20 Tips for New Architectural and Engineering Firms
Follow These Tips to Stay Ahead of the Competition
Did you know there are currently over 40,000 companies offering architectural and engineering services just in Australia?
It’s a scary number, isn’t it? It’s particularly frightening for any architect or engineer who wants to open a firm. It shows how much competition you face if you want to succeed in the industry.
It’s crucial that you understand just how varied this competition can be. You’ll have to deal with small, specialised firms and huge, multi-discipline companies.
So, how do you get ahead?
That’s a question that this list of the top 20 tips for new architectural and engineering firms aims to answer.
Tip #1 – Use Interns Wisely
Many university students are just starting out in their careers. That means they’re probably looking to have an internship lined up.
Take full advantage of this opportunity. Use it to build connections with new students who may become great employees later on. Try as many things as possible and listen to all the advice you receive.
You should also join a professional association. The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) or Engineers Australia is a great choice in Australia.
Tip #2 – Dollars and Cents
First impressions count for a lot but they don’t mean much if your firm goes out of business. New firms should focus on keeping costs low above all else.
A lot of architects and engineers got their starts in basement offices underneath their homes. That’s hundreds or even thousands of dollars saved in rent every month right there.
Your goal is to get as much as you can for as little as possible. Don’t spend unless you have to and always look for bargains rather than buying high-end office supplies. Once your firm is established then you can look at completing a fancy fitout.
Tip #3 – Identify Your Perfect Project
You need to know what you want to do before you can go into business. That means identifying the perfect project.
Now, you must understand that not every project you get will be a perfect project. In fact, many of them won’t.
However, knowing what you want gives you something to work back from. Think of it as an end goal. With that goal in mind, you can figure out who you need to talk to if you want to secure projects that suit your firm. It’s not just about getting business. It’s about getting the right business.
Tip #4 – Get a Mentor
Most architects and engineers will tell you that they wouldn’t be where they are today if it wasn’t for the guidance they got from others. A good mentor will help you so much in the early days of your career.
Your mentor opens the door to key-contacts that can help you to advance your career and get your firm off the ground. The best mentors will have business experience themselves. Thus, they’ll be able to offer first-hand advice.
Work with anybody who offers to help you along. Success in business is as much about who you know as what you know. A good mentor can help you with both.
Tip #5 – Do Things Yourself
You don’t need to use outside help for everything related to your business.
Take your company logo as an example. You’re an architect or engineer. That means you have a creative streak. Put it to use and make the logo yourself. The same goes for your website and anything else that relies on creativity as much as technical knowledge.
You also need to accept that you will do all of the little jobs when you start your own firm. While it would be nice to have staff to do the grunt work, you’ll save a lot more money if you do it yourself to start with.
Tip #6 – Get the Right Software
Anybody who wants to open an architectural or engineering firm must understand the importance of having the right digital design software. There are many choices available, so you need to focus on learning as much as you can about the software you’re most comfortable with.
The right course can help here. A Revit online course will get you up to speed with that software. ArchiStar Academy also offer courses and training in Revit, among a lot of other digital design software packages.
You’ll be using your software a lot. Get trained and make sure you have the hardware needed to get the most out of your software.
Tip #7 – Make Your Marketing Materials Work
Creating a portfolio is one of your first orders of business. It’s how you’re going to attract a lot of your clients, after all.
Using marketing materials to highlight your creativity can work wonders. Take your design book. It could be a dry collection of images of models. Instead, focus on creating designs around your models. In the end, the book can become a great example of your work because of the models and unique designs it contains.
All your marketing materials need to be great. Make your emails stand out and create a user-friendly website that helps clients find the information they need.
Tip #8 – Get Building
It’s a simple tip, but an effective one. Your courses and internships will only show you so much. It’s not until you get onto a building site that you will see the end product of your designs.
Get in touch with a contractor and find some way to get involved in the building process. Volunteer, if you have to. What you should do is observe. Watch the crew. Figure out what they’re doing and you’ll have some expertise to bring into your own firm.
Plus, it never hurts to have a new contact in the building industry.
Tip #9 – Talk to Your Friends
Speak to a few friends in different businesses before launching your firm. They may not work in the same industry, but their advice will prove invaluable.
Find the business people you know and pump them for information. Anything to do with the administrative aspects of business will help. That’s an area that a lot of creative types don’t pay enough attention to when starting their own businesses.
You shouldn’t make that mistake. And, again, your business-minded friends could point you in the direction of new opportunities.
Tip #10 – Communicate Constantly
Your contact list doesn’t do much if you don’t use it.
Communicate constantly to get people’s attention. Send out newsletters to tell people what you’re doing and make sure that your name stays at the front of your potential clients’ minds.
You can use mass mailing software to accomplish this, but don’t underestimate the power of the personal touch. You’ll win a lot of business by following up on personal communications and establishing rapports with people in your network.
ArchiStar Academy has some great training on how to use LinkedIn effectively to win new Architecture and Engineering projects.
Tip #11 – It’s Not All about CAD and BIM
3D modelling and BIM are musts if you want to succeed in modern architecture and engineering.
But they aren’t the only things you need to know. Being amazing in Revit doesn’t help your mind fully develop its creative skills.
It’s always a good exercise for Architects once in a while to spend some time creating hand-drawn models. Don’t make them the priority, as BIM software is the way to go, but make sure you can draw so you have another tool to use.
Tip #12 – Talk to Your Competitors
You’re probably wondering why you would want to talk to your competitors.
It’s simple. Architecture and Engineering is a very open industry. You’ll find that there are plenty of people who will share advice and information with you if you ask.
Of course, it’s best not to set up meetings with small firms. These will usually be your most direct competitors. But engaging larger firms can help you in the early days. You’ll get some great advice plus you may find that some firms can offer some small contracts to get you started.
Tip #13 – Create a Brand
Most won’t have the resources to start a multi-discipline firm straight away. That’s okay. Very few new architects and engineers do.
That’s why it’s so important to establish a name for yourself in the area of design that you specialise in. You’ve all heard the term “brand” getting thrown around, but it really does matter.
Figure out what you’re really good at. You might specialise in environmentally-friendly buildings or have a knack for commercial buildings. Build your brand around whatever that special something may be.
Tip #14 – Embrace Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) is the future of architecture and engineering. Visualisation has become so important, but the shift towards VR allows you to take clients on full 3D tours of your buildings.
Any start-up firm should look into VR as soon as possible.
Granted, you will have to spend a few thousand dollars to get the hardware. But you’ll set yourself apart early and offer something your competitors don’t have yet.
Tip #15 – Learn from Mistakes
Things will go wrong. Everybody has to deal with our mistakes. It’s how you respond to them that will affect the success of your business.
It’s not just your mistakes that you should learn from, either. Your internship and other jobs give you a chance to see what other firms aren’t doing well.
You can take that information and use it to form your own firm’s strategy. The key is to learn from mistakes, whether they’re your own or somebody else’s.
Tip #16 – Make Yourself an Authority
This tip ties into the earlier branding tip. You’ll need to make yourself an authority on your specialisation sooner, rather than later.
There are several ways to do this. LinkedIn is a great platform for young professionals looking to establish themselves. Post statuses and write opinion pieces to get people following and listening to you. ArchiStar Academy’s online LinkedIn course is a great start on how to use the platform correctly.
From there, take things a step further. Teaching can open up some new opportunities. You may find your lectures draw students to your firm or catch the attention of other architects.
Tip #17 – Develop Your Presentations
You will win and lose contracts at the presentation stage. Clients will nit-pick everything, so every presentation you give should be your best ever.
Having great models is a good start, but it’s not the be all and end all. You’ll need to dress to impress and carry yourself with confidence.
Practice constantly and think of ways to make your presentations noteworthy. For example, something as simple as practicing in front of a mirror can help you improve your public speaking skills.
You can start by doing individual presentations, and as you become more confident, you can organise your own small and large events. ArchiStar Academy has some great training on how to fill up events. In a recent national tour, ArchiStar Academy had over 4,000 architects, engineers and construction firms register to attend.
Tip #18 – Manage Your Growth
This is a big one. Architecture and engineering firms should focus on carefully managed growth in its first few years. Growth demands greater management skills and a lot more staff. That’s all time and money that you have to spend.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look towards faster growth in the future. But start-ups need to manage their expansions to be successful.
Staying small will mean putting in more hours. But you benefit more directly from that work both in terms of earnings and savings.
Tip #19 – Create a Great Working Space
Let’s expand on the long hours point. You won’t have a typical 40-hour work week. That’s just something you will have to accept.
That means you need to find a way to be as comfortable as possible when you’re working.
A lot of modern desks have built-in power functions that raise or lower the desk as needed. That means you can choose to sit or stand while working. Get one, because sitting for hours at a time causes a lot of damage that you don’t always see. Think of other ways to create a workspace that you enjoy being in.
Tip #20 – Have Fun
You stand a higher chance of succeeding in business if you love what you do. Passion is the key driver in business ownership. If you don’t love it, you won’t put the hours in to make it great.
Have fun with what you do and take projects that excite you. See everything as an opportunity to learn and build your business.
Spend time designing for the fun of it. Not every bit of work needs to relate directly to a project. If you find yourself with some spare time, make the most of it by coming up with something that you enjoy doing.
The Final Word
There’s a lot to navigate when you start your own architectural firm. You need to build your network, attract clients, and deliver quality work. All of this comes with a constant focus on the dollars and cents of the operation.
Of course, you also need knowledge. That’s where ArchiStar Academy can help you. ArchiStar Academy offers you the chance to buy many digital design software programs online at industry-best prices. ArchiStar Academy also helps you develop your expertise with its range of digital design training courses and sales and marketing training courses. Contact ArchiStar Academy today to take the first steps on your journey.
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