Any new startup is faced with myriad challenges when it comes to creating a successful business – but in the competitive world of architecture, these can be (or can at least certainly feel) massively amplified. Architecture can be a fairly cutthroat industry, so getting ahead early on in your practice is essential. But what are the best ways to do this?
A small architecture firm might not seem like a startup, but it faces the same business hurdles any Silicon Valley tech business will face – aside from the basics (hiring a great team, managing your finances smoothly etc.), it’s vital to identify your long term goals, and the strategies that can you put you in the best position to reach them. Here are 4 ways architecture startups can get ahead in their business:
Build a portfolio in a specific niche
One of the great challenge facing any architecture firm – but particularly a new startup – is standing out from your competitors. When a potential client is weighing up their options, they’ll usually turn to an architects portfolio for qualification, and they’re more likely to opt for a firm with demonstrable experience in the kind of designs they need.
This is why it’s not just important to build an impressive portfolio but to build one in a specific niche. This will be a validating collection of your best work on one type of project, which will serve as an invaluable tool for landing new business in that part of the market.
As you build your portfolio of projects, and move towards a place from which you can be more ‘choosy’ with the projects you take on, it’s a good idea to settle on a niche in which you know you can excel – and in which you enjoy working!
For instance, you could choose to work in luxury home design, creating glass box extensions, complete renovations, or new builds for high-net-worth clients. You could instead opt for the commercial sector, designing effective and efficient retail or industrial buildings.
As you complete work in the niche in which you want to work, assemble a specific portfolio for that niche. Then once you can start cherry-picking projects, choose the ones that will make your portfolio truly stand out. Over time, this portfolio will be your hail mary when landing your dream clients/projects.
Nurture good relationships with specialists
As you undertake more projects as an architecture startup, you’ll inevitably work with all kinds of contractors and specialists. This will involve everything from building safety consultants to specialist material suppliers, and the relationship you develop with these businesses will be absolutely crucial to ensuring a prosperous future for your practice.
If you nurture these professional relationships from day one, demonstrating that you’re a fantastic firm to work with, you’ll make your life a lot easier down the line.
For example, if you plan to work in the luxury home market, you’ll need to be able to regularly turn to a niche firm such as an architectural glazing specialist. They’re far more likely to accept your work willingly if you’ve already developed a fantastic professional partnership with them – and they may even be likely to refer you for more work in the future.
Making this happen can be as simple as the occasional follow-up after working on a project. You could add each specialist to a specific mailing list, staying in regular contact with them via email newsletters. You could organise an individual or group game of golf, a dinner, or a corporate event for everyone to enjoy together.
Most importantly, make sure you always work to your absolute best with these specialists and contractors. Don’t miss deadlines, be responsive and adaptive, and show them you’re a reliable and competent firm to turn to in future.
Be picky with projects
This is similar to our first point about portfolios, but we’re not talking about choosing projects to demonstrate your ability – we’re talking about being choosy with your projects in general. The right choice of clients and projects can help your firm develop rapidly in terms of experience, revenue, and prestige – but the wrong choices can stall your growth significantly.
It’s important not to jump the gun with this one. When you’re first starting, your early projects should be chosen for practical reasons such as finance and time (it’s not uncommon for new practices to adopt a ‘take what you can get’ attitude, and this is perfectly acceptable initially).
But over time, it’s essential that you align the projects you work on with your long-term business goals. It’s not necessarily worth taking on a number of time-consuming prestigious industrial projects if your goal is to move into the home market, for instance.
It’s useful to view each project as a ‘black box’, with a series of inputs and outputs. The inputs will be your investment of things like time, budget, resources, the sacrifice of other projects due to time etc. The outputs can be things such as simple revenue, experience, publicity etc.
Once you’re established, and even early on, it’s vital to set out your business goals in terms of these outputs. Initially, for instance, you’ll probably be more focussed on generating income and gaining experience, hiring new staff, and so on. But over the years you might start to focus more on the publicity benefits of certain projects.
When a potential project arrives, weigh up
As you progress, be picky. Choose the projects that won’t just give you something to do or help your business make money, but the ones that will enable you to grow into the architecture firm you want to be.
‘Go green’ sooner – not later
The environment has never been a hotter topic. With mounting protests and the rising prominence and popularity of figures such as Greta Thunberg, the average client has never been more acutely aware – or concerned – with their environmental impact. This is already having an impact on businesses, with clients opting to work with those who actively demonstrate their ‘green’ proactivity.
For an architecture startup, this is a golden opportunity. Ecological preservation and sustainability are traditionally challenging for architects, but in recent years ‘green’ buildings have emerged as viable and valuable options, and as new technologies and practices emerge, a positive approach is more accessible than ever.
This is one of the most valuable things you can do as you start out as a startup. If you can demonstrate to your clients that you take an active approach to sustainability, you’ll make a meaningful impression – in line with modern sensibilities. This in turn can land you more business.
There are several ways you can do this, each requiring a different level of commitment. A few of these include:
Obtaining green certificates
If you can obtain certified recognition from recognised awarding authorities, you can demonstrate to your clients that you aren’t just ‘greenwashing’, and in fact have been officially identified and validated as practicing environmentally-friendly architecture.
Design green buildings
For new-build projects, and even renovations and more, actually adopting green-building practices can be one of the most effective fundamental steps you can take. Ensure your designs won’t have a negative impact on the environment, and you’ll be more likely to be chosen for work in the future – when carbon impact becomes an even more urgent concern than it already is.
Work with green partners
When choosing businesses to collaborate with on projects, selecting only those who also take active steps towards green practices can help you to reassure clients that you not only strive to make a difference yourselves – but that you’re not willing to compromise on any of the many aspects of a project.
This article was contributed by London-based architectural glazing specialists Cantifix. Cantifix have been exploring the possible in glazing for over 30 years, and are passionate about working with new architecture firms to ensure the built world continues to develop and thrive.