Starting a Practice
eBook - ePub

Starting a Practice

A Plan of Work

Simon Foxell

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eBook - ePub

Starting a Practice

A Plan of Work

Simon Foxell

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About This Book

Running your own practice can bring immense job satisfaction, but it is not without its risks. Do you have all the information at hand to set up confidently on your own? Comprehensive, accessible and easy to use, Starting a Practice helps architects navigate the pitfalls associated with establishing a successful business. This fully updated 3rd edition is mapped to the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 and approaches starting a business as if it were a design project, complete with briefing, sketching layouts and delivery. It features new material on professionalism and ethics, sustainable development and achieving a net-zero carbon emission built environment. Invaluable for Part 3 students, early practitioners and those considering setting up from scratch or wanting to consolidate an existing business, Starting a Practice gives architects the tools they need to thrive when setting out alone. Features essential guidance on:

  • Preparing a business plan
  • Choosing the right company structure
  • Setting aspirations
  • Monitoring finances
  • Getting noticed
  • Securing work
  • Retaining and developing staff
  • Planning for disaster.

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Preparation and Brief

DOI: 10.4324/9781003212706-2
An essential section on getting the basics right before setting up your business – by assembling a written brief and investing in as much preparation as possible.
This guide encourages you to look at starting a new practice as a project to both design and implement. It is a project in which you will be client, designer, contractor and user – so it is worthwhile getting it right! All projects should start with a well-written brief, explaining what you seek to achieve from the venture, and setting up a business is no exception. Take off your architect’s hat for the time being and concentrate on your aims and aspirations as the purchaser and user of a new business vehicle. The brief should go on to inform the business plan (Stage 3) and ultimately determine the way you will run your business and carry out projects.
The other word in the title of this stage is ‘preparation’, and as with building projects good preparation is essential and very cheap in comparison to learning from your mistakes later on. There is something to be said for the ‘just do it’ school of starting a business, just not very much. Think and plan ahead for as many contingencies as you can envisage, test your proposals on others and take your planning through as many iterations as you can before eventually deciding on what to do.
FIG 1.1 Brief essentials
FIG 1.1 Brief essentials


You will not be alone in thinking ahead about the built environment and the opportunities it presents, or the possibility of achieving a change agenda. Although you might not want to follow the herd and embrace the latest fashionable thinking simply for its own sake, there can be a significant advantage in being an early adopter of new technologies and programmes of activity. Equally, if you are going to be obliged eventually to work to new or enhanced standards, it may be advisable to start applying them sooner rather than later. In setting your aspirations, pay attention to what others are up to, including the following:
  • At any one time governments are working on a number of long-term policy objectives that may turn into regulation or develop delivery mechanisms that affect you (for better or worse) in the future. These objectives, which may have been described in a Green Paper or consulted on more generally, might include the need to increase house building, deliver energy improvements, better protect the environment or achieve greater equality and diversity in the workplace. If your aspirations are to be meaningful, they should match or exceed such policy goals.
  • Many organisations; charities, think tanks and pressure groups, from the UN down, have already developed and tested detailed proposals for how the world and society might be improved or sustained. You might be better off working and making common cause with one or more of these than developing your own individualised set of outcomes and aspirations. This will give you a ready-made community to engage with, and far greater recognition and understanding of what you aim to achieve.
  • Organisations you might already belong to, for example the RIBA, may provide advanced notice of programmes for delivering change. In the RIBA’s case its future proposals for CPD requirements are set out in its August 2020 document ‘The Way Ahead’1, and carbon and other output targets and performance milestones in its 2030 Climate Challenge2.
  • Systems may already be in place for delivering and validating some long-term goals, for example the Passivhaus method for achieving comfortable low-energy buildings, or building information modelling (BIM) protocols for digital design and management processes. These might require training and accreditation or require you to work in prescribed ways, but could give you a genuine business advantage. Ideally decisions should be made early on as to whether they will be incorporated into your design brief.
It is also worth saying with all these examples that you, or your new practice, can also get involved directly and work with government, industry organisations and social entrepreneurs to suggest, develop and test ideas. Making your own weather can clearly be even better than following the predictions and advice of others. It can also be very time consuming.


Having started writing your brief, it may quickly throw up questions of what preparations you need to make to ensure you will have the knowledge and skills to deliver on it, both now and long into the future. Building procurement, design, consent regimes, delivery and long-term stewardship are all becoming more complex and managerial and you will need to stay on top of them without becoming overwhelmed. Indeed the very point of including a paragraph on knowledge and skills at this relatively early stage in the book is to highlight how they have become essential aspects to consider in the design of a practice and need to be factored in from the outset. Knowledge and skills are what, above all, you will be selling to your clients – even if they are convinced they are getting a building. Knowledge and skills need to be developed, tested and shared, retained (indeed banked for future reuse), refreshed and challenged.
This topic will be revisited in the chapters ahead.


Now, more than ever, it is clear that working in the built environment is going to mean facing up to a number of major challenges in the immediate future. This will make working in the sector a daunting rollercoaster ride – but, if you get it right, deeply rewarding. Clear (and very interconnected) challenges include:
  • Climate change and the national commitments made under the 2016 Paris Agreement to restrict global heating to 1.5°C (and certainly 2°C) above pre-industrial temperatures. This has resulted in many countries, including the UK, instigating legal requirements for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. This will probably require a net carbon positive built environment by that date to offset requirements for fossil fuels in other sectors.
    Changes in the climate will bring numerous other challenges beyond higher temperatures; including increased drought and flooding, wildfires, insect infestations and changes in prevalent diseases. The need to reduce carbon outputs will require the use of alternative and clean energy sources (and much-reduced use of energy), increased use of natural means for lighting and ventilation; and the need to ensure comfort and wellbeing without recourse to energy intensive systems.
  • Land use. How land is prioritised and used will become an even more fraught issue as greater precedence may need to be given to the natural environment in general, trees and forestry as carbon sinks and the growth of energy-yielding crops, while travel distances will need to be reduced and access to infrastructure improved.
  • Biodiversity and species loss. This is often described as the most serious of the challenges that the globe (and with it humanity) faces, with the implications yet unknown.
  • Water. The availability of clean water is already under strain, and increasing controls over its use and extraction are likely to be introduced.
  • Pollution. Air and water quality are already poor across the world, and the measures that will need to be introduced will have a direct impact on the built environment.
  • Resource limitations. Certain materials will be in increasingly short supply or the costs, either in cash or carbon, of their extraction or production will become too great to justify their use, except in special circumstances.
  • Population. Demographic changes as the world population approaches 11 million by the end of the century from its current 7.8 million3 will mean that some areas get older and less populated while others become younger and far more densely inhabited. Both of these trajectories will present serious issues to future generations.
  • Inequality. Inequality in all its forms (wealth, health, education, life expectancy, employment, housing conditions, access to justice, etc.) has been increasing worldwide for many decades, with the ramifications being particularly exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. Any remedies for this will be necessarily far-reaching, but the results of inaction may be even more serious.
  • Automation. This has been changing the world of work for centuries but it has only recently begun to threaten the livelihoods of professionals, with the advent of systems that can potentially carry out aspects of building professionals’ workloads more accurately, diligently and at less cost than humans. This may mean an increased focus on those skills that are less replaceable – at least in the short term. The same applies to outsourcing.
  • Changes in living, working and leisure practices. As seen occurring extremely rapidly during the 2020 pandemic, these trends may continue to develop, leading to new uses for buildings, towns and cities – all requiring design input and expertise.
All of these challenges have their national and domestic forms that shift from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but rarely disappear or diminish. To them, of course, can be added other more local concerns, from trade issues to procurement and planning practice. They all need some degree of attention, even if their very nature appears so great as to engulf all other matters relating to starting a practice. The point is maybe that we are now no longer as sheltered as we were from global trends and events, and the responsibility to take action to mitigate their effects. Their effect on each and every firm will be considerable, but it may also significantly increase the importance of well-informed, expert and intensely professional practice.
Figure 1.2 UK challenges
Figure 1.2 UK challenges
The vertical axes for the different measures are not generally comparable
UK Population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - ONS
Carbon Emissions - Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
Gini Coefficient - Report on Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK (2018)
UK Biodiversity - JNCC
Income share - Inequality Trust, Alvaredo, Atkinson and Morelli (2017)
Water availablility - Inland Water Quality Report
Nitrogen Oxide (NO) - National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, UK Emission Projections to 2030 (2012)


In all this you are unlikely to have forgotten that setting up a new practice costs money, and that you need to start thinking about the scale of investment you are prepared to put into the new business and how long you can wait for it to get paid back. More detailed considerations of fina...

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