This is the 2nd instalment in a series of 10 articles where we attempt to categorise chronologically and thematically the list of things you will need to start your architecture practice, and furnish it with the glimpses of insight we’ve accrued during the first three years of our architecture practice, Mihaly Slocombe.

2. Clients


When: Immediately
Importance: Critical
Cost: Priceless
Difficulty: High

With the exception of a small number of studios that carve a successful career through competition work, clients are your gateway to income. These are the miraculous people prepared to pay you to do what you love: make architecture. In the beginning, they are likely to be your family and friends. As time goes on, your circle of clients will expand to include friends of your friends, then to colleagues of your friends, and finally to complete strangers.

The number of clients you need differs depending on the sorts of projects they are offering you and the magnitude of your fees. As discussed previously, our friend and colleague, Steve Rose, started his practice with four projects. We established ours with three good ones worth between $500,000 and $1,500,000 each. The two more expensive projects turned out to be pipe dreams and soon died, but the smaller project survived and was joined by others, generally more modest in scope.

If there’s any secret to be uncovered that will help you attract new clients, it’s to do good work then put it where people can see it. We put ourselves out into the physical and digital worlds as much as we can, talk passionately about architecture with our friends and family, and generally stay open to new opportunities. It’s rare that any of these activities result in direct commissions, and almost certainly not straight away, but it’s important you build your presence in the minds and lives of people around you.

Nurture your opportunities carefully: each client embodies the potential for many more. Strangers years down the road will come to you based on the work you do for your family today.

There is one small but outrageously important detail concerning clients that we never fully appreciated until we started our practice. When you work for someone else, a project that goes on hold for town planning or pauses for a lengthy client consideration period means little: your boss simply gives you some other work to do. When you work for yourself, projects on hold = no work = no income. Such lulls can be filled creatively: we entered a design competition during a quiet month at the end of 2011. These days, our financial obligations make such lulls harder to endure. It is important therefore to maintain momentum on your projects, keep them moving along as quickly as you can, and if you’re able, space them out so you always have something to do.

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