Start your architecture business

How to Start your own Architecture Firm

Do you want to start your own architecture firm? It’s not for every architect you know. Most architects spend their entire careers working for companies large and small without ever going out on their own, and they have good careers doing so, sometimes even reaching leadership positions at these firms.

But if that entrepreneurial calling is gnawing away at you, and you yearn for the freedom and challenge of becoming the master of your own fate, then this article will give you some pointers in the right direction.

As the founder of Handiss, I’ve worked directly with small architecture firms offering their services, and others that come to us to hire freelance AE professionals to support their design units. That’s given me and our team a unique perspective on the needs of architecture firms of many types and sizes.

1- Understand what it takes

Starting your own architecture firm is not a walk in the park. Many architects with hopes of establishing a reputable and iconic architecture brand have tried and failed, returning afterwards to working at other companies. And that’s really ok!

Establishing a business really isn’t for everyone because like any other venture, it takes founders who are perseverant, adaptable, and ready to take heavy punches to the stomach without getting discouraged enough to stop. It’s a tough yet exciting path, and you’ll learn so much on the way.

The important thing is that you start your architecture firm for the right reasons, and to be willing to make the personal and financial sacrifices it may take. You’ll probably be working late nights to hit a deadline because it’s your reputation on the line and not your boss’s, and you may have to spend months not making enough revenue to cover your costs, especially in the beginning of your journey.

2- Assess the market and find your niche

First thing you need to understand is the market landscape. Most architects start their careers as employees at an architecture firm, and after several years of gaining experience and learning, you may have a handle on the market and an understanding of the positioning you need.

Focus on a niche and specialize. Do you want to work in the residential sector? Commercial buildings? Institutional projects? You can even go deeper, like specializing in hotels, small houses, low-rise buildings, hospitals, or anything that has a market and that you can do well. Going niche is an advantage, not a disadvantage, especially when you’re starting out. It narrows down your targeting and makes you more credible. You can later expand to other niches once you’re established enough.

3- Have the right mix of technical and business skills

Every kind of business must have the right mix of business acumen and technical skills to grow and prosper. If you have one partner or more, then at least one of you should take the lead on business development and must have good business skills. If you’re all very technical and don’t have business and management skills, then you may be in trouble.

Technical skills are definitely the cornerstone of your architecture company when it comes to sustaining a good reputation by delivering quality work, but those skills on their own are not enough. I’ve seen many company founders with poor business and management skills whose companies never grew beyond a certain limit, whereas companies led by architects with good business acumen have grown into medium and large companies.

4- The first clients for your architecture firm

Getting clients and projects is not easy, and it’s even harder when you’re a new company with no previous track record and no portfolio. The most reliable way to get business is word of mouth or referrals, and that’s difficult if you have a weak network and reputation. That’s why you need to work extremely hard at building your network, even before you officially start your business.

A strong network of previous clients, colleagues, classmates, or even friends and family can all help you get that first project. Engage everyone you know, find leads to potential projects and secure introductions to the right decision makers, start as a freelancer and work for other companies who may need an extra hand on their own projects, even before you start your own business. You can sign up as a freelancer on multiple online platforms like Handiss and others to expand your reach.

Network very hard and start building your brand. Get the word out about you and how good your work is. Hustle! Before you know it, you’ll improve your sales and presentation skills and you’ll learn from your past mistakes. As you grow, you’ll start noticing the results, and maybe one day work will snowball and you’ll be able to grow your company.

5- Marketing basics for a new architecture firm

Start small with marketing at first, especially if you don’t have time to manage an array of marketing channels. Here are some essential and non-essential things you can do. Do what comes most naturally to you but do aim to eventually be doing all of these.

  • Start with a basic website before creating an expensive one.
  • Set up Google My Business – this will put your architecture firm literally on the map, and it may start showing up in local listings when people search for architecture firms on Google.
  • Build your personal brand by using social media to let people know that you’re an architect and that you’re good at it.
  • Set up your company’s social media accounts and post good content as regularly as you can.
  • Write a blog and share your articles and thought pieces to further build your personal brand and your company’s social media activity.
  • Create company and personal profiles on listing websites, platforms, and marketplaces for architecture companies and services. This will help others find you and also push your online presence.
  • Invest in Google Ads to advertise your company after you’ve set up your website.

For more marketing tips, you can read this article.

6- Find architecture competitions

Architecture competitions are an excellent way to put your architecture firm’s name out there and to add to your portfolio and milestones, especially if you win of course. You’ll do a lot of free work, but you’ll need to get used to that anyway if you intend to get your business off its feet.

7- Be smart with your resources

To compete with other architecture firms in your area, you’ll need to be competitive.

There are a number of ways to do that, and one of them is to keep your costs down so that you can offer better prices while maintaining good profit margins. One big way you can do that is by hiring remote freelance or contract hires you can trust for services like 3D modeling, drafting, VR, BIM, and even engineering work.

Handiss has been helping architecture firms expand and contract their workforce on demand by connecting them to these different kinds of industry professionals, both locally and internationally. This helps in three ways.

First, you keep your costs lower thanks to receiving more offers from people also working on their own independent career paths like you. Second, you find the talent you need almost immediately, and that helps you meet deadlines and act fast. Third, you get the opportunity to work with more people, increasing your chances to find the right fit for an ongoing partnership as you grow your business.

I hope this helps you on your entrepreneurial journey. Good luck!

Handiss is where freelancers and small firms from the architecture and engineering market connect for projects. Sign up for free to get hired or to hire professionals from the AEC industry.