Software for Architects – 7 Most Essential for Small Teams [+ Pricing Info]
Last time I counted, there’s nearly a hundred software for architects on the market.
So, it’s no surprise why many busy architects — especially those who work in small teams of one (you know, me, myself, and I), two, or three — often ask me:
- “Do I need a full-blown ERP or project management software?”
- “Do you know something simple for time-tracking and invoicing?”
- “What tools are other architects using?“
If you’ve ever had any of the same questions, this article is for you. I’ve curated the most essential software that most small architecture teams will need, along with their price info.
So you won’t need to spend hours, if not days, researching and testing different software tools and apps. I’ve done the hard work for you.
Still, you’ll have to spend a little time trying out one or more of these recommendations. Invest time and effort now, and enjoy the benefits and time-savings later.
To Bill, or Not To Bill? — That Is the Question
Bill, duh. That’s what you want to do.
But of course, you can’t bill for everything.
Next to raising your hourly rate — find out here why you should really consider this — the only way to earn more money as an architect is by working more billable hours.
Now, this does not necessarily mean you should be working more hours in general.
What you really want to do is reduce the number of hours you spend on non-billable tasks.
Don’t waste your valuable time on admin duties, such as drafting invoices based on your manual time logs in Excel, following up on payments, writing out field reports in Word, printing floor plans, creating to-do lists, and bringing accounting docs to your accountant.
This is where software for architects comes into play.
By investing your time (and money) in the right software, you can automate many tedious, repetitive admin tasks, and free up plenty of hours month after month.
And so what could you do with all your extra time? Work directly on client projects, of course. Spend more time on billable hours. It’s an easy way to increase your profitability — without having to work more hours overall.
The Best Kind of Software for Architects — Keep Productivity Soaring in the Clouds
Where do you begin? Well, I wouldn’t advise you to invest in a full-blown ERP or project management software from the start.
Instead, aim for a simple and affordable cloud-based software. It should require no installation, and be easy to…
- get started — there should be no IT knowledge required
- pay for on a monthly basis — or cancel, if necessary
- upgrade — because who has time to upgrade manually?
With cloud software solutions, you’ll have access to your data…
- anytime — day or night
- anywhere — from your office, out in the field, or on the go
- with any device — laptop, tablet, or phone
Think of the countless times you wanted to access a floor plan or another document on-site, but you couldn’t. And that’s only one example.
Our Top 7 Cloud Software for Architects, and What Will They Cost You?
Get on cloud nine with our list of software that I think are useful — if not mandatory — for solo architects or those who work in small teams.
1. CAD Software
I’m no expert in CAD software, but whether it’s Vectorworks, AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, or something else, you need a drawing software. And chances are high that this will be your highest software expenditure.
Depending on what you need and where you live, prices vary a lot.
Here are some examples:
- ArchiCAD: starting at $2,760 purchase, plus $175/month subscription
- AutoCAD: starting at $177/month; no upfront purchase
- Vectorworks: $3,295 one-time purchase; no monthly subscription costs
These three should make for a good start. Given the importance of CAD software for architects, it’s definitely a bad idea to pick one based on price alone.
So, consider not only your budget, but also your specific requirements.
2. Document Management Software, Document Editing, and Email
As an architect, you need a decent solution to manage all your documents. Your quotes, contracts, drawings, and floor plans need to be stored securely. And, of course, they need to be accessible from anywhere, anytime.
If you don’t yet have cloud-based document management software, this should be a priority. It will save you lots of time and hassle, and give you a professional polish that your clients will notice.
Google and Microsoft offer solutions for document management, combined with (among others) document editing and collaboration, and email.
But I recommend that you consider one provider (e.g. Google or Microsoft) that covers all of this in one solution. Don’t spend time juggling different solutions for emails, document editing, and document management. That’d be a huge hassle.
If you work with Google Cloud, you can use:
- Google Drive for storing and sharing documents
- Gmail for email
- Google Docs instead of Word
- Google Sheets instead of Excel
It’s a very affordable solution. For $12/month, you’ll have all of this and up to 1 TB storage.
BTW, it’s possible to use Gmail with your own email domain.
Alternatively, there’s Office 365. That will give you Microsoft Word and Excel, email, and 1 TB OneDrive space for $12.50/user.
If you’re looking for a solution for document management and collaboration only, there is, of course, also Dropbox. For around $11/month/user, you get 5 TB storage space.
At ArchiSnapper, we use the Google Cloud environment for all of this, and it’s perfect for us.
3. Time-Tracking and Invoicing
Don’t spend precious minutes manually logging hours and invoicing your clients. Do you really have time to manually input your hours into a spreadsheet, calculate the billable amount, copy the customer info into a Word template, then generate a PDF, etc.?
Really, your time is too valuable for all that!
Consider a simple time-tracking software that lets you track time per project, and that will automatically generate a professional invoice (with your own logo and branding).
With tools like these, you can easily track the time you work for a specific client. Your monthly reports and invoices will be generated automatically.
Want to find out more about time-tracking apps for architects? Read this article.
4. Simple Project Management Tool
At ArchiSnapper, we use Trello to keep track of the pending tasks per project. It lets you create tasks and move them from one column (e.g. “TO-DO”) to another (e.g. “DONE”).
If you keep losing your post-its, emailing to-do items to yourself, or writing them on a piece of paper, consider Trello. You can, for example, make a board for each project and create a ticket for every task item (e.g. “adjust floorplan”).
The basic package is free and will be sufficient to cover your requirements.
If you want to go further with project management and collaboration, check out these other tools:
- Basecamp: limited free version, or $99/month
- ProofHub: $45/month
- Nifty: limited free version, or $79/month
5. Field Reports and Punch Lists
Drafting architectural field reports or punch lists can easily cost you hours:
- On-site, you take notes with pen and paper, and many pictures with your phone or tablet.
- Then, back at the office, you type out your notes in Word, transfer your pictures to your PC, try to find the right pics, and import them into your Word doc.
- Of course, you also need to get the layout right every time you insert a picture — often a struggle, right? 😉
If you can relate, you might want to try out ArchiSnapper, a simple app that automates the process of drafting field reports and punch lists. You can document items, take photos on-site, and annotate on floor plans and drawings. This app automatically generates a professional field report with your own branding.
This will save you many hours!
ArchiSnapper is only $24/month for 1 user (and $14/month for additional users).
6. Graphic Design
Canva is another great option to help you create beautiful presentations, images for social media, and so on. Even if your graphic design skills are limited, you can create inspiring images thanks to Canva’s many easy-to-use templates. There’s a free version with lots of options, and a Pro plan that starts at $9.95/month.
7. Managing Your Online Portfolio and Website
Hiring a web developer to build a custom website with an integrated portfolio can be massively expensive. And maybe that’s not something you want to do from Day 1.
But as an architect, it’s crucial that you showcase quality pictures of your work. Next to the price you charge, this is a fundamental factor that determines how prospects and clients perceive you.
You can read all about the power of social proof for architects here.
Luckily, there are some very straightforward ways to get started with this. With tools like Format ($6/month), you don’t need to be a web developer to create a beautiful webpage with pictures of your work.
And with Wix, you can build a website from scratch, all by yourself. It has an intuitive drag-and-drop editor — no coding skills required! Prices range from free to $18 a month, depending on the plan you choose. If you want a custom domain — such as YourSite.com — it will be more expensive.
Wix has templates specifically designed for architects. Here are a few excellent examples.
You can build and launch a Wix website from within a single interface. Just log into Wix.com.
WordPress is a free alternative. But before you can get started with your website, you’ll need to do a few small tasks first, such as buying a server subscription and a domain name. WordPress has many more design options, though, and is very customizable.
If you’re set on either Wix or WordPress to build your own website, check out this detailed comparison. If you have little-to-no experience building websites (don’t worry, most architects can relate!), Wix is the better solution, as it’s much easier to set up and maintain.
Read this guide for more options when choosing the right software to build your portfolio website.
Save Big, Even with Just the Bare Essentials
We’ve focused on the most essential software for solo architects or those in small teams — regardless of experience level or specialty. For other architect apps available on the market, check out our top picks for 2020!
To summarize, definitely consider investing in the following:
- CAD software for your drawings. Prices vary depending on your needs.
- Document management software. Ideally, get an all-in-one solution for email, document management, and document editing. You want to be able to access your documents from anywhere, anytime. ~$12/month
- A simple time-tracking and invoicing software. Don’t spend another minute manually logging your time in Excel and drafting an invoice. ~$12/month
- Trello. It’s a simple way to manage your to-do lists. Free!
- ArchiSnapper. Save hours from having to draft field reports and punch lists. $24/month
- Adobe Photoshop, Canva, or some other graphic design tool. You need one to help sell your designs. $10/month
- Format, Wix, or WordPress. You can easily (and affordably) showcase your work and business online. $18/month
Excluding CAD software (whose prices can vary drastically), the total software cost for running a solo architecture practice is $76/month.
Now, here’s something to think about:
- FACT 1: The software tools mentioned in the article — costing $76/month altogether — will save you many hours every month.
- FACT 2: Many architects charge $70 or more for one hour of billable work.
- Conclusion: Investing some time in selecting and adopting the right tools will yield a huge ROI, with monthly dividends paid out in the form of many extra billable hours, at a cost of only $76/month.
Exactly How Much Can You Save?
Let’s run some numbers and assume you do the following:
- Charge $70/hour.
- Use the tools mentioned in this article, at a cost of around $76/month.
- Each month, save four hours (though, I think probably more).
This means four extra hours that can go to billable work, every month. Which means that the monthly gain comes at: (4 hours x $70/hour) – $76 = $204 every month, at least!
Not to mention the benefit and peace of mind that comes from no longer having to struggle with all those tedious admin tasks.
Any Other Software for Architects You Can Recommend?
If you think I’m missing something, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Don’t hesitate to share them by leaving a comment below. We’re not looking for nice-to-have software, but for the true essentials — software that all solo architects or architects in small teams should use to save time on admin work, and spend more time on billable work.
Remember this: Just as with stocks, where you invest some money now to gain more money later, the same goes for software. Make smart time investments now to gain huge profits in the future.
P.S. Ever consider outsourcing to a virtual assistant for tasks that can’t be automated with software? Check out this guide.
- Best Apps for Architects – Our selection for 2020
- 6 Great Social Proof Strategies for Architects and Contractors
- 9 Simple Things Architects, Engineers or Contractors Can Do To Boost Their Revenue
- Inbound Marketing 101: How Architects and Contractors can Gain New Leads While Spending Less Money
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