Because of our residential architect LinkedIn Group, I have a behind-the-curtain view of a trend in the profession: Quite a few young associate architects are launching their own sole proprietorships. Those résumé-style LinkedIn profiles reveal their curriculum vitae and they usually read like this:

John Smith Architecture

July 2010 – Present (10 months)

Associate Architect

Brand Name Architecture Firm

June 2007 to July 2010 (3 years, 1 month)

Education

Masters of Architecture

Harvard/Yale/Princeton

It all looks official. Most established sole proprietorships would show similar credentials, albeit with longer intervals at various firms and on their own. What’s uncertain is how formal these fledgling firms really are. Have they done the legal paperwork to incorporate? Do all of these associates have their licenses yet? Do they even have the basic office equipment to get a real project under way?

My assumption is that what we’re seeing is a lot of laid off novice architects (and veteran senior associates, for that matter) realizing the next staff job looks highly unlikely for some time, so they’re concluding they might as well hang out their own shingle. Something similar is happening in the journalism profession, as well. Editors lose their staff jobs and suddenly they declare themselves “freelance writers.”

But working on your own is a huge step that’s best taken deliberately. Understandably, not everyone has had that liberty lately, and many Dilbert professionals are heading home to “work” out of their guest bedrooms—like it or not. One of the keys to turning this situation into a success story is a serious attitude. You have to put your heart, soul, and soles into making it fly. Legwork and a high degree of professionalism are critical.

The first thing to do when you’ve been shown the door (while your employer is still feeling guilty) is to secure the rights to display projects you contributed to at the firm on your new website (with proper, vetted attribution and cleared photography releases). Also, if you haven’t done so already, take the time to pursue your licensure. Hire out or do your own website design (see page 25 about best practices in firm websites). If you don’t have much previous work to put online, enter competitions and post your conceptual work as examples of recent design.

If you haven’t had billing responsibility at your previous firm, you really need to spend some time thinking about how you want to charge potential clients for your work. Even if you’ve had billing duties, you may need to rethink your own approach as a sole practitioner. You’ll want to be flexible with clients, but you must also appear confident and competent to carry them through a very daunting process.

But here’s the hardest piece of advice to follow—and the most important. Even though you may be hungry, don’t jump at a job that’s too big or complicated for you to ace. Make sure you understand what you really can do, without the support of a big firm behind you. You’re not just paying the rent, you’re building your own business—and it’s your reputation at stake now.

Comments? E-mail

cconroy@hanleywood.com.