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You’ve worked for a local architect for some time, putting in the hours, learning the ins and outs of the business. You’ve built up a nice portfolio and you love getting a regular paycheck each week. But you’re starting to think you’d like to step out on your own.
Starting your own architecture firm is a huge step, but you’re ready … or are you? Here are some tips to think about when you branch out on your own.
Get Your Website Ready, Pront
While you’re trying to gain new clients, your website will be your main calling card. This is where you will send prospects to look at your previous projects, learn about your design principles, and decide whether your firm is a good fit for their project.
But as a brand new firm, you might not have any projects to show off. Well, you’d better get some, quick. One of my friends who recently started his own firm did jobs for friends and acquaintances “on the side” (including my house plans) in order to build up a portfolio under his own name. When he launched his new company he had a portfolio of projects ready to go.
The design of your website should be modern and minimal, allowing your project visuals to shine. Use hi resolution images and a simple gallery structure that makes it easy for a client to view images without having to download or open any special program.
What else does your website need? Tell prospects about your company, design principles and what sets you apart by creating an engaging About Us page. Create a services page explaining the type of work you do and what your client will get for their money. And don’t forget to add your contact details! (You’d be surprised how many people forget).
Want to know more about creating the perfect website? See our article on what you need on your architecture website.
Keep Expenses Low, but Scaleable
When you start out, it can be difficult to balance the books. You’ll be spending more money than you’re bringing in, and it can seem like it’s impossible to get ahead. But there are plenty of things you can do to keep costs low to enable you to grow faster.
First of all, think long and hard about whether you need to rent an office space in the initial stages. You can run the business out of your home for a while, until you have the cashflow required to support the rent on an office.
If you need to take on additional staff, see if you can find people willing to work on a contract/freelance basis - that way, you’re not paying staff to twiddle their thumbs when you’re going through a quiet patch. These people can also work from their homes, saving you on office supplies.
It can be tempting to look to simple tools to deal with the admin, accounting and project management side of the business. Word processing and spreadsheet tools come with every PC, and will do the job in a pinch. But this is one area where you should do a bit of research, because a clever project management tool will actually put your architecture firm ahead of the rest.
WorkflowMax does more than just enable you to track time against a job and send an invoice based on that data. It offers a complete tool for managing your practice - from quoting, to every aspect of managing jobs, to reporting on different aspects of your business data. You can create additional functionality through add-ons, such as document management through Box, Dropbox or Google Drive, accounting through Xero, and payroll through various suppliers.
All this for under three-figures a month. That’s a pretty incredible value add. For more information, check out 5 Benefits Job Management Software Bring Your Clients.
Learn from the Best
Starting an architecture firm is a huge undertaking, and you’ll need all the help you can get. Talk to other architects about what they did to start and grow their firms, and make sure you don’t repeat any of their mistakes.
It can be useful to find a senior architect to act as your mentor. He/she will help to guide your decisions in this crucial early phase, and give you the benefit of their years of wisdom. Meet with your mentor weekly or monthly, buy them a coffee, and come prepared with questions and projections.
For some tips from the trenches, check out our article 5 Kick Ass Tips for Architects from the Experts.
Boost Your Profile
Now that you are up-and-running, and your business is ticking over, it’s time to get serious about raising your profile as a designer. Here are some easy marketing ideas that can help you to quickly grow your client base:
- Get on social media! One of the best social media platforms for architects is Instagram, which allows you to post images from your phone, use filters to make your pictures look artistic and modern, and follow and comment on other architect feeds. See our article on how to kick ass at instagram as an architect.
- Pitch your projects to magazines and blogs - A fantastic way to raise your profile and add some accolades to your empty website is to get your projects featured on popular design blogs or national magazines. Use the resources in this article on Getting Projects Featured to find the right publications for your projects, and get pitching!
- Perfect your presentation skills, and use events and conferences as an opportunity to network with potential clients. You could conduct workshops and presentations at industry conferences, or talk about architecture in an academic environment, or present for other businesses you want to partner with. Read more about creating an awesome presentation.
For more great tips on starting and growing your architecture practice, check out our Complete Guide to Starting Your Architecture Practice.