Can you remember what it was like when you first made the leap and started your own firm? Chances are, you left the security of a regular, paying job. Previously, someone else danced the rain jig for clients. Someone else called the copier repair guy, the phone tech, the computer guru. Your Social Security, medical insurance, and 401K didn't drain entirely from your own pocket. You didn't have to pay for the chair you sit on, the software you use, the fluorescent lights that shine overhead. Overhead ... you didn't have to think about that at all.

So now you're the one who has to foot the bill for the office space. Ouch. Ah, but your name is on the door. The plans you draw have your stamp on them. This is your business and your dream. As you can see from the five firms we've profiled, many start-up experiences are similar. It's hard to get clients to pay on time--or ever; it's tough to attract the quantity and quality of work you need; and when, for goodness' sake, do you find time to design? Then again, maybe baby firms and more seasoned ones are not so different. These are problems all firms reckon with, no matter what their vintage. But the difficulties loom so much larger when faced for the first time.

Most of the firms we interviewed dealt with their first-timer fears by identifying mentors they could consult. Several added partners to share the burden. All had solid firm experience before they ventured out on their own. Yes, it's scary out there, but not one architect regretted the decision to fly solo. It was and still is, they insist, the best decision they've ever made.

year three: christine albertsson, aia, and todd hansen, aia
albertsson hansen architecture