How do young start up firms get public work?

How do young firms do it? through connections? through stealing clients from previous day jobs? apply through the rfq process with fingers crossed? all of the above?

Nov 12, 10 1:18 pm

Archinect's UpStarts feature series covers this issue:

Nov 12, 10 1:20 pm

I think the typical way is that the young firm steals a client or several from the parent firm.

Or the principals are independently wealthy.

Nov 12, 10 5:14 pm

Archinect Paul,

From looking at the UpStarts thread, I think that answer is that you have to look badass in your firm's profile pic

Nov 12, 10 5:16 pm

you have to hire a graphic designer and a stylist to look bad ass along with a great photographer.

Nov 12, 10 6:14 pm

i've heard stories from individuals managing capital improvements for various public agencies mention it's about patience with the RFQ process. They start you off small and eventually develop enough of a relationship to build more substantial projects. However the waiting period for your first small project is significant. I was hoping to hear other experiences that people may have had.

The available workload for architects has diminished to the point where firms like Gensler are going after 9,000 sq. ft. community centers. It's difficult to compare qualifications to firms of that scale.

Nov 12, 10 6:22 pm

get to know everyone that has anything to do with the kind of work you want to do. you want to be a name that pops to mind when a potential project comes up. OR, at least, you want your name to be recognized when an rfp response passes in front of them. when your name comes up as part of a 'you ever heard of these folks?' conversation, you want the response to be 'yeah, nice people, very energetic', etc.

stop short of being obnoxious. but only just barely.

and, yes, respond to rfps. this can get expensive and can be frustratingly non-productive. but it's really one of the only ways.

Nov 13, 10 7:08 am

For the most part, they don't. However, I worked as a project manager in a capital improvements department for 3 years, so here's my advice on how to go about it.

Step 1: Do your research to find out what city department oversees construction projects. Usually there is a capital improvements department that oversees construction projects for all of the other city departments. It could also be an engineering department. Or the individual departments (recreation, housing, parks, etc.) might just do it themselves.

Step 2: Find out who is in charge of the department in question and politely request 30 minutes of their time to introduce yourself, your firm, and to learn more about how projects are assigned.

Step 3, The meeting: Things that you want to know... How are projects assigned? Are architects solicited on every project? Or is there a pre-approved list from which the firms are chosen for each project? If there is a pre-approved list, how often is the list updated (i.e. when will the next list be chosen)? Is there a threshold under which a project can be given to anyone not on the list? If the answer is yes, then let them know that you would be interested in taking on a very small project to show them what you can do.

When I had this job, I had a friend that essentially followed the above advice and is now doing a lot of work with the city. Obviously it helps a lot to have experience in the type of projects that you're going after. Like my friend's firm, you will start off with very small and unglamorous projects like bathroom renovations or minor interior renovations but once you build up a good working relationship the projects will grow in size, fee, and interest.

Nov 13, 10 12:01 pm

That's awesome advice, Phillip!

Nov 13, 10 12:37 pm

Define 'public'.

If by 'public' you mean 'publicly accessible' like commercial or retail or instutional or educational that's one thing.

If you mean 'public' like civic, as in publicly funded, schools, prisons, institutions, defense, industry, etc. Then that is different, no?

The Romans used to cover the edges of their forums with covered walkways to keep the citisens out of the rain and/or blistering sun. Is that what you mean by 'public'?

Nov 14, 10 2:00 pm

by public i mean publicly funded projects, which typically requires an RFP process.

thank you for the good advice phillip. your comment was exactly what i was looking for.

Nov 14, 10 9:09 pm

It seems like half the projects available nowadays are publicly funded.  Its been terrible for entrepreneurs and small firms who can't get a foot in the door.  The government is just supporting the established businesses who need the least support, and the ones without government business have a much more difficult time staying afloat...

Mar 11, 14 10:19 am

Is it the Government's primary responsibility to help 'start up' firms or is it the Government's primary responsibility to manage the people's money efficiently by using proven contractors who represent minimal risk of inadequate performance ?

Mar 11, 14 12:09 pm

I'm not saying the government does things the wrong way.  I just think its unfortunate that the government has gotten so large that you need their business to stay afloat.  In the private industry, people are more likely to take chances on businesses that have innovative ideas, and are willing to put in extra effort to get started.

Mar 11, 14 2:06 pm

There's also getting on the disadvantaged list.  So around here, there's a group for small firms, minority owned, or women owned business.  There are projects earmarked for needing to use these disadvantaged firms and a submittal process to be certified.  Once on that list, it increases the chances with the various governing agencies hiring for architects.

Then there are various online publications to get on distribution list for "vendors" where they send out request for proposals.  All government agencies must do the public notice thing.   Also check with the local chamber of commerce and talk to them.  Some Cities also have a business development group that offers various services and search functions free.

Mar 11, 14 5:27 pm

Phillip- you actually taught my advanced architectural design studio at Temple... great memories! :)

Mar 12, 14 9:48 am

@grneggandsam: "its unfortunate that the government has gotten so large that you need their business to stay afloat"

I know a large number of viable firms in my area who do zero work for local, state or federal government agencies. While government work can provide a stabilizing effect to revenue streams, that form of work also can prove to be destabilizing when politics suddenly cause huge fluctuations in public spending priorities.

Mar 12, 14 1:17 pm

Public work is awarded to the most qualified firms to complete the work.

For a young firm, it is a matter of working your way up in scale and project typology. 

Starting with the smallest public works project you can get, proving your ability to complete the work on-time and within budget and just moving up from there.  One firm I know of, did shitters in state parks for years before landing their first school improvement project, but once they secured that, they were on the up and up.  

Although most public work is by law open to public RFQ, the reality is that state or city municipalities, have their short list of favorites before they even begin the process.  

You just gotta work your way up.

Mar 12, 14 1:51 pm

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