Why do you want to start your own firm?

Pretty simple question for discussion: Why do you want to start your own firm? 

I hear a lot of people give advice on the forums about quitting and starting your own firm, and I vaguely remember reading (or I'm making it up) that the majority of registered architects are sole-proprietors. Anecdotally, the majority of people I went to school with wanted to start their own firm one day too. So what is it that drives one to quit working for others and to start their own business? Is it the money, the control, the freedom, the American dream, the potential for a Pritzker, easier than updating the portfolio after getting laid off in a down economy? I've got my own thoughts, but I'm curious to hear others'.

No, I'm not looking to start my own firm right now. Just curious as to why it seems to be the default answer when someone isn't happy at their current firm or with their career progress, or why it seems to be the epitome of success in this profession.

Aug 8, 17 5:15 pm

So you can be a failure on your own terms! 

I really depends on what kind of architecture you want to do. Small scale residential? You just need some experience, a degree, and a client crazy enough to trust you. You want to do billion dollar commercial projects? You will probably never run your own office. 

I think single practitioners who work on small scale projects just want to be left alone. Fudge all that collaboration crap.

Aug 8, 17 5:39 pm

1.  freedom.  Living life on my own terms.  No need to ask for permission to leave early and take my kid to practice, or to go for a mid day swim on a tuesday

2.  I want to design and "Own" my work.   I want to control the creative direction of my work.  

3.  I would rather get paid 100$ an hour for 20 hours of work than 25$ an hour for 80 hours of work.  

4.  I despise office politics.  

Aug 8, 17 6:00 pm
I work at a quick pace and don't think I'll be satisfied until I can set that pace.

Coordination...I spend so much time catching others up to speed in useless meetings that could have been settled if someone had just read what I wrote, I barely get to learn anything new these days. And I really love learning, anything about anything but especially about building(s).

Organization - I'm hyper organized and a list maker/doer, most architects seem not to be.

Scheduling freedom - 8/9to5/6/7 absolutely blows even if it does essentially guarantee an exact amount of money every couple weeks.

Money - not in a greedy way but reaping and allocating most/all of it based on my own inputs and goals.

I have no desire to be awarded the pritzker or any other prize unless it would help gain clients.

I don't think I would ever open a sole practice however. I have one or two people I've discussed going into a joint venture with and I believe that is the only way I would want to, and actually only with one of those people. I'd be mostly the business/money/management/big picture person and the other would be the dreamer/designer/visualizer/detailer. There would be overlap of course. As much as I enjoy working at my own pace I have a lot of trouble working from home for extended periods with no contact besides my spouse, who thankfully is not an architect.
Aug 8, 17 7:01 pm

If I'm going yo have some incompetent neurotic telling me what to do that person is going to be me.

Now if I could only get rid of the @^*#! clients.

Aug 8, 17 7:35 pm



EA: "I vaguely remember reading (or I'm making it up) that the majority of registered architects are sole-proprietors."

I expect what you're actually remembering is that the majority of 'firms' are sole-proprietorships (or the equivalent), while the majority of 'architects' work in medium-to-large sized firms. 

For example, in the AIA's 2012 firm survey (copy can be found here: https://boa-toolkit.s3.amazona...) the chart on p. 39 indicates that the AIA estimates 64% of firms employ fewer than 5 people.

Similarly, ENR reported in Oct. 2014 that "More than 93% of architectural firms in the United States employ less than 20 people, and they represent almost 46% of the architectural workforce." Source:

Aug 8, 17 7:43 pm

That might be it, but it doesn't really spark my memory. Good information anyway ... thanks



Aug 8, 17 8:06 pm

To do stuff I wanna do for people I wanna do stuff for...oh and winning my Pritzker obvs

Aug 9, 17 5:58 am

everybody has an opinion.  i've found a lot of people in this profession are really proud of their opinions, no matter how dumb they might be.  i think ownership often provides an illusion of control; fewer opinions, or if you're in charge your opinion is always right.

i don't think i would want to be a firm owner.  poor starving artist has never really been my thing.

Aug 9, 17 7:21 am

Well in this profession it's actually the firms' owners that earn the bigger bucks if that's what interests you.


Im of the mind also that im in no rush to run out on my own. Im jus recently licensed and had a colleague tell what i need to do now is start my own firm asap, im like for what? exponentially more sleepless nites than I already have now? maybe 5-6yrs from now but definitely not now


You are forgetting that the reward comes with risk. In slow times, you are also personally bankrolling the firm. Most are also set up so you do good only if the firm does well. So, if costs go up, a project bombs, etc., your check takes that hit while employee checks are nice and consistent.


What employee cheques if they have to let you go to maintain profitable? You're expendable.


It has little to do with profitable. Most employee's flat out aren't that expendable to just randomly layoff. For most firms, you don't layoff unless there is nothing coming down the line. The way billings work is the revenue comes in waves. So, the normal way this works is taxes and insurance might be due in October and billings for Sept were shy and maybe collection issues on past invoices. Welcome to the real world of ownership where the firm income isn't this nice steady stream (until you get big enough and have multiple projects going on in various stages of completion and have coordinated your projected billings with the project schedules to avoid waves). So you need to write a check to the company to cover the gaps to meet expenses when the accounts get low.


If it helps explain, your measly paycheck won't cover that $17k insurance bill when it's due or makeup for the client questioning the $23k invoice they got and refusing to pay until you justify how on earth it took your designers more than an hour to make those "simple" changes to their plan... or why that CA fee this month is so high when they know you were only out there twice (and forget about the hundred shops, rfi's, etc.). The boss has to deal with that sort of stuff like collections instead of having all this so called "freedom" to do what they enjoy.


Because of the lifestyle. I can work a 14 hour day and then take a day off. I don't care for office environments... the phones,keyboards, UPS guys, sighing and coughing co-workers, grouching and muttering too. As a self-employed, I can go out to the garden for 10 minutes here and there which I really, really like. My tomato plants are 9 feet tall this year (on supports). I'm not running my own firm but am part of a co-op of other interdisciplined self employed people who partner together on a project by project basis, which is inbetweeen so I still have support and people to work with. I think it's great and is a dream come true. That's my personality, I'm an entrepreneur first and architect second. I have started 2 other businesses and you can't really do that with a 8-6 job. Architecture was always seen as my vehicle to the lifestyle I want, which is not in an office, I just now am getting it working that way because it takes years to train in an office. And yes, I do prefer smaller projects, construction budgets in the 100's of thousands instead of 10's of millions that I did before. Just a personal preference.

Aug 9, 17 12:04 pm

I'm interested in this co-op model, it sounds really great. I'd like to know more!

null pointer

tintt: nailed it.

Aug 9, 17 12:13 pm

One of the guys in the co-op is a partner in over 20 businesses. Do you think he works all day? No, he looks for other businesses to buy lol. It's inspiring, why be moderately successful when you can be incredibly successful? 

Aug 9, 17 12:24 pm

I'm also inspired by my former employer (who reads archinect), so a shout out to him (who shall remain anonymous) - thanks for teaching me how to see practicing architecture differently. 

Aug 9, 17 2:39 pm

is there any reason it cant just be "different strokes for different folks"? if you enjoy being self-employed do it! if you are like my self and could careless about being self employed but work a reg. 9-5 do it? honestly the world needs both

Aug 9, 17 3:48 pm

Nuance? Context? Legitimate differences?

Now that's just crazy talk.


The question was why do you want to start your own firm, not can different people like different things...


Not the very good original question but the hilarious over-generalized responses (e.g, "most firms... most employers... most bosses...") that deserve a nudge.

This is basically how I've always viewed it. It takes people willing to hang their shingle and people willing to work for them.


true, op was, why start own, which seems to have switch gears to which is better employee or employer. which in my mind is not op ither..... ummmm....uuuuuuhhhhh.

All basically correct, and as citizen points out, many of the responses thus far are pretty generic (with some exceptions, like tintt's tomato plants). I don't really care if people want to debate which is better, employee or employer ... but the point isn't to take one person's opinion down in order to elevate your own. The question isn't what is the best reason to start your own firm, it was why you want to start your own. 

However, to theta's credit, I do believe a legitimate response to the question, "why do you want to start your own firm," can be to reject the premise of the question; i.e. you don't want to start your own firm.


i apologiz if i my tomatoes and me made anyone sad


Im jus a guy tryin to learn the ways of the jedi knight = true dark knight o
r aka da #BlackPickle or bka #BlackDuck


theta, you can join my co-op, its the best thing since reinforced concrete.


if i'm going to bust my ass then i'd better see 100% of the windfall, not some lazy principal who comes in at 10:30, leaves by 3, and spends every other thursday/friday on the golf course.  

fuck you, fuck your firm, i'm not your bottom bitch for profit.  

besides most owners are terrified of risk and leave tons of money on the table in the interest of protecting their cush lifestyle 

Aug 9, 17 4:22 pm

I'll sell you one. $5. :)


just to annoy bulgar

Aug 9, 17 4:31 pm

That is easy to do.


Just dangle the word 'unlicensed' in front of him or 'doorman' or 'unlicensed doorman'


JLC wins.

Make sure to not have anyone licensed on staff and advertise both architectural and doorman services.

Aug 10, 17 11:16 pm

I'm sure everyone wants to have their own company one way or another, but the question is how do you fill up that pipeline? 

Aug 11, 17 11:31 am

Not everyone. That was established above.

x intern

The reason is lifestyle. You work more but when you want to.  It kills vacations but if you are having a bad day you can knock off and go sit in the sun and have a beer instead of sitting in your cube leaving work in the dark and picking up the kids at 7pm beacuse you had to spead an hour in traffic because you and everyone else has to arrive and leave work in the same hour.  

Once you escape you cant believe how insane what most employee architects do day to day.  Now where do I find someone to draw all these sections.

Aug 11, 17 3:34 pm

Because I can wrap up work by 1 on a Friday then go to an afternoon house party in a beautiful historic mansion to experience more architecture...

Aug 12, 17 12:20 am

...and deduct it as a business expense :-)


You got it. That's why I got into architecture, to enjoy myself not to push paper.


1- Personal Freedom

2- To avoid becoming a slave for the boss as I get older. The older the employee is the more liability he gets considered. That's a fact that I've seen personally

3 - The creativity, having the opportunity not to spend my life detailing bathrooms since I can outsource a big part of the construction documents work 

4-The chance of making it big and leave a legacy. You will not have your name remembered by working for someone

Oct 4, 19 2:33 pm

Freedom, autonomy, selection, and the ability to do whatever the hell I want. 

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them."

Oct 7, 19 1:42 pm
Chad Miller

You don't get to do whatever the hell you want. You need clients, clients tell you what THEY want. Sure you can ignore them but you won't have a practice for long . . .


GridBubbles: "Client, I need to take a bathroom break. I'm about to pee my pants."

Client: "No, you can't. Do you want my money or not?"

Chad Miller

Some clients, yup.

atelier nobody

I actually don't want to. I'm happy with "atelier nobody" doing the occasional side job, while I have a steady paycheck from the "day job" at a major international firm.

Oct 7, 19 4:09 pm

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