8 Jun 2010
When Mr. Bob Borson (Texans like formality, right?) asked me to guest post, all I could think about for a topic was blogging. That’s because Bob’s such a prolific blogger. He’s posted 80-something articles (last time I checked) since Life of an Architect’s launch in January of this year. That’s more than my architecture firm, Modative has posted in our three-plus years of blogging. He’s either a natural, or a fast learner -probably both. I am neither.
Unlike Bob “The Natural” Borson, it took me several years, a chance encounter, and a bunch of mediocre posts before our architecture blog became even moderately readable. Here’s how it happened.
A Rough Start
In late 2006, nine months after founding our small architecture firm, we started a blog on our website as a place to add news about the firm. Business blogging had been popular for years, but few architects (such late adopters) had them. We started blogging anyway, in spite of the fact that other architects weren’t doing it. To try something new.
For some strange reason, I was so adverse to the word “blog” that we called it “news”. In the first three months, we posted three times. It was terrible stuff. Interesting to no one.
Then a Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak Happened
My perspective and energy towards our blog changed in February 2007 through a chance encounter. On a flight home from a ski trip in Sun Valley, ID, I sat next to an attorney who was heading home early to Seattle (my layover in route back to Los Angeles) because of a peanut butter salmonella outbreak. The man sitting next to me was Bill Marler, the top food poisoning attorney in the country.
Back in 1993 when people got sick and several children died from Jack in the Box hamburgers, Bill represented some of the E. coli victims and built his firm on that case. Now his firm travels the country representing food poisoning victims (mostly children) as cases arise. For a profession that many people love to hate, Bill is one of the good guys.
Before we even took off from Sun Valley, I got talking to Bill about business. I told him about my one year old architecture firm that I started with my two partners. Without hesitation Bill said that we need to be blogging. He told me how his frequent blogging had truly changed his business. He used his blog to gain an audience and get the word out that he was an expert in his field.
Bill didn’t have to hard sell me on blogging. His success spoke for itself.
I came back from that encounter determined to improve our blog. I started blogging more frequently, but the content was still mostly boring announcements:
“Hey, we moved the office!”
“We started a new project.”
I still didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what makes a blog interesting. What makes people care enough to read it and come back?
I was laking inspiration. I didn’t have any blogging heroes. The few architect’s blogs I found were like mine – full of uninteresting announcements.
Then there were architecture blogs. The kind by professional writers/bloggers that showcase various architecture projects and use complex language to describe them. That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something different – to educate the general public on what architects do.
Around late 2008 the blog finally started to really improve. I began to develop a loose set of blog rules in my head. This is the first time I’ve attempted to write them out. Although these rules are specific to our blog, they aren’t rocket science. Many other architect bloggers have similar ideas.
My Rules for an Architect’s Blog:
1. Consistency is Critical
This is a tough one. To have a really popular blog, you need to post frequently. If you can’t post often, at least post on a consistent basis, even if it’s once a month.
Bob follows this rule well, posting multiple times a week. I never have, and probably never will reach this level. I’ve accepted this because blogging is not a top priority for me. I have a busy schedule running our firm and I’m not a skilled writer. It takes me a long time to develop a blog post. I’ve come to terms with my level of consistency of one to four blog posts a month.
It’s common for a blog to launch fast and heavy with excitement for six months then no posts for six months as the blogger gets burned out.
I challenge Bob to stay consistent, even if it means less frequent posts. None of us want a Life of an Architect hiatus.
2. Stay on Theme
Topics can be broad based, but they need to stay on the central theme of what we do as architects.
Bob is a master of this. His topics are broad based, but always relate to his central theme of humanizing his experiences as an architect. Although Bob and I have never met in person (or even talked on the phone), I feel like I know him. I bet you do too and it’s one of the reasons you come back for more.
3. Be Honest
People easily see through marketing pitches disguised as blog articles. Just talk honestly about what you do. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing.
People will either like you or not. Besides, we’re not the best architect for everyone anyway. Our honesty will help us filter down to the people that really get us. The ones that want to work with us or join in the conversation.
4. Limit the Announcements
We have a section for projects on our website where you can see our work. A blog isn’t a place for boring project announcements. If you’re going to announce something related to a project, the post better contain some real insight into the process.
If you have a lot to share on a project, start a dedicated blog. We did this for our car wash remodel and it gets quite a few visits. Why clutter up the main blog with project details that the bulk of our audience could care less about.
5. Be Different
Your blog shouldn’t be like other architect’s blogs.*
As I said before, until recently, I hadn’t found any architect blogs I liked. Instead, I found a few non-architect blogging heroes that helped give me some direction:
The 37signals blog talks so openly about the inner workings of their web based software company.
Has an architect ever blogged about how their firm really works?
Seth Godin’s Blog is easy to read and inspiring.
Were any architects inspiring people through their blog, rather than just showcasing their work?
*Disclaimer - Now that a few like-minded architect blogs like Life of an Architect and Coffee with an Architect have emerged, I’m happy to have our blog be similar. It’s an honor to be compared to these blogs. This is a far cry from the time when I didn’t want our blog to resemble any other architect’s blogs.
Share as much as you can. Don’t worry about sharing information with competitors.
As my business partner, Christian told me recently, if our competitors start copying us, then it just means we need to step up our game.
7. Have an Opinion
Not everyone will agree with you. That’s fine.
If we aren’t critical of our profession then it will never improve. However, complaining is easy. Provide as many solutions as criticisms.
8. Be Helpful
When you learn something, share it.
Our almost complete series on “How to Start an Architecture Firm” began because we had done a few lectures on how we started our office and kept hearing from students and young professionals that they wanted to learn more. We found ourselves having countless coffee and lunch meetings sharing our story. While we certainly enjoyed these meetings, posting this information online has reached thousands of future architecture firm founders all over the world.
Many people have helped us. We’re just passing it along.
9. Add More Rules
The blog will evolve. Just like our architecture, it will get better with practice. Continue to add rules as needed.
10. Get Feedback
A blog shouldn’t be a one way conversation.
I’d like to finish with a few questions:
1. What are your blogging rules?
2. What other architect’s blogs do you like?
3. What do you think Bob is doing right now in Paris?
The best answer to question #3 will win a “Texas is bigger than France” T-Shirt courtesy of Bob Borson. (Just Kidding)