How I started my own architecture Business
Starting a business is challenging.
But there are many areas you can focus on to make sure your business stays afloat beyond its first year.
I started my own architecture business at a very young age.
I was just 24 years old and fresh out of college (not yet finished my architecture degree).
My business knowledge was almost nil and I had absolutely no idea how to run a company.
So I had to learn the hard way.
By making a lot of mistakes.
Although there were many mistakes, I had to start somewhere.
This is an article that will try to summarize some of them, with my key takeaways.
I will share the most common mistakes I made, and that any new architect should avoid while starting up their firm.
(You will discover the rest when you practice with sprints).
21 mistakes I made
Let’s explore them, one by one.
1. Being afraid to fail
The biggest mistake you can make is to be afraid of failure.
Failure is key to your success, and jumping into your fear is very positive for your future business.
How you pick up after failure and learn from your mistakes is the key to great success.
You will need to develop resilience, the ability to get up after failing.
Once and again, without losing hope. It is okay to fail.
In fact, it is a good thing because you can learn from your mistakes and become better.
Don't be afraid to try new things and take risks.
2. Not defining your market and target audience
A common architects mistake is not taking the time to understand the market or customers you’re building for.
For architects, drawing can seem easier than talking to customers.
But there’s no way to know if you’re on the right track unless you’re constantly getting feedback from current or prospective customers.
It’s important to recognise that building a great product often doesn’t translate into a successful business.
Many architects find themselves focusing on a market that’s simply too small to build a big business in.
You need to know who you are building your business for.
- Who are your customers?
- What do they need?
- What problems do they have?
Once you know your market, you can focus on creating a product or service that they will love.
3. Not creating a marketing plan
Have successfully validated the problem, market and idea for your architecture business?
Then you need to have a plan for how you’re going to get your first user.
Then your first 10 users, first 100 users. And so on.
That’s where you need a detailed marketing strategy.
You will need to:
- encompass the initial acquisition of users,
- the conversion of those users into paying customers,
- and making those customers so happy with your product that they help you get more users (through reviews, word of mouth, referrals, etc.).
Have a plan for how you are going to get people to use your product or service.
4. Undervaluing your product or service
Don’t price too high.
But don’t price too low just to gain market share.
If you are good, price like it.
Many architects start with the best of intentions and give things away for free or do free things for charity, community or visibility.
Be very careful with this.
Because you don’t want to be known as a source of freebies. Ring the cash register first.
Don't sell your product or service for too little money.
You should be paid fairly for your work.
5. Overpromising or underdelivering
Don’t overstretch yourself in the pursuit of revenue.
It is far better to tell a potential customer that you can take on their project next month, for example, rather than take on too much.
Not only will this save you from failing to meet targets due to an increased workload.
But it will also make you look like you’re in high demand. And that’s always good.
Don't promise more than you can deliver.
It is better to underpromise and overdeliver.
6. Underestimating capital requirements
There are 3 ways to finance your architecture business:
- Your own money → Your money, your risk.
- Your customer’s money → By selling with enough margin.
- Someone else’s money (Banks or Investors) → You share the risk with them.
Most architects think they can get further with less money.
In an effort to minimise equity dilution (sharing a pieces of your business with other partners), they forget to factor in unknowns, challenges or delays along the way.
Architects tend to plan for the best-case scenario, but that almost never happens.
This mentality can be attributed to architects' optimism and their belief in their own ideas.
Positivity has its place.
However, when it comes to asking for more money, it often leads to having to ask again for a lower raise than what you were hoping for.
Solution: you either:
- Put more of your own money → assume more risk
- Learn business fundamentals to sell high, and buy low → more margin, less risk.
- Learn how to find your key financial partners.
Make sure you have enough money to start and run your business.
You may need to raise money from investors.
7. Not making a business plan
Too many architects start without a basic plan.
And if you fail to plan, you are essentially planning to fail.
An architect should map out a business plan, even if it is just one page.
It should include how much it costs to operate, how much they anticipate selling, who would buy their product and why.
It’s like designing a building, but with their own business.
A business plan is a roadmap for your business.
It helps you figure out what you need to do to be successful.
Even if your plan is just one page, it will help you stay on track.
8. Underestimating the demands of business
The biggest mistake architects make is underestimating the demands of the business.
Architecture schools are making architects think optimistically. That’s easy.
This is because the information available does not highlight the hardships of starting a business.
There’s barely no information about how to run a business on architecture schools.
Because of this, architects think that a business is easy and fun, when in reality, it is quite the opposite.
It can even ruin relationships.
Starting a business is hard work. It takes a lot of time and money.
Be prepared for the challenges.
9. Wasting money
Handling money incorrectly and being irresponsible with cash flow is a death sentence for architects with limited access to capital.
I’ve made the mistake of hiring too many people instead of the right people.
And spending money to fill the office with desks, computers and people, without having a well-defined process to manage the production.
Putting good money to bad use and trying to be everything to everyone, instead of being niche-focused.
It’s a surefire way to waste valuable time and money, which are the lifeblood to any business.
Don't waste money on things you don't need.
Be careful with your spending.
10. Giving yourself the wrong salary
Paying yourself too little [or too much] is a mistake.
It’s often easier to determine the salary for a new hire than determining an owner or partner’s pay.
Consider paying yourself a percentage of revenue.
Whatever you choose, make figuring out your pay a practice and foundation to healthy expectation of management.
Pay yourself a fair salary.
Don't underpay yourself or overpay yourself.
11. Not implementing a proper bookkeeping process
Many architects begin without a bookkeeping process in place.
Great bookkeeping habits help you make smarter business decisions, spot opportunities early on, and head off problems before they become unmanageable.
Understanding your financials helps to keep a pulse on your business’s financial health.
Good bookkeeping practices also ensure you’re on top of issues like tax and insurance payments that can get otherwise great businesses into trouble.
Keep track of your finances.
This will help you make good business decisions.
12. Launching too quickly
One of the biggest mistakes architects make is launching before they are ready.
The saying ‘Done is better than perfect’ is the right advice;
However, the ‘done’ needs to ensure it can handle new clients.
Once you have launched into the public and you start getting clients, ensure your systems and processes are in place – such as payment terms and process, contracts, communications – whilst still being able to maintain your marketing strategy.
The back-end processes need to be watertight before you start taking on clients.
If they aren’t, these are the cracks that will show and appear unprofessional.
Don't launch your business before it is ready.
Make sure you have all of your ducks in a row before you start selling.
13. Expanding too quickly
When you start to see success, it can be easy to assume that growth will continue and the best way to make the most out of it is to simply copy and paste your working formula.
However, if you expand your business too rapidly, it could have dire consequences.
You may find your period of growth was only temporary and end up stuck with a bunch of new staff but no work and no funds to cover them.
That’s why it’s important to take a slow and steady approach to expansion and never act on a spur of good results.
Don't expand your business too quickly.
Take things slow and make sure you can handle the growth.
14. Partnering with the wrong people
A company’s first set of people will make or break it.
These individuals place their confidence in the business’s potential without having a proof of concept presented to them.
Once your businesses has undergone the initial stage, then you will interact with people who look at the business’s growth and sustainability.
Your architecture school colleagues are your friends, but they are not your business partners.
It's important to make sure that you all share the same values and goals if you want to work together successfully.
If you're not careful, mixing roles can damage your friendships.
Not all people are created equal.
You need to make sure that you partner with people who share your vision for your business.
You also need to make sure that they have the experience and resources to help you succeed.
15. Hiring too soon
By far, the biggest mistake an architect can make is hiring employees too soon.
Such as hiring full-timers when a part-timer might make more sense or hiring an employee when a subcontractor could have done the same job/function.
It is very easy to run a small architecture business with part-timers, subcontractors and the services of other professionals.
Be careful when you hire someone.
You can start with a small team and then hire more people as you need them.
16. Hiring the wrong people
Different skill sets and backgrounds are needed for the different positions you’ll want to fill.
When you get started, make sure you have hardworking, all-around generalists who can do everything you need them to do.
When you begin to grow, look at hiring those who are specialised for the roles that need a specialist.
Don’t hire a generalist when you need someone who is specialised.
And don’t hire a specialist when you could hire a generalist to do it.
Hire people who are qualified for the jobs you need them to do.
17. Being disorganised
Being organised is key.
Running a small architecture business is like being a circus ringmaster.
It’s normal to have dozens of things happening at once.
So, I have a daily task list, things that I need to do, and I list them by their priority.
It sounds simple, but it works and makes me far more productive.
It is important to be organised when you run a business.
You have a lot of things to do, so it is important to keep track of everything.
Make a to-do list and prioritise your tasks.
18. Trying to do everything yourself
A big mistake architects make is thinking they are all alone.
They try to operate independently without surrounding themselves with wise counsel.
Don’t try to run a new business by yourself.
Find and onboard trustworthy seasoned advisors to discuss your business ideas, strategy, challenges and progress.
Wisdom and power exist in the multiplicity of counsel.
Incentivize other people to join your company as advisors in order to receive continuous feedback so that fewer mistakes will occur.
You can't do everything yourself.
You need to find people who can help you with your business.
19. Avoiding contracts
One of the biggest mistakes an architect can make when starting a business is the failure to implement contracts.
No matter how good relationships may be.
They can come to a screeching halt when systems and agreements are not put in place.
It is important to have contracts with your customers and employees.
This will protect you if something goes wrong.
20. Not filing for the proper legal structure
The biggest mistakes architects make, related to legal structure, are:
- not registering their business
- picking the right business entity
- protecting their intellectual property.
These three areas are crucial to a business starting right.
If not done properly, will cost valuable time and money to correct.
It is important to file for the proper legal structure for your business.
This will protect you and your business.
You can talk to a lawyer to help you choose the right structure.
21. Not learning the fundamentals
There are many things that can happen to your architecture business if you don't learn the business fundamentals.
Here are a few examples:
- You could lose money. If you don't understand how to manage your finances, you could end up spending more money than you bring in. This could lead to bankruptcy or other financial problems.
- You could lose clients. If you don't understand how to market your business or provide good customer service, you could lose clients to other architects who do.
- You could get sued. If you don't understand the legal aspects of running a business, you could make mistakes that could lead to lawsuits.
- You could burn out. If you don't know how to manage your time and energy, you could end up working so hard that you burn out. This could lead to health problems or other personal issues.
If you want your business to survive, they’re the most important thing. If you don’t learn them, you’re going to crash.
Conclusion: Starting your business correctly
A successful business is not built by one person alone.
So surround yourself with subject matter experts and mentors you can lean on and learn from.
Don’t be afraid of failure.
Instead, learn from your mistakes and pivot your business model as needed.
Test new ideas and acquire feedback so you can tweak your product to better meet customers’ needs.
Although there are several mistakes you’ll want to avoid while building your business, occasional mistakes are inevitable.
We all make mistakes. Sooner or later.
Now, you will have 2 options:
a) You can make those mistakes by yourself, and spend more time learning, or
b) learn from others, spend less time and speed your learning curve.
You’d better learn faster than your business evolves.
Once your business goes faster than your learning curve, it will be difficult to manage it.
So, If I can give you one final conclusion:
Learn from the mistakes that others already made.
Read & apply their resumes and conclusions.
And save you some precious time.
Whenever you're ready, there are 2 ways I can help you with:
1. If you're still looking for traction in your architecture business, I’d recommend starting with an affordable course.
2. In case you want to level up your business, you can get Full Access to the Global Architect Roadmap, and unlock Challenge & Solutions with all the resources and tools, exclusively reserved for our paid members, by Upgrading your Membership.
Hope you find them useful.