10 after 10

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This past February, I celebrated being in business for myself ten years.  < loud applause >  Yes, thank you. However, it wasn’t until May of 2003 that I had any projects. Mark it however, you see fit. Through the good years and bad years, I’m still here because  I have nowhere else to go, no one else would hire me I’ve persevered and am blessed that I still have a job. I wish I could say that of all architects; the recession was cruel.

I suppose after ten years one would think I know something more than when I started. Yet as I was thinking about this topic for the past several months, it was hard to think of anything to share. As I was driving home from an evening of AIA continuing education (I’ll write about that one in months to come), I rattled off the first ten things that came to mind into my cell phone (talk to text feature with a hands free device – oh yeah.). I consider these more observations than advice, but if it helps you that’s great. To be honest I’d rather hear your list, I could really learn from those of you with 15, 20, or more years of self-employment experience. Nevertheless, this is what I came up with so far.

  1. Time management – Finish up the project you are on right now as soon as possible; the next one will come soon and you need be ready. Projects that linger on only cost you money and don’t make your clients happy. In other words, don’t fill your time up with the little work you have.
  2. Marketing – Do not turn away work simply because you think you have other projects about to happen. It is likely you’ll end up with no work (…learned this the hard way…). Without a signed contract (and retainer) it’s not a project. Just for the record, feel free to turn away work for other reasons, but that’s another topic.
  3. Management – Be organized and on top of everything. As Yoda would say, “do or do not, there is no try.”
  4. Planning – Do the task (of the day) that you hate the most first…it is not going away, it needs to get done. If you’re reading this now instead of doing that task, go do it, I’ll wait for you to return.
  5. Clients – Give all of your active clients an update every week to where you are on their projects even if you have a little or nothing to say. They will appreciate it.
  6. Marketing – Everyone you talk to may be a source for a potential referral, even the young barista at Starbucks making your morning coffee. The best person to market for you is someone else who will speak highly of you and your work. They will reach people you cannot who in turn will reach even more people. People trust their friends and colleagues, so they’ll trust you. (See Jody’s blog about this).
  7. Design Integrity – Find at least one thing in every design project that you can celebrate or highlight. Regardless of the client, they hired an architect after all – make it look like they did. Also, they hired YOU, not the next guy, so respectfully leave a mark….with permission. Putting up your picture or a plaque with your name is just poor taste though.
  8. Self assessment – Learn your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses. Consider having someone else do what you are weaker in doing. If you cannot afford to hire someone else, then go back to item #4. You may just find your weaknesses are really your strengths taken to extremes.
  9. Image – You only truly own your name and image; guard it. (This is also connected to item #6). Design your ID package carefully and be sure that everything with your name on it measures up to your quality level to the extent you can control. Everything doesn’t have to be “final” quality drawings, but your sketching, handwriting and writing skills need to be sharp. Don’t settle for common or template-type business cards, letterhead, envelopes or a website. Promote your image everywhere, but be tasteful and professional. You are in a design and creative field after all. It should be evident.
  10. Passion – Remember you are an architect. Remember the things that got you into this field and don’t lose sight of those. Continue to draw, continue to sketch, continue to dream, and don’t be just a technician. Be proud that you can do some things that others can’t do; otherwise why will they hire you? If you lose the passion and fuel that drives you, the rest of this list is pointless.

Here is a bonus one…be prepared for change, you can count on it.


photos are from hisks stock photo gallery on Stock.Xchng (used under the Standard Restrictions

10 after 10

10 thoughts on “10 after 10

  1. Great tips/advice. I’ll be printing this one out and tacking up at my desk…I’m sure I can make it ten years, whether I have any projects, well that’s another issue 😉

  2. Awesome!
    Architecture is a Fame Game – see #6
    I find myself waiting an awful lot for clients to make decisions or give feedback so I can move forward. I currently have 6 projects on the table and there are days when there are no billable hours. Learning to deal with that has been tough.

  3. Congratulations Lee! I went through a revisioning/business plan process for myself last fall and suddenly realized I’d been in business 15 years! Many of the conclusions I came up with mirror your observations, but I did develop an action plan and at a 6 month review was amazed at how far down the path I was going! I also liked Jody’s blog and am sharing it with others!

    1. You don’t need 10 years in to have something wise to share. The joy of being connected to people around the world gives all of us a chance to learn from each other.

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