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Avoiding becoming an owner-builder of your practice...
It's better to consider who not how - stealing from Dan Sullivan and Dr Benjamin Hardy.

The majority of architects will advise their clients not to take on projects as owner-builders, unless they work in construction. It’s because they have no expertise in building, coordinating trades, processing payments, and so on. It’s a proposition that at best can be a false economy and at worst a disaster in waiting or reality. The architect’s advice is therefore sound.

It’s also advice that architects would be well advised to listen to within their own practice.

As so called generalists (some might say polymaths), architects are skilled across many areas of knowledge and expertise. As creative and intelligent people, they tend towards thinking they can many things in their practice themselves. Many can, but my question is, do they do it as well as someone with that specialist expertise? Doing their own marketing, website, photography, financial admin, admin, copywriting, etc, is a lot like being an owner-builder.

So instead of struggling with the how of doing work you’re inexpert in, pause and consider who might be able to do it instead. It’s a choice on how you spend your time and on the work that aligns with your expertise, enjoyment and purpose.

In a profession where margins are tight, it can feel like the practice is a hand to mouth existence. Paying for additional expertise seems like an extravagance, unless you’re in a larger practice. Yet there’s an opportunity cost to taking on that work. Time spent on the parts of the practice in which you’re not expert is time away from the work you excel at. A consultant will do their work better, faster and will have the right tools for the job. The right who can win work, save time and with the right people, they’ll ultimately make their cost back and then some.

It’s admittedly often a leap of faith. I suggest preparing first. Don’t offload all responsibilities all at once. It’s going to take time. Do take the time to notice what you’re struggling with, what takes up too much of your time, the work you resent spending time on, and other areas where there’s friction. Don’t spend time asking How can I do this? Consider instead Who can do this for me? (or your practice). It might be that you can employ someone to do this work – that might be someone with the specific expertise in addition to an architectural skillset, sharing their time between responsibilities. Interested staff could be given formal training to take on other responsibilities. The who might be a consultant you need to engage. It should go without saying – do your research and due diligence.

If you do this, you’ll free up your time to work on the things you love, be with the people you want to, and do the work that you bring the greatest value to.

Don’t be an owner-builder. Who can do this for you instead?


This post was inspired by my own recent experience…

We often teach the things we need to hear. If you’ve previously visited the unmeasured website, you might now notice things look a little different around here now. After making do with a website I designed and built, I knew it needed a revamp. As I struggled with the How it quickly became evident I needed to listen to advice I might give others. I turned my attention to Who might be able to do this work for me. Prop’s and thanks to Imogen Baker who did an incredible job wrangling my brain and words into the site that you now see. 🙏🏼

Picture by Pavel Chernonogov on Pexels [cropped & edited]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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