If there is a major problem facing independent architects, it is getting paid for designs. These 7 tips for getting paid as an architect will help designers sustain and improve their income.
How much is too much to pay for design? Often, I see clients react in shock or embarrassment when presented with fee invoices as though architects deliberately overpriced themselves for gains or aren’t in touch with prevailing financial circumstances.
Coincidentally, I stumbled on articles on “Quora”, an online forum, where architects bitterly complained about; how they regret studying architecture, how architecture training isn’t in tune with reality and how the average students spend at least 6 years in architecture schools like the medical doctors and lawyers, only to graduate and become the least paid with the least pay guarantee among professionals.
The focus of this post though isn’t on how much architects should be paid for the design, but on tips on getting paid as an architect. So! What are these Tips? Let’s kick off!
1. Be passionate but also be business-minded.
Resolve in your mind that your time and resources are worthy assets worth paying for. This will go a long way to condition you (both in thoughts and action) to expect remuneration for your services.
Even when you agree to do a job for free, let it be on your terms. Don’t allow yourself to be coerced into offering free service.
Today, architects are offering free and underpaid services, which is hurting the profession and priming the minds of clients to innocently expect cheap and sometimes free architectural services.
Quackery isn’t helping either, it has created cheap and free alternatives for clients when they encounter “difficult” architects.
Notwithstanding, remain professional and business-minded with the assurances that your work will speak for us.
2. Take your time to truly impress your clients, don’t rush to make a superficial impression.
Except you are in doubt of your capacity to deliver, you shouldn’t be in a hurry to impress anyone. This is so because, in the process of impressing, you may become too engrossed in design.
This would impact your ability to give equal attention to all aspects of your work, i.e. not only the operations aspect but also the business.
You may even find yourself churning out multiple drawings without commitment on the part of the client. This is risky. The commitment may be;
- Letter of commission,
- Verbal or written assurances from a trusted referee (referral),
- Upfront payment
- Repeat-client past performance in previous similar business transactions.
Not all clients come to you with the intention to execute a project ASAP, some just want to test their ideas or run them by a professional. If you allow yourself to get invested in those ideas without commitments you would have lost out.
3. Avoid the appearance of being overly fixated on money
You don’t want to scare clients away or lose good clients whose intention was to truly patronize you. Yes, getting paid is important but you also want to understand the brief and win the trust of the client.
Your apparent focus should be on satisfying his immediate need for good design.
It is when and only when you have established this, that you first chip in your fee structure but not necessarily the figure.
Most clients expect to pay you, mostly, where the argument is, is in the amount to pay. From 1 above, you should resolve at the back of your mind that you will be paid.
If a client makes it clear ab initio that he wouldn’t pay you, then doing his work is your prerogative to decide.
In a situation where clients ask you about your fees during your first encounter, tell them “we will discuss it but for now let’s talk about your project”. Discuss fees only when you are comfortable doing so.
Don’t be coerced into negotiations when you aren’t prepared, if not you will negotiate badly. Fee negotiation can be done verbally or via writing. Adopt what you are comfortable with.
For first-time clients, it may be risky to expressly mention a figure during the first encounter (of course it’s risky not to as well). You may want to wait till you make your first schematic presentation. For repeat-client, you can mention a figure at your first briefing.
Also, at the briefing, you can decide to take or reject a job if its scope is too vague, beyond your capacity or its terms are unacceptable to you. This is the right thing to do, especially when in doubt that you can’t give your best.
So, in summary, integrity and true concern for the client’s design needs should be more apparent than your concern for pay.
4. Don’t be shy to discuss fees.
Yes! Discuss your fee confidently.
Sometimes we are scared to appear too forward, ridiculous or perceived as overtly interested in money. This is understandable and may work against you but because you are being commissioned to offer a service that will take your time and resources, it is your responsibility to inform the client at some point that this will be a paid service.
For first-time clients, you may not discuss fees in detail until after your schematic presentation. However, if he is a repeat client, then he should be used to your work, your fees and your ability.
Thus, you could discuss your fees in detail. If you don’t have all the information with you at that moment, then, in that case, send a message conveying your fees to him later.
Also, you can request upfront payment from repeat clients because there is already trust and understanding between you both. But for new clients, you should only request upfront fees in the following circumstances;
- When in doubt of his capacity to pay
- He just showed up without a referral and thus you don’t know him too well (here, you can use discretion)
- You’ve had a bad experience with his referral
- His project is outlandish.
5. Make good presentations.
As soon as you have decided to accept your client’s job, take a few days off to make a standard schematic presentation. Present it to him in person either as printed copies or on your laptop (Do not send it to him via email or any other medium). This will steer his interest.
It is at this stage you must expect to receive your first payment, that is if you haven’t received it before commencing work. After discussing the schematic designs, discuss your fees as well including the method and time of payment.
Resolve in your mind (without necessarily telling your client) that delay in payment equates to a delay in further work. Only when you receive the first payment will you continue work.
6. Scehdule your fee payments into 2 or 3 stages
At this stage, you should have received the first or upfront payment. If you haven’t received it, then you should request it immediately. Below are 3 basic stages of payment:
- Stage A [First payment]: Immediately after schematic design or upfront before commencing work.
- Stage B [Second payment]: Immediately after detailed drawings with all corrections carried out and final 3D images.
- Stage C [Third payment]: On submission of final construction and approval drawings.
You can also use whatever number of stages practically works for you.
If after any stage, payment is delayed, inquire from your client. If you aren’t convinced about his explanation or the payment date remains uncertain without reasonable explanation, then suspend work till you are certain of payment.
7. Be professional and do a good job.
In the course of your design and interaction with your client, he will observe you to ascertain if you are worthy of your fees. Your designs and documentation should be above the pack and standard.
Let him feel as though he is getting value for his money. Don’t print flimsy sheets and expect payment. Remember, as we said earlier, this is business.
At stage C when you would have finished your work and submitted it, you may feel vulnerable and at the mercy of your client because you have delivered fully without full payment.
Yes, but I really don’t see it as being at the mercy of the client, it is more or less, you submitting your work and awaiting his review to ascertain if you have professionally delivered as you promised.
Now, if you have done well, be rest assured that your payments won’t be unnecessarily delayed, however, if you delivered a shabby job, then you will be called back to finish up properly.
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