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Surviving and thriving as a freelance architect during a downturn

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Helen James, founder of networking and job site Freelance UK, gives her top tips on how to be a successful freelance architect during the recession

During a downturn, the future can seem daunting for freelance architects. However, during difficult times the key to excelling is remembering the rules from the good times and ensuring additional prudence.

With regards to winning business, remember that it is easier to sell to existing clients than to prospective clients. Don’t forget that your clients are likely to be experiencing the same economic pressures as you at the moment. Look to use your expertise to ‘go the extra mile,’ and provide extra value and potentially services that will benefit the client.

 ‘It’s not what you know but who you know,’ is a particularly apt phrase at this time. Keep in contact with all previous hirers and colleagues and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. Remember to reward a client well for referring you.

Niche networking tools, such as www.freelancealliance.com, part of Freelance UK, are often a good way to find business. They allow you to network with those in other professions and to collaborate and refer opportunities amongst each other.

The saying ‘work smarter’ is an oft over used cliché but there is sound thinking behind it. Keep meticulous records of the time spent dealing with each client, allowing you to work out which clients or which industries are the most profitable for you. This will be important to bear in mind when touting for new business.

It is always valuable to keep one eye on the market to allow you to decide where the next expansion will take place. Do some industry sectors ride the recession storm more than others? Are you able to diversify in areas to increase your work offers?

The most important thing to do in the event of a dry spell is to set a plan that enables you to feel in control of the situation and to alleviate any fear of panic. It is vital that you are not too scared to pick up the phone. Consider a ‘No’ to be a ‘Not just now thank you’: you should ask leading questions like ‘What’s coming up?’, ‘Who currently supplies you?’ or ‘When might tempt you to give me a try?’ Although during a recession short term survival is the main concern, relationships built up over time will yield results. Talking to other freelancers can offer moral support- many views are shared in the forum on http://forums.freelanceuk.com/ as well as those collaborating on Freelance Alliance

As well as attracting new business, you must also protect your existing business. At the start of new projects, interview the clients thoroughly and be sure that that they have signed off the contact- this will protect you in the event of a dispute. During an economic downturn, when you perceive there to be more competition for work, an easy trap to fall into is cutting your fees. One of the key rules, that you need to be especially diligent to adhere to during a recession is to stand out because of your designs, not your ‘cheap as chips’ fees. Also, run a credit check on any new clients to avoid the nightmare of not being paid for a substantial project.

Chasing debts can be one of the most frustrating elements of being a freelancer, and organisation is vital here. It is a dull, yet essential part of the job to keep on top of the invoices that you send out and make follows up calls in a timely manner. If bills are not paid within an acceptable time frame (anything much more than three months, and alarm bells should be ringing), instruct a reputable debt recovery firm to pursue the client for you. Freelance Alliance offers a service at a reduced cost and only takes 5% commission. A professional has a greater chance of recovering a debt and will relieve you of much of the stress of the process.

Another worthwhile investment is legal advice. It is important that you know your position in the event of either party wishing to cancel the contract halfway through. Consider also how much notice you require for a cancellation and add a “late cancellation” fee to compensate for income lost. Also consider your position if you are unable to fulfil a contract and need to cancel. It is also worth looking into insuring your business.



Glenn Bramble-Stewart has been a designer for 12 years with professional experience of the built environment including buildings, interiors and architectural design. His website is: www.gbs-designs.co.uk

‘I became a freelancer in 1999 because I wanted to be my own boss and enjoy the freedoms associated with that. Things are very busy for me at the moment, despite the falls in construction output – and I think this is due to me diversifying into other areas, having a solid reputation, and the fact that I am a freelance.

With the current situation in the housing market, a lot of people seem to be looking at ways to improve their homes instead of moving on. This is one of the main factors in my business doing well at the moment, as I do a lot in areas such as home extensions. Businesses and individuals are also more inclined to hire small, independent businesses like mine because they perceive costs as being less than larger organisations. For those who are feeling a bit financially uncertain at the current time, it makes more sense to hire a company like mine which offers shorter, less binding contracts.’


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