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Balancing Act
Landscape architects share their insights on the challenges and rewards of starting up a firm.
By Heather Hammatt, ASLA

Creativity, or the pursuit of a design philosophy, is often an individual experience. So, it is not surprising that many designers, at some point in their careers, choose to fly solo. Of those who succumb to the entrepreneurial urge, only a handful will navigate the market with any success. The stories of those who have "hung out their shingle" and persevered reveal some of the issues and challenges involved in starting up a firm or design office, and may provide insight or initiative to those who will inevitably follow in their footsteps.

According to Frank Stasiowski, author of Staying Small Successfully: A Guide for Architects, Engineers, and Design Professionals, most firms are started by one or more designers who have secured a client or project. The owners are usually involved hands-on in the design process and wear many hats in the management and daily operations of the firm. Because of the size of the office, the number of active projects is usually small, giving the designers time to spend on their clients' needs and concerns. Marketing, management, and design aspects of the firm are in close contact, their duties often performed by the same people. Smaller firms often find it valuable to focus their talents and then market that focus.

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