+ So after determining that my last project was going nowhere fast, I had to make the decision to cut bait and run. Basically, the firm’s business model wasn’t going to work for me and here’s why:

+ First let’s start out by stating what hasn’t changed and probably will never change. In the AEC world (Architecture, Engineering, Construction), every meeting, and I mean EVERY meeting always begins with what I call the, “It’s not my responsibility” smoke screen. The first 20 minutes always entails everyone going around the room blaming everyone else for something “wrong” regarding the project. And, most of the time, the Cover Your Ass response to anything is, “It’s not in my scope of work,” which really just means, “I’m not getting paid to do that shit.” That attitude really bothers me.

That aside, let me address the reasons why I couldn’t work for this company any longer.

TL;DR : I wasn’t getting paid.

Okay… So why wasn’t I getting paid? The company is very busy. A lot of jobs actually. With new clients coming on board weekly. But, by “busy” I mean highly ineffective, therefore, tasks that could and should have been delegated to others (me) and taken care of quickly were caught up in the owner’s own private Idaho. Every detail was trapped inside the head of a single person!  I mean, who has time to discuss delegation when there’s too much to do and meetings all day long?


The owner insisted on keeping everyone, including so-called “employees” at arm’s length.  When I say, “employees” I actually mean “independent contractors” who really are just common-law employees.

Here’s the deal: there are good reasons and bad reasons for working exclusively with contractors instead of employees. In this owner’s mind, they were under the impression that they had “fooled” the IRS in some fashion by paying employees as subs (Wow! You guys found a LOOPHOLE! No one has ever tried that before… this is accounting genius!) therefore bypassing those pesky employment taxes and 941 filings. M’kay.

Aside from the legality or ethics of this maneuver, what’s really assumed of those working for this company is that they should be grateful for the opportunity, and blindly accept the role of independent contractor but at the rate of a full-time employee. (The two wages are not equal as you know, an independent contractor would usually charge about 3X the amount of a full-time employee’s hourly rate.)

Oh yeah, just make sure you’re available, your phone is on, and you’re sitting at your desk. And do this for the duration of the workday, logging your billable hours. Just don’t log any hours where you are sitting around the office… got it?

In effect, act like an employee, get paid as if you were a contractor;  which is, get paid when the client pays. Paycheck every two weeks? Are you kidding? If the company has no cash, how can the company pay YOU, independent contractor? When I decided to move on, I had gone almost 4 weeks without seeing a dime for the time I worked. It was at that point that I knew something was amiss.

The entire company revolves around every decision the owner makes from the highest level design strategy to what kinds of screws are used in a bathroom stall. Detail oriented for sure. And this attention turns out really lovely projects when it’s all said and done but the owner continuously laments over all the uncompensated “construction management time” that gets burned up over the duration of every project. The fact is, this company isn’t charging for the value it’s bringing to a project. This owner only sees themselves as a number on a budget line.

At a certain point, nearly three months in and going broke, I determined that I was never going to be able to contribute effectively to this company’s growth because the owner, I finally realized, doesn’t want to grow!  My promise to double the firm’s revenue fell on deaf ears. There was no way to show this owner the right way to grow and, in doing so, become a legitimate company that made us all money.

What could be a nationally recognized design firm, which would create great jobs for talented designers and make the owner a very comfortable income, will never realize that, nor achieve that level of professionalism. But, it will carry on, buoying the owner along, head above water, while remaining trapped in the inefficiencies of time-based billing and limited by the constant drone of, “there’s never enough hours in the day…” or worse, “we can’t raise our prices or we’ll lose out to other firms.”

Unfortunately, I feel sorry for this owner in that the company they’ve built is really cool, but the business acumen just isn’t quite there. In effect, this owner is being punished by brutal hours on the job, constant, self-fabricated stress and the inability to let go of things that just don’t matter in the long run.

In conclusion, I didn’t care about leaving. I wasn’t being challenged at all and the thought of “playing independent contractor, acting like an employee” made no sense. If you want my loyalty and my good ideas, then treat me like I’m on the team.  Ultimately, I was never on this team.

I don’t hold grudges. Movin’ on…

p.s. When I left – on good terms actually – I was never offered payment for the past three weeks of work. It’s like I wasn’t even there… poof.

Like I said, movin’ on.