This is the 8th 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.
8. Support team
A big part of your success as an architect stems from the people with whom you surround yourself. This goes for your accountant and lawyer as much as it does your consultants and builders. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to achieving harmony within your professional relationships: your only reliable path is years of trial and error.
Your accountant and lawyer will help you set up your company if that’s how you choose to establish your practice. Then accompanied by your banker and insurance broker, they will provide ongoing support for your tax returns, business activity statements (BASs), salaries, contracts, insurances and banking needs. We do our own banking and 3 of the 4 BASs each year. We have our accountant do the June BAS, along with our tax returns, to make sure everything adds up at the end of each financial year.
Having the right accountant is important: avoid those who think of themselves as a facsimile of the taxman as much as those who are happy to cheat him. Your accountant should be able to help you realise as many tax efficiencies as you can within the reasonable confines of the law:
- If you are doing very well financially, and earning within the highest (45c in the dollar) or second highest (37c in the dollar) personal income tax brackets, having a company structure might allow you to keep money in the company at a lower (30c in the dollar) tax rate.
- Even if you are not doing so well, you can still benefit from tax deductions and GST input credits. You will need to keep all your receipts of course, and possibly a logbook for some activities like transport and travel, but there is no reason why you can’t claim the GST back on all of your business expenses, as well as deduct: architecture books, stationary, printing costs, lectures, conferences, office equipment, travel to and from building sites, and architectural pilgrimages overseas. Architects may not get paid much, but loving what we do means plenty of potential tax deductions.
When it comes to specialist consultants, there are as many as you can possibly want: structural engineer, quantity surveyor, land surveyor, environmental consultant, landscape architect, traffic engineer, geotechnical consultant, mechanical engineer, fire engineer, heritage consultant, disability access consultant, town planning consultant… Just to name a few. You will generally need to seek quotes from multiple consultants for each project to satisfy your clients that their fees are fair, but it is worthwhile pushing for those who do good work, understand your needs and work well with you.
It is good to maintain contact with at least a couple of each type of specialist consultant. Some projects will be more suited to particular consultants and there is always the possibility that a consultant might be too busy to take on a new project.
One realisation that has dawned on us over recent years is that putting up with inferior work from your consultants, or trying to reduce their fees for your clients by reducing their scope, only means that you spend more time covering the holes, time for which you are unlikely to be paid. The fairest outcome for everyone involved is to do your job as an architect as diligently and thoroughly as possible, and expect the same from your consultants.
Builders should be carefully selected and nurtured as with all of the aforementioned individuals, but doubly so. To put it in the clearest possible terms: the wrong builder will ruin your life. He will transform what should be the most enjoyable phase of any project into the most upsetting. You will be stressed, overworked and unhappy; you will dread visiting site, the place where your dream of many years is taking physical shape; and worst of all, you will very likely end up with a building that falls well short of your expectations. We have had one such experience, about which we may one day write a lengthy article, and we will never work with the builder in question ever again.
Finally, learn to speak the language of everyone in your support team. This is most relevant for your project work. Architecture is a complex animal, with many stakeholders possessing many priorities. Learn to speak client, planner, engineer and builder and you will go a long way to helping those around you buy into you project and, in so doing, help you make it better.