The (un)Benefits of Owning Your Own Firm

ArchDaily posted a request today for input about The Benefits of Owning Your Own Firm.

When I talk to people about this, I used to say that it was like a version of retiring. Not retiring to go play golf, but retiring INTO something that was more of your choice. I always followed it quickly with saying that it also meant that any stress that you felt from then on was your own fault. You either didn’t say “No” to something, or you said “Yes” but didn’t adequately manage the situations around that positive response.

There are a lot of moving parts within running a business, and your success revolves around how you manage them. Accounting, contracts, taxes, employees… yet another list of things they didn’t adequately prepare you for in school. If you find peace in balancing your books at the end of the month, then you can look at that as a benefit of running a business. (Yes… this applies to me. Accounting is the only black & white thing in the areas of grey known as being a designer). You can always find people to help you with the things that don’t come easy to you. Your success is founded on bringing the right group of skills together (in one person or multiple people).

So, the biggest benefit of owning your own firm is also one of the largest downfalls: you are responsible for your own success. And at the end of the day, you are also responsible for your failures.

But… we usually don’t leap into starting our own design firm based on a desire to run the guts of a business!!! We want to be designers! Or, we don’t know what we want… we just want different.

Ten years into having my own firm, I realize that the discussion of running your own firm focuses on the running of a business, risk/benefit assessment, and other things like finding work/life balance. These are the easy things to talk about, and there are plenty of resources to draw upon. The biggest issue for me in running a business? When you run a business, there’s no one above you to tell you what to do… but that means there’s no one there to support you when you need help or advice. As a successful leader, you are good at mentoring those you work with (hopefully), but there’s no one there who has mentoring you as part of their job description. You are in effect… alone.

So, a significant thing to consider of owning your own firm is that you need to look outside for mentoring. You need to find the relationships where you can learn, and frankly… be reassured that you’re not completely crazy. I should have called this blog “Please tell me I’m not crazy.” Isn’t that what we crave in life, to know that we have shared experiences and aren’t alone?

With that, make sure your business plan includes an emphasis on building the relationships that you will need to continue to learn and be mentored. Hmmm… you are doing a business plan first, right?

(As a business owner… networking is also pretty darn important. Consulting others to benefit your knowledge (and theirs hopefully) is a very effective networking tool. I’ll save that for another post.)