10 challenges to working solo

5 June 2014

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If you read yesterday’s post, you discovered I am a solo practitioner architect and happy to do so right now.

There are good and bad things to every choice you make; I’ve discovered there is no greener grass, just different grass. In fact Jojo thought the grass was greener in California…oh wait, you’re saying that wasn’t what that song was about? I don’t understand.

Anyway, I think it’s important for anyone considering hanging out their own shingle to think hard before you make this choice. It’s right for me but it’s not right for everyone. The income can fluctuate greatly and there might be times when there is little or no income. Of course there are opportunities to do very well. Here are a few thoughts to balance the discussion with yesterday’s perks.

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10. There is no one to get instant feedback, no office crits, no studio pin-up

9. There is no one who brings in food to share

8. Accounting, billing, and other business aspects of this profession (call Mark or Enoch for help)

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7. I have to talk to myself (hmm…would do that anyway)

6. Complete creative control comes at a risk of being stale, myopic or worse obtuse

5. No sharing of liability, I get all of the blame

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4. Which leads to…no one else to blame “that smell” on

3. The skill set and knowledge base is limited to mine alone and the speed at which I can increase it

2. Doing all of the tedious tasks…alone

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And the number one challenge of working solo….

1. The phone is always for me

There are solutions to all of these challenges (except for #4). What are your challenges? What did you discover once you went on your own? I’d love to have a long list for another post.

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21 Responses to “10 challenges to working solo”

  1. Heather Says:

    I really like these last 2 posts, as I’ve been thinking about freelancing after mat leave for some flexibility. Curious to see what others have done, and what they consider negatives. I never wanted to run my own business, but I actually know a thing or 2 about accounting.


  2. I love the solo practitioner life! I feel like I’m 10x more efficient than in the big firm and that I can pass those efficiencies and benefits along to my clients. It would be good to have a weekly “crit club” meeting though, maybe social media (Hangout?) is the way?

  3. FiELD9arch Says:

    I am currently a solo practitioner as well and can relate to pretty much everything in these past two posts. With regards to item #10, i recently had a project that the CDs were produced relatively fast, there were some complex code issues to deal with, and quite a few last minute changes. So i hired a fellow Architect (Jes Stafford of Modus Operandi Design) to review the drawings for consistency prior to submitting for permits. It was worth the piece of mind to have a fresh set of eyes on the drawing. It was not ‘instant’, but pretty close to it. And Jes is several states away. Technology definitely affords us opportunities to collaborate that were not available to us in the recent past.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Wow, that’s great Matthew. I think that opens up another discussion of how collaboration could work and how social media can open those opportunities.


  4. Lee I felt like I was reading my own list – totally identify. Required reading for someone thinking of going out alone.

    Thanks for the mention by the way.

  5. jane Says:

    1) no one to share the difficult client – ‘good cop / bad cop’ style, or just when I run out of patience! or to crit a meeting and figure out a strategy.
    2) no one to say, “Don’t accept the blame!”
    corollary: no one to laugh when I’m sure I’m a failure,
    and: no one to say” Yes, you did the work and more. Put a
    stamp on the bill and mail it!”
    3) the work is always there, even when your office is in the barn
    across the driveway or in town
    4) easy to not connect with other design professionals.
    I have very good relationships with my engineers and
    contractors, kitchen designers, etc. but know few architects well
    5) therefore it is easy to be out of touch with the main stream of the profession.

    I live simply so that I can do this – well worth it.

  6. Doug Says:

    Here’s my phone message tree:

    “Please listen carefully because our menu choices have recently changed”

    “If you wish to reach the President of the company, press 1″
    “If you wish to reach the receptionist, press 1”
    “If you wish to reach the design department, press 1″
    “If you wish to reach the drafting department, press 1″
    “If you wish to reach the guy conceptualizing your city master plan, press 1”
    “If you wish to reach the guy drawing your toilet partition details, press 1″
    “If you wish to reach the department that just “does blueprints” , press 1″
    “If you wish to reach the department that specializes in houses on narrow waterfront lots with significant critical area issues, press 1″
    “If you wish to reach the department that specializes in houses on large lots in the country with no critical area issues, press 1″
    “If you wish to reach the department that specializes in houses with small budgets, press 1″
    “If you wish to reach the department that specializes in houses with large budgets, press 1″
    “For a replay of our menu press 1″
    “For the operator, press 1″….and….
    “For all other departments, press 1″.

  7. jill Says:

    I had a terrible fear when I first staryed out on my own of judgement from the world about my design decisions and aesthetic. For the first time in my profesional life, the design was all about me, and not the guy who’s name was on the door. The fear eventually subsided, and i’m glad i took the leap. Because having only myself to answer to really pushed me to grow creatively and just to embrace life, really. I agree w/ most of your downsides to working alone, but luckily for me, the benefits out way the costs.

  8. Chris Lyle Says:

    Great posts Lee. I find that after 8 years on my own and 8 years with “big firms” prior to that, I would add the following “big picture’ challenges:
    1-It is very difficult to maintain the respect and understanding of those around you through the ups and downs of solo practice. Working for a “big firm” might seem to be more stable to those in your personal life.
    2-The general public see bigger firms as “smarter, better, more prestigious and higher paying” despite that not being the case in most instances.
    3-The regulatory bodies and schools are undermining the viability of solo practice through credential inflation, legal moonlighting and reduce standards of qualification. In Ontario the regulatory body says solo practices are now “part-time” and they suggest “supplementing income with a part time job”. Moonlighting is now legal and solo architects compete for small projects with “weekend architects” who have full time jobs elsewhere. NCARB is now endorsing licencing at graduation. Outsourcing overseas is now common and easy for any client to do. In the eyes of the public architects are a dime a dozen and you might just loose that next project to a recent grad who is seen as your equal.
    4-Big firms continue to steer the profession and failed to provide quality services and project delivery. Every time a big name architect makes errors it reflects poorly on your practice. Your clients will read negative press about architects and you will have to defend yourself against the errors of the ‘press-worthy’.

    • leecalisti Says:

      Great thoughts Chris. Some are a bit sobering, but things to consider. I really wonder what will happen to the mid-size firm in the future. The big firm will always exist, but what happens to the guys in the middle that are too big to be like us and too small to play in the big leagues.

      • Chris Lyle Says:

        I know its sobering but again I am trying to make relevant points and not qualify them as positive or negative. I sometimes wonder if I should just hang around the punch-bowl more but I treat this as “professional media” less than social media I guess. I can sound like a jerk but its relevant. Its not easy to find a balance when writing online but I am trying to learn how to write from guys like you. I am not very good at it but my comments only take a few minutes and I am getting noticed and getting projects based on my ‘demonstrating knowledge’. I got the idea from one of Enoch’s posts and it is starting to work despite some negative feedback from those who are spiking the punch-bowl.

        The mid-sized firms are vanishing. Big firms will not be considered architecture firms but more engineering AEC mega-firms that have architects in house. The solo architects where I am working now were 70% of membership in 2002, and 48% in 2011. Many of those 48% are “part time” practices as well where the solo architect has a full time job elsewhere (often a big firm) so in real terms solo architects have been halved in 10 years. We have a provincial election here thursday which may result in many changes overnight as most mid-sized firms rely on wasteful public spending to maintain their business (5 school boards for example). I would be very very worried if I had 10-12 staff right now and did schools etc. Thankfully, I am well-positioned to adapt but the mid-sized firms are struggling to find work in the midst of Toronto’s big building boom. Design own operate is the way I want to go but I cant get the $$ together just yet.

      • leecalisti Says:

        To be honest, apart from an occasional joke or two with my online friends, its more like professional media to me too. You’ve never said or written anything worth criticism in my book. I call ‘em as I see ‘em and so should you. I don’t want consensus just to make me feel good, I want honesty and a united front for architects.


  9. […] think | architect about the negatives of being a sole practitioner. You can read his post here- 10 challenges to working solo. He asked for others thoughts on the matter and I needed a post topic accepted. If you read my post […]


  10. […] think | architect about the negatives of being a sole practitioner. You can read his post here- 10 challenges to working solo. He asked for others thoughts on the matter and I needed a post topic accepted. If you read my post […]


  11. Spot on Lee, ours are a bit different but the undertow is the same!


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