How to Rewrite the Story of Our Profession
With a twisted sense of pride, too many architects today accept the small firm stereotype of “starving artist”. Seeds planted in architecture school bloom into a full-on virus as professionals launch their own firms and find their way to small business. New firms are launched every day without proper planning, without an understanding of basic business fundamentals and often with an eager acceptance that life as an architect will be a difficult struggle.
I was born an entrepreneur. I learned from doing, working with my auto mechanic father as soon as I was old enough to lift a push broom. At the age of 13, I launched my own businesses detailing vehicles from the shop’s side lot and “flipping” American muscle cars, starting with my first purchase; a navy blue 1972 Camaro.
Working hard and making money came naturally. It’s in my blood.
Even my choice of Architect as a career was based on my naive understanding of the profession. At the age of 10, I chose architecture for my career path because, “Artists don’t make enough money. Architecture is a profession like law and medicine. Architects are rich.”
As I entered architecture school, it happened too quickly. Within days of starting first-year studio, I began to hear the stories. “Architecture is not about the money. We change the world through our art. You must love the art, because you will never make enough money as an architect.”
Does that sound familiar?
We all have similar stories. As students of architecture, we all learned to accept the myth that our paths were doomed to a life-long struggle.
We Are The Story We Tell Ourselves
Small firm architecture is small business, just like any other small business. Eighty percent of small businesses close their doors in failure within five years of launching. Twenty percent survive and grow into successful enterprises.
On paper, architects have a much higher success rate. Small firm architecture studios typically survive for decades, only as a result of our shear determination and refusal to give up. We’ve been told the story of architecture as a profession. Accepting the myth, we’ve planned for the struggle. We’ve embraced the pain. It is not unexpected, so we carry on with creating our art… and suffering… every day.
What if we changed the story?
What if we wrote a new draft? A tale of the successful small firm architect. A story of our lives filled with art, creativity and… profit. What if we embraced the psychology of success, learned the fundamentals of business and lived happily ever after?
We are the story we tell ourselves. When we accept the struggle, we live a life of struggle. When we stand up and fight, armed with knowledge and understanding, we will succeed.
So how do we rewrite the story?
Write a New Draft
Successful artists are NOT starving. During his time at Rhode Island School of Design, Shepard Fairey launched his career as an artist with a guerrilla campaign, spreading art through stickers (yes, stickers). He has since grown his OBEY brand into a thriving entrepreneurial enterprise earning him a net worth of $15 million.
Fairey has not accepted the story of “starving artist”. He built a business (actually several businesses), built a powerful brand and embraced the psychology of success.
What is your story? Reject the mentality of struggle, dream big and write a new narrative of success, freedom and making a difference in the world through your own achievements.
Go Back to School
Most of us small firm architects slept our way through the few semesters of Professional Practice class offered in architecture school. We were artists. We had already accepted the story.
For those of us who did show up, know (way too late) that most of Professional Practice had little to do with being an entrepreneur or how to run a small business.
It’s time to go back to school.
No. I am not suggesting an MBA or abandoning your firm for another degree. I am suggesting that we actively learn what we don’t know. Find an entrepreneurism program at your local community college. Take online courses. Enroll for membership at a virtual business academy. Do what you need to do to learn what you don’t know. Financial management. Sales. Marketing. Brand building. Learn the fundamentals of business and apply the rules of success to your small firm.
Share What You Know
As I entered the profession, I quickly learned how secretive we architects can be. We all heard the, all too often inaccurate, story of antitrust law suits and were directed to never again share information about fees. In fear of retribution from our government, as well as our own professional organization, we never discuss money or how we may be able to earn more of it.
When I relaunched this blog as EntreArchitect back in 2012, I did so with the clear intention of sharing everything I know about the business of architecture, including what I know about fees and making more money. I hope to encourage all small architects to open up and share their knowledge here and all across the globe.
I believe that it will be through sharing our knowledge that the story will be rewritten. Our profession, as well as future generations of architects, will begin to learn a new tale. Young architecture students will be told the optimistic new story of how we do change the world, we are talented artists and we do live happily ever after running successful, profitable small firms.
Let’s Start Right Here, Right Now
Share your best tip for making more money in architecture in the comments below. If we all provide one tip, this post may change the lives of other struggling architects. It may even become the pivot you need to take your firm to greater heights. Share what you know and you may be surprised by how successful you become.
Question: What is your best tip for making more money?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / SWEviL