Fees collection has been a thorn in the flesh of most architects in Ghana although some might not have experienced such phenomenon in their practice. As a follow up to the article on Unpaid Jobs, we have come up with certain tactics architects can employ in collecting their fees. These strategies are based on extractions from a workshop organized by the Northern Chapter of the Ghana Institute of Architects [GIA] which was facilitated by architects from Amalgamated Grup, KNUST Development Office and Architect Mosner Ansong. The GIA has a scale of fees that is supposed to be used by architects in charging for fees but unfortunately this mostly is only applicable to certain clientele such as corporate clients. This has been attributed to economic hardships in the country and it is most likely similar situations are prevalent across the African continent. Therefore, architects in this part of the world need to be creative in collecting their fees just as they are creative in designs. There cannot be one-fit-all approach in this occurrence but different approaches in various circumstances ; although the core of this problem depends on the type of client. The strategies have been grouped into technical tactics and soft tactics; with technical tactics being the professional strategies architects can adopt in their consultancy that makes it easy for clients to pay for their services. On the other hand, soft tactics are approaches architects can adopt to claim especially outstanding fees.
TYPE OF CLIENTELE
Collection of fees is influenced by the kind of clientele an architect would have; whether been private client, government, foreign, friends, classmates, corporate etc. Among these, corporate and foreign clients are probably the easiest to deal with when it comes to fees collection. The most difficult type of client is the government, which unfortunately is the major employer. For government projects, it is advisable to have some sort of political influence or power in order for you to be able to collect your fees. At the same time, the architect should ensure he or she is not tagged as belonging to any particular political party since this might jeopardize chances of future prospective jobs. Nonetheless, creating a balance in clientele should be something every architect need aspire to achieve.
Architects are supposed to approach the profession as a business just as entrepreneurs do in other fields. It is evident that corporate clients are more willing to pay for services rendered but in order for architects to get the best of payment attitude from private clients, an entrepreneurial mindset has to be employed in dealing with private clients and this is likely to paint a better picture of architecture been a business but not only a profession.
VALUE TO SERVICE
Architects should inculcate the habit of putting value on the services they provide since it is not only the designs or drawings they produce. At the designing stage even, skills such as research, coordination, critical thinking, team management, project planning etc are all adopted in executing designs; hence, architects should be educating clients for them to appreciate that the profession goes beyond designing or drawing. Casual attitude towards work should not be encouraged as clients are not happy with such attitudes since it makes it difficult for them to pay such architects. In addition, scope of services should be explained and discussed with clients especially uninformed ones as their appreciation of the details of the work make it easy for them to pay architects. Discussion of fees must be done to ensure both parties are on the same page before commencement of designs; as this will save both a lot of time and other resources. It is okay for an architect to walk off a project if he/she feels the client cannot afford the value he/she has to offer.
Another school of thought is that architects should demand for deposits from clients as a form of commitment fee before embarking on projects. In situations where a client pays the commitment fee but then it becomes difficult to claim outstanding fees, these soft tactics might be helpful:
Personal Interactions: this will involve paying your client visits and subtly pointing out the outstanding fees. This might not work all the time but a thoughtful client would not want you to be paying him /her false visits so will pay you.
Telephone calls and Gentle reminders: let us face it, in today’s busy world some clients are likely to forget about your outstanding fees especially when they already have the drawings. Hence, gentle reminders through phone calls and text messages can do the magic for you to get paid.
Commissioning a lobbyist: in situations where the outstanding fees are substantial, a close relative or a highly respected person close to the client can be approached to lobby for the client to pay the architect an agreed price with the lobbyist.
Threat of discontinuity of service: this approach is 50-50 as it can backfire so it should only be used if the architect would not mind losing the job. This can be done by the architect writing mails or letters to the client as a threat of relinquishing his/her services for non-payment of outstanding fees.
Suing the client: in extreme cases, the architect can decide to sue the client for his outstanding fees but this should be a last option or in cases where the architect has no interest in keeping the client. The approach should be handled with care in order for the architect not to be tagged as legalistic or a litigant.
Consider as bad debt: this is not necessarily a tactic in collecting fees but in cases where all plausible options have been exhausted, the only alternative is to consider the outstanding fees as bad debt and take lessons from the circumstances that ensued to the bad debt.
In all these suggestions, the architect is to ensure he/she does not appear to be eager or desperate for money since clients can use that as a basis to control you. In addition to the suggested tactics, architects who are instinctive enough to predict a difficult client should inculcate the habit of holding back critical details on the project and develop a pay-as-you-go system, that is clients will only get full drawings the moment final payment is made.
So these are some of the strategies we have identified; there are certainly other approaches out there. Any architect who feels the need to share a tested tactic[s] can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks