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What an Architect Does

In a previous post, Firm Advice, I offered up advice for those of you contemplating starting your own architectural firm. That post covered more of the legality and visions for your firm, long range planning if you will. In this post I’d like to offer up what I believe are five critical things every architect should be competent at to have a fighting chance at running a successful practice… I even offer up a bonus tip, whoo hoo! If you’re a potential client, consider this a list of a few things you should expect your architect to provide as part of their services.

Prelim Site

This is not meant as all-encompassing nor are they the only things you need to be able to do, but they are a solid >** insert pun here**< foundation that you will typically use on a daily basis. It’s also worth noting that this is primarily geared to single family residential projects and will differ slightly based on other project types. Without any disrespect to Vladimir John Ondrasik III (google it), I present my Five for Architect’in:

Contracts

Write/edit your contracts. Sounds simple and it can be. However, many architects aren’t exposed to this if they have been working for others at a firm. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on this blog. Whether you use AIA contracts, author your own, seek the advice of a lawyer, etc. is a decision you need to reach yourself. The Purpose of a Contract is simple; defines scope, responsibilities, relationships, and compensation. My advice, have contract templates at your disposal for editing. I have templates for New Single Family Residential, Renovation/Addition Single Family Residential, New Multi-Family Residential, Commercial Tenant Fit-Up, Conceptual Design, Schematic Design, as well as several others, you get the idea. You want good contracts that you can edit quickly per project specifics.

2013-05-20_blog_image_disconnect jSketching

Free hand sketching that is. This isn’t a CAD/BIM issue/debate; it’s about communication on the fly. You need the ability to quickly get your point across; more often than not your point will rely on visuals and sketches not notes and definitions. You need to be able to sketch at a dinner table, coffee shop, swim meet, PTA meeting, airport etc. and you need to be able to sketch on paper, cardboard, skin, wood, drywall, etc. and be able to sketch with a pencil, pen, marker, chocolate bar, blood, etc. The point is you need to be able to sketch anywhere on almost anything with almost everything. This isn’t sketching to produce art; it’s sketching to communicate visually. We architects use visuals until the visual is reality.

1 FullSizeRenderModeling

I’m not talking about runway modeling, I mean build an architectural model. Not virtual models, as these inherently have a disconnect with the client and the process. Virtual modeling does have its place, and I often model in SketchUp, as you can read about here- SketchUp 101. However, I am talking about Real, Physical, Touchable, MODELS! The importance of physically crafting a model is every bit as important to the design process as the idea itself. This is a ‘touchy’ topic and some architects won’t agree on the value of actually building architectural models. However, for me, it’s part of the design process and I suggest all architects give it a try if they don’t already. An architect needs to be able to craft form to the idea. More of my thoughts on physical modeling- Architect’s Next Top Model. Another great read on the value of physical architectural models ‘Why We Still Model…By Hand’ by Build LLC.

2 FullSizeRenderConstruction

Converse intelligently about construction means/methods. To be a Credible Architect, you need to instill trust in your clients and contractors that you know what you’re talking about. It’s hard to get projects built, it’s extremely difficult to get projects built the way you want them built. If you’re taken for your word, and are knowledgeable, your project has a better chance of being successful. You need to know the what and why of everything contained in your Construction Documents… if you don’t, find out or remove it. Most importantly, visit your projects during construction. This will afford you the construction knowledge. However, this gets to be a ‘gray area’ if you’re not contractually obligated for Construction Observation services. Which leads to my final point, you should have at a minimum (ideally full construction observation services) the following six key points of construction observation in your contract- Foundation and Footings, Substantial Completion of Framing, Pre-Electrical, just prior to Drywall, Trim work approximately 50%, and at Substantial Completion. I rarely engage in a project without those minimum construction observation services, if you do, be sure to have a contract clause addressing the Limited Construction Contract Observation Services.

IMG_1935Messenger

Own up to errors and bad news. This is a tough one but you need to be able to own up to your mistakes and be the bearer of bad news. Clients expect their architect to give them good news. Good news is, well it’s good. Usually no big hooray from the client when it’s delivered, that’s what they want, and expect, to hear from the architect. Bad news is… well… it’s bad and most are uncomfortable addressing. However, to be a successful architect, you need to be comfortable with bad news. Construction is a complicated process and bad stuff will happen, best if the client hears it directly from you, along with solutions as to how to remedy the situation. You need the ability to have open and honest conversations, especially when it’s a difficult issue/situation.

2013-04-02_blog_image_PMT 2 conc**BONUS** Learn

Learn how to learn. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to get set in your ways. Things/means/methods/etc. are constantly in flux. Embrace learning new… well just about everything. Each project you do should be a learning experience about something. As one of my college professors was fond of saying, “Your next project is your best project… always will be.” It’ll be your best because you’re constantly learning.

 

So as a new or seasoned architect running your own firm, what advice do you have to offer up? Post ‘em up in the comments below!

 

Design Business On,

** Learn to know when you don’t know and ask for advice.

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Ideally I would provide full architectural design services for every project. Let’s be honest, that’s the want of every architect for every project. However, for several reasons, I realize this is not always an option, nor is it always necessary. Cost is typically a primary issue on every project, and usually the first thing to be eliminated is professional design services of an architect. However, as a client you need to be aware of options that do not eliminate the services of an architect.

The primary means of reducing the design fee is to reduce the level of service provided. However, that in turn will result in more responsibility for you and it becomes crucial (even more so) to have a competent contractor. Obviously, the greater amount of detail included in the drawings, the clearer the procedure for construction. The design drawings are vital in assuring you that your house is built the way you want it. The more detail in the drawings the more control you have over the resultant house. Anything not included in the drawings is at the discretion of the contractor. You’ll have less control over the final outcome of the house because you have given the contractor fewer instructions/information to follow.

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In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I address typical levels of service available from an architect. Keep in mind not all architects are willing to work on a project where their services are limited- and there are some projects I won’t either. However, it does afford potential options to a client who is not in a position to hire an architect for full services, but does realize the value of an architect in the design of their home. Outlined below are differing Levels of design service available to you:

LEVEL 1: SCHEMATIC DESIGN DRAWINGS

This level uses an architect’s special training to problem solve, but the task of producing drawings for permitting and construction is the responsibility of others and is hired by you. This level is appropriate for simple designs. This level of service is appropriate if you want a house designed for your particular needs, but want to either draw the plans yourself or to have the builder, or a drafting service perform the drafting.

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These drawings are by no means enough for permitting or actual construction. The drawings indicate the design intent of your home. Prior to building, you will need to hire someone to think through how the house will be constructed, and to document those decisions in a set of drawings, suitable for obtaining the permit and building the house. This approach is appropriate if you wish to have standard finishes and details. Services typically include the following phase and associated deliverables:

Schematic Design (SD)

Schematic Design Drawings provided. Room sizes will be indicated but not dimensioned. The Schematic Design Drawings will be formatted at a size of 11×17, hand drawn, and consist of the following:

– Floor Plan(s)

– Roof Plan(s)

– Exterior Elevations- at each exterior façade

LEVEL 2: SCHEMATIC DESIGN + SCHEMATIC DESIGN RESOLUTION PACKAGE

This level of service is appropriate for those seeking a house with standard construction and finishing details. Like Level 1, this level of service is recommended for simple designs, where everything is straight forward. This level of service is the same as previously described in Level 1. However, once a design is agreed upon, a Schematic Design Resolution Package is provided.

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The Schematic Design Resolution Package contains additional information to lessen the burden on someone else completing the drawings. Even though you will still need to hire someone else to complete a set of drawings, suitable for obtaining the permit and construction, major dimensions will have been determined to aid in the creation of drawings. Services typically include the following phases and associated deliverables:

Schematic Design (SD) + Schematic Design Resolution Package

Includes services and deliverables as indicated in Level 1 , in addition, a  Schematic Design Resolution Package is provided. The Schematic Design Resolution Package will be formatted at a size of 24×36, created via AutoCAD/BIM software, and consist of the following:

               –  Floor Plan(s)

               –   Roof Plan(s)

               –   Exterior Elevations- at each exterior facade

               –   Two (2) Building Sections

               –   One (1) Wall Section

LEVEL 3: SCHEMATIC DESIGN + DESIGN DEVELOPMENT DRAWINGS

This level of service is the same as previously described in Level 2. However, once a design is agreed upon, a set of Design Development Drawings is created. The Schematic Design is developed so it more precisely fits your desires and needs. Preliminary materials are indicated/selected for your house.

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The Design Development drawings illustrate and describe the refinement of the design of your house. They establish the scope, relationships, forms, size, function, and aesthetic character of the house. These documents will outline the major materials and the building systems proposed. While these drawings are still not suitable for permitting and construction, they do start indicating additional information that assists in alleviating the contractor making assumptions. Services typically include the following phases and associated deliverables:

Schematic Design (SD) + Design Development (DD)

Includes services and deliverables as indicated in Level 2, in addition, Design Development Drawings will be created. The Design Development Drawings will be formatted at a size of 24×36, created via AutoCAD/BIM software, and typically consist of the following:

– Preliminary Architectural Site Plan in CAD (plot plan provided by Owner)

– Floor Plan(s)

– Roof Plan(s)

– Exterior Elevations- as needed

– Building Section(s)

– Preliminary Wall Sections and Details

– Preliminary Electrical Plans- locating outlets, telephone and cable only

– Preliminary Ceiling/Lighting Plans- locating lighting and switching only

– Preliminary Schedule Sheet(s)- including door and window schedule, interior finish schedule and interior elevations as required

– Preliminary General Specification Sheet- major materials and systems and establish their quality levels

 

LEVEL 4: FULL SCOPE OF ARCHITECTURAL SERVICES (psst… psst…this is the one you want)

This level of service is the same as previously described in Level 3. However, once Design Development is complete, a set of Construction Documents is created. These drawings are also used for obtaining a building permit and for construction of your house. All of the information obtained throughout the previous phases of work are incorporated and coordinated to create a set of drawings and documents that set forth in detail requirements for the construction of your house. This also includes structural engineering of your house.

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This level of service offers you the greatest amount of specificity regarding your house, and consequently the greatest amount of control over the end ‘product.’ The resultant home will reflect who you are and how you live. Services typically include the following phases and associated deliverables:

Construction Document (CD)

Includes services and deliverables as indicated in Level 3 , in addition, Construction Documents consisting of Drawings and Specifications setting forth in detail the requirements for your house, including Drawings and Specifications that establish the quality levels of materials and systems required for your house, will be created. A typical Construction Document set will include:

– Cover Sheet

– General Specification Sheet(s) or Book Specifications

– Architectural Site Plan

– Foundation, Floor, and Roof Plan(s)

– Exterior Elevations

– Building Sections, Wall Sections, and Details

– Electrical Plans- locating outlets, telephone and cable only (circuitry by electrical subcontractor)

– Ceiling/Lighting Plans- locating lighting and switching only (circuitry by electrical subcontractor)

– Schedule Sheet(s)- including door and window schedule, interior finish schedule and interior elevations as required

– Selection sheets indicating what fixtures, appliances, lights, etc. that you need to select.

– Structural Framing Plans and Details as required (services provided by a structural engineer)

CONSTRUCTION OBSERVATION

This is the construction phase of your project. Basically, we are involved during this process to see that the builder is following the Construction Documents during construction. Ideally, at a minimum, visits to the site would occur at; Foundation and Footings, Substantial Completion of Framing, Pre-Electrical, Before Drywall, Trim work approximately 50%, and Substantial Completion. This service is only provided if Level 4 is selected. There are far too many liabilities to be involved with the construction unless we are the author of the Construction Documents.

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HOURLY CONSULTING

For any other services not indicated, and for any situation where our experience in residential design and construction would be of value, we are available on an hourly basis.

 

Ideally you would select Level 4. However, even limiting design services, there remains inherent value in employing the services of an architect. As a future client, you need to be aware of the options available such that you can realize your dream home. If you are considering/making such an investment, why not hire an architect to assist you in getting what you want? If you want your home to reflect who you are and how you live, hiring an architect is something you cannot afford not to do.

All of the previous posts in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series can be found here:

Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search

Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself

Hiring an Architect: Part 3- Ask the Architect

Hiring an Architect: Part 4- A is for ‘Architect’

Hiring an Architect: Part 5- “What? Me, hire an architect?”

Armed with this series, a residential client should feel at ease about hiring and working with an architect. Architects will listen to your needs/wants and in the end you’ll have the home you wanted because your architect was able to assist you in bridging the gap between your budget, your vision and reality. You’ll end up with a home that fits you and your lifestyle. If you still have reservations or questions fell free to comment below or send me an email!

 

Design On,

** Even limiting services an architect will bring value to your home, it won’t come with large fries or a super size drink, but it will be value.

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I don’t get to draw all day. I’m not a cartoon maker. Honestly, I’m getting tired of hearing clients and architects say “Isn’t that great, you/ I get to draw all day and get paid!” I know it’s typically stated flippantly, but we, or at least myself, need to really think about that. That’s not what we do and it’s part of the perception problem that the public has with what we architects do. “Don’t you architects just do some drawings?” No, no we don’t. Now before you get up on your soap box and start calling me out, I admit… I’ve been guilty of stating the same thing. However, I’m making a conscious effort to not say that anymore, it marginalizes what we do. Part of our role as architects is educating the public what it is we really do… we fall short on doing so, I know I do.

We architects get excited about meeting new clients and voicing our thoughts on the design problem and the solutions we have. We prepare awesome drawings that represent the vision for the project, with any luck the client loves them… and… pause…that right there is part of the problem. The problem is quite simple; it’s the ‘awesome drawings’ the client sees. Even worse, if we’ve been good at the design solution, the resultant drawings look effortless and as if that was the only solution. While awesome drawings are… well, awesome, they can also be a detriment. We need to do a better job at explaining the architect’s value to our clients lies well beyond the drawings created… and that we don’t just draw all day.

 

photo

An architect’s value is lost on the client if they only see the drawings and aren’t fully vetted as to the process/experience that ‘created’ the drawings. It’s the drawings backed by such that instills value. Yes architects draw. However, drawing is part of a larger process of architecture. A process backed with experience and expertise. The process involves problem solving, addressing your needs/wishes/budget/schedule, and complying with local building and zoning codes- all while designing an aesthetically pleasing efficient structure. Architects help you design/discover a structure that works for you and fits your individuality and preferences. The value of an architect’s services is occasionally related directly to cost savings. However, typically our value is in questioning, planning, clarification, detailing, and ‘solidifying’ numerous moving ‘parts’ into a cohesive design- which ultimately results in cost savings to you. This in turn enhances the value we bring to a project. Drawings play a supporting role in the overall process.

Drawings themselves do not bring value to architecture. It’s the due diligence, experience, role of the architect in the design/construction process, and the thought(s) that created the drawings that bring value. Many people seem to be under the impression that drawings are cheap, and they’re right. Drawings themselves are cheap. However, it’s the thought and expertise that ‘back’ drawings created by an architect that’s going to cost. You can have cheap drawings; you’re just not going to get them from me or any other architect who has your best interests in mind. As a client, you need to look past the architect’s drawings and be cognizant of the process that created the drawings. The drawings themselves are cheap, heck I’ll even pay* for the paper myself. What you’re paying for is the architect’s expertise that created those drawings.

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No, I don’t get to draw all day everyday, my typical day looks more like this- Drawing Baths and Architecture. Yes I do get to draw, but my drawings are more than graphic representations. They are a wealth of knowledge and are backed by a solid thought process. Architects offer a service in which drawings are a tool to reach a conclusion… a conclusion that ultimately brings value to your project. Drawings are a product; architects provide a service, a valuable service!

 

Design On,

* Offer only applies when my services are rendered for the project, cannot be combined with any other offers unless Neutra comes back to life and wants to collaborate.

2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 1Within the architecture profession, design competitions have a love hate relationship. Many architects either love them or hate them. Me, I don’t cut it so black and white, I prefer an off gray stance. I don’t enter many design competitions, perhaps a future post as to why. However, when I do, I look at them from my own ** insert pun ** perspective and I win every competition I enter.

Every.

Single.

One.

How? Simple, I enter them with a specific challenge for myself to achieve. I don’t care about ‘winning’ in terms of Charlie Sheen, or the competitions definition of winning. Sure, it’d be great to win and receive the accolades from peers, or a quart of tiger’s blood, but I’m in it for more than that. I win by using competitions as exercises to further my knowledge of the architecture profession and/or add new design tools to my arsenal. There are two, and only two criteria to meet if you want to guarantee a win- and in reality one of them is optional.

The two critical tips to win every competition you enter:

1. There needs to be an entry fee. It’ll force upon you responsibility and commitment. If you’re anything like me, you expect to get something out of the monies you pay- I’m looking right at you AIA, sorry, that’s another post.

2. You need to commit to learning a new technique, trying new software, testing a new concept, investigating a new material or new usage of a typical material, etc. the key here is ‘new’ as the only way to win is doing something new.

You can win without meeting tip number 1. However, your winnings will be greater if you do. Keep in mind, there is no way to win if you don’t adhere to tip number 2

2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 3One of my most recent projects was the design of a new residential house. The clients are great and it’s been a fun project. The design was done via SketchUp and the design package was presented via renders right out of SketchUp. The graphic results for the schematic proposal were good. At the schematic stage, I try not to get caught up in materials and color selections- I want clients to focus on form, massing, and layout. I’ve used SketchUp for several years, the renders are good but a bit cartoonish. If you’d like to learn the basics of using SketchUp, check out my post SketchUp 101. I’ve tried a few other rendering plug-ins with Sketchup in the past, while the results were better than the standard Sketchup, they were cumbersome to achieve. I knew there were better Sketchup plug-ins. Time to go win a design competition.

My local chapter of the AIA was having their annual design awards competition, a perfect one to enter. As previously mentioned, there was an entry fee and the new software I was going to learn was Maxwell Render. I wanted to learn a new software to enhance the Sketchup renders. In addition, I was looking for a technique to better render grass, and Maxwell fit the bill on both counts. The free version of Maxwell is a plug-in that runs within Sketchup. While you’re limited to certain functions and output resolutions, it greatly enhances renderings of your Sketchup models. I chose Maxwell because Evan Troxel raves about it and if he does, trust me it’s got to be good. So Maxwell it was. I won’t go into specifics about the usage of Maxwell, perhaps a future post, but honestly you’re better off checking out Evan’s get Method site.

Here are some of the images created- the original SketchUp image is followed  with the Maxwell Render below. Keep in mind these were created from one SketchUp model with minor tweaking in Maxwell. The people, trees, and sky were done in Photoshop:

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So there you go, my latest win at a design competition. I won by learning a new software and technique. I was extremely happy with the results and haven’t even begun experimenting with Maxwell materials… maybe I’ll save that for my next winning entry. If you care to forgo an entry fee, be sure to check out Bob Borson’s Life of an Architect annual Playhouse Design Competition, its for a great cause.

So go out there and win yourself a design competition, you’ll be happy you did!

 

 

Design On,

** Seriously… you’ll win… do it!

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It’s always exciting meeting a potential client for the first time. Excitement. Nerves. Possibilities. That’s how I feel as the architect. Once I’m in their house I don’t get on the sales pitch soap box. The great thing about the modern ‘online world’ is that clients can do vast amounts of research before calling an architect. They’ve seen my work and know what I can do. I don’t need to sell myself at this point… well, I’m always selling the virtues of an architect, it’s just covert at this point.

 

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We start walking through the house. The clients go on and on- in a good way- talking about their project. I spend most of the time listening shaking the dog off my leg, checking out their medicine cabinets and nodding my head… after all it’s their project that they wish to share with me. I see the glitter in their eye as they discuss wishes and goals for the project. Really good clients have binders full of images they like. The best clients can describe why they like them. Finally they’ve exhausted themselves. Then it happens. They turn to me and ask, “So what’s the answer? What will it look like when it’s done?” They seem to be waiting for me to snap my fingers, toss my cape back over my shoulder (I should start wearing a cape) and exclaim “A-ha, I’ve got it!” However, my typical response is “Yes. No. Something. I don’t know.” To which I’m greeted with a blank stare for two minutes… than a nervous laugh… then the client says “ No, really, what’s it going to look like?”

 

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Sometimes it’s a bit of a let down to the client that I don’t have an initial grand vision for their project. If I did, it would be my vision and not theirs. I don’t work that way. The bad thing about the modern ‘online world’ is that clients want answers instantly. I explain how I approach each project by striving to define the inherent design issue(s) at hand. I need to figure out how they ‘live’ life on a daily basis and what is or isn’t currently working for them in their house. I don’t approach a project with a preconceived notion of an aesthetic- style if you wish. I strive to absorb a client’s beliefs and wishes and respond with an appropriate design. This doesn’t happen at the first meeting. I may even have them fill out a questionnaire in an attempt to further solidify their goals and wishes for the project. Then it happens. They look at me and exclaim “A-ha, so we’re going to be involved more than we thought. We have a say in what this will look like, nice. This sounds like a lot of fun!” Trust me, its barrel of monkey’s kind of fun.

 

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My initial meeting with a client involves a vast amount of listening, looking, and investigating the root of the design issue(s) at hand. Good design is listening and investigating, only after doing such can an architect respond appropriately. I suspect a majority of architects would agree.

A client’s project starts as theirs, but if it’s successful it doesn’t end that way. I like the give and take between architect and client, it makes for a rewarding experience and project for both of us. The most successful projects start as a client’s project and end as our project. It never becomes my project. So take on me (see what I did there) as your architect and we’ll come up with a project that’s not yours or mine, but ours

 

Design On,

** Come on A-ha and a barrel of monkey’s… in one post… never done before, couldn’t have been.

Thinking about starting your own firm or going out on your own as a sole practioner? If so, there are some basics you should be reminded of when starting your firm. Keep in mind, this is not an all-encompassing post and you should consult legal advice as you feel necessary. I’ve worked in the architecture profession for over 20 years, the past 14 years as a licensed architect and the past 5 years as running my own architecture firm.  I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things over the years that are worth sharing. Below is a business outline that I feel is crucial to starting your own firm. I’ll be honest, I haven’t followed it to the letter. I won’t say which I haven’t, but I can say I regret not having done some…vague enough… don’t you do the same.

Strategic Planning

Establish your Vision, Mission, and Values. Going through a strategic planning process will help you in defining your goals, as well as provide the framework to create a specific business plan to achieve them. It will also help you establish and build your unique ‘Brand’ and guide your day-to-day decision making. A situations arise, or goals change, refer to your strategic plan for guidance and/or to revise as needed. Your strategic plan is fluid and it should be revised as needed, at least once a year minimum. The basics your plan should contain are the following:

    1. Vision: How do you see your firm in 2, 3, or 5 years?
      1. How much revenue and profit would you like or need to be successful?
      2. Do you plan on having employees, if so how many?
      3. What project types will you serve? Geographic location(s) you will serve?
      4. What services will you offer? Will they be direct or subcontracted? (architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, graphic design, civil, MEP, or structural engineering…)
    2. Mission: What is your key purpose?
      1. Why do you want to do this work?
      2. What do you want to be known for? (unique design solutions, traditional architecture, contemporary architecture, great service, technical abilities, LEED solutions…)
      3. What makes you and your firm unique?
      4. Try and develop a benefit statement or slogan for your Key Purpose.
    3. Values: What are your core principles regarding design and business?

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I don’t think your strategic plan should be shared with your clients or posted on your web site. The purpose of the plan is to guide you, not as ‘fluff’ to market or a sales attempt.  That doesn’t mean write it and just forget about it. To be purposeful your plan needs to be simple and employed as framework for you to reference and guide you as to why you’re doing what you’re doing. Bob Borson has some great advice in his Mission Statements post. We all want to be the best and offer the best services, we don’t need to tell clients that… but we do need a plan as to how we’re going to achieve.

Legal Entity

Most business entities can be set up rather easily and with little to no assistance. However, it’s best to consult with an attorney to discuss what type of business structure will fit your needs the best. If you’re not comfortable doing so, a business attorney can also assist you in setting up the legal entity. There are several legal corporation structures, for example:

    1. Sole Proprietorship- personal exposure for all liabilities
    2. Partnership- personal exposure and possible control issues
    3. S Corporation- insulation from many liabilities, tax burden passes through to individual owners
    4. C Corporation- insulation from many liabilities, subject to corporate taxes, flexible
    5. Limited Liability Corporation or Professional Limited Liability Corporation- simple but has limitations

It’s best to consult an attorney and review these, as well as other, options available to you. Meeting with an attorney for an hour is worth the cost and can save you a lot of hassle in the future.

Licensure

Make sure you are licensed in every state (or jurisdiction) that you are providing services. Many states require local licensure just to offer to provide architectural services. Be sure to review the specific requirements for each state prior to offering or providing services for clients or projects. Some states will also require your corporation be registered with the local Architecture Board and have a separate corporate seal and number than your personal architecture seal. Create a method for Continuing Education requirements and tracking for yourself and any other professional architects in your firm.

Insurance

There is a lot to cover when it comes to insurance… there’s Professional Liability Insurance, Errors and Omissions, General Liability Insurance, Property/Casualty, Workers Compensation, etc. Certain clients and projects will mandate what type and amounts of insurance you should carry. It’s best to find a reputable insurance broker and discuss your options with them.

Professional Relationships

Make sure to develop and maintain key relationships to assist you and your firm, i.e. banker, lawyer, finance and tax accountants, insurance brokers, vendors, engineering consultants, code officials, architects…

Startup Capital

Many firms start out as Sole Proprietors working out of their home and ‘bootstrapping’ it with little to no startup capital. Modative’s post, How to Start an Architecture Firm – Introduction, is a good read for how to start a firm via bootstrapping. However, if your goal is to start out a little ‘bigger,’ there’s more to consider. New firms rarely begin collecting revenue on day one, you should secure a source of funds required to cover your operating expenses in the time period between opening and receiving regular revenue to cover operating costs. Collection periods can vary significantly be sure your contract states your collection period. If you plan on starting ‘bigger,’ typically three to six months of operating expenses are needed prior to starting. Operating capital can come from many sources; personal funds, outside investors, personal credit, bank loan, SBA loan, etc.

    1. Establish your operating budget to determine your cash need
      1. Rent
      2. Space/building improvements
      3. Furniture
      4. Computer hardware
      5. Computer software
      6. Utilities, phone, internet, insurance, salaries, travel, etc.
      7. Marketing
      8. etc., etc., etc…..

Developing your Business

How are you going to market your services? How are you going to sell your services? How will you follow up with potential clients? Where will you ‘find’ clients? These all need to be answered if you want a chance at succeeding. Most architects starting out need to use work done while employed at a prior firm to market themselves. When doing so, be sure you have the firms consent, credit them as appropriate, and be honest with your particular responsibilities on that particular project. You’ll also need to continually develop your business and maintain the following:

    1. Marketing materials
    2. Identify potential clients and projects
    3. Website creation and maintenance
    4. Social media strategies (blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, etc.)

Handshake

Production Management

How are you going to execute your work? Numerous means/methods are required to complete a project, typically one individual does not possess all these skills. This is a positive to a partnership- one partner has a particular skill set that the other does not, together they complement each other’s skills. You’ll ned to develop a method for:

    1. Design
    2. Construction documenting
    3. Project management
    4. Construction administration
    5. Computer systems maintenance
    6. Printing
    7. Contract Management
    8. Fee proposals

Business Management

How are you going to deal with financial and accounting matters? Unless you’re on your own, its best to engage the services of a bookkeeper/tax accountant. They can provide you valuable advice on the financials of your firm as well as strategies to grow.

    1. Invoicing
    2. Financial statements
    3. Taxes
    4. Payroll and withholding

Fees and Services

How are you going to determine fees for your services? You should not be competing on the basis of price alone. However, one advantage of start-up/sole proprietor is that you will typically have a low overhead compared to larger established firms. However, position your firm relative to the competition such that you have a unique characteristic or advantage to sway clients to engage your services, it should not be because your fees are the lowest. If you compete on the basis of fees you’ll end up in bidding wars which will result in lower profit margins, which will ruin your firm quickly as you’ll always be trying to ‘make it up’ on the next project. When establishing your fees you need to know your actual Costs for delivering the services (salaries, overhead, etc.), your Selling point, or Price that will allow you to make a profit without compromising your services… read that last part again… “profit without compromising your services.” You should always strive for that.

Ready?

Based on the above information you should feel a bit more confident starting a firm with a plan in place. Keep in mind, it’s a loose plan that will evolve and change as the firm does, but it’s a plan none the less. Further great advice can be found on the Entrepreneur Architect web site by Mark LePage. site Above all it should be fun running/ owning your own firm. It’s hard work, sometimes frustrating work. You’ll rise and fall but you get credit for both, which is exciting! If you’re not having fun you should re-consider if running/owning your own firm is really what you wish to do.

I’ll close with one last key piece of advice, learn to know when you don’t know and ask for advice. So what tips/ advice do you have for starting and running your own firm, post them up in the comments below!

 

Design Business On,

** I’ll say it again, learn to know when you don’t know and ask for advice.

A few weeks ago I dropped blinds off for repair. The ‘ladders’- strings that operate the blinds- had broken on one side and needed to be re-strung. It would have been cheaper to buy new blinds than repair. However, the blinds have a bit of age, are for a French door (odd size), and needed to match adjacent blinds. I thought about repairing them myself, but I didn’t want to deal with the aggravation. So I fired up the old interweb machine and searched for a blind repair company- not as easy to find as one would think, there aren’t many.

2014-01-21_blog_image_blindsided

*Note to self, apply to be on Shark Tank with a blind repair company… I’m seeking $327.00 for 21% equity- “Yes, that’s correct I value the company at $1,557.14” Mark Cuban would be all up in that biz!

I found a window treatment shop within a few miles of my house. I removed the blinds and went to the shop. I spoke with the owner/salesperson/repair person, after she inspected the blinds she told me they’d be repaired and ready tomorrow- it was Monday. “I’ll call tomorrow morning to inform you when
they’re done and what time to pick them up.” I thought great, that was easy.

Tuesday came and went and I had forgotten about the blinds. Wednesday came. Wednesday afternoon came. Late Wednesday afternoon came. Nothing, no phone call. I called early evening and I’m informed that she was extremely busy and didn’t get to them. “I’ll do it first thing Thursday morning.” I thought, no big deal, things happen.

Thursday afternoon I call, nope didn’t get to it. First thing Friday morning, for sure they’ll be done. Friday afternoon I call, goes straight to voicemail, I leave a message. Late Friday afternoon I get a call, I’m told the blinds are done; I can pick them up anytime… really any time, how about this past Tuesday.

The blinds weren’t as important as it sounds. In fact, I could’ve done without the blinds for a few weeks- although my neighbors may disagree. However, I was given a commitment that wasn’t followed through with.

It’s a simple trait, and one to strive for in both your personal and professional life- do what you say you will do when you say you will do it. It conveys commitment and trust- traits I want to be known for, both personally and professionally. In addition, I want to interact with people who feel and do the same, you should as well.

 

Design On,

** The initial title of this post was The Blind Side, but Sandra wasn’t having that… So then I changed it to Blind Melon, however, that seemed a disservice to Mr. Hoon.