Software (costs) for Solo Architects
Selecting and using the right software is something many architects struggle with.
When talking or emailing with architects, I often get questions like:
- “Do I need a full-blown ERP / project management software or not?”
- “Do you know something simple for time tracking and invoicing?”
- “What tools are other architects using?“
That’s why I decided to create this overview of different types of software I think most architects need, along with price info.
You’re probably struggling to find the time to investigate and test different software tools and apps.
That’s totally understandable: it takes some time to download, deep-dive and try them.
I would like to point out, though, that you should think of this as an investment.
You invest time and effort now – trying and adopting a piece of software – to enjoy the benefits and time savings later on.
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 automatically mean you should be working more hours in general.
The first thing you should try is to reduce the number of hours that you spend on non-billable tasks.
You don’t want to waste your valuable time on admin tasks such as drafting invoices based on your manual time logs in Excel, following up payments, writing out field reports in Word, printing floor plans, mailing yourself docs and TO DO items, printing your accounting documents and bringing them to your accountant, etc.
This is where software comes into play.
By investing your time (and money) in getting started with the right software, you can automate a lot of repetitive admin tasks. This will save you plenty of hours: month after month, after month, after … you get my point 😉.
Now you can use all these time savings to work directly on client projects. Billable hours. An easy way to increase your profitability – without putting in more hours overall.
So what kind of software does a solo architect need?
I wouldn’t advise you to invest in a full-blown ERP or project management software from day one.
I recommend simple and affordable cloud-based software that doesn’t require any installations and that:
- is easy to get started with: there should be no IT knowledge required.
- you can pay for or cancel on a monthly basis
- and doesn’t need any manual upgrades.
With cloud software solutions, you automatically have access to your data at any time (day or night), from anywhere (from your office, out in the field or on the go) and with any device (laptop, tablet, phone).
The ability to work on any device at any time alone can give your productivity a huge boost. 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.
So what cloud software does an architect exactly need, and what does it cost?
Here’s a list of software types that I think are useful or mandatory for solo architects, together with some cost indications.
1/ CAD software
I’m not an expert in CAD software and couldn’t possibly recommend one.
But whether it’s Vectorworks, AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, or another one … 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 3 examples:
- Archicad: starting at €2760 purchase, plus €175/month subscription.
- Autocad: starting at €177/month. No upfront purchase.
- Vectorworks: €3295 one-time purchase, no monthly subscription costs.
Again, this is just to give some cost indication. I don’t have any recommendations on which one is best for you as it depends on your specific requirements.
Given the importance of CAD software for architects, it’s definitely not a good idea to pick one based on price only.
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 accessible from anywhere, at any time.
If you don’t have a cloud-based document management software yet, this should be a priority. It will save you lots of time and hassle, and it makes a professional impression on your clients.
Google and Microsoft offer solutions for document management, combined with (among others) document editing and collaboration, and email. I recommend considering one provider (e.g. Google or Microsoft) that covers all of this in one solution, compared to using different solutions for emails, document editing, and document management.
If you work with Google Cloud, you can use Google Drive for storing and sharing documents, Gmail for email, and Google Docs and Spreadsheets as alternatives to Word and Excel. It’s a very affordable solution: for $12/month, you’ll have all this and up to 1 TB storage. Btw, it’s possible to use Gmail with your own domain (e.g., email@example.com)
Alternatively, there’s Office 365, where you have Microsoft Word and Excel, Email, and 1 TB OneDrive space for $12.5/user.
If you’re looking for a solution for document management and collaboration only, there’s, 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 this works OK for us.
3/ Time tracking and invoicing
You don’t want to spend your precious time manually logging hours and invoicing your clients. Writing down the number of hours worked in a spreadsheet, then calculating the billable amount, copying the customer info into a Word template, generating a PDF … Really, your time is too valuable for this!
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.
If you want to find out more about time-tracking apps for architects: read this article.
4/ Simple Project Management tool
Ar ArchiSnapper, we’re using 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’re struggling with post-its, if you’re emailing TO-DO items to yourself, or writing them on a piece of paper, you should consider Trello. You can, for example, make a board per project and create a ticket for every TO-DO (e.g. ‘adjust floorplan’):
The basic package is free and will be sufficient to cover your requirements.
5/ Field reports and punch lists
Drafting architectural field reports or punch lists can easily take one hour or more of your time:
- On-site, you take notes with pen and paper and many pictures with your phone or tablet.
- Then – back at the office – you have to type out the notes in Word, transfer your pictures to your PC, try to find the right ones, and import them into your Word doc.
- Not to mention the struggle to get the layout right every time you insert a picture ;)
ArchiSnapper is 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 comes at $24/month for 1 user (and $14/month for additional users).
6/ Graphic design
Canva is another great option with endless possibilities for the creation of beautiful presentations, images for social media and so on. Even with limited graphic design skills, you can create inspiring images thanks to its numerous easy-to-use templates. There is a free version with a lot of options. The Pro plan starts at $ 9.95/month.
7/ Manage your online portfolio and website
Hiring a web developer to build a custom website with an integrated portfolio can be quite expensive. Maybe that’s not something you want to do from day one.
As an architect, however, it’s crucial to 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 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 web page with pictures of your work.
With Wix, you can build a website from scratch, all by yourself. No coding skills required. Wix can be used by anyone to make a website (with drag and drop). Prices range from free to $18 a month, depending on which 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. You can discover some examples here.
A Wix website can be built and launched within a single interface. The only thing you need to do is log in to Wix.com.
WordPress is a free alternative. But, before you can actually get started with your website, you’ll need to fulfill a couple of small tasks. You need to buy a server subscription and a domain name, for example. WordPress has many more design options, though, and is very customizable.
Here you can find a comparison between Wix and WordPress to build your own website. For someone who – like most architects – has no experience with building websites, Wix is the best solution as it’s much easier to set up and maintain.
Check out this guide if you want to compare more options when choosing the right software to build your portfolio website.
Although there are many other software solutions and apps for architects available on the market, I am convinced that the ones mentioned above are the essentials for an architect.
- You need CAD software for your drawings => prices vary depending on your needs.
- You need a document management software to access your documents from anywhere 24/7 – by preference an all in one solution for email, document management, and document editing => $12/month approx
- You want to use a simple time tracking and invoicing software, instead of logging your time in excel and manually drafting invoices => $12/month approx
- Trello can help you managing your TO DO lists in a very simple and free way=> free
- With ArchiSnapper you will save many hours on drafting field reports and punch lists => $24/month
- You probably also need a graphic designing tool like Adobe Photoshop or Canva to convey and sell your designs => $10/month
- With tools like Format or Wix, you can easily (and at an affordable price) showcase your work and business online => $18/month
If we exclude CAD software (of which prices vary too much) this brings the total monthly software cost for running a solo architecture practice to $76/month.
Now, here is something to think about:
FACT 1: The software tools mentioned in the article – costing $76/month all together – will save you many hours every month.
FACT2: Many architects charge $70 or more for one hour of billable work.
Conclusion of FACT 1 + FACT 2: investing some of your 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.
- Let’s assume you charge $70 per hour.
- Let’s assume you use the tools mentioned in this article, at the cost of around $76/month.
- Let’s assume you save 4 hours of time every month, using these tools (I think it will be more tbh). This means 4 extra hours that can go to billable work, every month.
- This means the monthly gain comes at 4 hours at $70 or $280 minus $76 software expenses, or a net gain of $204 every month (at least!).
Not to mention the benefit and peace of mind that comes from no longer having to struggle with all these tedious manual admin tasks.
If you think I’m missing something, I would love to hear your thoughts. Don’t hesitate to share your opinion by leaving a comment below. We’re not looking for nice-to-have software, but for the true essentials. Software that every solo architect should use to save time on admin, and spend more time on billable work.
Remember this. Just as with stocks where you invest money now to gain more money later, the same goes for software: make smart time investment decisions now to profit (a lot!) from it in the future.
P.S. Ever considered outsourcing to a virtual assistant for tasks that can not be automated with software? Check out this guide.
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