Have you been dreaming of setting up your own architectural practice for a while? Perhaps you’ve been working for a big firm and growing tired of the same old projects. Maybe you’d prefer to take a more personal approach, working one-to-one with clients to achieve distinctive design. Or perhaps you’ve always dreamed of running your own business, being able to pick and choose projects and set your own hours to achieve more of a work-life balance. Whatever it is, choosing to launch a small architectural firm has to be a personal choice. But what does it really take to fly solo? And what should you know before you take the first step and register that website domain or start searching for a studio premises?
Begin With Your Contract
If you’re working for a firm and drawing pay as a salaried employee, the first thing you need to do before going it alone is to look carefully at your contract. As working in architecture is a profession which lends itself to independent practice, many firms insert what is known as a non-solicitation clause into their employee contracts. This restricts you from contacting any clients that you have come into contact with through your employers. There may also be a non-compete clause that bans you from working for a rival or operating within the same niche. If that is the case, contact a specialist in employment law. You don’t want to be fighting off lawsuits while trying to get a business off the ground, but equally there may be some grounds to challenge conditions if they are too restrictive to be reasonable.
Make Your Business Plan
With that out of the way, you need a clearly defined business plan. What areas will you specialise in? What will make your practice unique and know in the marketplace? How will you find clients? What turnover will you need at a certain point in order to be viable? Next think about the premises and equipment that you will need and how much these will cost – everything from studio space to developing a website and leasing CAD design software to purchasing large format print machines to run off plans will need to be considered. This document is vital when pitching for business investment and setting out your mission and values.
Structure Your Practice
You also need to decide what kind of legal entity to set your business up as. For example, you could launch as a sole trader – this avoids some taxes and paperwork, but it does mean that you and your business are considered as a single legal entity, so if the business was to go bankrupt, you would be personally liable and your accounts pursued. Setting up a limited company is a little more work, but it does offer you some legal protection and make it easier to expand operations later on if your firm grows. It’s a good rule of thumb to start as you mean to go on by keeping your business and personal accounts completely separate – things will be a lot less confusing further down the line.