Plan your future: who else is going to do it?

It's going to happen anyway.  Luck can change it.  People influence it.  Your FUTURE is an ethereal, hard to grasp, slip out of your grip, often elusive element.  And yet it's real.  You made the decisive step to start up your first firm or maybe you have just been promoted and invited to become a principal in a firm in which you've invested some time. Whatever the path, it's still YOUR future and it belongs to no one else.  Sure you share it, and engage others along the way but it's yours to envision, build, directand control.  We'd all like to think that if we just work hard, do good work and wear a smile, that great things will happen.  Maybe, maybe not.

"If its already 5 or 10 years down the road and you are stepping into a principal role in an existing firm, it's probably time to ask some deep probing questions about the future."

If you are just starting out, start dreaming and build a personal vision of your firm in 5, 10 or 20 years.  Here's the interesting part.  The vision rarely evolves perfectly as imagined.  Why?  Fate, luck, people and your own actions and reactions will literally alter the future as you live it.  Your job is to keep your vision firmly in your mind, constantly scanning the future with one eye on the past.  Personally I had two early brushes with failure on my part to move my early firm to success.  The first brush was mostly due to my non-existent skills at age 28 to understand about cash flow and how it is the life blood of any firm.  My Mom always said, "if you get to choose between being good looking or lucky - pick lucky".  And a little luck served me well as a major project came to me just at the right time and saved the day.  My second brush at age 35 was economic.  Just when the economy went bust, one of my clients began asking me to solve problems where they hired another firm who had  blown both the fee and the schedule, leaving me with only a little fee and less time - but desperate time require desperate actions and I delivered against most reasonable odds.  So much so that the client firm doubled down on my team and again I was rejuvenated with cash - the breath of business life.  Within 6 months, they purchased my now successful firm.  Whew.

If its already 5 or 10 years down the road and you are stepping into a principal role in an existing firm, it's probably time to ask some deep probing questions about the future.  I had this opportunity twice in my career.  Believe me, the first time was a real steep learning curve.    This first time, I had a mentor in the firm working together with me on the firm's Management Committee.  His senior guidance was critical to my success.  I had a job to do and with his support I put my head down and developed my studio into the largest and most aggressive component of the firm generating 20% of the firms income in the first year and for the next 3 years in a declining economy.  My reward was stepping into a larger corporate world than I had ever worked in before.  I had always had the tools but not the access.  The second time, I had greater confidence and maturity on my side.  I was able to better control my destiny while at the same time leveraging my experience with the larger firm's reputation to win prestigious clients and projects for the firm.  In both of these cases, I had mentors and aligned my goals with those of my other principals.  It was not an accident.

But these are my stories, your stories will be different.  Regardless of the economy, or luck, or the effects of age and maturity, take hold of your future.  Create the dream and accept that you can affect the future.  If and more likely when, the future presents you options outside of your personal vision,  look hard at each opportunity and make bold decisions.  You might be facing some of those life changing decisions today and if I can help you understand the options and which way the paths ahead lead you and your firm, give me a call.  I'd enjoy swapping stories and providing evaluation and guidance that perhaps you may not have considered. 

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture through his sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years Bill writes articles sharing his experience in keystone practice areas: Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Practice Management. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com .