Big vs Small
In last week’s blog: Big Ideas, I shared that one of my earliest dreams was to start my own architecture firm. It is a dream that many architects have and I was no exception. However, as I gained experience and learned the profession my romantic idea of starting my own firm faded.
In the Big Ideas blog I cited three game-changers that affected my decision to not start my own architecture firm. #1 I experienced the benefits of working in a large firm. #2 I experienced the Great Recession. #3 I found my calling.
For game-changer #1 I briefly compared small firms vs large firms explaining my preference towards the big firm dynamic. I felt like this was a subject that needed further investigation. Admittedly I have a bias towards large firms since the 3 firms I have worked for have all been large. I know that there are students and aspiring architects that read my blog and I want to provide a more comprehensive resource.
Enter Daniel Beck
Since I don't have any experience with small firms I reached out to one of my pals for help. Daniel Beck from The Architect’s Checklist was kind enough to provide an awesome list of small firm goodies. Daniel is a very talented architect who works for Bill Huey + Associates in Charleston, South Carolina. Bill Huey + Associates is an award winning architecture firm with over 20 years of experience and most important to this blog: they are a small firm. Daniel is one of 3 that make up the talented team at Bill Huey + Associates.
I asked Daniel for a little help and he fired back the following list:
Top Ten Reasons To Work in a Small Architecture Firm
by Daniel Beck
#1 - The Ability to Pick and Choose Clients
Small firms can (typically) decide who they want to work with. The decision isn't made by a number cruncher or marketing team and then passed down the food chain. Small firm practitioners get to look their clients in the eye every time and decide if the fit is right or not.
#2 - A Greater Sense of Importance
The saying about a chain only being as strong as it's weakest link is absolutely relevant when it comes to a small firm. Everyone is important and contributes to the team and that sense of belonging is definitely a benefit. Nobody likes to "ride the bench" as it were.
#3 - Greater Control of the Finances
Small firm owners have a lot of control when it comes to how the firm should run from a fiscal standpoint. From what to charge for a project to how bonuses should be paid out, it's all determined by 1 or maybe 2 people.
#4 - Less Management
There just isn't enough time or extra funds to support unnecessary managers. So while you may work very closely with the other people in the firm, you normally have the freedom to determine an ideal workflow for yourself.
#5 - Variety is the Spice of Life
In a small firm everyone has to wear multiple hats. While constantly switching between roles can be tough, it also keeps things interesting. The tasks and challenges are different everyday. One day you can be working a conceptual design, the next day you are in the field, the next day you are working on Construction Drawings, and then the same afternoon you are interviewing with a potential new client. No two days are the same and I really like that aspect of a small firm.
#6 - Greater Control of Your Time
Flexible hours make a huge impact on improving the quality of life and that (at least I would image) is easier to achieve in a small firm where you don't have too rigid of a corporate structure. As long as the work gets done and you don't cheat on your hours, most small firms are flexible with peoples' schedules.
#7 - Doing the Marketing, Hiring, Accounting, etc.
In my opinion, getting to be an intimate part of running a business is one of the best parts of working in a small firm. You aren't just an Architect, you are a small business owner. Your business acumen and decision making immediately impact the success or failure of a firm. That sort of control is awesome.
#8 - Building Personal Relationships
Small firms tend to foster strong relationships. Whether that's with fellow employees, clients, or even sales reps, it's hard not to get to know each other extremely well when there are only a few of you in the room at any one time. I never get the sense that I'm just a cog in the machine which I know is a complaint from people working at larger firms.
#9 - Job Security
I disagree with Steve on this one. I think job security in a small firm is greater than in a big firm. Small firms can't afford to hire and fire because turn over of employees is extremely costly. So once you are in with a small firm, your job (assuming you do it well) is fairly safe because you are contributing directly to the entire firm's overall well being.. Small firms typically don't have any "fat" to trim. Now I'm not saying people in small firms didn't get laid off in the recession. But I believe small firms hold onto their employees as long as possible where big firms are quicker to fire people in order to maintain the bottom line.
#10 - Recognition
Not all small firms operate this way, but where I work, when the firm receives an award or gets an approval at a DRB, we all can take credit for it. When people ask about a project our firm did, everyone can take pride in saying that yes, I worked on it and it turned out great. It's not like there is a one group doing the cool stuff at the firm and the other people just see it show up in magazines. Being recognized and being able to take direct credit for the projects produced by the firm is a very satisfying.
Well there you have it folks………..
Special thanks to Daniel Beck of The Architect’s Checklist. I hope that this was helpful to folks who are planning a career in architecture. There are many great reasons to work for a small firm as there are reasons to go big. My advice to people just entering the job market would be to try to gain experience in a variety of firms. It is also a good idea to look for mentoring and networking opportunities. You’d be surprised how much people are willing to share about their experiences.
I would love to get some comments as this is a complex subject.
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