architecture blog

7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm - Tip 02: DIY

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Fri, Dec 18, 2009 @ 09:12 AM

This post is tip number two of seven in our How to Start an Architecture Firm series, a look into Modative's founding in 2006.

Tip 02: DIY (Do It Yourself)

architects do it yourself

photo credit

During our architecture firm start-up, one of the ways were able to be cheap was to do almost everything ourselves. Here are five key things that we did ourselves in order to save money:

1. Filing a Corporation

Lawyers are expensive. And, unfortunately, many people feel they must hire one in order to start a business. This is simply not true.

Setting up a business structure is actually quite easy to do yourself. There are numerous affordable resources to help you avoid hefty legal fees. There's the online legal document service, legal zoomthat can help you set up your firm's business structure for a few hundred dollars. Modative, however, went an even cheaper route and purchased a do-it-yourself book (pictured right) from Nolo at the local book store. The book comes with a CD-ROM that has all of the templates you'll need in MS Word format.

architecture corporation filing

Even if you're not sure which business legal structure is right for you: Corporation, Partnership or LLC, Nolo has books to help you decide. Just remember that every state is a bit different and some states don't permit certain legal structures for architecture firms.

If you have partners, you'll also need to set up a business buyout agreement, also known as a "business prenup".

So now that you know how easy and cheap it is to set up a proper business structure, there are no excuses not to do it. Not going through this simple process is a huge liability, especially in the architecture field.

2. Company Graphics

This is probably a no-brainer for most architects. We are designers after all. Now is your chance to use those non-architecture design skills to help build your business brand with graphics.

Here at Modative, we did, and continue to do all of our own graphics, from business cards to marketing materials. Oh, and yes, we like orange.

Though this process, we also learned that we enjoy doing graphics so much that Modative now offers these services to our clients.




 architects business cards

3. Website

modern architects website sample

In line with doing your own graphics, there's never been an easier time to make your own website. We created and maintain our own website without any programming knowledge. Many architects tend to over-complicate their websites with outsourced, fancy flash sites, when a simple do-it-yourself HTML site is easier for potential clients to navigate.


4. Architecture Grunt Work

Anyone with professional experience in the architecture field knows that there's plenty of grunt work to go around. Starting your own firm will place all of this undesirable work at your feet. If you want to keep your firm financially viable at the start, hiring staff should be your last resort.

To minimize architecture-related grunt work, we implemented ArchiCADas our CAD software. Since all three partners had used it before and even owned a few copies, it was the logical choice. Besides, BIM (Building Information Modeling) programs such as ArchiCADenable small teams of experienced users to accomplish a lot of work with much less of the grunt work associated with (old technology) 2D CAD programs.

archicad architects BIM

The above example shows how our software enables us to efficiently generate easy-to-read 3D drawings and technical 2D drawings within the same program. This leads to more time for design, less time on grunt work.


5. Office Improvements

Since our founding office in Michael's basement, we've moved our office several times (more on this in Tip 06). In a few of these moves, we've had to improve less-than-desirable spaces to make them usable for us and presentable to our clients. Without funds to hire a construction crew, we were left to do the labor ourselves.

architects construction

In our third office space, we took a break from architecture to do a little construction and painting. The image above (left) is of me in full gear, ready for some paint spray gun action. Above right is a feature wall that Michael and Christian constructed in that same office.


Although the do-it-yourself approach can be testing at times, it allowed us to acquire new skills and learn from these often rewarding experiences.

Stay tuned over the next several weeks as we fill in the last five tips of our 7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm

los angeles modern architecture firm

7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm

00 architect firm

00 Bootstrapping

Not a tip, but a critical theme in our start-up adventure.

posted 12.03.09

01 architect firm

01 Be Cheap

posted 12.08.09

02 architect firm

02 DIY (Do It Yourself)

posted 12.18.09 

03 architect firm

03 Get Advice

posted 12.22.09

04 architect firm


04 Learn from the Bad

posted 01.22.10  

05 architect firm

05 Start and Stay Small

posted 03.03.10 

06 architect firm

06 Stay Flexible

posted 04.05.10
07 architect firm

07 Plan It Out

posted 03.13.12

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Tags: Los Angeles, los angeles architects, architect advice, Architectual Practice, Starting an architecture firm