putting out some feelers


I haven't posted on here in YEARS... wow.
Well, I have since started my own commercial practice with a partner, it's been over 5 years and Corona hit. We are a micro business (2 of us plus a PT drafter, who happens to be my son trying to earn a few bucks while attending college).
We are doing ok, all things considered. Most projects have continued, and few have been placed on temporary hold. Clients are seeking us out for new work, albeit the work is mostly small projects. So far we have maintained our monthly billings. And we did get a modest PPP loan, which helped us compensate for slow-paying clients. Of course, that isn't a guarantee of how business will be in the next few months...

I know there have been lay-offs. I am hopeful that there will be some good talent on the street I can pick up at some point soon. However, I am conflicted in terms of what type of person I should look for/consider.

From a financial standpoint, of course, a younger, less experienced, but smart and motivated architect-in-training would be best to help me with design and production. On the other hand, I would love an experienced person who can manage, design and produce, and could be future partner material.

My current partner is 20 years my senior and should be starting to plan his phase-out process for retirement. I already handle 80-90% of the design and production workload, plus I handle invoicing and the business bills. In a way, I would welcome his retirement sooner rather than later, as I am burnt out and would love to take the firm in a different direction (but don't see it with him staying, it's a generational and cultural thing). I also would like to step back and focus on managing the business rather than having to be responsible for 80-90% of the production and execution of the work.

I wonder how many professionals are out there who not only have always wanted to own/run a firm for the "freedom", prestige, notoriety, income potential, but also understand the responsibility it brings, the risk associated with it, the headache of having to hire and train employees, and the fact that your salary isn't necessarily guaranteed every month (if the work doesn't get completed, I can't invoice it, if I can't invoice it, we don't get paid on time)?

I think I should look for my future partner, but I have worked with many very experienced folks who really just have no concept of what it takes to run a business., and once they learn, they decided it's not for them. Many really just want the title and the fat salary, and want others to keep the business running.

I'm not sure what I'm asking here, I guess I'm just trying to get a sense of the current mindset of both young and seasoned professionals out there, especially with lay-offs happening, people looking for new opportunities, considering going out on their own. What think you? Where are you in your career and what are your goals? Have your priorities changed?

What are people looking for in their careers? I feel out of touch, as I have spent the last few years nose-down and working instead of networking with peers. I have also not worked at a large firm since 2004. So I feel out of touch with the current large-firm culture and career opportunities there, compared to what small firms offer (or do not offer), not to mention people's mindsets there.

Jun 14, 20 11:05 am

I can't totally understand what you're asking either but 2 things stood out: there's 2 of you (really) and the other is 20+ years older and you're doing the brunt of the work. Second is that you'd like to go a different direction. 

Unless the other partner is bringing in 90% of the work, why in the world do you need them? Haven't you already answered the question of what to do? If you want to remain on your own, ditch this other partner (and I mean leave, since their 'retirement' will almost certainly mean you're paying an overpriced fee to them to buy them out, which makes absolutely no sense to me, even without knowing your full situation). You won't have to bill as much at first (there's one, less productive mouth to feed), you can go the direction you want, hire as you need to at a fraction of the price they're absorbing right now, and probably have a much better chance to find some balance and greater financial reward in the end. Just remember, if you take on another partner, especially a junior partner, you'll be in the exact same place but on the other side. 

I've been out with a partner for 15+ years - we struggled through the same feelings of 'what if things don't go right' (and if most startups are honest, everyone's struggled with those feelings). If you have confidence in your ability to get things done and bring in the work though, those feelings will disappear over time. 

Good luck either way - glad to hear you're hanging in there. 

Jun 14, 20 11:40 am  · 
2  · 

I guess I'm trying to figure it all out. Best play is to stick with it and grow the firm. Just don't want to do it alone. Would like a partner and a team, actually, a competent team with a sense of humor.
Would really like to hire someone who can share my load. If I could find someone who can do 3/4 of what I can do? Damn, we'd be making bank right now. Finding that person is hard. I'm not sure I have it in my right now to continue with the workload, and hire & train and take the firm in a new direction. Not by myself. Single mother here with 3 college aged and 1 elementary school kids. 

I guess I'm putting out feelers to see what people's mindsets are. Those who think they want to be partners/principals - why? Is it because you feel you deserve the recognition? Is it because you feel that you are an entrepreneur and bring value to a business? Is it because you want more freedom while being able to reap the profit you help generate from your hard work? What are people's motivations for wanting to move up to "the top" of the career ladder?

I'm trying to look outside of my little circle to gain some perspective.

Resigning from a partnership will be costly, stressful and time-consuming, plus the economy is in the shitter now, so that's def not a great move. Not to mention I would feel bad for leaving my partner hanging. I always expected the contributions to be off-balance, so that's not the biggest issue I have. I think the generational gap is starting to really show in regards to how to conduct business and train/treat/mentor employees. I can't do it all.  

Jun 14, 20 5:09 pm  · 

I'm not an architect (insert Non Sequitor's: and you never will be) but I see you have three options: hire grunts, find a partner that mutual designs are respected, or with your experience, I'd say apply at a Starchitect job

Jun 14, 20 6:10 pm  · 
Non Sequitur

It’s not that you won’t be an architect (that’s obvious), it’s more like you’ll never be anything more than a disillusioned fool.

My greatest desire to start my own company or possibly join a start up as partner is entrepreneural spirit. Putting into practice many lessons learned from the past, becoming more efficient. To be able to be fully heard when discussing things ‘in the trenches’ that do or don’t work and making an actual change to address said pros or cons. The desire to be a leader at the highest level without having to ‘sit in line’ basically do the same things for another 20+ years waiting for boomers to retire (get out of the way). Being humble and admitting mistakes unlike leaders I’ve worked under, and subsequently making changes accordingly to do better. The hope to make the practice better overall for anyone within this new company. For instance I don’t believe in free interns, working substantially beyond 40 hours per week, etc. there’s so many counterproductive wastes of time I’ve witnessed over the years. Further anything I can make a computer do on auto so I don’t have to is something worth exploring even if there’s an initial time investment. I don’t think enough architects leverage technology in this manner.

I worked at a huge firm and was rather integral to the accounting and invoicing process as a PM so I guess I’m a little confused as to why candidates you mention don’t seem to have experience with that. It’s definitely more than just typing them up, there’s the whole nuanced process of ‘nicely’ asking to be paid. Maybe it’s different at other firms.

I’m more than happy to train new staff, I actually really enjoy that, it just sucks when a really solid junior staffer leaves either by choice or by force. Good help at any rank is indeed hard to come by.

I drifted away from really wanting to be involved in the design or concept part of the process and found I much more enjoy planning, delivery and execution. I’d much rather have another partner or even someone junior put together the design ideas, and work with them on pragmatics of their design, eg software technical guidance, code review, budget constraints, circling back to the original wants or latest comments from the client etc.

For context, I have 10+ years experience, am licensed, early 30’s and just recently left architecture for an allied field. Besides the money (lack thereof) I miss the day to day quite a lot. Just to emphasize, I did the ‘boring’ stuff 90% of my day, even though I know how to and once did make fancy renderings, concept packages and what have you. Once I got to PM level the only time I was picking up a pen it was for redlines or the occasional CA sketch.

Questions for OP, how long were you in the profession prior to starting this firm? How long have you been managing this firm? How did you come by this near retiree? Did you join his firm or start it together? To echo others sounds like this guy is dead weight at this point. Curious what if anything he’s doing to earn half the income.
Jun 14, 20 7:37 pm  · 
3  · 

archinine! So refreshing to hear what you had to say. Really.

I have 21 years under my belt total, so 15-16 years in when I started my firm. I worked with my now-partner for almost 11 years prior to us leaving the firm we were at to start our own ( a little over 5 years ago). We practically ran the place and decided that we could do it better and actually keep any profits rather than our hard work benefiting only the Owner of the firm that we worked for.
My now-partner was a principal but not a partner, so basically my boss. He asked me if I would be his partner if he left and started a firm. I had always wanted to own my own firm so I took the opportunity.

I joined as a staff architect and worked my way up to Principal at that firm. Worked my ass off. I put in so much time. Got them a few awards, tons of profits. Saved them from going under during the last recession. My now-partner and I were a great team. But I think over the past few years, he has just aged. He's a boomer. And it is now really showing. Kind of unfortunate. But it is what it is. No hard feelings, and he did fund the firm initially, I put in my sweat equity. But at this point, it's exhausting. We lost a couple of great employees and haven't been able to find great staff. I have been too busy to even look for staff. He writes fee proposals, he handles some of the CA, he's good at "damage control", and anything super technical. He writes specs so I can focus on the drawings. He's got the grey hair so that's instant respect in the CRE industry (I'm a women, so there is that hurdle in some circles). He is well-known in the industry, although I think his contacts are all getting a bit old. But he has a wealth of knowledge that is useful at times. He does bring value. Is it 50/50? no. not even close.

Jun 14, 20 10:13 pm  · 

interesting post, appreciate the openness and sincere discussion of the deep problems of managing architecture.

first, my suggestion to OP: you need an outside opinion on running your firm who can help you develop an objective assessment of the situation and present case to your partner on how to resolve this. that solution might well be to dissolve the partnership.

you desperately need help because you should not be doing the full production work and half the management. you sound entirely burned out, which is understandable. if you're too busy to hire or find clients, that's a severely dysfunctional management, which is 100% the responsibility of the partners. if you're partner isn't supportive on this, there is no reason to continue the partnership.

it's also possible you aren't going to be happy in any partnership level role, and might be much happier as a well-paid senior manager in a medium or large firm with more stable roles and responsibilities. this is especially worth considering given that you came into this at a junior position maybe before fully developing a clear goal for your future career.

to be honest it sounds like both you and your partner are invlined towards "back of house" roles, doing production, pm work, follow up. a successful office really needs someone who additionally wants to set a direction for the work, find people to do it, and keep everyone employees and clients excited and engaged with the office. possibly a 3rd partner could help on that, but it would take a leap for someone to risk that in a firm that sounds like it's having trouble growing.

myself: i've spent my 15 years working in medium and large offices in lead design and technical roles. i love my work mostly but am feeling itchy to get out and run things myself. in particular to challenge myself more holistically than merely exercising design skills on projects that come to me. i can see the future if i remain on track towards senior management in a large office - it's fine but too predictable. obviously i'd like to be more fully responsible for making money on my terms with clients i wish to work with. ego is a part of it too. i worry i would be a difficult person to partner with and anyway have no obvious person in mind.

Jun 15, 20 1:11 am  · 
1  · 

OP, rereading your posts it's clear you're committed to owning a practice. what i wrote isn't meant to be dismissive; i've worked with 2 different architects who sold out of partnership in firms they founded in order to join a large established firm. both were excellent managers but had come to the conclusion that having fun collaborating with clients and guiding designs with the resources and client pool of a name-brand office was more satisfying than continuing head-down focused on keeping a small office afloat. it let them take the skills they'd developed as partners into situations where they could expand quickly at no personal risk. given your apparent aversion to delegating control and stated concern about transition, you really might find something personally fulfilling in pursuing this kind of role.


midlander - all good points. I am not dismissing any options.
Also, I actually did have my career well planned out. Every career and employment move I made was deliberate with the goal of one day knowing everything I needed to know to start/run my own firm. I guess the opportunity presented itself before I thought it would, after realizing that even though I made principal, I would never make partner at my old firm (there was no ownership transition plan, they gave me a ton of flip service but no steps taken to actually show that they meant it). I like being an entrepreneur. I like running my firm. And I need to get out of this "box" that I'm in to figure out how to make this work better for me. I think the answer is to find the right team of like-minded, committed professionals. I may have lost track of what I need to do with all the things happening in the world as well as the workload and the tanking economy. I have kids to house and feed, so there is a lot of pressure to maintain financial stability. But seriously, if I could find someone who can do 3/4 of what I do? Bank. There really should be no reason for a design firm to have to be a sweatshop, if you have the right team and everyone puts in their quality share. Quality over speed any day.

Thanks for your feedback.

Jun 15, 20 10:07 am  · 

Do you think things have worked out as your partner intended? Your description makes it seem as if he brought you on as the work-machine for the office, maybe not fully aware he was leaning on you so heavily for that. Reading through some old threads it seems you have long regarded him as not pulling his own weight. I am curious why you stuck together as partners this long. Was it your intention to establish a permanent partnership? Getting good people is obviously the most essential basis for growing into a good firm - why haven't you pushed to bring someone in already? This in some ways sounds like a codependent partnership which isn't good for either of you in the long term. Anyway I enjoy reading your follow ups - it's admirable that you keep a dignified attitude despite being in a difficult


Hi midlander, sorry I took a break from forums (so many deadlines). I think you are spot-on. I guess I feel stuck. It's been difficult hiring someone at a higher level due to cash flow. By paying someone what they are worth and what I would want them to pay, I would have to reduce my and my partner's salary. We have bills to pay. His spouse doesn't work, and I am divorced with kids to put through college. So, hiring is a financial issue. I don't like hiring young ones without proper experience because training them takes years, there is that generational clash between them and my partner (observed it with my past employees), which isn't good for them or their growth. The goal was to establish a permanent partnership, of course, but with the understanding that he would retire in 5-10 years. We haven't "grown" size-wise to what we had planned, so our annual billings aren't where he though they would be after 5 years in. He's showing his old-school thought process of "let's hire cheap bodies and get them to produce to take the pressure off of you", and that doesn't work for me, or the quality of work that I have built my reputation on our clients are used to. I realize that I am burned out for real. My work has stopped being fun. It feels meaningless. Clients take our perfection for granted, but let others' mediocrity slide. It's exhausting. Maybe this is my mid-life crisis ;-)I am hoping that with the pandemic layoffs, I may be able to find someone who can ease into the business to help on a part time basis, then as we find our flow, start taking on a larger role. It would be nice to have a small team around me. It would help motivate me I think. I am very much lacking motivation right now. Question is whether our workload stays put or starts to slow down due to the pandemic and the economic decline. But of course, if I had help with production, I could start focusing on chasing new work and clients again. That would actually be a nice change of pace. It helps to type out my thoughts like this. Gives me a little clarity. Thanks for your responses, questions and perspective! Really appreciate the convo. Hope you're doing ok in this crazy environment.


Thank you, I'm fine actually - no big impact on my work or life. You keep hitting this contradiction that you don't want to do things on your own (reasonable!), but also don't want to hire and train a next generation team, and don't believe it is possible to find a partner capable of doing what you'd want done. This is certainly the nature of being stuck! The fundamental problem as I see it is that you're sort of blending together two separate issues - how to deal with current workload, and how to develop a satisfactory ownership transition. The solution to both is going to require an open discussion with your partner - and it may lead you to conclude the partnership should end. Don't rule that out before discussing things. You're both managing partners; it's not incumbent on you to fully figure out the business plans yourself. It would actually be harmful if that's how it's done and indicate a dysfunctional partnership.


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