15 Tips for Starting Your Own Architectural Firm
15 Tips for Starting Your Own Architectural Firm
You’ve spent most of your career working for somebody else. Now, it’s time to become your own boss. Here’s some advice on starting your own architectural firm.
Why did you become an architect?
For most, it’s because it’s a creative endeavour. You have the opportunity to bring the designs that you create to life. Every building that you work on carries your signature.
However, working for somebody else’s firm can stifle your creativity. Instead of working on passion projects, you’re assigned to whatever job the firm gives you. If you don’t love the work, you risk losing your passion for the profession.
That’s why you’re thinking about starting your own architectural firm.
But there’s a problem. You’re not the only one starting your own architectural firm. There are about 13,500 firms in Australia alone. That’s a lot of competition and you’re only armed with your talent and a few connections.
You’re going into business for yourself, so you need a host of new skills. You have to understand the concepts behind selling architectural services. You also need a few architectural marketing ideas up your sleeve.
It’s a lot to take in, so look for some help. These are 15 tips for starting an architecture firm.
Tip #1 – Start Early
Starting your own architecture firm doesn’t begin when you leave your existing firm. In fact, every minute you spend working for somebody else is a chance to build your own business.
It all starts with your internship. This is when you start building connections with people in the industry. Other professionals want to teach you so take full advantage.
As your career progresses, you’ll work with all sorts of clients. Make it a point to stay in contact with all of them. They’ll be the first people that you talk to when you strike out on your own.
If you have visions of opening your own firm, think about what you can do to help your cause right now. You may not feel ready for a couple of years. But you can still take steps towards firm ownership if you learn more and build your network.
Tip #2 – Don’t Overspend
Once you’re ready to go, you’ll confront the issue of competition. Many new firm owners think that their firm’s image plays a huge part in selling architectural services. They buy new cars and lavish cash on expensive offices.
You don’t need any of that. In fact, those big purchases are a drain on your resources. The money you spent on a new car could have gone towards another employee. Or, you could have spent it on a better digital design software package.
Overspending places your firm in a bad financial position before it’s even gotten off the ground. Consider every cost carefully and ask yourself the key question – “Do I need it?”
Ditch it if you don’t. That’s money saved that can help you lay the real foundations of your firm.
Tip #3 – Know Why You’re Doing It
As a firm owner, you’re an entrepreneur. And there’s one thing that all successful entrepreneurs have in common.
They all have a goal.
You need one too. It’s not enough to start a firm just because you love architecture. You need an architectural firm business plan that defines where your firm wants to be and what you’ll do to get it there.
If you don’t know where you’re going or why you’re going there, the early months of firm ownership will cause stress. You’ll think about quitting on a daily basis.
Your vision for the future is what will see you through the most troubling early days.
Tip #4 – Build Something
Your training equipped you with the skills to design a building. But do you know what actually goes into the building process?
Surprisingly, many architects don’t. They’re too caught up in their drawings to think about the other work that goes into making their visions a reality.
Don’t let that be you. As a firm owner, it’s your responsibility to understand as much about the process as possible. That means getting out on the building site and learning about the practical side of things.
Contact an experienced contractor and get involved. You’ll learn more about what they do, plus you’ll develop new contacts. You could even volunteer for a charity to get some building experience under your belt.
Tip #5 – Design Your Own Branding
Your brand separates you from the competition. It’s something creative that people will associate with your firm whenever they see it.
So, why contract it out to somebody else?
Nobody knows what your firm means better than you. Furthermore, you’re a creative person. You don’t have to rely on somebody else to come up with a logo that fits. You can do that yourself.
This offers you the opportunity to impress clients before they’ve even seen your portfolio. You’re showing off your creativity and design flair in every material that others read. Plus, you’re selling architectural services without spending money on design companies.
Tip #6 – Examine Several Revenue Streams
There’s a basic way to do business as an architect. Clients contract a service from you and pay you for that service. That likely forms the basis of your architectural firm’s business plan.
But it’s not the only revenue stream you have.
Remember that branding design tip? That could be your route into creating marketing materials for other companies.
Think about how you can use your expertise to make more money. Perhaps you could write an eBook, or create a blog that generates advertising revenue. Or, you may have an idea that you can sell directly to clients without them enquiring about it beforehand.
Having several revenue streams helps your firm, especially if you’ve gone a while with no major projects. You can then reinvest that money into the firm.
Tip #7 – Don’t Rely Solely on Computers
Your digital design software package is vital to your firm’s success. It’s where you’ll create the models that convince clients to give you jobs.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train your traditional drawing skills either.
Imagine that you’re in the middle of a pitch and a client suggests a different idea to what you’re presenting. You can go back and spend a few days on a new computer model, but that doesn’t show that you’ve gotten what the client means straight away.
A quick physical drawing does, plus it lets you go over some basic details with your potential client. You increase their confidence and can use the drawing as the basis of your model.
That’s just one example. Some architects keep their drawing skills sharp because their creative juices flow better when they have a pencil in their hands.
Tip #8 – Take a Business Course
Starting your own architectural firm means that you’re taking on a lot of new responsibilities. You’re not just designing buildings anymore. You’re pitching to clients, controlling your firm’s finances, and dealing with your own staff.
That’s not something that you’ve trained to do. And trying to learn on the job can delay your firm’s progress.
A business course may be the solution to this problem. Consider your current skillset and compare it to the skills you need to run a business. Identify the gaps and find courses that will help you to fill them. Investing in yourself makes you more capable of running your own firm.
Tip #9 – Learn From Bad Experiences
You may have worked for several firms before starting your own. Each one offers you the opportunity to learn something. Most take the good and try to apply it to their own work.
But what about the bad?
Perhaps you had a manager that you didn’t gel with. Or, you noticed inefficiencies that slowed your old firm down.
These bad experiences help you decide what not to do when you’re running your own firm. Remember them, write them down, and then take steps to avoid them.
Tip #10 – Call Your Former Clients
Every client you’ve ever worked with provides the possibility of new opportunities. People remember who did a good job for them. If that’s you, there’s a chance for you to secure some work from the off without directly selling architectural services.
Of course, you can’t breach any non-compete agreements you might have signed.
Go through your list of contacts and pick out the people that you shared good experiences with. These may be people who you delivered great work to or clients that you gelled with.
Call all of them to make them aware that you’re starting your own architectural firm. Ask them to keep you in mind for future projects. You may find that your first clients are those you’ve worked with before.
Tip #11 – Embrace New Trends
Small firms have to find a way to stand out from the crowd. You’re going up against some major competition for every job that you pitch for. New design trends can help you to make an impact.
Remember that large companies generally take time to accept new ideas. While they’re trying to figure out if virtual reality or a new software package is right for them, you can make the decision quicker. You have fewer people to convince and train.
These new trends breathe life into your pitches. Potential clients will remember you because you’re different.
Tip #12 – Get on the Web
We live in an online world and your architectural marketing ideas must reflect that. Most clients want to know more about you and they’ll check the web to find out. Your company’s website and social media pages let you tell your story and sell yourself further.
You can design your website yourself, but make sure you work with a good development company. An unreliable website looks unprofessional, which reflects on your business.
As for social media, don’t just set up some business pages. Actively engage with the people who follow them. Share images, ideas, and expertise. Build up some buzz around your firm based on the knowledge that you have to offer. This gets people talking, which leads to more clients.
Tip #13 – Be Flexible
You may have grand ideas about the jobs you want to take on when you run your own firm.
Unfortunately, the first couple of years may be a wakeup call.
Getting noticed and doing good work are your main priorities. This means you need to accept work that doesn’t necessarily get your juices flowing
But doing that work well leads to more opportunities. You’ll impress clients, who’ll talk about you to their contacts. New clients come along and your firm starts generating some revenue.
When you’re at that point, you can become choosier over the jobs you take on.
Tip #14 – Don’t Take on Too Much
Unless you have millions of dollars to spend, it’s likely that you’re starting small. You may only have one or two employees, plus you have an entire business to manage.
Unfortunately, that limits the time that you can spend on projects. Until you have people in place to handle things for you, you’re going to be spreading yourself quite thin.
This becomes an even bigger problem if you take on large projects that you can’t handle yet.
Figure out your firm’s current capacity and stick to it. There’s no use in taking on unprofitable jobs that you can’t deliver on time. That just leads to expenses and a bad reputation.
Know your limits and stick to them until you have what you need to grow the firm.
Tip #15 – Practice Pitching
How do you feel about standing in front of an audience and talking? You’re the focus of attention, which is nerve-wracking at the best of times.
Freezing under the pressure doesn’t instil confidence in your prospective clients.
Pitching plays a crucial role in selling architectural services. Like any skill, it requires practice.
Pitch constantly to your staff, your friends, and yourself. Figure out how to keep things concise while still saying the important stuff. Finally, make sure you use language that clients will understand.
This practice makes you more confident in what you’re selling.
Starting your own architectural firm means you have to develop several skills that you may not have used before. You’re now an entrepreneur, marketer, and salesperson, as well as an architect. Differentiate yourself from the competition and do whatever you can to get your name out there. Keep an eye on your expenses and don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Patience, practice, and skill pave the way to a successful firm.
But you also need the right digital design software. That’s where ArchiStar Academy can help. We offer a range of courses to help you get to grips with them.
Contact ArchiStar today to equip yourself with the skills you need to create stunning designs.
ArchiStar Academy offers several courses across the spectrum of digital design software. You’ll develop your skills, allowing you to create more accurate and functional models.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Archistar Academy today if you have any questions.
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Posted on 10 Dec 2018