Your Own Architecture Firm Pt II

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

As a continuation of the previous post regarding issues involved with operating your own firm, I am going to reflect on a few more considerations…

INDEPENDENCE. Yes, you left your previous employment or went out on your own with this as one of your main reasons, I am sure. But be aware that this new independence is not all fun and freedom. It can be at times for certain, but it also comes with an almost immeasurable load of responsibilities. Brand new challenges that you can’t even imagine at the moment. Trust me! My advice on this matter is quite simple; although you are independent, you are not alone. So do not make yourself an island. I know that as architects we tend to be very competitive and almost like to devour other architects. This is not helpful to our profession as a whole, but that is a completely different diatribe altogether. What I am advising is to find another architect or firm that you can use in a mentorship manner. It helps to discuss issues of ownership with others in the same position. Maybe it could be someone who has been an owner for longer or maybe someone just like you who has been independent for the same amount of time. The main idea here is to create some camaraderie. It is essential to know that others are facing or have faced the same issues as you go through this journey of ownership. It may not even be someone in your own area. That may make it easier. Because it seems, as architects, we seem to view others as our competition. But I would urge you to find some other architect or firm to commiserate with over the highs and lows of ownership.

You are the boss!

You are the boss!

HUMILITY. This one coincides with portions of independence and with integrity. It is a fact that you must face as an owner and self employed person. Every project is worth something. Not all of them are going to be award winners. But you need to be realistic about certain aspects of firm ownership. I mean when it comes down to it, you want to make some income.  Ownership is a delicate balance between idealism and realism. And it can swing either way and usually will as you progress through ownership. Realities must be faced; but ideals should not be lost. I know that some would say you are doing the profession a disservice by taking “unattractive” projects. But I feel that every project deserves an architect. No matter how small or mundane. We bring something to the process that no one else in the industry can. So even if the project is not headed to your portfolio, give your expertise to it anyway. Humility also comes in the form of realizing that you do not know everything. You may certainly know an abundance, and I could be almost sure that is why you felt ready to head out on your own. But you must realize that it is impossible to know everything about operating a business. You will need to make sure to rely on others to help you. And this is true, I think, at any stage of ownership. The game of ownership is one that is in constant motion. You cannot do all tasks and do them well. You cannot have all the answers and make them correct answers. If that is what you believe, you are fooling yourself. And as architects, we often have a bit of ego that pushes us to feel that way. At times you must swallow some humble pie and admit that you did not know exactly what you were getting yourself into. And that relates to some of the mentorship notions above. It may also be as simple as seeking advice from outside sources and not feeling like you are a bad owner. You would want someone to come to you for architectural advice. Do the same if you have a need. It will make life easier.

Your Own Architecture Firm Pt II

Your Own Architecture Firm Pt II

PESERVERANCE. This one is almost a no brainer. But it is one of the qualities that can make or break your firm. If it is important to you, do not quit. At times that may be the only thing on your mind. I know that I have been there many times. It would certainly be easier to go back to working for someone and not have to deal with all of these (non-architectural) responsibilities. And it would be, but once you have the taste of ownership, it may be very difficult to imagine. The first time you land a good project and the satisfaction that comes from that accomplishment can endure and last through many other disappointments. Trust me. But one thing I have learned as a small firm owner is that our work load is an ebb and flow. It always has been. And it may always be that way. I think that most firms may be like that. It is almost the nature of our industry. As a small firm it is partly because when you are really busy and have an overabundance of work, you are not seeking any. Then when the work is done, you have no more lined up and start looking. But also it just seems to be partly the nature of things. Yes I am sure that some firms are one hundred percent busy all the time. But I think that most firms, no matter size, have a cyclical nature to their workload.  This is something that you may have never noticed as an employee. But you will definitely notice this as the head of the firm. The key is to persevere.  Stay strong and continue to seek out work. Try every avenue. Apply for every RFQ. Do everything you can to find ways to pick up projects. And realize that every project could lead to another. You may not see it, but often I find that is the case. One can lead to another and another. Because you can build relationships and those are key to getting more work. And eventually more projects help you grow and get more projects. So stay strong and vigilant. It will pay off in time.

BASICS. I know that these are really basic notions for anyone who is going to step out into business for themselves. And they may be common knowledge to all. But I felt it was good to present them from the perspective of a young architect owner, who in mid life is working to make ends meet and hopes to create a place in the world of architecture. And to possibly let anyone else in the same position know that they are not alone in the struggle of the independent small firm.

 

 

 

PS. I appreciate and am very grateful for the responses to my first part of this article. I was astounded. So I want to express gratitude to all those who took the time to read my ramblings. Thanks.