Dr Hector Sikazwe, Newcastle Upon Tyne, 2021

This is the Last part of 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 the architectural office and what impact it has on how the architect sets up, Today we close up on the architectural office and the series by starting at looking at the role that Mentors play.

Get A Mentor

When starting an architecture firm, burgeoning Architects should find a successful architect to mentor them. These mentors must be Architects respected and in well keeping with ZIA, the professional body. The Mentor will be able to offer invaluable advice on what works and what doesn’t in the industry. Unfortunately, the Zambian construction Industry is difunctional and highly fragmented that it is very difficult to find anyone ready to be a Mentor.

Finding a mentor

✓ Architects need to contact a few of the most successful firms in the City where the Architect sets up the practice and enquire from principle Architects and directors if they’d be keen to provide Mentorship.

✓ Consult practicing Architects for general advice or help you need

✓ Contact ZIA secretariat for advice

Company legal structures

From the onset, it is important that the choice of the legal company structure for the architecture firm is important. The advice is to speak to a lawyer and possibly an accountant before setting up the firm. It’s advisable to get these things right from the beginning then to fix them later. Putting into place the legal status of the firm will play a bigger role in the future: ✓ A sole trader describes any business that is owned and controlled by one person – although they may employ workers. ✓ A limited company is a type of business structure where the company has a legal identity of its own, separate from its owners (shareholders) and its managers (directors). Even if a company has only one individual involved with it and that person is the only shareholder and the only director, the company is still a separate legal entity.
Liability is a huge issue in the architectural world. Its important that Architects seek advice from commercial lawyers and insurer and ensure they are properly covered for all eventualities. It’s important not to take chance when it comes to company structure and licensing matters.

Office Space Options
Architects need a comfortable place to work from. A physical space where they can set up their table, computer and drawing tools, as well as some comfortable chairs and most importantly a coffee machine for client meetings. Sounds strange, but a coffee maker is important for an Architect’s office. The chosen work space will depend on the size of the firm and particular aesthetic tastes, and location and proximity to the amenities needed.
It’s also important to realize that working from home is an option for many bootstrapping architects just starting out. There are numerous advantages, including lower overhead, comfortable and personal space, and no commuting to work. Some architects work from home while raising kids and, while it’s not easy, that can be very rewarding. If the Architect has a small family, this might be convenient but, in most cases, this would have detrimental effects to the business because clients do not respect those working from home.
However, working from home might be the only possible option. Most homes are not set up to accommodate an architect’s studio. Architects need the right space and light for their setup, and start-up Architectural business need to be aware that they will also be meeting clients at their home. Many Clients are uncomfortable with this and if Architects do not keep their home tidy, or the décor or design is a bit outdated, then it won’t make the best impression on clients.
Some architects solve this issue by working from home but hiring co-working or meeting spaces in day rented offices when they need to meet clients. This can be a great option until a firm has built up the cash flow to rent a permanent office space.

Type of Office
If neither of these options work for the Architect will need to find an office for rent. When choosing an office, the Architect must consider the following factors: ✓ A prime location, ✓ A pleasant work environment, ✓ A good rent price, ✓ A solid rent contract, ✓ A space that reflects personality and design principles of the Architect.

Tools required
Just like a Carpenter has a toolbox and a doctor a stethoscope, a good Architect has a suite of tools and equipment that help him or her do the best work. Here are some of the essential items Architects need to get your office set up:
✓ A desk – Most architects use a huge desk so they can spread out and work on large paper or multiple projects at once.
✓ Computers that are top notch in specifications to accommodate novel design software programmes. Big Computer screens. Projectors, Scanners, Printers.
✓ A comfy chair.
✓ Smartphone or tablet – These are powerful tools Architects can take everywhere.
✓ Tracing paper – A roll of this paper on hand at all times – even Architects do the majority of their work in CAD, they will find a myriad of uses for it around the office.
✓ Coffee machine or snack dispenser
✓ A range of rulers and scales – Architects use these ALL THE TIME.
✓ Reference material – Books, magazines, council regulations, brochures, guidelines … Architects need a bookshelf of essential reference and reading material.
✓ Pens, pencils, calculators, office stuff – The reason for this should be obvious.
✓ Camera – Architects often use one. At the very least, it’s vital to take pictures of the first few projects completed for portfolios and office displays.

General Office etiquette

As an architect, keeping track of multiple aspects of each job is key to project management. This can be very difficult if the Architect has more than one client at a time. Managing office business workflow in the office is one of the key components of a successful architectural firm.
Workflow management software based in the cloud, designed with the needs of architects and other designers in mind helps Architects

✓ Time Tracking – Track how long each stage of a project takes to complete. Architect can then figure out if they are over- or under-charging for certain aspects of their work.
✓ Project management – create deadlines, break architecture projects down into tasks, highlight significant milestones and create automatic notifications for upcoming due dates.
✓ Invoicing: bulk billing, bill for multiple jobs, invoices generated on actual time, and branded invoice templates.
✓ Create Reports – Learn the ins and outs of the Architect’s workflow through a range of report functions.
✓ Collaboration – Architects, Employees, contractors and clients can now all employ BIM as way of having integrated project management systems.
✓ Cloud-based – Architects can now access all their project data at any time, from any device, anywhere in the world by using cloud-based storage.


Very often, young Architects start their own firms, and then get so bogged down in running the business that they don’t get to do what they actually enjoy doing, designing buildings. This is the risk all start up business owners face. It’s important that the Architect should enjoy strategy, networking, administration and other duties of running a business, and may sometimes need to either outsource those duties to someone else or go back to being an employee. Achieving balance in vital for a successful firm, and a fulfilling business. Unfortunately, it’s something that is different for every person, so it’s not something Architects can learn from watching others. They need to experiment with different ways of doing things until they find a business model and a balance that works for them.

This brings to an end our exciting series on The Architect and startup Business Headache, we pray it has informed and guided young aspirants in the field of Architecture, on the ins and outs of what getting into the Business of Architecture is all about.

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