Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How To Start Your Own Architecture Firm: 15 Tips From The Pros (quoted from architizer)

Art Gensler did it. Jeanne Gang did it. Quarterlife architect Courtney Brett did it. So why not you? Maybe you're just starting to consider striking out on your own; maybe you've been at it for a year and you're beginning to wonder if you're cut out for this. Both your grad school mentor AND your therapist think you're brilliant. Your parents are starting to worry. Your friends are encouraging, but you wonder how much they know. "Ninety-nine percent of the challenge isn't how to handle invoices, how to negotiate contracts, how to hire your first person, how to do Revit versus CAD. Those are all issues, but the big issue is, how do you get hired?" says Mark Cavagnero, FAIA, principal of Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects, who started his firm 19 years ago. "How do you actually go off on your own and survive? It's the part no one ever talks about."
On Thursday night, Cavagnero moderated a panel at AIA San Francisco for young architects in just such a situation. He asked Sylvia Kwan, FAIA, of Kwan Henmi Architecture/Planning; Samuel Fajner ofTEECOM; and Cass Calder Smith and Melissa Werner of CCS Architecture to think back on their days as upstarts and share the strategies—and the random bits of luck—that helped them build a client base. Cameras from aecKnowledge were on hand to film the session, which will be available (for a fee) on theaecKnowledge website. Thursday's isn't online yet, but they do have the first "Starting Your Own Firm" panel, which Cavagnero put on for a packed house back in July. Come 2013, he and AIASF will host monthly discussions around the theme of growing a small practice.
The panel at AIASF on Thursday night, from left: Mark Cavagnero, Melissa Werner, Cass Calder Smith, Sylvia Kwan, and Samuel Fajner.
1. Who are you?
Before you start churning out press releases and wooing clients, "the first thing you need to do to define your brand is actually to define what you want to be when you grow up," says Sam Fajner. "You have to believe in what you do and find your passion, because if you don't find your passion, you're not going to be able to communicate that."
2. Socialize with the clients you want
Running your own firm means you're on around the clock. "It's not a separation anymore of work and after-work—it's more that you're living your social life around where you want to be," says Melissa Werner. "Don't think of work as a nine-to-five job. Where are you going to be after work?" Cass Calder Smith says he's found commissions designing houses in the Hamptons by hanging out there. "But you can't be in marketing mode" he says. "You have to be in cool guy mode." Fajner agrees: "It's about being yourself. People will appreciate that. They'll see right through the salesperson."
Sylvia Kwan offers one caveat, though: None of the above applies to public projects for institutional, government, or educational clients. "Nowadays with all these ethics laws and sunshine laws, and everything these public clients have to sign, they're so scared sometimes of even having lunch with you," she says. "So that whole socialization thing comes much, much later."
3. Find out what your city offers to local or minority-owned businesses
In San Francisco, you can register with the city as a Local Business Enterprise (LBE), which gets you a listing on the LBE directory as well as a means of finding out about upcoming city-funded contracts open for bid. Many projects backed by government money are required to contract a certain percentage of the work to businesses in the directory, so this is one (maybe the only!) scenario where you can rationally hope for a cold call. Registering can also open the door to collaborations with established firms. "Partnering with larger firms is a great way to get involved in larger projects," says Fajner.
4. Ask for advice
"Pick up the phone, select five firms that you admire," says Fajner. "Call the CEO and say, 'This is my name, I'm 25 years old, and I want to start my firm. I know that you started your firm 20 years ago; I really would like to have a conversation with you and understand what you went through, what were your struggles, what are the lessons learned, what are the mistakes that you did that you can save me from making?' You'd be surprised at how many people would be receptive to that call."
5. Budget time for marketing and business development
When you're a tiny firm of one or two, "marketing" can sound like a luxurious thing for other people. But no matter your situation, getting the word out about who you are and what you do is essential. "As soon as you can, you need to get publishable work," says Smith. "From a financial standpoint, budget for that: think about where you're going to spend your money. Trying to get a residential remodel published is a lot harder than a ground-up house. Sometimes you don't want to try to do things too hard."
Smith recommends looking at growth as just one more design mandate. "We're all trained to be creative problem solvers," he says. "At the same time, somehow we put bookends on it; I find a lot of us don't use it for ourselves in marketing ways or creative ways. You should slow down every now and then and go, 'I'm a trained creative person. This is what I do: I solve problems. So I'm going to apply that to my marketing situation."
Completed in 1992, Restaurant LuLu in San Francisco helped CCS Architecture secure its reputation as a firm with restaurant and hospitality expertise. Photo courtesy of CCS Architecture
6. Consider pro bono or a low fee—for the right project
If a project has built-in buzz, it can reap rewards for years to come. "I was very lucky because I got to design Restaurant LuLu a long time ago," says Smith. "Restaurants are seen by a lot of people, so if you have a chance to even work for free practically or team up with somebody on a very low fee on a project that you think will get a lot of visibility, and you're young and you can somehow scratch by, I would highly recommend doing that. It made a huge difference for me."
Werner concurs. "If you have the time to do something that's more of a pro bono job or something that's going to be really cool that's going to get a lot of press, a lot of times someone else is going to do the press for you. People have done set designs; we did slow food, the Eat Real Festival—there's a slew of things people can do. We don't have to market that. That has a whole team of people that's going to market it for you, and your name's going to get out there."
7. Enter design competitions
The bar of entry is lower than you think—and a little effort now could pay off later. "There are opportunities where all you need to submit is a couple of renderings," says Fajner. "That will get you some publication, sometimes in Arch Record, sometimes online. You never know who's going to read that. You have a piece that's going to be written for you; you're going have drawings and renderings that are online for people to see. That gives you a body of work. Even though it doesn't get built, and you might not win the competition, you get an opportunity to be seen." (Ed: Speaking of which! The final entry deadline for Architizer's A+ Awards is this Friday, December 21.)
8. Invest in good photography
To get published in print or on the web, you need stellar photos. "Much of the media is driven by having really high-quality photography," says Cavagnero. "Whatever dollars you can muster up, I would put them towards great photography, even the most modest project." Even if you can't afford dozens of photos, you can still make the most of the shots you have. "You might get ten good pictures, but they're so high res that you can crop into one really tight and end up with a number of good detail shots," says Smith. "You can usually make an average project look a lot better."
Find a photographer who understands your vision. "Start developing a relationship with a photographer you really like, whose work really appeals to you and resonates with you," says Cavagnero. "The really good photographers, when you talk to them about your ideas and your passions and what you're trying to convey in the work, they don't just walk out to the building and start shooting. You really want to cultivate what it is you're trying to do."
CCS Architecture's 2009 Aptos Retreat near Santa Cruz, California, comes up whenever anyone Googles the phrase "modern barn." Photo courtesy of CCS Architecture
9. The Internet is your friend
The great shrinking of print media means you'll have a harder time getting published in magazines. But, says Werner, "they all have web editions, and what's best about that is you can send those things out in every avenue you can think of." Werner recommends developing relationships with editors. "Over time, they come to you and they ask you for projects," she says. (Ed: Ahem. Send us your tips atinfo@architizer.com!)
The more you publish online, the more keywords are associated with your name, adds Werner. "A client found us one time just by looking up 'modern barn,' and our project came up, like, a thousand times. They were like, 'We have to talk to this architect!' And it's just because it was on so many different websites."
10. Parlay your small projects into bigger ones
Use any experience you have with a typology to grab more of it—and never, ever downplay your expertise. "Every single project you work on, you own it," says Kwan, who as a junior architect worked on airports and convention centers for Gensler. "I tell people this that I mentor: Even if you just did the toilet details at the airport—which I did!—so? You say, yes, I have airport experience, end of subject. Not, "Oh, but I only did the bathrooms!" Never apologize. You have to be really bold and confident when you start a firm. You're starting with very little, but your body of work, whether it's five years or ten years, you own it all."
Clients, though, always want the expert. How to break in and get on their radar? Smith did a lot of restaurants early in his career, and he began doing restaurants for Hyatt. "A lot of this stuff is really relationship-based," he says. "You do good work and they build up a lot of trust, and these companies start to find that it's easier for them to call you than somebody they might not know. If you're making their job easier, then they start saying, 'You guys are doing pretty good restaurants. Why don't you do this lobby, or why don't you do these rooms?' And now we're doing all that, and as we finish those, we're using that to market to Hyatt's competitors."
11. Partner with bigger firms to get on large projects
As a boutique firm, you won't have the capacity to handle those $50 million commissions—but you can get your name out there to the firms that do. "We let larger firms know that we're interested in working with them," says Werner. "We'll talk to a much larger firm that may specialize in something totally different from us, but it would make sense to bring us in as a restaurant person. That way we can have a small piece of a larger project, which would hopefully lead to bigger projects later on."
Sometimes it's possible to work on a project that's a stretch for you if the design architect is out of town and needs your local expertise, adds Kwan. "If you know this project type, but it's a little bigger than your normal scale, you can team up with a larger firm that has that experience," she says.
Nova House, by Kwan Henmi Architecture/Planning, was featured on the HGTV program Extreme Living. Photo courtesy of Kwan Henmi Architecture/Planning
12. Take oddball opportunities seriously
Kwan is glad she was paying attention to her email several years ago, when she received an announcement from the AIA about a joint venture with HGTV for a program called Extreme Living. "I went, 'Oh, we just did an extreme house!'" Kwan and her partner, Denis Henmi, submitted their Nova House, a desert dwelling perched on a 200-foot cliff in Utah, and got on the show. "Every six months they rerun the series and I get e-mails," says Kwan. "It's as if we designed the house yesterday."
13. Network in the whole industry, not just with architects
If you meet a furniture vendor at a party, don't overlook her just because she's not a designer. Manufacturers and suppliers have valuable information that could help you land some workplace design clients, says Cavagnero. "They're really good at business development and knowing which companies are looking in town—who's expanding, who's relocating, who's out looking for 30,000-foot space." Networking with commercial realtors is a good idea, too. "The relationships you make may very well not be with architects, but they're with other people who are looking at the same kind of work you are, but from a completely different angle," adds Cavagnero.
14. Get published where clients will take notice
Remember that your favorite magazines aren't necessarily the same ones that potential clients read. "Getting published in Arch Record is great," says Fajner. "Your peers are going to see your work. What about your clients?" Look for the influential business and lifestyle publications in your area. Adds Fajner, "It's great to get a pat on the back from your peers, but what you want is to be in the San Francisco Business Times, the Chronicle, where your clients are going to read about it."
15. Hang out with the remodeling crowd
There is a place where no one ever stops talking about remodeling, and it is the playground. Also the barbecue. And the gym. Pretty much anywhere that young parents congregate. "If you have children, they're your best business development tool ever," says Cavagnero. "Single-family-house work is word of mouth, and it comes through the schools and the parents of the children." Even with no prior experience, he says, "once you get to know them and they like you, and it's a modest project, they will hire you."
In conclusion! Launching your own practice demands a lot of effort, energy, and an extremely porous personal life. Cavagnero wraps it up:
"You can't veil or separate your private life. When you think you're ready to go to an event on a Thursday night just because there might be a client, or go to a playground because a friend of yours has a child and there's a little birthday party for seven-year-olds, when you honestly think you're ready to do that—and that doesn't sound goofy or weird or terrible to you, but you say, 'I can do that, that's OK, if that gets me an OK job, that's actually great'—when you're ready to do that, you're really ready to go out on your own. It means you're believing in yourself, you want it, you're willing to put a lot of your personal life into it to make it work. If you're not ready for that, you're probably not ready to go on your own, because people won't just call you to hire you. You're going to have to extend yourself."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Don't Let Fear Paralyze You (quoted from richdad.com)

One of the biggest obstacles in becoming an entrepreneur is fear. Think you are not afraid? Do you keep searching for the right opportunity but just can’t find the perfect deal? That’s fear. Your aversion to risk keeps you in constant analysis and research. This is commonly referred to as analysis paralysis. When this happens, you may end up doing nothing. Don’t let fear or perfection paralyze you.
Matt Clark, our featured entrepreneur guest these last few blogs, has this to say about perfection:
When trying to develop the “entrepreneur mindset” you must stop trying to be perfect. Frequently, if you haven’t achieved a goal it’s because you’re trying to do the perfect action or take the perfect path to achieving that goal.
The problem with this is that you don’t know what the perfect path is or else you would have already taken it. Being perfect leads to the perfect way to fail… doing nothing. The only way to make sure that you get anything done is by not trying to be perfect. Instead focus on taking action. Take that leap of faith, or take a lot of little hops of faith.
Don’t reflect too much on whether what you’re doing is perfect. If you experience a setback, the fastest way to get back on your feet emotionally is to take more action.
When you start taking action, and you stop reflecting on whether that action is perfect, you stop reflecting on your current situation. In order to take that new action, you actually have to focus on it, which means that your focus is not on the negatives of the current situation or how much stuff you have that you don’t like or don’t want. Your focus is on actually doing those new, positive action items.
Matt is right. Perfection is the enemy of motion. Perfection stops entrepreneurship. That is not to say there is no need for setting high standards and going out and achieving them. What we are saying is that too much focus on being perfect leads to inaction and focusing on the wrong things. Too much focus on perfection is usually a subconscious focus born out of fear.
You have your left brain—the logical, analytical, practical side of your world – which is usually where the need to be perfect lives. And you have your right brain—the creative, innovative, intuitive part of your world. And then you have the physical, the spiritual, and everything in between. Rising to meet your financial dreams takes all of it. It takes all of you. Just be careful not to let the desire for perfection ruin your dream of being an entrepreneur.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Dua hari kebelakangan ini saya telah terpedaya untuk menonton 2 buah filem Hindustan yang mengarut sehingga tamat. Kenapa mengarut?

Namun, terdahulu saya ingin mengucapkan terima kasih kepada pembekal siaran tv berbayar yang memberikan siaran percuma (dalam tempoh terhad yang berakhir pada 18 September 2014), sempena pelancaran saluran filem-filem keluaran Bollywood yang semestinya dipasarkan sebagai filem berkualiti lalu membuatkan saya tertarik untuk merakamkan beberapa filem ke dalam konsol dekoder siaran tv berbayar tersebut supaya saya dapat menontonnya di kemudian hari setelah tempoh siaran percuma tersebut tamat.

Berbalik kepada kekarutan kedua-dua filem Hindustan tersebut, apabila masuk sepertiga ke dalam premis filem-filem tersebut, plot cerita yang dijanjikan kelihatan sangat karut.

Filem pertama berkisar tentang seorang belia berusia 27 tahun (atau 28 tahun, saya kurang pasti) yang hidup bebas dan gembira sebagai seorang teknokrat di Jepun, dilantik menjadi Perdana Menteri India setelah terpaksa memenuhi wasiat ayahnya, yang merupakan Perdana Menteri India ketika kemangkatannya. Dia mempunyai teman wanita yang sangat menawan (antara sebab saya terpaku untuk menontonnya pada awal cerita) yang telah tinggal bersamanya selama 3 tahun tanpa ikatan perkahwinan dan dari situ, telah saya jangkakan satu plot cerita gila-gila remaja (atau belia) akan disajikan di sepanjang filem tersebut.

Filem kedua pula, saya terpengaruh kerana pelakon utamanya adalah Amitabh Bachchan. Pastinya hebat fikir saya ketika menekan butang merakam pada alat kawalan jauh. Walaupun saya sedar ia adalah susulan kepada cerita komedi hantu dan pastinya berbentuk hiburan ringan, namun dalam ingatan samar-samar saya, filem pertama tersebut ada menerapkan nilai-nilai moral yang tinggi di dalamnya.

Seperti filem pertama yang saya coretkan tadi, sepertiga ke dalam tontonan saya, premis filem menceritakan bahawa watak hantu yang dilakonkan oleh Amitabh akan bertanding dalam plihanraya kecil untuk kawasan setinggan di dalam cerita itu. Ya, hantu akan bertanding di dalam plihanraya. Kekarutan apakah ini?

Tetapi saya menontonnya juga sehingga tamat. Kenapa?

Secara kebetulan, atau mungkin memang pujian patut diberikan kepada penjaga saluran Bollywood ini yang berjaya menyatukan kedua filem ini sebagai sajian awal kepada bakal-bakal pelanggan baru mereka, kedua-dua filem ini membawa tema yang sama. Kedua-duanya mengisahkan perihal keadaan politik semasa di India - secara satirikal yang sangat matang.

Di dalam filem pertama, setelah melepasi fasa permulaan dalam menyesuaikan diri dengan jawatan tertinggi yang disandangnya, Perdana Menteri tersebut telah mula lebih bertanggungjawab terhadap tugasnya. Dia mula sedar, ada pegawai-pegawai kanannya yang begitu pasti menunggu saat kejatuhannya (akibat prasangka stereotaip mereka iaitu orang muda sangat mentah dalam berpolitik), umpama burung pembangkai yang menunggu kematian seekor haiwan lain.

Maka, atas panduan rakan ayahnya yang sangat dipercayai, dan juga dalam ingatan terhadap didikan ayahnya, Perdana Menteri ini telah mengatur langkah-langkah bijak yang  mungkin kurang popular tetapi sangat penting dalam memastikan dia masih kekal berkuasa dan seterusnya dapat melaksanakan visi pembaharuannya.

Disebabkan usianya yang muda, dia ada mengutarakan beberapa pembaharuan di dalam polisi kerajaan sedia ada dari sudut pandangan seorang belia, yang mana cadangan itu tidak diterima dengan baik dari ahli-ahli partinya yang tegar dengan sistem lama kerana bagi mereka, pembaharuan itu hanya akan merugikan pendapatan kerajaan.

Seperti biasa dalam mana-mana sistem politik di dunia ini, pasti ada percaturan pergerakan politik dalam perebutan kuasa. Aspek ini tidak terlepas dari digambarkan di dalam filem ini namun apa yang begitu menarik perhatian saya adalah bagaimana secara halusnya filem ini ingin menggambarkan bahawa anak-anak muda di India sudah mengalami perubahan zaman menjadi lebih terbuka dan liberal. Di dalam satu adegan, dia perlu berdepan dengan cemuhan apabila perihalnya bersekedudukan dengan teman wanitanya tanpa ikatan perkahwinan diketahui ramai. 

Di sepanjang filem, ada diselang-selikan temubual wartawan dengan orang ramai (ala-ala dalam berita) mengenai pendapat mereka sebagai orang awam berkenaan langkah-langkah yang diambil oleh Perdana Menteri tersebut, termasuklah berkenaan isu dia bersekedudukan dengan teman wanitanya. Untuk nampak tidak terlalu menyebelah kepada arus pemikiran liberal, pembuat filem menunjukkan terdapat pelbagai pendapat - dari pihak yang boleh menerima perihal seperti itu dan masih ramai juga, terutama di perkampungan, yang masih berpegang kuat pada tradisi.

Pada pendapat saya, apa yang membawa kepada titik peralihan kritikal ialah penyampaian melalui medium filem ini sahaja telah memberi satu isyarat bahawa India bukan lagi sebuah negara yang berfikiran sempit seperti yang sering digambarkan melalui berita mengenai pertelingkahan akibat perkahwinan antara kasta, layanan rendah terhadap kaum wanita, isu rogol (negara ini pun tidak kurangnya!) dan sebagainya.

Akhirnya, melalui langkah-langkah pembaharuan yang diperkenalkan, walaupun kurang popular di kalangan golongan elit dan ahli parti, tetapi memang berorientasikan pada kepentingan rakyat, memastikan kemenangan akhirnya milik dia.

Ketika menonton filem kedua pula, setelah beberapa ketika membuatkan saya terus tertanya, apakah yang sedang berlaku di India ketika ini? Kini hantu pula hendak bertanding dalam pilihanraya? Wakau bagaimanapun, filem ini telah mengupas dengan baik mengenai undang-undang sedia ada di India berkenaan syarat-syarat untuk menjadi calon pilihanraya, maka dari sudut kekarutan sudah diberi penjelasan secara teknikal. Jadi, atas alasan apakah lagi untuk saya tidak meneruskan menonton filem ini?

Alasannya untuk bertanding adalah kerana kawasan itu hanya mempunyai calon tunggal akibat penindasan (berbentuk ugutan, rasuah dan pembunuhan) yang dilakukan terhadap calon-calon lain yang ingin bertanding. Maka, jika diletakkan hantu sebagai pencabar, bagaimana calon tunggal itu hendak menindasnya? Masuk akal juga argumen mereka ini. Maka, saya teruskan lagi menonton.

Terdapat satu adegan yang begitu terkesan bagi saya apabila hantu tersebut berkunjung ke balai polis bagi mendapatkan pengesahan bebas jenayah sebagai memenuhi salah satu syaratnya untuk bertanding. Setelah selesai berurusan dan si hantu beredar dari balai, si ketua bertanya kepada prebetnya, tidakkah dia nampak kelibat hantu itu ketika ia masuk ke dalam balai? Lalu dijawab si prebet, bagaimana hendak dia nampak? Kerana sebagai seorang penguatkuasa undang-undang, undang-undang yang dikuatkuasakan itu sendiri adalah buta! Alangkah sinisnya jenaka itu dan terus membuatkan saya tertanya adakah mampu filem kita menyindir kelemahan sistem kita sebaik ini?

Saya tidak ingin mengulas lanjut secara literal mengenai plot filem ini namun apa yang dapat saya serap adalah betapa sinisnya pembuat filem di India dalam menggambarkan senario politik semasa negara mereka seperti kegagalan dalam menunaikan manifesto pilihanraya sehingga memaksa penglibatan hantu dalam menguruskan pentadbiran manusia. Dan ada babak yang sangat sesuai menggambarkan istilah ‘pengundi hantu’, di mana ada hantu yang tidak didaftarkan kematian mereka, maka nama mereka digunakan orang berkepentingan sebagai pengundi berdaftar di tempat lain.

Satu persamaan ketara yang saya dapat lihat di dalam kedua-dua filem ini adalah berkenaan tahap kesedaran kepentingan rakyat untuk keluar mengundi. Digambarkan, terdapat peratusan rakyat yang besar dan yang layak tetapi tidak keluar untuk mengundi, di mana akhirnya tidak akan membawa sebarang perubahan, walau bagaimana sekalipun calon yang baik itu berkempen untuk melakukan yang terbaik.

Seperti yang ditunjukkan di dalam filem kedua, demi menunjukkan betapa pentingnya walau hanya satu suara pengundi berdaftar, si hantu berlagak tidak terdengar satu soalan mudah yang diajukan seorang lelaki yang belum mendaftar sebagai seorang pengundi, walaupun diulang berkali-kali dengan nada yang lebih kuat. Ini menunjukkan betapa pentingnya satu langkah kecil tersebut iaitu dengan menjadi seorang pengundi berdaftar dan seterusnya, dengan keluar mengundi, kita sebenarnya telah menyuarakan keinginan kita melalui saluran yang paling sah dan sangat berkuasa dalam menentukan arah tujuan sesebuah negara.

Teringat saya menonton sebuah filem dari negara jiran kita Indonesia iaitu Alangkah Lucunya Negeri Ini. Filem itu juga banyak menyindir secara sinis dan satirikal mengenai senario politik semasa Indonesia. Saya terkedu dalam tidak sedar, dua negara yang sering dipandang lebih rendah dari negara kita dari sudut kemajuan berjaya menghasilkan filem-filem sebaik ini.

Ketika musim hari kemerdekaan yang baru berlalu, saya ada terlihat di laman sosial saya perkongsian mengenai perbandingan tajuk-tajuk filem yang ditayangkan sekitar musim kemerdekaan antara negara kita dan Indonesia, kerana kedua-dua negara ini berkongsi bulan yang sama dalam meraikan hari kemerdekaan mereka. Dari situ sahaja, kita sudah ada jawapan yang membimbangkan.

Pernah saya dengari, kata-kata indah industri perfileman kita, “Filem Kita Wajah Kita”. Dengan lambakan filem-filem rempit, menjerit, gangster yang menggunakan bahasa paling pasar yang boleh dijumpai di dalam kamus terbitan Dewan Bahasa sebagai tajuknya, maka terimalah bahawasanya itulah yang mencerminkan wajah negara kita sekarang.