How Much Will It Cost to Start My Own Architecture Firm?

  • 30 Sep 2013
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  • Articles Editor's Choice
The office of Selgas Cano Architecture. Image © Iwan Baan

Starting your own firm is a daunting task, especially if you’re not completely sure of what you’re getting yourself into. Author Mark LePage, founder of Entrepreneur Architect knows this firsthand. This guide, originally published on Entrepreneur Architect, discusses the financial implications of starting your own firm and acts as a guide through the challenge, leading you to success. 

How much will it cost to start my own architecture firm?

That is a question that many of my readers ask me each week. The answer will certainly differ depending on whom you ask. When architects ask me how much it will cost to launch an architecture firm, I say, “as much as you need.”

Below I will discuss the very basics required to launch a sole proprietor architecture firm. Depending on your circumstance and the region in which you live, the numbers may vary for you.

There are also many other important decisions you need to consider before hanging your own shingle. I’ve written about many here at the blog before and many others will be covered in subsequent articles. Today, I’m talking about money and how little can we spend to get off the ground.

Let start by finding a place to work.

The interior of a design firm in Belgium that specialises in light and lighting. Image © Flickr User my name’s axel

Location

When Annmarie and I launched Fivecat Studio, we did so from our home. The space we used as our first studio was a raw 1934 cinder block basement. The floor was a concrete slab and the joist structure from the floor above was fully exposed. With a week’s worth of effort, we framed a partition wall to separate the studio from the rest of the unfinished basement, painted the walls and floor, added a few electrical receptacles, track lighting and fabricated a work table into the corner. We extended the existing phone lines and internet cables to the new location and for less than $1,000 we were in .

Not everyone has the good fortune to own their own home or have the available space for an office. Some may need to search locally for a small commercial space to call home. My recommendation, whatever your circumstances… keep it minimal and only take enough space to get yourself started. There will be plenty of time for you to grow into larger digs as your workload increases and you begin to need help.

Location Start Up Cost

  • Home Office: $0 to $5,000 (It depends on how much work you need to do.)
  • Commercial Office: $300 per month to $1,500 per month (Unless you rent too much space.)
The offices of Hariri Pontarini Architects. Image © Jason Paris, Flickr User JasonParis

Equipment and Software

Again, to launch your new firm, keep your equipment expenses to a bare minimum. You don’t need top of the line workstations or a full seat of AutoCAD. As you grow, you will upgrade and purchase the items you need to efficiently service the clients you serve. It is likely that your current home computer is adequate to run basic versions of AutoCAD LT and SketchUP, and it’s possible that you already own an older version of the software you’ll need.

Of course, it would be nice to buy a new iMac and load it up with Parallels and Revit, but hold your horses cowboy. You don’t even have a business yet.

Equipment and Software Start Up Cost

  • Computer: $0 to $2,000 (Keep it simple.)
  • Design Software: $0 to $1,200 (DraftSight is free. AutoCAD LTis affordable.)
  • All-in-One Copier / Printer: $100 (There are dozens from which to choose.)
  • Plotter: $0 to $2,000 (Your local FedEx Office will print on demand. HP offers inexpensive 24″ plotters.)
  • Internet and Telephone: $0 to $100 / month (If you’re planning a home office, it’s likely your Internet and telephone connections are already waiting for you there. A second phone line for business, is an inexpensive upgrade.)
  • Furniture: $0 – $500 (You’ll need a desk, a chair and a small book shelf… That’s it! Check your attic.)
© Francois Dischinger

Marketing

Once you have a place to sit your bottom and some equipment on which to start working, you’ll need to let the world know you exist.

When Annmarie and I launched Fivecat Studio, we did it without any clients. Once we committed to the idea of launching our own firm, we told all our friends, family and anyone else who would listen to us. Eventually we found a project and with the ball rolling, we started to market our services.

We designed and published our own website using NetObjects Fusion, purchased our domain and hosted our site at 1and1.com. We built our business from nothing using that first website. Today, Fivecat.com is hosted byliveBooks and its design is based on one of their many photo-friendly templates.

Blogging is another great way to communicate and build relationships with your prospects. You can get started with a blog for free in minutes using WordPress.com, or you can host your blog elsewhere and use the more advanced software found at WordPress.org. The blog that I wrote for Fivecat was free and was very successful for helping people learn who we were and what we did. Today, most find us by word of mouth or through Fivecat.com. I dedicate all my writing these days to Entrepreneur Architect. This site is hosted at Blue Host. It’s design started life as the eleven40 Theme from StudioPress and runs on the full version of WordPress.

Marketing Start Up Costs

  • Website Development and Hosting: $19 per month (liveBooks offers 3 tiers of pricing. My site costs me $39 per month, but you can get started for less.)
  • Blog Development and Hosting: $0 to $100 per month
  • Networking: $0 to $400 per year (Volunteering is free. Local networking groups and chambers of commerce may charge annual dues.)
The interior of Sasaki Associates, based out of Watertown, MA. Image © Peter Alfred Hess, Flickr User Peter Alfred Hess

A Few Other Thoughts

Before you commit to launching your own firm, you’ll want to consider your life plan and develop a business plan. Be sure to review the Entrepreneur Architect Resource Guide,which may be found over at the newEntrepreneur Architect Academy and read my post on running a Debt Zero Business.

As you can see from the numbers above, it’s very possible to launch on a shoestring budget and bootstrap your way to success. You don’t need to spend much to get started. Your success will come as a result of your talent, your hard work and lots and lots of patience, not how much money you spend on a fancy new conference room (trust me… we learned this lesson the hard way.)

At it’s simplest form, your new firm needs a place to be, some basic equipment and a way to let the world learn about your talents. Of course you could spend more (or less) and I am certain that I forgot a few things. The idea that I want you to take away from this post is, “start small and grow as needed.”

So, what are your thoughts on the cost of launching an architecture firm? Do you agree with my suggestions for starting lean? Tell us your story. How much did you spend to launch YOUR firm.

You can find more by Mark LePage on his website, or by following him/EntreArchitect on twitter.

Cite: Mark LePage. "How Much Will It Cost to Start My Own Architecture Firm?" 30 Sep 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 18 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=431742>

14 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down +24

    You didn’t mention anything about lawyers, insurance, or other big-ticket items. Not to mention whatever local business fees are required like fictitious business statements etc.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down +27

    The author left out the most important financial consideration: marry someone with a steady, well paying job. Everything else is secondary to that.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    Re. self employment don’t forget to budget, if not actually pay, quarterly income taxes. You’ll be paying the full cost of federal, medicare, social security & state taxes yourself. These are higher than you might imagine.

    Also, it may be worth $100 – $200 in April to hire an accountant to figure all those taxes for you. A good one will now how to balance those costs with expenses throughout the year.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +10

    The largest cost, salaries, was omitted from this list, even for a one-person start-up. Plan on 60 – 90 days of work before you receive your first check. If you are fortunate enough to start a firm with a client from day one, you will invoice after 30 days and the average aging is 30 – 60 days. If you have 2 employees plus yourself, this means that you are funding up to 3 months’ salary for 3 people, which could be $40,000 – $60,000. – Michael Strogoff, FAIA, aecKnowledge

  5. Thumb up Thumb down -14

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    One of the key elements during these uncertain times is Being able to advise the client on budget and planning level as well as a designer. This will make your income per project higher, which means you Will need less projects and more projects are taken to the next phase … Construction. Convincing the client on multiple levels is crucial.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Beh Mr LePage!
    You forgot sth… Start writing first your location! Where you live?! which country, what about dollars… (AU, Canada, Panama, Ecuador ???) I’m from Europe and believe me – your advices are needless here

  8. Thumb up Thumb down +9

    If you really want to save time and money don’t use autocad. One competant Revit and archicad user can do the work load of 2 or more autocad monkeys.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Great Blog, Nice for new entrepreneurs, they will get strength to kick start their new venture by reading such positive blog.
    Thanks!

  10. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    thank you for your blog, It was inspiring. People need to these fact from successful people. despite all obstacles discussed above. if anybody want to start business should start from some where. I believe success module and solution vary by every individual condition.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Plan a firm with multiple people with different strengths, clients & money WHILE you are working for a firm not while unemployed. Be prepared before jumping ship. Network, network, network. Social media push. Have money in hand & do a business plan. Multiple design specialties not one building type.

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