When you’re interested in a smaller project, sometimes it’s not clear who you should be contacting. Do you call the architect, or go directly to the client? David Crick of CMS explains. 

When a planning application goes in – unless it’s for a very small project – a client will hire an architect or a planner to do it for them. That means on most applications there are two parties who may represent significant interest for you as a builder. The first is the client, and the second is the architect who has been appointed as a professional advisor. This is where the question comes in for those who are after that job: who should they be contacting? 

If you want the quick answer on whether it’s better to call the architect or the client, it’s yes. 

It’s a bit like journalism - you talk to everyone, because you never quite know where the story is. The same applies with sales. You can take an educated guess about a job, but you can’t take it for granted who the decision maker will be. So talk to everyone. 

Now for the longer answer. The first thing to look at is the size of the job. If it’s a really tiny job, a wall or patio, a single garage, then you’re safe to assume it’s the client who will be making the decisions.

If it’s a small scale domestic project, say a kitchen extension, or a garage with a room above or a side extension, then it’s going to be getting closer to architect involvement. If the likely buildcost is around £50k or less, the architect will have put in the planning application and probably prepared building regulations/working drawings but they usually won’t be paid to handle the tendering process or to supervise the job on site. There’s just not enough money in the job. In those cases, you go straight to Mr or Mrs Smith. (Approaching a client is different to approaching a professional, I should add. We’ll come to that in a future article.) 

Now, there are a couple of caveats to that. The first is that an architect may occasionally be paid to handle tendering as a separate matter – perhaps if the client is away, for example. Or if an architectural practice has been appointed, it may well be a bigger project than it first looks. A small extension for example can sometimes indicate a lot of internal remodelling. But generally speaking, most people will handle the work themselves on a project of this size.  

It may still be worth talking to an architect on a smaller job because they can refer you to the client. If you come to the client through the architect, then you’ve come with a degree of credibility. Besides, as a sales professional I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to talk to an architect, especially one new to me, because it’s good relationship building – and you might hear about other jobs along the way. 

The bigger the job, the bigger the role for the architect, so once you get to £60-£70,000 and above, then there’s usually enough money in the job to warrant the architect taking it to tender and then to supervision on site. You know who to call. 

Some jobs may have a planning consultant rather than an architect. That’s usually a indicator that the client already has a builder in mind, because a planner won’t handle a project after the planning approval. Having said that, if you can’t get hold of the client, a planning consultant will usually be ok with a call from you and may well be happy to pass on your details. There may occasionally also be a QS in the background, so look out for those names on the planning application forms and drawings and make your enquiries accordingly.  

On any project it’s vital to find out who the actual decision makers are. Every architect is an advisor who is instructed by the client. They may assemble the tendering list and then discuss it with the client – who may also have two or three builders they’d like to add to the list. They may be completely inexperienced, but like the look of a certain builder and want them to submit a price. So you can never quite tell. You can look for clues: if the client is an elderly couple aiming to sell a piece of land for development, there will be no tender for construction and it’s likely they’ll have little direct involvement in the sale process. Then again, the client may be ‘construction literate’ – a surveyor or developer themselves – and they may well be making the key decisions. 

To sum up, the rule of thumb is that for small residential projects under £50,000, talk to the client. For larger and more complex projects, talk to the architect. But as I said at the beginning, we take the view that if you’re keen on a job, there’s usually real value in talking to everyone! If your competitors don’t it all helps to establish you at the head of the queue. 

You might want to talk to the architect first, because they’re often easier to get hold of. Then, in a friendly way, ask who’s going to be putting together the tendering list. An architect can refer you to a client. Likewise, if you’re struggling to get hold of an architect, call the client and get a referral the other way. Feel free to approach a job of interest from two or three directions at once. 

If in doubt, remember that very useful three letter word: ask. 

(At CMS, we’re experts at hitting the phones and asking, pursuing every lead, and winning the work you want. If you’d like some sales support, get in touch.)



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