collaborator, who arranged to be paid at a bank in Florida.
SETTING UP SHOP IN ONE LOCATION – LIVING, WELL, WHEREVER YOU CHOOSE
Producing CAD-BIM work product is not dependent upon location, and our living in Hawaii is really no different. It is possible to produce CAD-BIM work product almost anywhere on the face of the earth, collecting and distributing from anywhere to anywhere in long distance wide area networks. Such networks, well managed, are decidedly more productive and more profitable than gathering personnel and other resources together under one physical roof, because these networks make best price world class resources available without burdening the local enterprise with internal personnel or facilities. The key term here is “well managed”. Wide area networks, just like any other business enterprise, can be not only poorly managed but poorly populated, thereby becoming highly errors and omissions prone, tardy and expensive.
Access to the necessary communications infrastructure to distribute and to collect data may vary, locality to locality, as to productivity, cost and availability, but in almost every instance the access is good enough to get the job done well. Thus, location becomes more a matter of choice rather than necessity.
Although Hawaii has one of the highest costs of living in the United States, the Puna District on the Big Island of Hawaii, where we live, is not like that. The cost of living in this one district is actually a little less than Dallas, Texas, where my wife, Corinne, and I came from, and Dallas is below the US national average. We relocated to Hawaii 6 years ago, seeking a refuge for her delicate health. She improved, so we bought property here and designed and built a new home.
The company I founded, Archline CAD Services, Ltd., was established twenty years ago as a Texas based closely held family limited partnership, and we have elected to keep that business entity intact and continuing after moving to Hawaii.
I do business in Hawaii as Charles R Traylor, Jr, Architect, and pay Hawaii State Excise Tax on income I earn here as a sole proprietor. Charles R. Traylor, Jr., Architect, has a physical address at our home, located at 15-116 Kuna Street, Pahoa, Hawaii 96778, and all the work I do here locally is as a Hawaii licensed architect of record.
As an employee and partner with Archline, I do all my work for that company for projects exclusively back on the Mainland US, and all of the work of the company is for other architects. Archline has a virtual address at 15950 Dallas Parkway, Suite 400, Dallas, Texas 85248. That is a Regus facility.
Regus is a world wide executive offices suite company. Regus virtual tenants have access to physical office space and support services and facilities all over the world on an as needed basis. A Regus virtual tenant can rent a conference room anywhere in the world, where there is a Regus facility, from four to over a dozen people.
Coffee and donuts or catered meals are available as well as high speed Internet, copy, printing, faxing and scanning services and secretarial services. They will answer my phone if I want. The building, where my company is headquartered has a “virtual address” for me. That is, I have a post office box, but no permanent office space with floor area. I can rent office space. If I like on the same terms as conference rooms. My base monthly rent is about $75.
The Regus facility in Dallas, where I am a virtual tenant, is a very nice Class A office development.
My phone system operates from our home in Hawaii. It consists of two voice over IP (VOIP) lines. One line connects to a server in California. That’s a company called Voipia, and the other is connected via cable to our Internet service provider, Spectrum. A 1-888 number is included with Voipia, and I am able to make international calls to most locations in the world for very little cost. I can set VOIP lines up on the fly to have any area code I choose. I can also have multiple area code incoming telephone numbers, and these incoming calls all arrive seamlessly on one of my VOIP lines. To date I have not used any area codes outside of Hawaii, where I live, except for a 214 area code for Dallas, because Texas is Archline’s legal headquarters.
You can set up to do business wherever you think it’s best, and then go live wherever you want. Corinne and I chose Dallas, Texas and Pahoa, Hawaii. There’s no telling where you might choose, but I am here to tell you, wherever you want to be and whatever you want to do, you can do it. Go for it!
I would really like to help you with your BIM and CAD production. If what I have presented here can help you sell more business, and you get too busy, you might need my help to get out all that new work. Now. How can I help you with whatever you are working on today?
Aloha and best regards,
Charles Traylor, Architect, NCARB
is an offering of
Archline CAD-BIM Services, Ltd.
15950 Dallas Parkway, Suite 400
Dallas, Texas 75248
Telephone: (214) 304-2850
15-116 Kuna Street
Pahoa, Hawaii 96778
Telephone: (808) 965-1001
Cell: (808) 747-4460