Architecture is a difficult industry to get qualified in, but once you are, it can be incredibly rewarding. Seeing your work grow from rough sketches into a tangible building that will stand there long after you’re gone from the world is an amazing feeling. It pays pretty highly as well. Your options are fairly wide in the architecture world, ranging from residential homes to office buildings, to monuments, so there’s something to suit all tastes in there. Finding a job with a top architecture firm is one thing, but if you want complete freedom over the projects that you work on, you’ll need to start you own.
The architecture industry is actually a fairly safe one to get into. While people are going to stop building so frequently during times of economic hardship, people are always going to need somewhere to live, so those downturns aren’t going to last. It’s also a good career choice for somebody that wants more flexibility in their working patterns, especially when you start getting close to retirement age. If all that sounds pretty attractive to you, here’s how to build your own architecture firm from the ground up.
Get Enough Experience
Starting your own business is an exciting prospect but you shouldn’t run before you can walk. You’ve probably already got a job working with an existing firm and you probably think you’re ready to go out on your own. But you might be wrong. While you’re working with a big firm, they can get projects that you won’t be able to start with. Take that opportunity to work on projects in all sorts of different sectors so that when you do go out on your own, you’ll have the experience to deal with any problems that you may face along the way.
Choose A Niche
If somebody builds something and decides they don’t like it, they can’t just rub it out and start again. So, obviously, they’re looking for experts of the highest order. If you’re ever going to present yourself as an expert you need to choose a niche. Potential customers are going to be wary of an architect that does anything you ask them for. The phrase, Jack of all trades, master of none, comes to mind. Decide on what your preferred area of expertise is and focus on that. That doesn’t mean you can’t venture outside that from time to time, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Designing residential properties will give you more regular work, at a lower fee. Whereas, designing larger office buildings or public monuments will pay more, but won’t be as regular.
Look The Part
Appearance is important when it comes to landing those first few commissions. Having a good office space to meet clients in is vital. Make sure that it’s somewhere with an interesting design, it will reflect your taste and give them more confidence in your eye for design. When you’re meeting people on site, having all of the right equipment is important. Get yourself a robust laptop that can withstand the bumps and scrapes of a building site. The rugged laptop tablet Panasonic Toughbook CF-19, CF-30, CF-31, CF-52, CF-53, CF-54 are all great models that you can take on site, so customers can go over proposals and get a far clearer idea of how they will look when they’re finished. Being able to show customers the designs on site as opposed to just in the office will help them to imagine the finished product and hopefully get them more excited about it.
Local Business Enterprise
The local business enterprise organizations are a great way to get your foot in the door. Lots of cities have regulations about a certain percentage of building work being awarded to local firms. If you’re registered with your local business authorities, you’re more likely to get a call about these kinds of jobs and you’ll have the advantage of being local. Smaller firms can also use it as an opportunity to get involved in larger projects that they wouldn’t usually be able to get a look at. In order to fill the percentage of local firm involvement, lots of building projects are awarded to larger firms from outside the city, with collaboration from smaller companies from the city. By getting involved with a collaboration, you get a chance to prove yourself on a bigger job that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to try your hand at.
Architecture is an industry that relies heavily on networking, but not in the traditional, pushy sense. It’s all about making good social links with people in the area so that they think of you when they need work doing. It doesn’t need to be formal networking at industry events etc. you just need to make yourself known to people in your area. For example, if you’re running a firm that designs premium office space, you need to try to make yourself a part of the local business community in a social capacity. However, don’t try to force yourself on people, otherwise, they’ll feel like you’re trying to give them the hard sell.
Pro Bono Work
Nobody likes the idea of working for free, and once you’re established you should only do it in rare cases. That being said, when you’re trying to get started, it can be very worthwhile. People are going to be unwilling to take a chance on you and pay you for some preliminary designs if you don’t have a proven track record. Offering to do that work for free is likely to get your foot in the door, after all, what have they got to lose by saying yes? That gives you the opportunity to prove yourself. It’ll get the ball rolling and hopefully start some word of mouth buzz. You should especially look out for buildings that are going to create a buzz. A project that allows you a fair amount of creative freedom is always a good choice for pro bono work because if you do something that catches people’s attention, you’ll get potential customers asking the owner of the building for recommendations.
Your public image is also very important and you can bolster it by doing pro bono work for community projects. Throw your name in the ring when it comes to designing things like schools or community centers. Working with charities will also have the same effect on the way that the public view you. As the importance of a wholesome business grows in the mind of the consumer, these gestures are beginning to carry more weight.
People say that the camera never lies. That’s a lie. A bad photograph of a building won’t convey the things that make it beautiful, whereas a good one can accent it. One poorly taken photo of your previous work can completely put off a potential customer. When you’re trying to build the foundations of a business, you are naturally going to want to save money. That’s perfectly sensible but photography is an area that you shouldn’t hold back on. It will only hurt your business.
Another easy way to prove your prowess is design competitions. By the time you start trying to launch your own firm, you’ve probably had a good few years experience in the industry. The competition isn’t as fierce as you’d think in these design contests and as a seasoned professional, you should be able to place highly, if not win. It’s all extra stuff that you can add to your list of credentials.
When clients are looking for somebody to design a building for them, their first port of call is likely to be personal recommendations. But if they don’t know anybody, then magazines are a great place to start. They’ll showcase a range of architecture firms so if you send in photographs of your best work, you might just find some clients. Print editions are declining in popularity but there are plenty of online magazines taking their place. If you get things featured online, it’s important that you provide people with avenues for follow up. Pay attention to your social media presence because, although it isn’t going to bring you that many direct customers, you might direct people there through magazines and competitions etc.
Sometimes you’ll get commissioned to design grandiose buildings, but your bread and butter work is often going to be on small, pretty dull areas of larger projects. But when you’re meeting with clients, you can upsell those small jobs by leaving out the major details. If you worked on the design of a broom closet in a major new office complex, you just tell them that you were a collaborator on that building. Obviously, if pressed, you shouldn’t lie about it but nine times out of ten, they won’t ask. It’s important that you’re only upselling projects that you have actually worked on and you aren’t just straight up lying about designing the biggest building in the city.
Take all of these precautions and your new architecture business should have strong foundations.