I am not a freelancer or a person that does freelance work. I am a sole-practitioner architect.
By no means do I feel any sense of superiority over those that provide services in that manner, but I won’t feel inferior to architectural firms that have multiple employees, multiple principals and a copy machine. I am here to set the record straight for me and the community of my fellow sole-practitioner architect friends. Yes, this is a response to a brief interaction I had last week when being introduced. When I politely corrected the person, I apologized for sounding snobby (as I handed out a business card that is pretty slick I might add). However, I stated clearly that I own a firm and am not a freelancer.
I know…it’s no wonder nobody ever wants to sit next to me.
According to Wikipedia (the source of all absolute truth and knowledge) “a freelancer, freelance worker, or freelance is a person who is self-employed and is not committed to a particular employer long-term. These workers are sometimes represented by a company or an agency that resells their labor and that of others to its clients with or without project management and labor contributed by its regular employees. Others are completely independent. “Independent contractor” would be the term used in a higher register of English.“
According to the 2012 AIA Firm Survey, there were over 17,500 firms owned by AIA members (that doesn’t capture the firms in the country owned by non-AIA members). With just that figure alone, there are over 4,500 sole-practitioner firms; that is an average of 91 firms per state. To add more perspective to this discussion, the AIA reports that over 80% of the firms have nine or less members.
I can see where some might confuse this. Yet, I am not the person to let things go, because without open dialogue none of us ever learn anything or try to correct others’ skewed ways of thinking. If it makes you feel any better, I also correct those who call me an engineer. There is no time for that one in this post and I mean no offense to engineers (read Matt’s post here).
To me this concept of freelance (in the world of architecture) implies that the person, albeit independent, is providing their services to supplement the direction and focus of another company, person or entity. They’re not self-sufficient in the sense of autonomy or identity. Perhaps this is semantics and people say things socially that they don’t really mean or understand. Perhaps I’m too sensitive. If you consider yourself a freelancer or do moonlighting work, I mean no offense.
From my point of view, I perform all of the basic services, design, consulting, design tasks, goals, planning, thought and other activities found at most other firms. I just perform them mostly myself at a smaller scale than other firms but I do them to support my company. My colleagues around the country that are sole-practitioners do the same. We may be limited by project size and schedule and in some cases expertise, but we are not limited in terms of quality of work or comprehensiveness of service. We are architects and we do work directly for our clients or the end users or occupants.
Am I being defensive or borderline whiny in this discussion? You decide; I can accept that. Yet, out of respect for one another, why do people in their innocent naivety believe that if you are the only employee of a company, you are a freelance worker (with inferiority implied)?
Today, many architects find themselves alone in their firms. They may choose to be that way like me or they may have ended up that way after the recession. Some may desire to add staff or partners and some may wish to return to another firm. Some may provide services to other architects (or contractors) for many reasons. Some may enjoy the freedom, autonomy and flexibility of being alone. I am not criticizing anyone for their choices. This is where I choose to be right now.
Have you had a similar experience?