starting out on your own.


I just graduated with an M-Arc. I havnt been able to find a full time job. I've been surviving on freelance jobs But I have decided to take thing into my own hands and star my own design "office". I'd like to know if there is anyone else that is or has done the same thing and what experiences or advice there is to share.

Nov 9, 12 6:43 pm

i tried working for my self for a few months and found it to be extremely difficult. I would try to network as much as possible 

Nov 9, 12 11:12 pm

Each job is an investment for the next.

what size city and what market do you intend to work in?

Nov 9, 12 11:33 pm

what types of projects are you interested in pursuing?  

Nov 9, 12 11:38 pm

Anything and everything. I realize that it'll be baby steps to actually get to a building but its what the goal is. As far as what type of building it doesn't really matter to me

Nov 10, 12 5:00 am

Fernando -- as a general rule, clients like to know that the designer they're hiring has a solid track record with a particular building type. While "generalist" practices still exist, they're becoming increasingly rare. As you get started, you might want to consider positioning yourself as an expert in at least one or two project types -- hopefully ones where you have some sort of portfolio evidence that you can share with potential clients.

Nov 10, 12 10:12 am

So each project is an investment for future work. I have freelance work right now 4 clients, and I am busy but not making enough to live on, but each successful project builds on your reputation.

For example I designed and built 3 landscape renovations, first was a small flat fee on top of materials, made $300 over four months, then a friend of the client wanted landscape work and so I had a flat fee of $400 over two months and the last was another friend $600 over 5 weeks.  

One thing will lead to another and I did work for free for a few charitable clients but people are starting to call, this took four years to patiently build up a reputation. Now I am charging hourly and I am able to bring a project into a few reputable firms when the work requires an architect’s seal.

This is critical, have a firm that you trust and have an agreement with to help on projects that are legally beyond your abilities, you should ask for a 5% finder’s fee or have the client fill out a separate contract with the firm specifically outlining each designers responsibilities and do this before contracting with a client or starting work for which you intend to be paid


Freelance work is hard to start out in and you will have to endure feast and famine. Be able to survive on low earnings for a while.  I recommend when working for your first few clients to identify a charity that has need of some design work.  For example a park near where you live may be run down a bit, this is an opportunity to create a client, knock on doors of residents who live nearby host a meeting propose some benches and planters tables in a corner, get the community to support it, then raise funds get the city to approve it and finally build it, in this process you meet many potential clients, you gave your services away for a god cause and you have something tangible to measure your abilities, everyone you worked with on a successful charitable project could potentially reference you to their family, colleagues and friends or ask you to do work for them.  Working with a team to build something for a community, be it a park a house of worship, museum, community garden, food pantry or some other place or organization that has a design problem that you can solve will place you on their team and they will see you as a problem solver and a team player.  If I was going to choose someone to renovate my attic I want someone who is on my side and I have some working relationship with or a referral from a good friend. 

Freelancing is a harder form of networking. Putting up and add in a paper or on the web will not work, you have to meet people create a client once in a while and sacrifice earnings up front to be able to build a reputation of hard work skill and of being a decent person to work with.


Peter N

Nov 11, 12 2:17 pm
wurdan freo

Why give your services away for free? If you're raising the funds, take a piece. If you're doing the design, take a piece. Do the contracting and take another piece. Anyone can give the shit away for free. Building a business is learning how to get paid for your work. 

The only clients you're going to get by giving your services away for free are cheap, shitty ones. 

I understand you would love to take on any project that may come your way, but with limited experience and no staff, no one is going to hire you to build a brand new hospital. So realistically, what will someone hire you to do? What are the services you are going to provide? Answer that question and focus on that market. 

Nov 12, 12 10:25 am

Wurdan Freo

You have to view this enterprise as networking on steroids, if you already have a vast portfolio and a strong reputation with clients then you do not have to sacrifice with free or discounted design services to establish a name for yourself.  But if you are new you need to take some risk before people will risk their own money to have you do work that they have to live with.  Charitable or discounted work is an investment in your portfolio and in your reputation with clients.


“The only clients you're going to get by giving your services away for free are cheap, shitty ones”

The Free or Cheap clients that I started out with were my friends and family so I don’t think I would call them shitty, they are willing to risk their money and the outcome of the project on you. They are investing in your success by allowing you to do a project.  It takes a series of quality work executed within budget and on time to get the ball rolling, and a high profile publicized project you do for free helps you reach new clients, if you fundraise you are working hand in hand with clients who have the means to build things and take risk on you.

Nov 12, 12 2:10 pm

You might want to try marketing yourself to small architecture firms that might need someone to work on an individual project basis. For this you need to meet a ton of people and convince them that THEY can make money subbing the work out to YOU. 

I've found it tough to get "real" clients to trust a 26 year old with the type/ size of jobs that will be profitable for the freelancer. It's great for side work, but it would be stressful if this was your only source of income. 

I wouldn't give up looking for a full-time gig. Best to learn surrounded by people who have done it before rather than by yourself, making all kinds of rookie mistakes.  

Good Luck. 

Nov 14, 12 8:03 am

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