From Architect to Entrepreneur: How to Start Your Own Business in the Design Industry


Architecture and design are some of the most fulfilling creative niches anyone can pursue as an entrepreneur. 

Building a successful architectural and design business from nothing takes a lot of hard work, careful research, and a unique sense of what clients want.

Though we can't tackle every challenge you'll face along the way for you, here's a closer look at some of the essential steps required for starting your own business in the design industry...

Get specific about your ideal client and speciality

From Architect to Entrepreneur: How to Start Your Own Business in the Design Industry

It is vitally important that you get specific on the kinds of clients you're going to serve and the design niche you're going to specialise in. You have to really hone in one specialty, at least in the early days. You can always add in more facets to your business once your business is more established.

If you haven't had experience dealing with a varied spread of projects, then you may feel a little lost when you stop to consider the kinds of clients you want to work with. However, if you go in without clarity on who you're going to market to, you'll struggle to generate business as a jack of all trades, master of none.

Are you going to focus on small renovations or people who are leveraging equity release for a once-in-a-lifetime home overhaul? Are you going to cater to public-facing businesses or office spaces for receiving B2B clients?

By answering these questions, you'll take the all-important step of situating your services in a well-defined niche, and giving your marketing a greater sense of focus moving forward. Make sure to create a client persona at this stage as well.

Package and price your services

From Architect to Entrepreneur: How to Start Your Own Business in the Design Industry

Working in the design industry is highly bespoke by definition. However, while your new business takes shape, it's generally a good idea to categorise your services into an organised menu for the sake of simplicity.

Take some time to list all the separate services you're planning to offer, and list them with the most labor and cost-intensive ones at the top. From there, you can group several of these services into different service packages, catering to different complexities of each project:

  • Your top-shelf package will be comprehensive and cover all the different services you have in your repertoire, including extras like furniture sourcing, lighting design, and home automation.
  • A middle package should be designed to cater to your ideal client, offering all the things they'd want from a basic architecture or design service, but with a particular emphasis on your unique specialism.
  • Finally, organise your least resource-intensive services into a basic package, containing all the more rudimentary services which are likely to be under your ideal clients' budget. 

The way you classify and price your service packages is down to your unique aims, but at this stage, we recommend you keep the overall list as short and as simple as possible. Many new design businesses make the mistake of running before they can walk, which only serves to overwhelm their realistic client base, rather than helping guide them towards the service that's right for their needs.

Develop your design process

From Architect to Entrepreneur: How to Start Your Own Business in the Design Industry

The working relationship between a design professional and their clients is very personal, so don’t make the mistake of copying your competitors’ process and expecting the same degree of success.

Now that you’ve established a unique service offering, you need to codify that into a unique design process, with set phases, resources, and SOPs that facilitate a distinct service delivery.

Your design process will generally begin with an initial consultation. 

From there, you’ll want to draw up an agreement of services to protect your time investment. Though you don’t have to be an expert in contract law to create an agreement that works, it’s important to carry out thorough research at this stage, and tap into contract drafting tools to make sure you’re covering all the necessary details.

Once that's done, you can get into the details of your service, creating design boards with your client, working out a timeline for projects, and getting to work.

Figuring out the specifics of your process will take real-world experience, trial and error. However, before you even think about talking to your first client, you should take the time to consider the key steps within each phase of the overall design process, and have materials ready to reference back to as your client relationships develop.

Build your brand

From Architect to Entrepreneur: How to Start Your Own Business in the Design Industry

Unlike many other businesses, when you’re working in architecture and design, you’re a big part of the product. When people are planning to develop something as personal as their house, they need to know they’ll be working with someone they can trust, who feels like a partner, and not just an impersonal service provider who will tick a list of boxes.

The next phase of your launch should be focussed on developing your personal brand, and showing your clients why they should choose you to work on their home, rather than your competitors. You need to consider the visual elements of your branding, the tone of voice you use in your social media content and website copy, and even the structure of the site itself.

The choices you make here are unique to the individual, but whatever direction you take it, make sure that your branding feels like a natural extension of yourself. When it’s done correctly, your brand will capture the attention of your ideal client, and save the customers who you simply won’t gel with from disappointment.

Designing a success story

Success in the architecture and design industry depends on a wide variety of factors, but taking a hands-on approach to the ones you can control will be a huge help in those all-important first years.

We hope this guide has given you a dependable framework you can use to flesh out your design business strategy, prepare for challenges and obstacles, and work confidently towards your personal markers for success.

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