So You Want to Own Your Own Architecture Firm…

  • 19 Jun 2012
  • by
  • Editorial
Courtesy of Andrew Maynard Architects

By Andrew Hawkins

Following the popular post, Work/Life/Work by Andrew Maynard, about the realities of the corporate architecture profession and the necessity of working for yourself, we bring you this blog post by Andrew Hawkins from his blog Hawkins Architecture, which explains what it’s like to own your own firm. 

So you want to own your own firm. Well by all means, no time like today. Get the branding started. But there are hundreds of issues that you must be willing to address. I want to speak about a few today from my perspective as an operator of a small firm for going on 6 years. These are just topics to consider and your thoughts on them will surely be different. But they are worth the discussion. So…

Selgas Cano Architecture Office. Photo © Iwan Baan.

Architecture

Once you operate your own firm, the first thing to slide is architecture. I mean that in a sense of it is usually your last concern. Not the smallest, but the last. It is not completely absent from your workings; how could it be? But it becomes less of a primary focus of your workday.

As an employee you can focus your entire day upon the pursuit of architecture. As an owner, you do not always have such luxuries. You have to worry about insurance, payroll, taxes, office supplies, technology, job security, finding the next project, finishing the current project, marketing, paying the bills, paying yourself…… You get the picture. It’s not that you lose the passion for architecture, but that the time for it becomes scarcer. In some ways you begin to love the act of creating architecture more, because you seem to do it less.

Now I only can speak to this as single person who operates a small 4-5person firm. I am sure if there were others to share the burdens of business management, it may be a different animal. But I think that it is not too different from what I can tell. As architects, most of us do not thrive in the role of business manager. It is not really our area. Not our higher calling. Yet to set out on your own path, you must confront this side of the profession. Be it alone or among friends, it must be addressed. And it is not always enjoyable. But as architects, we also have a unique way of working through those tasks. And sometimes that is beneficial.

After all, we are but organizers of parts, manipulators of pieces. And this part of the profession is yet another challenge to be resolved. But you need to realize that is can be a very demanding part.

Bridge Studio / Saunders Architecture. Photo © Bent René Synnevåg.

Balance

This is one of my toughest. In the beginning, balance can be very hard to come by. The fight or flight instinct seems to be at an all time high. At least at some point, you will wonder… ”Why in the hell did I ever think this was a good idea.” You will lose sleep, lack nourishment, and possibly age rapidly. It may not happen immediately. You may have started out with a great new client or project that made the initial transition quite painless. But at some point, it will happen. But be able to look past this and ensure that your life stays in balance.

You can easily lose sight of the more important issues in your life. Friends. Family. Relaxation. Sleep. Joy. Happiness. And so many other things can get blurred. Make sure to make the time for those things that actually make your life better.  It may be difficult to do in the darkest of hours, but that is when you need to get out into the light the most. Crawl out from under the dark looming cloud of work. Breathe in some fresh air from some place beyond work and thoughts of architecture, business, and deadlines. It is essential for your survival.

It may not always be evident at the time, but it is critical to step back from time to time and see the larger perspective. As architects, we excel at this within our professional lives, but often, we lack that ability greatly in our personal lives.

Tovin Studios / Sebastian Quinn Building Workshop. Photo © Francois Dischinger.

Integrity

This one is more about professional integrity. I see this happen from time to time. And it is easy to be tempted. But you must stand up for the profession of architecture.

Out on your own it can be difficult to not devalue yourself and your services; especially in an economy and times such as these. But stand strong.  Protect your future, by protecting your current worth. If you do not value your services, why will those who aim to hire you.

Also ensure that all your work is your best. That type of integrity can ensure your future as well. Every client is worth your expertise. If you do not feel that way, do not take them as a client. Certainly there is a definite range of clientele, but you have the ability to choose. You just have to be strong enough to exercise that right to choose.

You are now the representation of the profession. As an employee you can somewhat hide behind the veil of your employer, but that all ends once you step outside the veil. You are now the embodiment of Architecture. So make sure to do it justice.

Tower Studio / Saunders Architecture. Photo © Bent René Synnevåg

I know that this may seem like lots of doom and gloom. But it is not meant to be. It was just a way to start a dialog about the issues involved in stepping out on your own. These are issues best to think about and confront even prior to your decisions. It is not a path for everyone. It is just as difficult at times as it is rewarding. Just like the pursuit of great design and architecture.

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "So You Want to Own Your Own Architecture Firm…" 19 Jun 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 Jul 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=245718>

17 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    You just descrided my first yrs in bussiness it took 2 years to find the balance it near broke up my marrage but we made it and now have days of for family and fun

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Overall a good post.

    I would recommend a thorough edit before posting.
    The third paragraph under “Integrity” has a misspelling; “Also ensure that all your work it your best”. (should be “…is your best”)
    It seems a bit ironic to have a misspelling under this topic heading and specifically in this sentence.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +4

    I couldn’t had put it better! Well done! I would just add: learn to say NO. Not only to clients, but to all the interveners in a project. If you are not prepare to say NO you cannot work for yourself.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    What you said is right – but i have to say – this goes without saying to any starting job ! whether its a lawyer, a Dr., etc. We as architects always complain ! Of course you need to manage, of course you need to balance, and definitely you have to do your best at anything !

  5. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    if you work for others, one day you’ll to old for them. And then?. – … You can fill in the blank ………

  6. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    Anyone else find it interesting that He talks about integrity and standing up for architecture and valuing your services, yet he designs Burger Kings?!? Major hypocrite here.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      You can still have integrity while doing a Burger King! while it may not be the project of choice, when running a business you need your bread and butter to keep the business afloat, while you go after the gems we all dream about as architects. Integrity implies the utmost professionalism regardless of the project.

      I too am thinking of starting a company and i have spend some time trying to understand the business side of the business. its definitely not all glamour.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Got to say… this, and the previous article of this Sr where the most inspiring texts ive read in loooong time.

    Tx for publishing

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Good thought about one own firm..but i think this applies to those who can’t afford pressure..while those who were able to make it in architecture school have acquired skills of time management…moreover one can still own his own firm and hire someone to do all the business management job.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      Thanks for the blog comment. Im a recent graduate and for the last 5 years I’ve been plotting the pros and cons of beginning a firm of my own. It’s gonna happen without a doubt and your thoughts about the business prep me and take me one step closer to my soon to be dream. Watch out everybody cause my Firm “x” is coming soon!

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    great article, so right to the point!! I started my own firm 7 years ago and thank God I have a partner who is an engineer and he has taken over the whole first paragraph, so that I don’t have to worry about this type of things, and focus only on the design work. my advice is to always choose a good partner and never give up!!

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