How to be a freelance architect
Freelancing as an architect or architectural technologist is no easy feat. You are responsible for marketing yourself, finding clients, and creating a brand that stands out in the marketplace. In this blog post we’ll cover some of the main things to consider before becoming a freelance architect/technologist.
What is a freelance architect?
A freelance architect or architectural technologist can take many forms. You could be working as freelance architectural support for other architecture studios, or you could be working as a freelance architect providing services directly to the client.
Perhaps you have been working in architectural studios and feel that you would like the freedom of freelancing – your options are varied.
You could start offering services to other studios, even ones you have been employed with in the past. This type of freelancing is usually on a contract basis, perhaps to provide support for a large project which requires more staff than the studio currently employ. Once the project is complete, you may no longer be required by the studio and your work for them is finished until they need additional resources again.
You may provide your services to small practices who don’t have the steady workflow to take on full time employees but need additional support as projects peak and flow.
An alternative option for freelance is working directly with the client, carrying out design work for them. This could be seen as the start of building your own practice, starting small and slowly growing to employ more staff and perhaps eventually setting up as a company – your own architectural practice.
Of course, you could provide both of these services – architectural support for other practices and design work for clients.
For the purpose of this article we will be considering the former option – providing architectural services to other practices or studios – rather than working directly with clients which we will cover in a later series – “Setting up your own practice”.
Reasons to become a freelance architect
Let’s be clear – it is not an easy option to be a freelance architect or freelance architectural technologist, and it’s not for everyone. That said, if you are looking for more independence in your career and potentially growing your own business then freelancing could work for you. A freelancer can enjoy more autonomy, less bureaucracy and generally more control over your work.
Now more than ever, remote working and flexible working are being embraced by companies as working from home becomes the new normal. Freelancing is massive now, with many companies across various industries using the services of freelancers.
It takes a lot of work, and you will end up doing a lot more than the regular architectural / design work that you are used to. You can’t rely on your employer to find you work anymore, you need to do all that yourself.
Benefits of freelancing
Architects and Architectural Technologists turn to freelancing for a number of different reasons.
Sometimes you may find yourself redundant or out of work, and picking up a few freelance projects allows you to bring in some cash while times are hard.
Freelancing is often appealing to many because of the autonomy of working for yourself. With freelancing you have the freedom to work on your own terms, choose your clients and your projects.
Freelancing often provides flexibility in your working day. While it is important to be available for meetings/discussions (online if necessary) with clients during regular office hours you can still enjoy flexibility in how you carry out your work. It might be that you split your hours and take a longer break in the middle of the day, perhaps you like to work early in the morning and have your afternoons free. Whatever it might be, as long as you get the work done in the agreed timescale, your clients will be happy.
Freelancers technically can pick and choose who they will work with and on which projects. While this is strictly true, in the early days it may be that you aren’t able to be so selective. You have to take what you can to get going – but in the long run you can hope to build up good relationships with clients that you enjoy working for and on projects that excite you.
While the natural progression from University is to take a job working in an architectural studio/practice, after gaining experience it might be you are looking for a change. Working in practice isn’t for everyone and freelancing allows you to continuing working as an architect/technologist in an alternative environment.
Have we missed any benefits of freelancing – let us know in the comments!
Drawbacks of freelancing
While you will benefit from the freedom of working for yourself, there are certainly drawbacks that come with freelancing.
Extra work and responsibility
It can be stressful to be fully responsible for finding work, making sure you have set up your accounting properly, insurances etc, invoicing your clients and so on. There are a lot of extra tasks you will need to carry out that you wouldn’t have to do when working in an ordinary employment situation. This can mean that you end up working extra hours in order to carry out all your admin, on top of the design work you are doing for your clients.
Ups and downs
There may spells where you don’t have any work coming in, and other periods that are particularly busy for you. It is important to be able to plan for the quieter spells financially, and make sure you always keep some funds aside for periods when you are less busy.
Managing your time
As a freelancer it is up to you to manage your time and your clients expectations. In the previous point we mentioned the ebb and flow of work coming in, so it is easy to say yes to everything when you have an enquiry. It can be difficult to manage your time and your clients expectations.
A daunting prospect
Becoming a freelance architect or technologist can be a daunting prospect. You are essentially starting your own business, whether that’s a sole trader or a limited company, with the responsibility on you to make sure there is enough money coming in month to month. Setting up on your own can be exciting and empowering, but it can also be stressful and nerve wracking as you navigate the new territory.
Have we missed any drawbacks of freelancing? Let us know in the comments.
Things to consider for a freelance architect
So, let’s take a look at how to get started as a freelance architect.
Sole Trader or Limited Company
Becoming a freelancer means you have to take care of your own accounts and income tax responsibilities. The first thing you should consider is speaking with an accountant who can advise you on whether you should be a sole trader or set up as a limited company.
If you start off working as a sole trader, you will need to ensure you complete your Self Assessment with the HMRC every year. This means that your tax is payable after submitting your first Self Assessment – it is important to make sure you put money aside for the tax payments. When working in a standard employment situation, your tax is deducted from your wages each month, prior to you receiving the payment. With freelancing as a sole trader, you need to put this money aside to pay later.
A conversation with an account is advisable to discuss how all of this works.
Setting up as a limited company is more costly than being a sole trader. You will need an accountant to submit your accounts to HMRC each year and there are other additional costs in setting up.
[I am not an accountant – so please seek professional advice when deciding how to set up your freelancing business.]
Another important factor for freelancing is to ensure you have all of the appropriate insurances in order to carry out your work. It could be that you need Professional Indemnity insurance, and or Public Liability insurance. Make sure you speak to a professional adviser to get the correct insurance for the working you will be undertaking.
Insurance can be costly, but it is extremely important to ensure you are covered should anything go wrong.
You also need to consider whether you should be registered with your appropriate professional body, whether that is RIBA, ARB or CIAT or any other not mentioned.
What is your speciality?
Have a think about your strengths and whether there is a particular area you feel you could/should specialise in. Do you have a wealth of experience in a particular building type, or perhaps you have a lot of knowledge of sustainable architecture? Maybe you are particularly good at putting together Tender Packages or Building Regulation drawing sets.
Being specialist can make you stand out from the crowd and you could become a sought after consultant who can bring a lot to a project that practices can’t do in house.
What are your services?
What services are you offering? At this point we need to think about the kind of services you are offering, but also what your clients might be looking for. Whether you offer design to completion, or perhaps specialist technical services, you need to have a clear picture of what it is you do, and how you will communicate this to your clients.
Are you a full design service? Perhaps you offer 3d visuals? Do you offer measured surveys?
Where will you offer your services?
Consider whether you would like to offer your services within your local area or nationally. By staying local you will be able to build a face to face connection with clients, and potentially visit them at their offices and get involved in site visits.
Working on a more national scale is completely possible, especially with remote working becoming more commonplace.
In our next article we will look at finding work as a freelance architect, but for now it might be worth considering whether you want a more local or national focus. Both can have their advantages and disadvantages.
What software do you use and can offer to work with. Being freelance working for different architectural studios, it is possible you will come across different offices using different softwares. Will you limit yourself to only working in AutoCAD for example, or will you train up to be able to use multiple softwares so you can easily switch to the needs of your client.
This can be a difficult situation for the freelancer, and it’s a case of looking at the work options available and whether your skills fit the requirements or if you need to expand your skillset in order to be competitive.
There are plenty of good reasons to become a freelance architect or freelance architectural technologist and plenty of opportunity to do so. However, being a freelancer is not without its hard work, with extra admin to consider along with the responsibility of finding steady work.
In the next post we will look at how to find work as a freelance architect including portfolios, marketing, online marketplace platforms, fees and more. Make sure you check it out.