Small Firm + Mentor = Big Ideas

In support of Burwell Consultants, William M. Burwell writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas: Design; Marketing, Firm Management and Project Management.  Check him out at 

Practice Management Post 1.11

You made the decision.  You chose self employment and the road to entrepreneurship versus the cog on the wheel approach of employment in a large firm.  Honestly, your decision was a very personal one, and one that likely was not made easily or without considerable aforethought.  And now you are knee-deep in design (that's a good thing), Project Management (it's part of the work), Firm Management (, right in the middle of things)? and Marketing (it would be nice to have a few more new clients).  At least there are 24 hours in a day and only a few are needed for sleep.

It can be a heady time, opening the office, creating a brand, pushing your ideas out into a very selective and discerning marketplace.  At times there is so much to do that it seems daunting.   At other times you're hoping the phone rings with more work or a key employee prospect to help relieve the pressure.  And daunting it is indeed.  What drove you to start your own practice has sometimes been described as irrational exuberance, tempered with self assurance.  What keeps you up at night and often keeps others from even attempting a start up can be fear.  Fear of failure, fear that clients won't call, fear of the unknown.

Bringing on a seasoned mentor provides someone to walk beside you along this chosen path. Someone who has been there before and can remove some of the fear and concern with years of experience making the exact same decisions you may be faced with today.  Imagine the relief of knowing the decisions will bear up to the test of the time or that the decision to expand at a particular time is merited and may not carry the element of risk you anticipate.  It is in this way that a mentor or advisor to your firm can provide the confidence for you to propel your firm forward.  

The right mentor should bring several things with them in their tool kit.

  • A mix of firm experience from small to medium and large - this provides you perspective.
  • Design experience  - he'll be able to relate to your talent and process
  • Marketing experience - you will benefit from knowing what works, what things cost and where to focus 
  • Practice management - guidance on the pragmatic will keep you on the road

Most of all you need a mentor who as a successful practitioner has experienced failure along the way.  Failure is the sharpening stone that keeps ideas sharp and relevant to any practice, it is the ultimate teacher.  When you allow a mentor to assist your firm it is a lot like the old formula 1+1=3 or as my headline suggests: Small Firm + Mentor = Big Ideas.  Take advantage of it.

William M. Burwell  is a retired Architect and Interior Designer who focused on corporate interior architecture for over 40 years in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began a Small Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm to share the wisdom and experience of those 40 years.   He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence.