Experience needed for starting your own practice?


I'm considering starting my own small practice (for lifestyle reasons) but unsure that it is possible given the amount of practical work experience I have currently, and I wanted to hear your opinion of how I might accomplish this or what critical experience I should try to get before going out on my own.  I have been out of grad school for 3.5 years working for a large firm (120+ employees) specializing in large scale urban projects. During this time I have only worked on two large projects, one from concept phase through CD's, with construction starting now.  I do have some other  intern experience (3 month summer jobs during grad school) at a small residential and a mid-size firm, where I saw other project types but not through all project phases.  I expect to complete my licensure (AXP and IDP) within  the next 2-3 months.

My reasons for wanting to go out on my own are primarily because I ultimately want to have more flexibility in work location (ability to live in a much smaller town or work remotely from a different location part of the year) and defining my own schedule.  I do enjoy the large project types that I work on now and realize that making this change would necessitate working on very scale projects, residential and remodel etc - however I am really excited to learn and engage in this other type of work.  It would also require significant business understanding and effort to find real sustainable work in the long term, but I am fairly confident I could line up one or two small projects for family and friends to at least start to build my portfolio.  I have also been considering taking on visualization/rendering jobs (area which I have significant experience in) to help stay afloat in the initial start-up phase while I continue to build full project experience.  

My initial feeling is that that I would need at least a year or more of small scale residential project experience with another firm before feeling confident enough to go it alone (or with a single like-minded partner), but I'm curious to hear if people think it's possible to just build that experience along the way (provided you have some kind of work) and take the leap to sole-propietorship sooner rather than later.  I realize it would be much easier and safer to have more years of project experience and a healthier portfolio to back up the career move but I am also eager to make the type of lifestyle changes I mentioned above. 

What are your suggestions, thoughts, or other avenues that I might not have considered?

Oct 16, 18 12:46 pm

Potential first question from a client ...... Why should I hire you??? Maybe try working back from that point and be honest with yourself.  You have to sell yourself to your first client and the next one and the next one after that. Keep in mind that they could care less about who you worked for in past but more about what you did and why should they hire you versus the other guy down the street who's been in business 10+ years with lots of experience on the same building type. If your first response is because you can drop your fee that's not going to end well!

Oct 16, 18 1:09 pm
Non Sequitur

under 4ys removed from grad school?

Oct 16, 18 1:49 pm

How many years of experience would you suggest?

Non Sequitur

Bsapin, think about how much in fees you need to collect per year in order to stay in business and, more importantly, how much work you need to generate to bring in the dough. How could a paying customer trust you with potentially millions in construction value when you've not been in the game long enough to see your fair share of projects go from concept to occupancy? How do you know what works 5, 10 years from now? How would you deal with site issues and contracts?


You need to have cash equal to at least 6 months to 1 year of business and living expenses.

I fear you will have great difficulty finding clients and projects that will be compatible with your desire to shift your work schedule and work location as it suits you.

Oct 16, 18 2:10 pm

Do you think this would be just as big of an issue as working for as an employee for another firm, and that I may need to find other modes of work (architecture related) that arent tied to local clients?




Yes, if you want to start out with smaller projects (which is what most people start out with), then you would need 1-2 years of that kind of experience. Projects in large firms are VERY different than what happens when you are first starting out, as you may know.

Regarding "when" to start the firm, in my experience, the right time finds you, rather than you finding the right time. Get to know some clients, maybe one of them wants to pull the trigger and you start part-time, then slowly go on to become fulltime. Unless money is not your concern...

Oct 16, 18 8:17 pm

Second it.


I've also been thinking about doing visualization/rendering as the main focus while building portfolio of actual architectural work in the interim, since viz is an area I have lots of experience in.  Not what I want to do forever, but a way to help pad the costs until actually landing clients (along with saved cash to support slow startup time).  I don't know how lucrative or realistic that is, Just trying to take an entrepreneurial approach to making something work that I could eventually turn into a real gig

Oct 16, 18 8:31 pm
Non Sequitur

You'll be outmatched by the Indian, Chinese, and SKorean slave camps.


Don't waste your time in that when you are a small firm or starting out. You can use ink renders, watercolor rendering or SketchUp for rendering for the projects clients would be willing to have an little to unknown person design. You know.... additions to a home, an accessory structure, small tenant improvement, etc. You don't need to be too concerned about perfect color match. Not that important nor what you want to convey in the rendering. It's to be a rough approximate. You use real paint samples to decide the right colors or the client decides... whatever. No point when it won't matter in 2-3 or 5 or 10 years when it's re-painted.


I very strongly recommend getting CA experience at the large office before you head out and work for a smaller firm.

Oct 16, 18 10:53 pm

This. In my experience, successful CA is what separates the Architects from the render jockeys.


Agreed. 100% CA experience is absolutely crucial. Plus it teaches you how to make better documents.


I agree with those above. Very much useful.


It seems like the general consensus is that it really isn't feasible or smart to try to work on my own without at least a couple years of direct small project experience under guidance of an experienced person or firm.  I'll take this advice to heart for sure.  For those of you who work on your own, when did you know you were "ready" to go that route?  And also, now that you are working solo, do you feel there is more freedom or opportunities to have clients work around your schedule or location, or is that not realistic?

Oct 17, 18 9:13 pm

It would be more difficult to be successful without experience. After all, what do you have to show case in your "office". Do you have real built projects or even some works (better than academic stuff) that you prepared to show case the kinds of designs you can design for your client. You have to sell and market yourself so you need something to market even if some of it is "not built work" that is YOUR work. If a client came and visited your office, what do you have to show for work. As said, it is best to have 5-10 years of practical experience in various project types but also you want to build a portfolio of concept work from concept level drawings to near CD-level plans for them to show the kind of work you can do. In addition, you would want to have some CA experience.

Hell, you need to be known. You need to have clients or past clients from your employer who knows of your work on their project as referrals. You need money to ride you through until people try you out. 

( o Y o )

It's a service business. Client says shit, you squat. Assuming you have one.

Oct 17, 18 9:52 pm

you might consider doing projects on the side without giving up your primary source of income just yet.

this can help you to develop skills with estimating the design budget, time management, client management, etc. this can also help you with saving up for your set aside funds as suggested by thisisnotmyname.

some things to consider when choosing to to do your own thing are are slow paying clients and not having a regular income stream that you can rely own. it can be stressful at times.

a question to ask yourself is do you want to be a freelancer or have a business?

Oct 17, 18 10:02 pm

I agree with sameolddoctor. The time will find you. I am in this current position. Side work is starting to snowball into more than I can handle while working full time. Kind of just happened, no advertising, marketing etc. just small jobs and word of mouth creating more and more work. I am currently struggling with the decision to jump. My boss keeps me on board paying me well and talk of some future "buy out". I don't think my heart is in that option. I want to run and grow my own. I am currently 4 years out of school but have been doing smaller projects on the side for at least that entire time, giving me the confidence to handle them on my own. Every day I struggle to make the decision. Ahh

Oct 18, 18 11:18 am

In short, if one is not confident in themselves they are not ready mentally for being on their own even if they technically possess the knowledge and skills to do so. Self-confidence + knowledge & skills + portfolio of works (built and non-built) + established social connections (side note: if you are a hermit.... you probably won't have the initial prospective clients to launch a viable business) are important components to engaging as one's own business.


You can always hire an experienced, (almost) retired architect to show you the ropes if it turns out to be too difficult for you.

Nov 1, 18 6:34 am
88Buildings need to work in a small firm with an architect first. You will find out how hard it really is to be a small firm.

After that ,the knowledge of how to run it as a real business is the most important thing. It is more than designs.  May be you need partners later,

You partners need to have totally different skills . If you are a designer, your partner need to be  a manager, technical or marketing person.

Without good marketing there is nothing to design or manage.

You cannot do all by yourself in the long run if you want a real business. 

Nov 2, 18 1:52 am

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