DESIGNER COLUMNS & BLOGS / Architecture

Posted in Architecture on June 19, 2014 1:18 pm EDT

A Leap of Faith

So you want to start your own firm. Are you sure? A veteran architect shares his advice on how to get things rolling.


 

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By Jerry L. Halcomb, FAIA

Having your own firm isn't for everyone. Is it right for you? Is it in your gut? For me, I think I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted my own firm. I did have early goals, such as to learn all I could, enjoy my time in college, and graduate with a degree. After graduating with a Masters in Architecture I began working for a few good Dallas architectural firms to become licensed as soon as possible. I think this should be the goal of every architectural intern and in those days, it was. Not so much these days.

"We didn't know what was ahead [and] had no clients, but we were young enough to take the risk."

—Jerry Halcomb,Founder and President, Studio H Consultants

After receiving my architectural license and getting experience with great firms, it seemed that it was time to start a firm of my own. Without much thought my original partner and I borrowed a little money, rented a small office space and opened our office. We didn't know what was ahead [and] had no clients, but we were young enough to take the risk. Back then, it didn't take much to start a practice. We bought some doors to build tables, gathered some supplies and were ready to go. There were no computers and everything was drawn by hand. We were fortunate that our previous firm hired us to do some work for them, and a contractor hired us to help with a couple [of] design/build projects to get us started. I think that today it would be so much harder to start a practice. As I mentioned in my previous blog, it wasn't long into my practice that I had the blessing of being hired to work on a church project, and I knew that was what God wanted for our firm.

Church projects involve auditoriums (theaters), education, recreation, and hospitality areas of practice. The following are some considerations and recommendations if you are considering starting your own firm:

Consider

Start your firm when you are young.

Don’t do it alone. Each partner would have skills that support the other.

Have a “rain maker.” Have clear understanding of responsibilities.

Put family first and consider your staff as “family,” as well.

Failure is not an option, be persistent.

Business

Hire good staff:

A good in-house financial person (CFO) can make a big difference.

Hire Good Consultants

A CPA to grow with.

An attorney that understands architects and architecture.

Remember there will be slow periods (about one every 10 years)

Keep salaries low and pay bonuses later and don’t cut fees to get work.

Invoice monthly and stop work if not paid in a timely manner.

Write good contracts (AIA) and have reviewed by attorney and insurance agent.

 

 

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