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Go for it all or play it safe?

Go for it all or play it safe?

Go for it all or play it safe?

Okay guys and gals I need your opinions now.  This might be long but I want to give everyone the facts.  I am a Structural Engineer living in the Midwest, I have over 10 years experience and I have designed projects in every state ranging from office complexes, large retail buildings, schools, jails, bridges, etc.  A few years back I was able to move back home and join a small civil firm to start their Structural Department.  The owners are all Civil based professionals and are not experienced in the building side of structures.  None of them have the ability to properly review my work before it goes out the door.  I have the ability and funding to go out on my own and start my own firm.  If I was to become a partner in the firm I am working for I would not be an equal partner and will not obtain ownership in the building or other business that the original partners have.  We use or firms employees to help with some of the other business they have, and yes this is an issue for many employees.  I love what I do and the people I work with plus we only have 40 hour work weeks.  That is great and very rare in the engineering world and it would not be realistic with my own firm.  

My success has brought us several large clients and high profile projects.  Many are under contract or under design.  The building staff consists of me, an EIT and whatever draftsman we can obtain from the other groups.  No I do not have good support, however we function well, meet our deadlines and are very profitable.  If asked my bosses will hire additional help.

The Architects I work with now are the same I hope to work for on my own.  If I leave the projects under design will come to an extreme halt, everyone knows Architects don’t like this.  Could this have a negative impact on me professionally with potential clients or do you think they will understand?  Ethically, I have been very careful not to make aware my possibility of leaving with our clients.  I don’t want it to appear that I am trying to take clients with me, but I expect that most will follow me wherever I go.  A life long friend of mine, who is an Architect, has approached me with a new project that will easily launch a new firm.  If I leave it is mine if I stay he will give it too me at my current office.  To complicate matters worse I have been contacted by a previous employer who wants me to start a new office for them at my current location.  I would become an equal partner in an already established firm and have the freedom to grow the new office my way.  

I am not one who likes to burn bridges because you never know what might happen.  But also I am one that enjoys challenges and have no fear of going for it.  What would you do?  

Thanks in advance for the help.  

RE: Go for it all or play it safe?

Do not be so sure clients will follow you just because they like you... that is a potentially fatal mistake.  They may or may not follow, but don't base your decision solely upon that.  If you have a guaranteed, high profile project in line from your friend, it will get you out on your own with income, and that's a good start.  The prior employer wanting a new office is also a great backup... or can you do both at once?

As far as burning bridges... once you've made your decision to leave, make it clear to the architects you enjoy working with them and would like to continue doing so, but this is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Make them envious (not jealous) of your position and they'll find it hard to fault you... they would do the same if in your position.  If it's possible, consider ramping down your work on any current designs while ramping someone else up.  That would give the architects little room to complain as work wouldn't stop, keeping their view towards you in a positive light.

Dan - Owner

RE: Go for it all or play it safe?

A few questions to ask yourself:

How well do the architects know you?

Have you built up enough of a personal reputation in this local area?

On the other side:

Is it worth working your ass off to build up someone elses business if you will never become a full partner?

Are you investing your time into creating future competition for your business?

Sorry I dont have any answers today.


RE: Go for it all or play it safe?

It sounds to me like you will be very succcessful on your own.  If you have built up a client base and a successful structural dept already, then you can surely do it again!

Don't worry about the particulars of what clients will go with you.  The real question to ask yourself is whether you want to own and run the whole business (then go out on your own), or whether you would be just as happy sharing the risks and rewards with others.

I bet that you already know the answer, you just want some encouragement to leap.  Go for it!  Just be prepared to hire some help.

 And don't burn the bridge.  You might try and form a strategic alliance with your current firm and refer work back and forth (civil vs. structural.)

RE: Go for it all or play it safe?

why shouldn't you negotiate your leave far in advance?! By no means - you shouldn't leave many unfinshed projects!

That way you may put a pressure on your bosses. How are you so sure they won't offer you equal partnership? If you just leave, many benefits of your achievements will dissaper overnight.

The most careful thing is: start very slow negotiations about your leave. Tell them almost all you told us. They won't fire you if they are not total jerks. If they are, you will see it clearly...


RE: Go for it all or play it safe?

If they are total jerks and they fire you then you will feel no guilt stealing their clients!

"Hey, Firm X are no longer able to give you the level of service that your projects deserve, but my firm is happy to step in and fill the gap"


RE: Go for it all or play it safe?

Something doesn't sound right based upon your description of your staff (you, EIT, and whatever draftmen), your projects (several large clients and high profile projects) and your work week (40 hours).  It would seem that something has to give.

You hint that the forty hour work week will have to disappear if you go on your own, but where is your efficiency coming from now?  EIT? Draftsmen?

You sound quite capable, so the choice is yours regarding starting your own business or helping your previous employer.  It sounds like you will regret staying put.

Just my 2 cents.

RE: Go for it all or play it safe?

Thanks for the input so far, I have decided to take the plunge.  The marketing campaign will kick off in two weeks with all the Architects in town.  I’ve decided to host lunchtime continue education seminars for Architects.  I will provide them free lunch while they earn CE hours from the guess speakers in exchange for getting in front of them on a regular basis.  I plan on having slide shows of past projects I have done play while everyone is eating.  I figure the cost will be low for the value I get, plus it doesn’t hurt that my family owns the restaurant.  

As for efficiency issue on my workload currently I don’t have to worry about the business side of things.  I can spend 40 hours a week cranking out calcs, drawings and keeping clients happy. Then spend the rest of my time with the family.   Now I will have two jobs to do, but then again I get to control my own workload and I have a wonderful wife that is willing to take on work and help out.

CSD, you wrote “Are you investing your time into creating future competition for your business?”  That statement couldn’t have made my decision any easier.  Thank you.

Thank you to everyone else as well.

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