The freelancing community has seen exponential growth in recent years. Each day, more and more professionals are providing freelancing services to various clients worldwide; similarly, the architectural freelancing community continues to proliferate with more and more seeking better payment opportunities and creative freedom .
This article guides you through the initial steps to becoming a freelance architect, its pros and cons, and the various methods to attract/engage with potential clients. But firstly…
What is a freelance architect?
A freelancer is any self-employed person who chooses to provide their services to various clients (usually without a long-term contract). Similarly, a freelance architect is an individual who prefers to sell their services to clients as an autonomous body instead of working in a firm as a full-time employee.
Most architects are creative, freedom-seeking individuals, and freelancing naturally seems like a tempting prospect. It provides you with distinct sovereignty over your work and your working hours, which is quite un-heard-of in most traditional architectural practices, i.e, firms or syndicates.
However, some people choose to freelance as a secondary source of income alongside their full-time employment.
Another reason that architects may want to freelance is the varied experiences they can gain. Freelance architects can choose to work as outsourcers for a firm without being in a long-term contract, or work directly with their own clients. This way, they can work with an incredibly diverse clientele, often in countries other than their own.
Through this, many freelance architects that work directly with clients go on to create new firms or architectural practices with their own set of employed staff.
The pro’s of becoming a freelance architect
Before reading further, one must consider that, like all professions, becoming a freelance architect will have its challenges as well as its advantages. It may not be the correct decision for everyone, so before taking this step, one should thoroughly consider their prospects and the amount of effort they are willing to put into this new venture.
Having said that, becoming a freelance architect does provide multiple benefits for those who work for it. A few of these are:
Autonomy/ self reliance
Perhaps one of the primary reasons why so many people are inclined towards freelancing is the mere independence that it promises. As a freelancer, you can decide when and who you work with and have total creative control and sovereignty as a designer.
This autonomy is a welcome relief from the intensive work culture of most architectural practices.
Working in an architectural establishment is usually a rigorous job, with a rigid working window where one has to be present in the office and work till closing time on a project chosen by a senior authority.
However, as a freelance architect, you can decide when and how you want to work. There is obviously a requirement to be present for all client meetings and consultations on time. But otherwise, you can decide if you wish to work in the morning or at night, and in one constant stream or take breaks in between.
Freelancing can provide both flexible working hours and the power of choice.
As a freelancer, one can choose not only their clients but projects as well. You can create your own business structure and decide your own rate. This level of control over your work is a highly desirable aspect of becoming a freelance architect.
However, it is not very easy, and neither is it wise, to be highly selective in your early freelancing days. But once you have created a reliable online presence and good working relationships with your clients, you can choose to work only on projects that match your criteria.
Working under a well-established firm may be appealing because you get exposure through the company’s brand, but it also comes with an enormous sense of responsibility and pressure. Many architects working under a specific firm have to forgo their creative decisions for those that match the firm’s image. This isn’t the case in freelancing.
Since freelancers are self-employed, they get to make independent decisions regarding their design process and working strategy. Many architects who freelance can develop their unique style of work and start their own architectural firms.
An alternate option
4-5 years of intense academic tenure followed by an inflexible company job can lead to burn-out. And such is the reality for most architects.
After a few years of intense work, it is quite natural to consider another option that will allow you to gain a more diversified experience and generally just break the rut of your day-to-day life.
For this reason, freelancing is an excellent option for any practicing or non-practicing architects looking to expand their horizons.
The con’s of becoming a freelancing architect
Along with the many benefits, there are some challenges one might face upon stepping into the freelancing field. We have listed a few below to better prepare you for meeting and managing these problems.
Disdain from the architectural community
Many architects employed under a traditional firm look down upon freelancing, considering it a sign of evading responsibility and an implication of less financial security.
Since freelancers usually work from home remotely and traditional architectural practice is done from a well-furnished, sophisticated office, so freelance architects are sometimes considered non-professionals.
Obviously, these notions are not always correct and greatly vary from freelancer to freelancer. Still, it is better to keep in mind that if you do join the freelance community, you might face a bit of disdain from the architectural fraternity.
One of the biggest appeals of working under a well-established firm is the security of a constant work stream. Whereas in a freelance setting, attaining each new project can seem a daunting prospect. Especially when initially starting, it can be difficult to attract prospective clients.
Many freelancers do not get a project even after weeks of trying, but consistency is the key to cracking this problem. Do not give up simply because you have failed to get a project in the beginning; instead, build a steady online presence and join multiple networking sites to expand your connections.
…more on this later on.
As mentioned above, freelancing does not always guarantee a steady stream of work. As a freelance architect, at times, you might have multiple projects going on at the same time, but there is always the possibility that for some time, you might not have any work at all.
For this very reason, it is incredibly important as a freelancer to create good connections with your clients and provide high-quality work to your initial clients to build a good rapport.
The more trustworthy your clients consider you to be, the more possibility of them recommending you to others.
Managing time and client expectations as a freelance architect can be pretty challenging. It is relatively easy to say yes to all possible proposals that clients present, but managing these projects simultaneously might be difficult. And since most freelancers work alone, completing your tasks on time can be challenging.
So it is absolutely imperative to create a steady workflow that works for you and stick to it; otherwise the quality of work can deteriorate, which in turn leads to a lack of client satisfaction and trust.
As mentioned in the previous point, freelancers work as a single entity. And although that independence can be very tempting, it also comes with complete self-reliance, so there is no other person you can turn to in case your workload exceeds your capabilities or you need a partner for advice.
For this reason, it is pertinent that as a freelance architect, you should not shut out the rest of the architectural fraternity but instead work on maintaining a healthy relationship with other architects as well as other freelancers.
Lack of a safety net
Perhaps the most significant factor of concern that most people have when they start freelancing is the lack of a safety net that one has in a traditional firm, and there might be times when you feel like your work isn’t as financially secure as you would like.
It is important to remember that ups and downs are a part of all careers, and no lousy situation will last forever. But it never hurts to be prepared in case an unwanted problem arises.
Starting and finding success in your freelance career
Whether you are an architect looking to create an independent firm or simply seeking some extra work online, starting as a freelancer and navigating a completely new territory can be quite a nerve-wracking experience.
…The below list aims to make this a little easier by highlighting the key areas to focus on when initially starting, and then how to find success once underway:
Define your goal
Begin by defining your long-term goals and what you hope to achieve through being self employed. It helps to know whether you will be freelancing as a sole proprietor, or setting up an independent firm that once established will begin to hire other architects.
Decide whether you want to provide your services directly to clients or to a firm as an outsourcer.
Identifying these future objectives early outlines a clear path of progression and helps to maintain momentum when initially starting.
Degree and license
To work and succeed as an architect, you need to have an acceptable degree, experience, and a license. The licensing process varies from country to country, but once you have attained your license, you can start selling your services to clients. However, some students offer consultation services without prior licensing as a freelancer, which isn’t advisable.
So consider if you are registered with an appropriate architectural body in your home country, such as RIBA, ARB, AIA, or NCARB, etc.
Defining your niche
When you are freelancing, you have the freedom to market your skills and expertise without restriction. A single architect can’t be an expert in every single niche, and therefore brainstorming your strengths and weaknesses can be extremely beneficial.
…Are you particularly adept at one specific typology (e.g., residential or commercial buildings)? Or is there a topology you work well with (for example, on flat sites or hilly/ mountain sites)? Perhaps you have a wealth of experience and knowledge about sustainable and green buildings.
Each architect has their strength, and once you have decided what yours is, you can set up a portfolio to highlight and exhibit this.
Consider “where” you will be offering your services. You must decide whether you want to look for potential clients locally or internationally. Both of these possibilities have their advantages and disadvantages.
Working for a local client means you can have site visits and face-to-face interaction with the client, which will build trust and promises smoother communication. Whereas working internationally provides you with the exposure that is all but impossible to achieve at a local level.
You can decide the location for providing your services according to your preferences and skills.
Once you have established yourself as a freelance architect, you have to start managing your accounts and taxes. So it is important to get in touch with an accountant and sometimes also a lawyer to help fill in any gaps in your knowledge regarding these matters.
As an up-and-coming business, you will need to set up systems to track your earnings and taxes in order to avoid financial losses.
It is crucial as a freelancer to talk to an insurance advisor regarding your work. Insurance does not come cheap, but once you have established your practice, it is advisable to get insured if an unforeseen situation arises.
The insurance responsibilities varies greatly depending upon your country of work, so make sure that you talk to a professional in this field before taking any significant risks.
We can argue that the very first step of setting up your practice is getting the appropriate equipment. And as an architect, this is an even more important step because many laptops that work well under other circumstances cannot run architectural software efficiently.
Apart from the efficiency, you must consider the cost of this equipment. Most specifications that architects require (e.g., the graphic cards, operating system, etc.) make these laptops very costly.
Still, one can always opt for a second-hand or refurbished system to get a good laptop/PC at a reasonable price. There are multiple online sources, such as our dedicated post on the topic here, which explain in detail which hardware you should invest in and why.
Apart from the PC/laptop, you will need to invest in a good mouse, printers, and office equipment. But all of this depends entirely on you and how you choose to structure your workflow.
If you are starting as a new architect and freelancer, it is advisable to get a refurbished laptop, and instead of getting an expensive printer, use your local print shop. Once you have established your practice, you can invest in costlier equipment.
Tip: Amazon and apple stores offer a good selection of refurbished laptops you can purchase online.
Each architect has the preferred software that they like to work on. The softwares you can use will significantly affect the number and kind of clients you will attract. So it is a good idea to invest in monthly or annual subscriptions for these softwares.
However, be mindful to only pay for the softwares that you can and will actually use during your work. One should be pragmatic and not subscribe to each and every software they find. This will only lead to extra costs being deducted from your account.
Promotion and advertisement
As a freelance architect, you must have a place to showcase your work. Setting up an online portfolio is essential to starting your freelance practice. This portfolio is proof of your skills and will help attract clients. You can set up this portfolio on your customized website or some other portfolio-sharing website (e.g., Issuu ).
Once you have set up a good portfolio, you can start advertising your services on various platforms (LinkedIn, Upwork, etc.). You can also set up other social media profiles for your work (on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) where you can interact and promote yourself.
Backup or cloud services
Another critical investment for freelance architects is a backup hard drive or a cloud backup which you can use in case your system crashes. This way, you will not lose any important files, and it will save you from repeating hours or days of work.
Dropbox or google drive can be used for online cloud storage, and once you have set up automated updates, you can rest easy knowing that your work will be safe.
Once you have set up all the mentioned aspects, you can start working hard to better your skills and build a successful practice.
How much does a freelance architect make?
This is perhaps one of the most probing questions in everyone’s mind. How much will you be able to make if you were to start freelancing?
Unfortunately, there is no precise answer to this as the earnings of all freelancers greatly depend on how much work they are willing to do or can find. So the monthly or yearly payments of freelance architects are immensely varied from one to another.
However, the question that one should be asking as a freelancer is how much they should be charging for their work. Pricing and setting your rate is one of the most complex parts of freelancing.
For starters, it is always advisable to research the niche you are looking to work in; and the average rates of other freelance architects on the platform where you are selling your services.
Once you have determined the average rates, you can decide your initial pricing. It would not be wise for beginners to set a very high rate, but once you have built a good relationship with your client, you can steadily increase your rates.
How to find work?
Finding work as a new freelance architect is notoriously tricky, however there are multiple ways to advertise and network to help put you in the best possible position …some of which we highlight and discuss below:
Networking is essential to creating a stable professional rapport.
You can start by reaching out to your existing networks, such as fellow architects or peers from architectural college, instructors, industry professionals, speakers you have interacted with, previous employers, etc.
Apart from these connections, you must strive to create new networks allowing you to interact with potential clients. This can be done through LinkedIn and other such platforms.
Apart from setting up your portfolio, you need to make accounts on other social media sites, which will help you showcase your work and attract potential clients. This also helps build connections within the industry. Set up company pages dedicated to your work and establish networks through each site.
You can also start a blog that will help establish you as a reliable authority. You can share your journey and work process as well as write about any niche that interest you.
Volunteering at various platforms is always a great way to establish connections. You can volunteer at any community center and let the people they know that you are a freelance architect, perhaps share a link to your website. Also, offer your services/advice to the community center for free.
This will help build a social presence, and more people will be willing to trust you with their work.
One of the most important parts of advertising is creating a good business card. Most architects have the skills to design a great card by themselves, but you can always hire a graphic designer to design one for you.
Advertise your skills on more than one platform. If you are looking for local clients, you can print flyers to be handed out. If you are targeting the international market, advertise on freelancing websites (mentioned in detail further down the article).
Tell family and friends
Word of mouth can go a long way, so it is advisable to talk to your friends or family and ask them to help promote your business by recommending you to any acquaintances that require architectural services. More people will trust you with their project if they have already heard about you from a trustworthy source.
For further guidance on getting your first client, the below video lists how you can increase your chances:
Online platforms for freelance architects
Due to the recent prevalence of freelancing, there are now multiple online websites where architects can offer their services. Below we provide a comprehensive list and details of these websites so that you can choose one (or more) according to your preferences.
Houzz is an online marketing website for the architecture community. It also includes interior design, landscape design, and home improvement services.
Professionals can sign up as “Pros” on the website and create profiles where they showcase their work. The clients can then browse through various profiles and choose which professional to hire according to their needs. Most professionals on this site charge $45-$200 per hour.
You can sign up as a pro on their website here
Upwork is one of the prominent and trustworthy freelancing platforms. However, it is not predominantly an architectural site.
UpWork allows you to sign up as a freelancer and bid on projects that are relevant to your skills. If the client accepts your bid and proposal, you can move on to sign a contract and get paid either at the end of your job or set up multiple milestones and get paid after each.
Top freelancers on UpWork make anywhere from $45 to $75 per hour of work.
To start freelancing on PeoplePerHour, you must submit an online application. If you can secure approval, you are allowed to apply to various international projects and set your rates according to your skills.
The site has various projects, not just architectural. Hence, you must apply only for projects that are relevant to your field—most freelancers on PeoplePerPay charge between $20 to $40 for their services.
Dribbble is an online marketplace for animators, graphic designers, and such. The downside of dribble is that it does not allow you to be paid directly through the site. However, it does help you get in touch with clients who might require your services by showcasing your portfolio.
Payment on dribble is not specified and depends on the job you apply for. It can also offer opportunities for full-time jobs.
Behance is owned by Adobe and is essentially a social media platform where people can showcase their creative projects and acquire upvotes to attract clients.
Behance also offers a “Live” page where challenges and informative videos are broadcasted as well as a “jobs” page where you can look for potential jobs. Since most of the jobs posted on Behance are legitimate architecture jobs, they pay salaries comparable to those of traditional architectural firms.
Arguably the most prominent freelancing website, Fiverr allows you to post your services as “gigs” where multiple clients can browse through and choose a freelancer according to their needs.
Most top-rated freelancers can charge anywhere from $45 to $150 for their gigs. But for entry-level or amateur freelancers willing to work at lower rates, the average is around $10.
99designs is a freelancing platform specifically for designers. Clients can start a contest with a set price range, and multiple people can apply for that job. Or they can directly hire a specific freelancer by browsing through the profiles.
It offers limited options for architects. The most suitable method of getting jobs for architects is by 3d rendering, so it is a good choice if you are good at 3d modeling and rendering.
Alternative ways to earn as a freelance architect
One of the significant advantages of pursuing an architectural degree is the myriad of skills you acquire while studying architecture. You learn how to use multiple softwares and how to analyze visuals critically.
Due to this, architects can earn through many different means instead of just pursuing a 9-5 office job…
Freelance Collaboration websites
As architects, one has command over various creative softwares. So you can sign up on any freelance collaboration websites (as mentioned above) and start earning by providing graphic design or photo editing services to clients.
Sell your products
If you have a good eye for aesthetics and ergonomics, you can design various products and sell them on any 3D e-commerce website such as Shapeways . This will only work if you own a 3D printer, or you can collaborate with someone who owns one.
If you have market experience or have worked in the architectural/construction field for some time, you can offer consultations to people looking for experienced professionals.
Consulting services are almost always in high demand, and you can use your skills to help other architects, designers, constructors, or clients. This is a reliable and easy way to earn more as an architect.
Become an artist
Most architects have a good grip on various multimedia art techniques. You can offer services as a muralist, a portrait maker, or a card designer, depending on where your skills and expertise lie.
Every year, dozens of architectural competitions are open for all architects to participate in and showcase their talents. These competitions range from small-scale (e.g., designing kiosks) to large-scale projects (highrises or skyscrapers). However, this is a better option for firms or groups of architects.
Multiple open competitions can be found on architectural websites such as Archdaily.
Hundreds of people are looking for professionals willing to help them learn various software and design techniques. As an architect, you can branch out and offer your services to these people as a tutor.
Or you could also create an online course for people to buy and learn from. This is a simple way for architects to earn extra cash on the side.
To sum it up
Freelancing is an excellent option for any architect looking to expand their working horizons or just seeking an exit from the typical intensive work routine.
But one must remember that it will not be a smooth ride, especially in the beginning, and you might face many issues. However, there are multiple ways to get out of these problems, and the key is not to give up.
If you keep trying and give it your all, freelancing might be precisely what you are looking for …So keep striving and happy working!