We would like to welcome another writer to the AIA Colorado EP Blog. Christy Riggs, AIA is a licensed architect in Colorado Springs with her own practice, 308 LLC. She has a diverse architectural background starting with a B.Arch and B.Art from Ball State University in Muncie, IN in 2002.
After graduation, Christy moved to Colorado to fulfill her IDP requirements with a multi-disciplinary firm, Pinnacle DesignWorks, in Woodland Park, CO. She then moved to Comstock & Associates in Colorado Springs and Janitell Childs Design Group before starting her own company in 2011.
Christy is the mom to two very active girls and the wife of an architect in addition to Owner-Architect-Designer-Drafter-Accounting-Admin for 308 LLC.
Wanna get started? Get Organized.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I was able to start my own architecture and design company. The easy answer is to pay the State a minimal fee to Register a business name, another $1.00 to register your Articles of Organization, and then it’s FREE to apply for a federal Employer Identification Number so that you can pay all of your own taxes! The difficult answer is what to do once you’ve checked the remedial paperwork off your list. That answer is… you should have already done the next step. Get organized.
When I was employed at previous firms, I paid attention to the plans in place for everything from the way that time sheets and billable hours were tracked, to the material library sample logs, to the way redlines and yellow lines were drawn, processed, completed, and reviewed. I would catch myself often thinking “this filing should be done by the Admin staff” or “I’m a creative person! Why am I wasting my time with this drawn out accounting system?” But, even if I didn’t agree with it, I paid attention. And I learned to realize that even though I might have a different way of tracking projects, having a system in place that I wanted to modify is far better than having none. Monkeys may not be your thing, but it worked.
For me, these are the key areas that I found having a detailed organizational plan were crucial when starting my own company:
- Project organization. A project number and name tied together works great so that you can remember the project based on a client’s name, and when it comes time to do billing and accounting, the number is easy to plug into the accounting system. Example: 14-123_Smith in my office means it is the 23rd project of 2014 and the client name is Smith. When I do invoicing the “Smith” part of the project number is replaced with “01” or “02” to signify the number of billings sent to the client. Easy, right?
- Drawing organization. Have a list of standard drawings and notes that go in to every project. While this may seem inherent to doing a set of architectural drawings, there are times that work is moving fast and you can miss something like the elevation of the tile on the back of a restroom wall. Consider your drawing checklist to be like a spell check so that your work is complete before sending it to the client.
- Accounting organization. You don’t need an accountant, but I highly recommend at least using something like Quickbooks Online to keep track of proposals, invoices, banking, etc. Asking clients for money is definitely not one of the pleasant parts of having your own company, but it’s nearly impossible if you don’t have accurate records for what you told them the fee would be, when you were going to bill for it, and how much is remaining.
- Family and/or personal organization. This is one of the most important, yet it’s one that tends to be the “I’ll just wing it until I figure it out.” Make a plan for how many hours you’re going to allow yourself to work, ESPECIALLY if you are going to be working from home. Set up a plan for letting yourself have vacation days, personal days, unexpected sick days, or even “spend special time with the kids”. I think as architects we often feel that our work is important in the world, and it is, but if you’re not setting goals and limits to the amount of time that you’re spending on this venture, you will be miserable which will make your work and home suffer. When starting your own company, it’s a great idea to set up an office at home so that there is very little overhead cost and you can focus on building clients rather than paying rent. However, it’s also very tempting to just write one more e-mail after dinner, and then finish up that one detail, and then send out that one pdf file, and write that outstanding invoice, and… oh… it’s 2am again. It’s ok to adjust your plan and you won’t be able to follow it all the time, but having one in place gives you something to measure against to make sure you’re still a living person and not a drafting zombie.
It’s really quite easy to start an architecture company if you pay attention to how it’s already being done by others. Setting up CAD standards and shop drawing logs and all the daily organizational tools are important too, but you likely already know and are using a system that works, so pay attention to it. Getting a company organized takes thought and time, and it ends up being a lot of trial and error at first, but having a plan to test and adjust is crucial when getting started.
note: it’s also a good idea to consult Colorado’s Small Business Development Center for help in filling out the required business forms. http://www.coloradosbdc.org/starting-your-business
Christy Riggs, AIA, LEED Green Associate | 308 LLC