In June 2012 been contacted by an architect, living in Dominican Republic, but I believe he was a native english speaker, possibly American, in vacation.
Been impressed by my works, he offered a collaboration, to advertise my services for FREE on his future website, a directory of architects aimed for entire Caribbean region, in exchange of some of my drawings.
That times, my experience was limited at designing houses and apartments as hobby, art of drawing and 3D modeling, I was playing with layouts and publishing concept plans on website. Having no university, I clearly stated at top of page that I am DESIGNER, NOT ARCHITECT, nor that I offer architectural services.
I knew that for building permit and construction you need higher-detailed “architectural construction drawings” which I had no knowledge about doing them.
Since I discovered the live chat software in January 2012, been contacted by several people which I helped by designing simple concept plans, for FREE to practice playing with layouts. I asked once $20 for a floor plan designed in 1 hour, but customer refused to pay, I was drawing floor plans for FREE willing to charge money for 3D design, but my customers were not needing 3D design. All of them said that have no money to pay me.
The american architect told me that my prices are wrong and showed me that www.houseplans.com does sell drawings for hundred to thousand dollars, he personally is working for prices of $5000-10000 per house project, suggesting me to use a reference price of 40$ per hour, but the concept plans I was drawing myself were taking only 1 hour, so how much should charge in this case?
I told him my experience with customers refusing to pay even $20 to show him that I do not believe that someone could pay thousands dollars.
He asked me how old I am, I answered 23 years old (at this age is obvious that I cannot be a (licensed) architect), but he kept maintaining the offer of promoting my services, so I accepted the offer.
HE PUT ME ON WRONG TRACK, making me to think that my “concept plans”, my age and my knowledge is sufficient to promote myself as “architecture services” and can charge large sums of money. I became worried that people could steal my concept plans and use in construction, especially because the people I gave them sketches / concept plans, said “thank you, useful”.
He gave me several advices, but forgot to tell me an important part: what are “construction drawings”?
He was replying in 5-10 min in 90% of cases, despite of saying that is BUSY, but he was giving random replies and random advices instead of answering my questions.
Example of his advices… which proved useless:
– Use PayPal for safety reasons – I always asked to be paid in PayPal and this made me to lose customers, most customers do not have PayPal. I went to a bank and opened a bank account.
– Watermark the drawings to prevent usage – I was already engraving my name and website URL on every image, but it was not convincing people to pay for non-watermarked drawings.
– 50% before, 50% after… that I was trying to do: Do the first sketch, show to the customer a screenshot to show that I did some work, and ask for payment to complete drawing and sell in PDF format ready for printing. But people were saying Thanks! right after I sent preview screenshot of first sketch and run away before I could ask for money. These people were not even interested in PDF or construction detailed drawings!
Hope he did not wanted to get 50% of money before the screenshot, because is unlikely for someone to pay me without having proof that I did work.
I asked about 3 or 4 times “Is possible to get building permit by printing THIS image http://www.teoalida.com/design/House-for-extended-family-floorplan.png ?” and he never answered despite should not take more than several seconds to say YES or NO.
Later, 2 people told me that can’t pay because are students, next time I asked if they are builders of students and by this way, I realized that most people who were contacting me for architecture stuff, were actually students, no wonder why they were not paying.
Next months been contacted by over 10 people, ALL STUDENTS except 2 people who were looking to build and I made the mistake to treat them like the students majority, I served them free without realizing that they are ready to pay, one of them even asked me “how much do you charge” and I didn’t realized meaning word “charge” = money!
I emailed the chatlogs to american, showing that my “customers” were actually STUDENTS WITHOUT MONEY and asked him what to do with them. Also asked what is going on with our collaboration, he said that next month, his website will be ready.
Next month, I emailed him again about our collaboration, also asking an advice how to calculate price for apartment projects because been contacted for a 160-unit tower block in Malaysia… he said that put my collaboration offer under review, because do not want to promote my services of someone who “lost many customers” (been contacted by many people who did not paid me – this just after I showed him that these people did not paid me because are STUDENTS, not because were unhappy by my services, nobody complained), and because I asked him too many questions and he never offer free advices.
I emailed him a screenshot of chatlog showing a customer paying me $200$ after an initial payment of $100$, to prove that I have happy PAYING customers, not just students and failures. I asked him to give me a project to do, to see whenever I can offer quality services… he never replied anymore.
The Caribbean architect omitted a thing: not every person who visit my website is interested in my services, you cannot force people paying for something they do not need!
Probably he had an office and been visited by customers who are actually interested in his services, but at me, in online world, things are different: I have a website, a chat widget, visitors are automatically greet and many people answer accidentally and often asking “Do you HAVE a floor plan X x Y meters with Z bedrooms” (please note difference between “Do you HAVE” and “Can you DESIGN”.
I had cases when even if I was offering FREE service to draw a sketch in 30 minutes, they refused and left website. One even said “Thanks anyway, I found a suitable plan on your website”.
Conclusion: most people are just browsing the internet for free ideas and ready-made plans, they are NOT interested in anyone’s services. This explain why many people who contact me do not pay, these people cannot be called “lost customers” because they are not customers at all.
But the SAD part is that some people are building a house, they have already a preferred architect / designer and they contact me for ideas and sketch then go with my sketch to another architect and pay (only) him for detailed construction drawings. This is NOT fair, they should pay me too for idea.
How idiot was the Caribbean architect to blame the quality of my services due to people looking for ideas not even interested in my services?
Filipino architect that put me on correct track
Later, I made another friend, a Filipino architect living in Singapore, and I thank him for telling me FEW IMPORTANT DETAILS that the American-Caribbean idiot refused to answer and forgot to tell me.
Filipino architect confirmed what I believed before meeting the idiot: you CANNOT get building permit with the concept plans I was making myself. You need fully-dimensioned floor plans, elevations, sections, structural details, plumbing and electrical drawing, all these drawings require few weeks of work, and he charge a minimum of $1000 for them (to date, nobody ever asked me for so many drawings, most likely lack of samples of detailed drawings on website made people to realize that I am not architect, which is correct).
He also said that I can charge money for my 1-hour sketches, but price accordingly, don’t ask thousand dollars for concept plans like what said american idiot.
I found this website www.homeplans.com.my selling luxury house plans starting at ONLY 199 RM = 65 USD, offering a preview of PDF so you can see exactly what do you get by buying.
I started learning how to make detailed architectural construction drawings to be able to join competition with architects, and once published on website samples of detailed drawings beside simple the concept plans, more customers paid me for architectural services.
However, paying customers remains a rare sight. 90% of people who contact me want just a free sketch and run away. And some of the paying ones ask so many revisions that I regret taking their projects.
In conclusion: the american architect pushed me into an architecture career that I do not really enjoy.