How to start an architecture company

How do you start your very own architecture business? Here’s how!

Working for yourself is a persistent dream of almost everyone who has ever been employed. As a founder of an architecture firm, you can do what you love, gain recognition, and earn a very good living.

Starting your own architecture business won’t be easy. You need to prepare for a new level of challenges – there’s more to running a business than just doing architectural work.

However, you can set things up to minimize risks and headaches. If you plan ahead, delegate tedious tasks, use the right tools, and market properly, you will be able to get strong on your feet soon. Truth is though, each of these activities is demanding and has a steep learning curve.

Let’s go over some of the stages of starting and developing your architecture business.

Make sure you have impeccable paperwork

Figure out what is required for starting an architectural business in your area. Consult professionals – accountants and lawyers to make sure you clearly understand the tax implications of every type of incorporation.

If you need registrations and licensing – define a clear roadmap for getting them. Time spent on this will allow you to save extra money for your emergency fund.

In the UK you need to have a degree recognized by the Architects Registration Board, and in the USA it’s National Architecture Accrediting Board – but there are other licensing rules as well.

Plan ahead

You need to have a clear roadmap for your architecture business. We don’t mean just the business plan, but also your lifestyle plan and a vision of your life for years to come. Many successful architects report that running your own practice is a major lifestyle shift, rather than just a career turn.

In architecture, much more than in any other industry, the success of your practice is what defines your own personal happiness and expression.

The flipside of having a plan is being stuck in paralysis by analysis. At some point, you will have to take the plunge and just get started.

Prepare to spend

There will be expenses – both one-time and ongoing. First, you will need to pay all the incorporation and registration fees, and then you’d have to maintain ongoing expenses like accounting and office rent.

Most architects that grew their own firms have reported that being financially stable was key to their success. Keeping that in mind, make sure you have a 6-month maintenance fund set aside to support your firm if things are temporarily slow.

Another point of having enough money saved to support your business at its early stages is to make sure you have enough money to delegate maintenance and tedious work. You, as an architecture firm founder, need to be able to focus on high-level, strategic work. If you get stuck doing accounting or setting up Google ads – you will lose your vision and momentum.

The exact costs involved in running an architecture firm will depend on your location. However, you need at least a rough estimate – sum up your monthly payments for office rent, tools and subscriptions, contractor work, and marketing expenses, – and multiply that by 6. That amount will make sure your company is alive for at least half a year while you focus on getting clients and delivering high-quality work.

Use the right tools

Using proper professional tools is akin to hiring the right people. If you don’t do it, your business will tank.

Architecture is a tech-dependent business in 2022 more than ever before. You need to manage tons of graphics and other data, and be able to have all of it easily accessible in one place.

PlanMan is a specialized product management software for architects and we’ve built it specifically for growing companies. Using our platform you can manage documents, and teams, communicate with your clients effectively, as well as send data to accounting.

Hire right and focus on people

You need to delegate early if you want to scale your business and have time and energy for strategic business development work.

Treat your employees as if your life depends on them now – because it does from now on.

Communicate with your team clearly and transparently, and use project management software with clearly assigned roles, deadlines, and permissions. PlanMan app allows you to set permissions for your team using permission groups.

Find your niche

Niching down alone is what separates successful architectural firms from mediocre ones. Niching down means limiting your market only to a specific narrow group of clients. A niched architecture firm may be working only on minimalist residential buildings, or only on eco-friendly and sustainable projects, or only on public buildings. 

When you’re niched down, that means you’re not taking clients from other niche markets, and you don’t showcase them in your portfolio.

This tip is counter-intuitive and many new architecture firm founders delay niching down. It sounds weird that by working with fewer people you can get more orders and higher income, but it’s true.

The major benefits of niching down your architecture business are:

  • You can charge more than generalists. Your target market is paying you for niche expertise and confidence that generic architecture firms don’t have.
  • Finding and closing clients is easier. Your niche market knows exactly what they need and you provide those services for them. That is why referrals are frequent, specific, and contract-ready.
  • You are immune from trends. Whatever happens in the world of architecture, you are focused on the tastes and preferences of a very specific market.
  • Your brand authority grows exponentially. As you’re building up a track record in your niche the competition falls further and further behind.

Niching down is not easy, but it’s something you absolutely need to spend your time on.

Market, market, market

This is the most common mistake all businesses make, not just architects. No matter how good your services are, it’s the marketing that makes or breaks your business.

There are several major marketing channels for a new architectural firm. Here’s a list of the main ones:

Word of mouth

Referrals are the best leads you will ever get. To get more referral clients you need to, first, do a stellar job every time, and second, put yourself out there. Network, participate in events, speak, let everyone know, and brand yourself as the go-to firm for your niche.

Website & blogging

Run a blog and a website, publish posts in other architecture blogs and magazines, – all of that will contribute to your branding and authority.

Volunteer

If your cash flow allows it, volunteering can be a great way to get your company name out there and earn niche experience. Follow the volunteering opportunities and see if you can get some publicity that way.

Reach out to clients

You need to create a system of client and prospect communication. Reach out to old clients, to their friends of friends, to clients of other architecture companies. Keep it ethical and use the right tools – again, our client communication module lets you do a lot to grow your business.

We have a dedicated guide on getting architecture clients, so make sure you study it well.

Charge the right fees

Your pricing strategy can help you get to proper revenue fast.

Keep that in mind while picking your niche – focus on the market groups that are doing well and don’t mind a higher price tag.

You don’t need to have years of experience to move right into the premium pricing segment with your architecture business.

Check out our article on determining your hourly rate as an architect to understand that charging more gets you to work with better clients.

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