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From small projects mighty things grow

We’ve got the proof: getting your small project published in the AJ does lead to new work, writes Christine Murray

I was reminded of one of the most admirable qualities about the profession last week, at the AJ Small Projects launch at the NLA: architects’ willingness to share business acumen with each other.

At the talk and panel discussion, Deborah Saunt, co-founder of DSDHA, shared her advice on how to grow a small practice into a world-class, award-winning one. Her presentation, ‘From House Extensions to Skyscrapers’, began with a slide of a fledgling four square-metre extension completed 13 years ago, after she founded her studio in 1998. But gradually, over her 20-minute talk, the projects on the slides got bigger. More extensions, then a nursery, finally the Paradise Park Children’s Centre, then, after its publication in the press, one big break after another. Her final slide was of a 30-storey skyscraper currently on the practice’s books.

Saunt was followed by Ben Addy of Moxon Architects, who was able to show, through pie charts of his annual turnover year-on-year, a direct correlation between being shortlisted in the AJ Small Projects 2007 awards for his Cairngorms National Park footbridge, and several subsequent bridge commissions, which eventually established the practice as a specialist bridge design outfit. Addy is emphatic that getting a project published in the AJ, whether on the website or in print, has resulted in inquiries and paid commissions from clients he’s never met (not surprising when you know that nearly 500 major clients subscribe to the AJ).

Both Addy and Saunt asserted that engaging the services of a good PR, even for a short time, can really help you understand how to market your practice effectively. The two also offered advice on how to win awards. ‘You have to learn how to say what makes your project special in a sentence or less,’ said Saunt, who also explained that what judges are often trying to assess is the level of difficulty of a project, and how you performed against that brief. Addy and Saunt also agreed that hiring a professional photographer was absolutely key to getting your project noticed in awards and by the media.

But more interesting than the link between publication, marketing, PR and business success was Saunt and Addy’s words on fees for projects under £250,000: ‘Never charge a percentage fee for a small project,’ said Saunt, who always charges an hourly rate for small jobs. She also recommended taking £2,500 up front as a retainer, and never invoicing for more than £2,500 at a time. Addy agreed, although he takes a slightly different approach, charging a lump sum for RIBA Stages A to C. Two invaluable tips on how to make small projects pay – and another nail in the coffin for the RIBA percentage fee scales.

To enter AJ Small Projects 2012, supported by Marley Eternit, visit

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