By the numbers, the economy is great, but it still feels a little “wobbly” to those of us in the design and construction industry. High interest rates and uncertainty about the office market are keeping a lot of new projects away from the starting line, and while the Architecture Billings Index is showing some encouraging signs for the future, it’s still indicating a challenging current market for most firms.

While we can’t control the movement of the market, we can control what we do to try and make the best of it. In this case, making the best of it should include looking at it as an opportunity to fine-tune your marketing efforts and prepare for future growth.

Here are some ideas to consider as you consider upgrading your marketing for 2024 and beyond.

Review Your Website

Start with the basics. Is everything up to date? Are there broken links or images? Does the site address basic on-site SEO requirements like full indexibility and compelling page titles and descriptions?

Then, look at the content. Does it tell the story of who you are now to the clients you most want to impress? Are your latest and best projects featured?

And I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this in 2024, but if your site isn’t responsive, it’s time for a revamp. Many, if not most, visitors will be viewing your site on a phone or tablet, and having a site that works on mobile is now a non-negotiable requirement. Not having that puts your firm at a serious disadvantage.

Fill Out Your Photography Library

Remember that architectural photographer who never has time available to shoot your projects? As the market cools, they may have more openings. Whether inquiries pick up in a month or a year, you will need good photography to respond. Take advantage of the slow times to get ready for the busy times.

It’s also a good time to consider opportunities to spruce up the images in your existing library. If you haven’t opened Photoshop in the last few months, you may be surprised by some of the new AI tools for image editing and enhancement. For example, the longstanding problem of having an image that would be perfect if you could just change the aspect ratio by adding some sky can now be solved with a couple of clicks.

Reevaluate Your Social Channels

The slow death of Twitter/X and the resurgence of LinkedIn are two obvious reasons to reevaluate your social media strategy. The fact that every channel is now prioritizing short-form vertical video is another.

Most small firms have difficulty maintaining a presence in more than one or two places, so don’t be afraid to make hard choices about what you can do. Have places you rarely post anymore? Take the icons off your website and consider pinning a post directing people elsewhere.

Rethink Content to Put a Focus on Brand Building

With fewer inquiries to respond to, now is an outstanding time to think about producing content (for the website, email, or social media) that emphasizes what makes you special and why clients hire you. Firms with clear positioning weather downturns better and then capture the lion’s share of the work during the rebound.

Make a Plan for PR and Awards

The times when there’s less work in the office are the best times to make sure you’re getting your recent work noticed. Make a list of publications or websites you think are a good fit, and look at their editorial calendars and submission guidelines. Formulate a reasonable schedule for pitching projects to publications throughout the year and then stick to it.

On awards, now is the time to expand your reach beyond local or regional design competitions and look at more obscure industry-specific or material-specific awards. While these carry less weight in the design community, they can often be more effective at getting in front of potential clients. And the organizers often do a good job of aggressively promoting the winners to their audiences.

Dust Off Your Mailing List

When you’re creating this new content, make sure you share it with existing clients, partners, or others who have opted in to receive emails from you. Even if they aren’t the best near-term prospects, they could be sources of all-important referrals in a tough market.

Build and Renew Partnerships

Don’t stop with email, though. Make sure you’re also networking in other ways with potential referral sources like contractors, tenant rep brokers, residential agents, or other consultants. One good thing about a softer market is that busy people have more time and motivation for networking.

Boost Community Service Activities

In quieter times, engaging in community service contributes positively to society and enhances your firm’s local visibility and reputation. Consider participating in local building projects, offering pro-bono design services to non-profits, or organizing community improvement initiatives. These activities showcase your firm’s commitment to social responsibility while also providing networking opportunities and enriching your portfolio with diverse projects.

Get Serious About Evaluating AI Tools

Large architecture firms are already diving headfirst into generative AI and exploring ways it can make employees more efficient and creative. 2024 is likely to be the year that more small and mid-sized firms begin to discover how AI can benefit them as well. Familiarizing yourself with these tools now can give you a competitive edge when the market accelerates in the coming months.

This list seems daunting at first glance, but as you may have noticed, many of these tactics are interrelated. New photography can drive website updates, boost the content available for social media sharing, and increase award and publication opportunities. Thought leadership content and community service activities create things to talk about in emails or LinkedIn posts. And an updated website serves as a home base to tie all of these efforts together and magnify their impact.

The bottom line is that a challenging business environment is not a reason to forget about marketing. Instead, it’s an opportunity to use every available resource to sharpen and amplify your message. That will put you in a stronger position to compete for what may be a smaller number of available projects in early 2024, and then capitalize on the likely rebound in the coming months.