aggregate startup

so holz is utterly sick of being unemployed... and was recently contacted about working on a local project. this brings to mind all kinds of fascinating fantasies...

thus, i wanted to start an aggregate thread (a la seattle, passivhaus, etc) on threads about starting up a firm. feel free to post thoughts/questions/ideas and other threads or sites you want to pass on. i'll definitely be spending a lot of time at the library and AIA office this week. hurrah!

design firm startup

wanna start your own firm?

you got a firm?are you making it?
how do young startup firms get public work?

one man band

starting a firm

anyone considering starting a new office

modative blog series: how to start an arcithitecture firm

amazon: How to Start and Operate Your Own Design Firm, Second Edition: A Guide for Interior Designers and Architects

and lastly, archinect's awesome UpStarts series

Nov 29, 10 11:03 pm

what up Holz?? Im starting my own consulting company right now. Trying to get my website design on

Nov 30, 10 1:00 am
Distant Unicorn

You can pay me in a year.

Nov 30, 10 1:19 am

mdler, you are still in seattle? awesome. we should meet up for drinks. website design is going to be the sh*tty part. probably go w/ indexexhibit since it seems pretty designer-friendly without being overly fussy and somewhat hyperminimal (yes!)

thanks for the stab on the logo, UG. alas, it won't be under (as that name is already f*ckin taken...)

Nov 30, 10 2:30 am

UG what font is dat?

Nov 30, 10 2:37 am
Distant Unicorn

Filosofia. It's one of my favorites. And it is pricey.

Nov 30, 10 2:45 am


still here...I thinking Im going to go the Wordpress blog route as recomended by many people.

Have you seen the Architecture 5cents guy at the Ballard Market? I have talked with him on a few occasions, and he said that he is doing really well for himself with the booth (didnt hurt that he was in NYTimes). It is an interresting business model for a different type of marketing for architectural services.

Nov 30, 10 1:07 pm

wordpress might be good for some small buzz, actually.

i've met w/ the arch 5 cents guy a couple of times. he's actually a decent resource, pithy and to the point. being in NYT sounded like it was a mixed bag. also, he hates the AIA more than I do - respect!

good find, barry. i completely forgot about that thread.

Nov 30, 10 2:54 pm

he (arch5cents) is a funny guy. Apparently the AIA is pissed at him, etc...but he has a job and is making $60k + a yr doing his own thing

Nov 30, 10 3:27 pm

all your high school friends on facebook. they all went out and became something other than architects. a good number of them probably did very well for themselves. they now have spouses, a few kids, and a house that's too damn small. they're also your age and probably not super-jaded.

email them.

this works particularly well if you've been in touch for some time, and if you've already been commenting on their cute kid pictures. if you've been too good for facebook this whole time, they'll know something's up if you start being friendly out of nowhere.......

Nov 30, 10 3:30 pm

well, the AIA has no one to blame but themselves. they should embrace his mode of thinking. especially given the present economy.

facebook...hilarious. one big timesuck/cluster f*ck. who really cares that your rumba cleaned the floors while your baby farted and you burned your cookies. who wants to know that sh*t? pedophiles, that's who.

also, half of my closest high school friends became architects. how in the eff did that happen?!?

Nov 30, 10 5:16 pm

Check out the AIA Practice Management resources at the bottom left of the webpage...Free Risk Management and Business Development webinars.

Friedman Files - Business Development Tips

Books (all available on
Architects Essentials of Starting, Assessing and Transitioning a Design Firm by Piven and Perkins

Staying Small Successfully by Stasiowski

Creating Wealth: Principles and Practices for Design Firms by Flynn-Heapes

Silver Bullets: Strategic Intelligence for Better Design Firm Management by Reigle

Business Model Assessment Tool

Dec 1, 10 3:58 pm

Marketing Handbook for the Design and Construction Professional by Society for Marketing Professional Services

Dec 1, 10 4:09 pm

hey mdler, i shot an email your way.

Dec 2, 10 3:33 am

I think most of my earlier year friends made so much money that they would not want to work with a lowly architect like myself....they want the big guns!

Dec 2, 10 12:39 pm


I havent recieved the email...

Dec 2, 10 2:06 pm

geez, snook--convince them you ARE one of the big cutting edge you're still under the radar. they can get in on the ground floor...

or if you don't want to, then send them my way...i'll convince them! :)

Dec 2, 10 2:17 pm

weird. i tried again.

Dec 2, 10 2:28 pm

My local AIA chapter (Chicago) has been hosting a couple different series where they bring in a volunteer lawyer, tax guy, and sole practitioner to do 1-hr sessions on "where to start". Very cool idea & one thing the AIA could be really helpful for. Unfortunately I haven't been able to make it to the last two but I'm dying to hit one up. Check out your local chapter - although the AIA really annoys me at the national level, there are some things my local chapter is very useful for.

Dec 2, 10 10:25 pm

manta, are you referring to the "Project Checklist" series? i must've missed out. I did sign up for the "Toolkit Tuesday" webinars, which were really informational & helpful.

Dec 3, 10 11:44 am

Can I bump this out of interest? I don't have anything to contribute besides that I'd like to eventually have my own firm, and it would be cool to hear updates as work has been picking up.

Mar 7, 14 5:35 pm

Well, I'm doing this. 

I'm a one man show. My work is generally lowbrow but I give my clients as much as I possibly can. 

I'm still in my first 6 months of business. I hope by the time I hit 1 year I've moved some ways at least. I'm doing better than breaking even at this point - haven't replaced my old salary yet, but actually doing better $$ wise than I expected. 

My main goal - to figure out how to move beyond little additions, permit packages and saving homeowners' a$$es and into larger commercial and public projects. Heck, I'd take larger dollar residential too. 

Mar 7, 14 7:29 pm
Saint in the City

Very cool, gruen.  Like to hear about that stuff -- it takes some real stones to do what you're doing.  Like the kind you need a wheelbarrow to cart around...

Couple months ago you had mentioned some real estate pursuits -- any further thoughts along those lines?  Spec, maybe design-build-own, other, etc.?  (Maybe that's just my one-track mind.)   

Mar 8, 14 10:24 am

It is cool to hear. I'm too young to be thinking this, but I should be licensed by this time next year, and hope to be in a similar position as you. I just don't like having bosses. And I'll be close enough to paying off my loans that I can coast for a while. 


Are you fully committed to your own work, or do you occasionally fill in with contract work for others?

How are you finding work? Spec seems like the dream, but tough starting out for sure?

What size town are you in? -I'd like to move to a small city of more like 100k...don't know if that's sustainable though.

If you start moving on to bigger stuff, spill the details! if you have time. 


Thanks, and hope it keeps getting better

Mar 8, 14 8:55 pm
Saint- I probably will do some small investment eventually- but my funds are depleted right now and I'm way too busy with my own house & the biz to even consider it. Haven't thought about spec, but I think that condo conversions might be a potential around here. I need better contacts first.

My city is ~200k. Most of my work is out of state, I'm tapping into the regional market because my local market is really depressed.

I do actually fill in contract for another firm. It really is helping w paying the bills, but does distract from my main mission.

I really do need to figure out how to get better/bigger projects. I'm bootstrapping this - on the couch w/the laptop and old software.

I'm slowly getting referrals but nothing more than small adds, renos, design studies. I am getting enough calls that I feel I can ask for an OK hourly rate and ignore people who want to pay less. I am finding it better to ask for hourly pay for my contracts (I estimate the number of hours for the owner) because it focuses me on completion & I have a leg to stand on when they ask for extra work. I've tried flat fee but keep working too many hours on those projects. I'm often able to get a few hundred extra out of each hourly project when the owners want more design studies or whatever.

I will certainly be raising my hourly rate every 3-6 months depending on what the market will bear.

I'm working on building a dedicated office in my home & will make the jump to desktop and REVIT at that point. Maybe...trying to keep overhead low too...

I'm not hiring. No need to at this point. I've done some fairly large projects by myself at other firms, so wonder if employees are necessary. We will see. I could use someone cheap and good w acad, to subcontract small things out to sometimes, but doubt I'd find anyone. (Anyone interested, email me at punkmotorcycles (at) gmail )

I don't have any other bright ideas right now...
Mar 9, 14 10:26 am
Saint in the City

Sounds like you are deep into the uphill battle of starting up a firm.  And in a pretty large city @ 200K.   I really like the bootstrapping method -- that is, figure it out on the equipment you now have, start smaller, and grow as it comes along.  I've always been an employee, but I do know that patience is key.

I'm hoping some others will continue to respond with advice -- especially on getting more / bigger jobs.

It's a tough balance -- getting bill-paying jobs but also getting the jobs you want.  For good and bad, what you do becomes what you do.  A sort of "typecasting" can happen.  But a couple good ones and you're on your way. 

Good luck with all this!  

Mar 10, 14 10:07 am
vado retro

Mar 10, 14 11:37 am
won and done williams

My quick thoughts on the topic:

1. Taking the plunge is the hardest part. It took me four years of agonizing before I did. Once you take the plunge you almost instantly forget how difficult the decision was. 

2. Don't go out on your own without having at least one major project to provide income for at least one year. I believe strongly in two adages, "A bird in the hand," and "Never leave money on the table." You have to have at least one bird in the hand, i.e. a signed contract, before you leave a situation that is currently providing you steady income ("money on the table"). Blind faith is a recipe for disaster.

3. You are not running a business until you hire employees; without employees, you are only a consultant. That being said, hiring employees makes your administrative time quadruple from what it was on your own. Welcome to the world of payroll, taxes, health insurance, IT, computer networking, etc., etc. It's a big pain in ass that generally takes too much of your time away from the things you actually enjoy doing: design, project development, etc.

4. Hiring employees is the best thing you can do for a business. As individuals, we are limited by our own skills and attributes. Hiring allows you to build the office you want it to be. You augment your own skills with the skills of others. Not only that you are profiting off of the billable time of others. It's a good feeling when you wake up in the morning with the flu and know that there are other people billing time that is ultimately profiting your business.

5. Set the bar high at the outset and make sure every move you make reflects that standard. Pay people fairly and reward good work. Only hire on contract if you need contract work. Buy the best equipment for your employees. IT should never impede work flow. If you cannot afford to pay people fairly and buy high quality equipment, you are not financially ready to start a business.

6. Finally, do good work. Those were the parting words to our graduating architecture class from the chair of the department, and I've come to believe there is nothing more important from both a personal and professional point of view. 

Mar 10, 14 12:29 pm
Saint in the City

"You are not running a business until you hire employees; without employees, you are only a consultant. "

What does that mean?

Mar 11, 14 1:04 pm
won and done williams

From my experience, there was a monumental shift when I went from just being a guy picking up projects on my own, what I would call a consultant, to having an actual staff. A consultant does work as an extension of oneself; there is little to distinguish what I do from who I am. After picking up employees, the business became an actual entity that was separate from me. It was an important distinction that I hadn't understood before I had ever hired someone.

Mar 11, 14 2:05 pm

Having done both, I'd say it's working much better to not have employees. Call it whatever you want, but employees didn't help my business. Not to say I won't hire some more one day, but I need to learn how to run my business then learn how to have employees.

Mar 11, 14 2:11 pm

gruen i wonder if scale is a key factor in benefiting from employees. does a one man shop (lower overheard) place a ceiling on earnings though? Perhaps one tradeoff is stability...

Mar 11, 14 6:02 pm
Yeah, there is a ceiling on $. My main point is about me-I don't think I'm ready for employees.

But my experience is that, for me, I actually make less money when I have employees. Maybe I'm just bad at it, LOL
Mar 11, 14 8:26 pm
Yeah, there is a ceiling on $. My main point is about me-I don't think I'm ready for employees.

But my experience is that, for me, I actually make less money when I have employees. Maybe I'm just bad at it, LOL
Mar 11, 14 8:26 pm
won and done williams

There is some truth to making less money with employees than without, at least in the beginning. I have to invest about $6,000 per desktop per employee. I've also found that when I was a one man show I would put in 8-9 hours per day on projects, go home, and relax. Now I put in 8-9 hours on projects, go home, and spend 2-4 hours researching computer networks, health insurance, payroll taxes, etc. As a one man show, I could pull $120k/year. With one employee, I may make $140k, two employees, $160k, but the number of hours I'm putting in is far more than I was when I was on my own.

For me, the reason to hire is not monetary, but the fact that the quality of the work has improved considerably. I can also take on projects that I wouldn't have had time for on my own. Also, I get to spend more time on design and strategy development, things I like doing and am fairly good at, versus production-type drawing which I am increasingly becoming slower and slower at. There are certainly trade-offs, but I think the long term arc of my business needed a staff to support it.

Mar 11, 14 9:09 pm

There's a thing to consider when starting a new business - it should be promoted in some way. Social media are a good option actually, but there are some rules of thumb when making an Instagram account for a business. Promorepublic is a social media management for small businesses that allows to make scheduled posts and has a free trial feature.

Aug 14, 19 6:23 am

Seems to be a lot of chat about promotion and marketing, social media, instagram, web site etc. but what about actual work.  Too much time can be wasted on the image when truth be told you are judged (by any significant client) by your work not your web site.  Seems to me some of great architects still focus on "the work"  Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano to name a few.  I am not quite an old geezer yet but if you produce good buildings everything else will take care of itself.

Aug 14, 19 4:59 pm

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