Setting up an architecture practice is a daunting task for most architects. The first step to setting up your own studio is carrying out a feasibility study, much like we do in architecture every day. A feasibility study will allow us to consider many aspects of setting up an architecture practice, and decide whether it is a suitable option.
During the course of this series, we will explore some of the different factors of setting up your own practice from feasibility through to marketing, management, and more. If this sounds like something that interests you then read more about how to set up your own architecture practice!
Many young architects dream of one day having their own architectural practice. Although there are a small number of large architecture firms that dominate the industry news, there are actually thousands of architectural practices in the UK (According to Architects Council of Europe ACE report of 2018).
Many architectural practices in the UK are made up of one or a couple of staff. On the other end of the scale the latest AJ100 report showed that the practice with the most UK architects was Foster + Partners with 362 UK architects, going all the way down to 28 UK architects at Leonard Design Architects coming in at number 100 of the AJ100.
Practices throughout the UK vary in size, projects, fees, income, staff and so on. It takes all sorts to make up a varied architecture industry. Where do you want to be? Are you looking for the design autonomy that you can’t get when working for someone else? Maybe you want flexibility, not only in how you use your time but the projects you work on. Are you thinking about setting up an architecture practice of your own?
Feasibility – Why? What? Who? When?
While the idea of running your own practice may have been on your mind for many years, it is time to really sit down and start developing a plan. Just as we carry out feasibility studies for our architectural projects, we should apply the same thinking to a new business plan.
Firstly, why do you want to start your own practice? Seems like an obvious question, but is it? What makes you want to leave the certainty of a steady job, to be responsible for bringing in the work, becoming a business person as well as an architect? Design work can often take second place to your role as a Director.
Really think about the commitment that you will be making and if it will help you achieve the career goals you have, the lifestyle you look for and the overall life balance.
What kind of practice do you want to own? What do you want it to become? Set out what your future goals are for the practice and your role within it. Are you keen to focus on a particular area of speciality? Do you want to cover all sectors, or focus on a particular area you are experienced in? Are you a Passivhaus Designer? Do you do high end residential? Start figuring out the direction of the business.
Are you setting up practice on your own or is this a joint venture? If you are setting up with someone else, do your skills complement each other? Can you work well together even in stressful circumstances? Make sure you are starting this journey with someone you can completely trust and rely on because once you are in, you are in – and your founding partner is going to be a long term key player in your life.
Some may argue that all of the planning and feasibility might delay action. Which is true to an extent. However, being a planner and list maker myself, I would always spend a good amount of time in the feasibility stage before jumping right in.
When will it be a good time to start? Do you have the right experience to get started, are there gaps in your knowledge that should be filled before setting out alone? Does anything in your personal life dictate the timing of getting things started?
It is good to have a timeline, and an end goal to push you towards launching your practice. It is during these early stages that you can get so absorbed with the small details you just never get things off the ground.
Getting into the Feasibility Details
At this point, you want to break down the plans for your business, what it will entail, how it will all work, and take some time to assess whether it is right for you. Perhaps instead you may prefer to stay with an established practice and build your career there.
While having your own architectural practice can give you freedom, it can also be restrictive. It’s important to pick out the details now to ensure it is right for you.
We can break the feasibility study down into 3 categories. The Work, The People, The Place.
The Business / Work
What services will you provide?
Most likely you will be looking to provide a standard architectural service, but are there any other things that might be of interest to you? Will you provide visualisation services to other practices, or perhaps collaborate with the local university to provide some teaching? Maybe you will provide specialist photography services, Passivhaus design, and so on, you get the idea.
What type of practice are you looking to build?
Although in the early stages it may be that you will take on any project that comes your way, whether it is a new garden shed or a new school… but in time you will be looking to attract certain clients and projects that are aligned with your future business goals.
Where will you find work?
Perhaps you have already been carrying out some projects on the side of your day job and are looking to take the full leap on your own. Maybe you have a few clients lined up. You can start to make some assumptions about the work you will have in the early days of your new business. This section should not be underrated, if you don’t have work coming in, nothing else really matters. So how will you find clients, find projects, promote yourself and keep a steady flow of work?
Try to forecast what projects/ how many projects you will win each year and the fees you will receive for the work. This should give you a rough idea of a potential annual income for the practice.
Who is going to carry out the work?
How many people will you need to fulfil your projected workload? What sort of salaries will these staff be on and how much national insurance contributions will you need to pay? Don’t forget to include your own salary.
Don’t forget, you may assume you will easily be able to carry out much of the work, but running your own business will pull you away from project design work and into admin and management more than you may anticipate.
Where are you going to work?
Depending on some of your answers above, you may plan on renting an office space, working from home, or maybe purchasing a space. Obviously this will depend on how many people you hope to have working with you, whether you will offer flexibility of work location, and your future expansion plans for the business. Staff and office costs remain a huge part of the business outgoings so both of these areas require some consideration.
Work Out The Costs
From here, you can consider the costs above; staffing and workplace and expand on this to include other overheads. A great publication by the RIBA, called “Starting a Practice” covers this information in depth. We recommend purchasing a copy of the book if you are considering embarking on this journey.
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Questions to ask yourself before setting up your own practice
When considering a big career change, a new direction or any big decision in general it is good to think about the pros and cons. If you are in to making lists, this is a perfect opportunity to list out what you consider to be the positives and negatives of setting up on your own.
We have put together a list of questions to ask yourself when considering setting up your own practice. These questions will help you dig deep into your ideas, reasoning and hopefully address some areas that you hadn’t considered previously.
- Are you multi-skilled (administrator, designer, marketer, problem solver)?
- How do you plan to structure your working day/ working hours?
- Will you be able to keep up with your professional / legal obligations (CPD, insurances etc)?
- Are you comfortable networking and promoting yourself?
- Do you have a good network already?
- Do you have a portfolio of work to show prospective clients?
- How will you balance your time between the new roles you will be taking on?
- Will you be happy designing without others around to bounce ideas?
- Are you happy working alone?
- Are you comfortable being responsible for every aspect of the business, the good and the bad?
- If you employ people are you comfortable being responsible for them?
- How would you be as an employer?
- Are you good at managing people?
- Do you like managing people?
- Are you good at delegating?
- How do you get along together?
- Are you able to resolve issues easily without friction?
- Do your skills complement one another?
- Do you have a set plan for who is responsible for what?
- Have you worked together before?
- Does your architectural style complement one another?
- Will you work as a team or keep your projects separate?
- Do you have suitable space to work from home?
- Will the space give a good impression to clients?
- Where will you hold meetings?
- Do you have distractions at home that would make it difficult to work efficiently?
- Will you be able to switch off from work in the evenings or on the weekends?
- If you are employing staff will they work remotely?
- What kind of space do you need?
- What facilities are important to you (meeting rooms, kitchen, outside space, parking)?
- Where do you need/want to be located?
- Do you want to be close to your home or potential clients?
- Does the office need to be suitable for visitors/meetings?
- Will it require parking for guests?
- Does it need to be close to public transport?
- Will it need to be suitable for employing staff or just you?
- If you are planning on expansion, will you move office?
- Would you consider shared facilities/ shared workspaces to allow flexibility?
- Do you want to be around other creatives?
- Do you want your office to be in a rural or urban setting?
- Do you want to be close to local amenities?
- Do you have support of your friends/family?
- What would happen if you become unwell?
- What are your long term goals for the business?
- What does success look like to you?
- Will you be able to achieve a good work life balance?
So, you have made your decision and you’re ready to get started!
In the next post of this series we will look at getting the practice set up and some of the admin that must be completed.
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