Dr Hector Sikazwe, Newcastle Upon Tyne, 2021 

Today, we continue our series on the Zambian Architect and what it takes for them to set up a practice. The series is based on the experiences of Dr. Ar. Hector Sikazwe in his years as a professional which span over 25 years in both Private and public sector in Zambia, the United Kingdom and many other countries. He currently runs his own Architectural consulting firm Apex Business management Consultants Ltd, in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, where the firm conducts research in novel technologies in the construction industry. Last week we looked at what being an Architect is (and what it is not) Today we dive deeper by looking at the setting up of an architectural office.

Setting up office from scratch

Imagine you have just finished reading the details of who an Architect is above and you have your mouth hanging open with disbelief that after 5 years in Architectural school, you realise that is not what you were taught about who an Architect really was. You think about the many hours you spent doing modules that you now realise did not cover the issues of how to become an architect. All that knowledge you thought you had has just gone out of the window. What about the 3D presentation drawings you made using crack software that impressed your peers and now seem crude to the knowledge you now have about the real world and the practice of Architecture that now threatens to implode right under your gaze.

Maybe you’ve just finished school and you’re ready to brave the real world. Maybe you are tired of working for other companies, or maybe you just have an entrepreneurial streak. You have just recently passed your PCE examination. You are now getting that cringy feeling after reading the details of who an Architect person specific is and your heart is pounding uncontrollably. Maybe you are thinking, “I think I have what it takes to start my own company…” Then you get that churning in the pit of your stomach as you ponder on the fact that you don’t actually have the foggiest of where to start. Whatever the reason, you’re thinking its time you hung out your shingle and started your own architecture firm. Before you embark on any business decision – and starting your own firm is a HUGE business decision – you need to ensure you have goals in mind for the future. Your goals set the direction and focus of your business. They allow you to align your business with what you want for your life in years to come.

Set Goals for Your Architecture Firm – and Your Life
Goals for your architecture firm should always be SMART, and they might relate to the size of the firm, the revenue, the type of work you want to do, or where you want the firm to be in a certain period of time. Think about 3-5 goals for your business. They might include:
✓ How large do you want the firm to get?
✓ Do you want to focus on design work, or on managing the business?
✓ What type of projects do you want to take on?
✓ What types of clients do you want to work for?
✓ How much money do you want to make?
The above is probably not that encouraging when one considers the Zambian economic situation. Almost everything in Zambia revolves around Money. This cancer has eroded the Architectural profession to a point near the precipice of extinction of professionalism. Architects are using all the gimmicks of boy scout’s survival tactics if it means circumventing CAP 442 to survive.
Some breach the act with impunity, some inadvertently but most due to sheer ignorance. Unfortunately, Zambian Architects do not devote their lives to reading as a habit. They would rather spend time on social media engaging in the latest social gossip than sitting up sucking in knowledge about the practice of Architecture.

First steps first
You need three things to start your own architecture firm:
✓ An architect (check)
✓ Vision and Determination (check)
? Money (che ……… uh oh). Any start-up Businesses need money to survive, and businesses in the start-up phase need more money than a business that is already established. To start a business, Architects need money to rent office space, buy equipment, obtain licenses, hire office helps like cleaners, administrators, and to make it worse, a vehicle. The amount of money needed will vary depending on the resources available and the type of architectural firm envisaged. Most start by working solo. Saves money, but the most complex as it does not put pressure on survival instincts. When starting as a solo practitioner, the Architect will always have a basic escape plan in case of hitting a brick wall. That would not be the case if one has paying staff who add pressure.
Senior Architects reflect on how they started their own firm and the mistakes they made. They will always suggest that before you begin to think about where the money will come from, it’s important to sit down and:
✓ Draw up a preliminary small budget.
✓ Work out what you need to get the business up and running,
✓ Determine the minimum you need to pay your bills for the first year.
Knowing how much money that is needed is the first step to financing a new architectural start up firm.
Next, the Architect might need to explore avenues to obtain that money. In Zambia, it is difficult to access finance to start a business. Mostly, Architects might need to borrow from friends, relatives, family but the luckiest ones might:
✓ Borrow from a bank.
✓ Use savings.
✓ Borrow from a parent,
✓ Secure funds through a business loan,
✓ Bootstrap the firm until a profit is achieved.
All these options have positive and negative aspects, and young Architects may use more than one form of finance to get their firm started. For example, obtaining a loan of half the money needed from parents, (those who are fortunate to have parents who are well to do) and then take out a bank loan for the remainder. Whatever the choice, it’s important for Architects to research all options, and preferably seek a business advisor before taking the plunge. Many Architects start their business start-up by using savings to fund their business without any external support from investors, grants or finance from the bank. Bootstrapping is hard work, but is one of the best ways to get ahead, as there are no loans to pay back or external shareholders to answer to.

In Part 4 we will continue on setting up a firm by looking at how having a Mentor, may impact your journey, and considering how the ‘office’ influences how your Architectural journey is shaped