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10 Key Tips for Starting an Architecture Design Firm

You’ve probably spent most of your career working for somebody else. Now, it’s time to become your own boss.

For many architects, the industry is about creativity. Your job is all about bringing life to the designs you create. 

But working for somebody else’s firm under somebody else’s rules can stifle that creative spark. Instead of following your passion, you’ll have to follow the jobs that the firm assigns to you.

Don’t let the grind of working for somebody else destroy your passion for the architecture industry. Take charge of your future and create your own architecture firm instead.

You won’t be the only one with this idea—there are over 17,500 architecture firms in the U.S. alone. If you want to stand out among the competition, you’ll need to have some business and marketing hacks up your sleeve.

Here are 10 key tips for getting your architecture design firm off the ground.

1. Make Good Use of Your Time

The first requirement for starting your own firm is to get some experience working for others. As an entry-level employee or an intern, make the most of your time.
Get a broad range of experiences across the industry and try to establish yourself as early as possible in your career.

If you’re struggling to get enough experience hours, you can sign up and volunteer for the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

By opening doors now, you’ll reap the payoff later down the road when your experience unfolds into more career opportunities.

2. Seek out a Mentor

Throughout your career, you’ll meet many powerful and inspiring individuals in your field. Look up to them, admire them, and try to emulate them. But why not take it a step further and try to cultivate a mentor relationship?

As a mentor, they can help teach you how to tackle the real world situations that you won’t learn in school. They can also help you narrow down what kind of architecture you want to pursue.

This kind of relationship can even lead to significant steps forward in your career. A mentor can pass on their skills, insight, and job opportunities to up-and-coming architects.

3. Create a 20 Year Plan

For many young professionals, thinking about what their plan for the next 5 years is already difficult. But push yourself even further—what’s your plan for the next 20 years?

Having a plan in mind for the next 20 years of your career can give you a sense of direction. It will also let you map out the steps you need to complete before you’re ready to open up your design firm.

Consider what your next steps should be. Do you need a few more years of experience? Do you need to make more professional connections? Do you need to raise more money?

Think about the trajectory of your career having a beginning, middle, and end. What kind of foundations do you need to build in order to create your legacy as you move later into your career?

4. Learn the Basics of Business

Most architecture schools will help you learn the basics of the trade, but they might not give you the tools you need to handle the business aspects of your architecture practice.

So before you quit your day job to start off on your own, try to teach yourself some of the fundamentals of business.

You can take a course at your local college or university. There are also various online courses that can teach you the basics of sales, marketing, bookkeeping, as well as hiring and managing your team.

Any experience you can get in leadership and negotiation can help you take what you’ve learned about architecture and put it to good use in a business setting.

5. Find What Sets You Apart

There are a lot of architecture design firms out there and most of them offer a traditional practice.

This means that you’ll be up against hundreds of competitors. Many of them will have bigger teams, more impressive portfolios, and broader client networks. Starting your own small business is hard enough, but the architecture industry is notoriously difficult to break into.

When it comes to your firm, you have to consider what will set your business apart.

Do you specialize in computational design? Are you focused in a niche area of design? Do you offer virtual consulting?

Consider what kind of angle your firm could take and double down on it. Hire experts in new fields and try to hone your technique in a different way than your competitors.

6. Build Something

While your education might have equipped you with the skills to design a building, do you know how to actually build something?

When you’re in charge of your own firm, you’ll be trying to make your visions a reality. You’ll need to know everything that goes into the building process.

This means actually getting out onto the building site and learning as much as you can about the practical requirements of construction. Contact an experienced contractor or construction manager and try to get involved on a project.

You can turn it into a networking experience too. Get some new contacts in the industry and learn more about what they do.

7. Be Flexible

When you think about running your own firm, you might have grand ideas about the kinds of projects you want to take on.

But an important part of keeping your business running–and turning a profit–is being flexible. Your main priorities should be doing lots of work and getting noticed. This might mean accepting projects that are out of your comfort zone.

Even if you’re used to designing a particular type of building, consider all the different options out there and be prepared to take them on with the same energy and enthusiasm.

For example, trade show booth designs might not be the first thing you think of when you think about architecture, but it can be a lucrative and exciting opportunity. Don’t be afraid to jump for work when it comes your way–expanding your range of design work will only make your firm stronger in the years to come.

8. Don’t Just Rely on Computers

In today’s technology driven world, your ability to do digital designs is vital to the success of your firm. It’s where you’ll create models that break boundaries and establish your skill and creativity.

But that doesn’t mean you should abandon traditional drawing entirely.

For some architects, their creativity flows better when they have a pencil in their hands and can draw on physical paper.

In other situations, it might just be more practical. If you’re in the middle of a pitch and your client is making comments or suggestions, a computer model will take too long. Instead, you can make a quick physical drawing to confirm the basics with your potential client.

For your architecture design firm, you should expect both traditional and computer design skills from your team–and rely on both when you’re taking clients.

9. Grow Your Online Presence

Establishing an internet presence is just another way you can set yourself apart in an already oversaturated market.

Many prospective clients will check the Internet to find out more about you. Make sure your website and social media pages reflect the quality of your business. Use the opportunity to tell your story and sell yourself to the client.

It can also spread the word to clients that have never heard of you before. Just one or two viral posts can get the word out to thousands of new potential customers.

On social media, be sure you’re engaging with your followers by liking, commenting, and posting regularly. This will help strengthen the connection between your brand and your clients–and get the buzz going around your firm. 

10. Find the Right Partners

When building an architecture design firm, you aren’t just worrying about your own personal brand. You’re creating something much bigger than yourself.

Getting a new design firm off the ground will take more than just your own motivation. You’ll need help.

As the leader of your firm, you can bring in practical experts in other fields to assist you. This is where building experience and networking with others can really come in handy. If you’ve already built a strong personal network, you should have no problem getting others on board.

Look for financial experts, human resource planners, contractors, engineers, suppliers, and construction managers.

Know the weaknesses in your plan and get professional help to address them. For example, if you feel strongly about the financial side of things but you’re not sure how to start hiring the right team, take a look at bringing in a human resources expert to get you started on employment.

What It Takes to Start an Architecture Design Firm

If you’re reaching a turning point in your career, it might be time to take on the challenge of starting your own architecture design firm.

It takes a lot to make it to the top. You might be a great designer, but you’ll now have to be a top-notch entrepreneur, marketer, and businessperson—as well as an architect. Patience, practice, and experience will pave your way to a successful firm.

Looking for more tips to get your grand business idea off the ground? Check out our blog to learn more!