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Thread: Rigors of Private Planning Practice #8: Becoming a Principal at Your Company

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Rigors of Private Planning Practice #8: Becoming a Principal at Your Company

    How do you become an owner or top-level principal at your planning firm?

    I am sure billings has something to do with it. And also the number of employees you supervise and the level of their billable time. Your contacts and ability to score projects on a consistent basis probably is a large component, too. But what is the most important? If you were the owner of your planning firm and wanted to promote someone, and had two candidates with almost the exact same track record, which factor would sway you to choose a particular candidate?

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    First you throw your morals out the window, then you invite the devlopers into your office, then you bend over and grab your ankles as you become the developers' b!%#&.....


    Just kidding of course, but this is what first came to my mind.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    H,

    You are going into academia, correct? Do you aspire to become a professor? If so, feel free to share some of your expectations of the workload you will have to produce in order to become tenured and then become a full-fledged professor with a capital P. I am sure your journey will include many challenging rigors akin to the massive workload on the desks of those in the private sector.

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    H,

    I am sure your journey will include many challenging rigors akin to the massive workload on the desks of those in the private sector.
    I look to research and I am sure you are correct.

    I worked in the private sector for about a year and a half and as I already said I was only kidding with my statement. (hence the ). Everyone always has to answer to someone. However, there were many days when my previous statement was exactly what the job description felt like.

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    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    I don't really see distributed ownership in my firm's future. The owner is very much the dictator and I don't see him relinquishing any control.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ludes98
    I don't really see distributed ownership in my firm's future. The owner is very much the dictator and I don't see him relinquishing any control.
    But what about the top level principals? While they may not have ownership, do they receive an annual or quarterly bonus? If you cannot look to become a part-owner in your company, can you at least look forward to a nice bonus?

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    Moving at my own pace....... Planderella's avatar
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    I work for an Italian father-son firm. Naturally, family members are given dibs on the top level positions, followed by family friends and those who are forever indebted to them. The rest of us work to fill their already fattened pockets.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    We have an Associate Plan that is fairly detailed. Supervisory level, profitability, certification, and contribution to the profession all factor in. Plus, you have to be nominated by the owners or another Associate, and must have been with the company a minimum tenure.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet
    Plus, you have to be nominated by the owners or another Associate
    What do you have to do to be nominated? When the time comes, do your principals pick a diverse bunch, or is it cliquish?

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    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    What do you have to do to be nominated? When the time comes, do your principals pick a diverse bunch, or is it cliquish?
    I havent been there long enough to see it in action.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Wanigas:

    Numero uno in combination: billable hours and the ability to bring in new business.

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    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    But what about the top level principals? While they may not have ownership, do they receive an annual or quarterly bonus? If you cannot look to become a part-owner in your company, can you at least look forward to a nice bonus?
    Bonus? Yes and they are generally pretty big. We had huge year last year and I got 5% of my yearly salary as bonus.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u
    billable hours and the ability to bring in new business.
    If a planner gets that good, then why not start-up a one-person planning consulting firm? At this point in my life, when I think about my career, I am unable to see the advantages of being a top-dog at a planning firm. All I see are the pains of supervising a team of young planners and technicians.

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    Going out on your own involves its own set of challenges, some of which affect basic survival. But I heartily recommend it as an experience. I think working for yourself at some point in your life is a necessary American experience.

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    How to?

    Lee has started an topic here that interests me: starting your own consulting practice. I've thought about doing this once or twice, even talked to people who did it for advice, and they told me "you won't believe it, but people start calling you once they hear you are available." My response to that is "well, that's great, it happened to you, but is there something you can do to help increase your chances of succeeding." I also know some people who started the consulting gig, did OK at it, but went back to a more normal job or joined a larger firm after a few years. It seems that there must be more to it than hanging out a shingle.

    Any insights on how to make the transition to independent consultant, other than the usual ones: have a good network, go to conferences and speak, etc.? I am not interested in joining a large consulting firm, since the whole appeal of being a consultant is being my own boss and the flexibility that comes with it.

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    I could say a lot about this. Here are just a few thoughts.

    The first thing to think about is not what you might think. Think about your family obligations and how a decision to embark on your own practice will fit into those. You will need a lot of support from your SO, if you have one, and I don't just mean financial support, although that can help. A one-person band act has real ups and downs, and you are going to have to be confident in your family's ability to cope with them.

    Then you have to think about your self-discipline. Can you work at home (which is where you will have to start) and not wander into the kitchen to bake brownies or sit down in front of the TV? Focus is critical. I had good focus for many years, but it did eventually require a lot of maintenance. Also, think about work space. Do you have it? I got started with a Mac SE, a dot matrix printer, and a $69 computer table in a living room, so you don't need much, but a good workspace can help.

    Do you get lonely? You may think your current colleagues are jerks. You may also end up missing them? It is not easy to not have someone to make small talk with (and you can't put the whole burden on someone you want to stay married to). If you are busy this won't be too much of a problem. But during slow times, it can be a bit demoralizing.

    FInally, do you like being on the road? I took it to extremes, often traveling well over half the month, but even if you are working on a regional basis, you will be spending a lot of time in motion. I found it a great way to learn, and recommend it to any somewhat adventurous planner, but its not for everyone. I am pretty happy just being in one place now, after 16+ years living on the road. But I suspect I will be ready to get back on the road again at some point.

    That's enough for today.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich
    Any insights on how to make the transition to independent consultant, other than the usual ones: have a good network, go to conferences and speak, etc.? I am not interested in joining a large consulting firm, since the whole appeal of being a consultant is being my own boss and the flexibility that comes with it.
    There are plenty of books on how to start your own business. Some tips for increasing the odds of making it successful:
    1) Start it as a side venture, "in your spare time", so that you have many of the pieces in place before you walk away from your regular job.
    2) Contact the Small Business Administration. They have a lot of inexpensive (or even free) workshops and can be very useful.
    3) Start it from home. It reduces your overhead dramatically. Home businesses have a higher success rate than businesses started elsewhere and you can always move it out of your home if you need to later, when the money is there.
    4) If you are going to do a one person business, pick up "Working Solo" for starters. A one person business is a "micro" business. I think "small businesses" are defined as something like "having fewer than 100 empoloyees". The "Guerilla" series of books ("Guerrilla Marketing") are also good. There are quite a few good books and even magazines out there aimed at small businesses, start-ups, etc. Start reading some of them.
    5) If you do a one person business, it pays to know thyself. I have been a homemaker forever and I have homeschooled my kids for nearly 6 years. At this point, I think I would make a truly lousy employee. I know what works for me and I have trouble wrapping my brain around the idea that I ought to do things some other way. You may need to do some self-assessing to determine what areas need to be worked on to get yourself in the right frame of mind/habits/etc.
    6) They have done quite a few studies on what makes for a successful entrepreneur. To the best of my knowledge, the personal determinaiton to be independent is the number one best indicator of whether you make it or not. People who think they have some 'get rich quick' scheme going or that it will be less work than a regular job, etc, throw in the towel when the going gets tough. In contrast, people who are fiercely determined to have their independence will do whatever they have to do to make it work.
    7) Come up with a vision for what you will be doing. I am sure you know how to do a visioning process by now.

    HTH.

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    I disagree with MZ's list on one point. Starting in your "spare time" may work for some individuals, in some types of businesses. But I do not think you can start a planning practice without plunging in. What will happen, after all, if the contract that will get you properly launched comes along, you have to take it right away, and you have obligations to an employer? There are also conflict of interest issues. Those can probably be avoided, but overall I think you have to go off the board, not stand there bouncing and looking down at the water.
    Last edited by Lee Nellis; 18 Aug 2004 at 8:38 AM. Reason: typo

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Doesn't APA have a book about starting/running your own planning consulting firm? I have not bothered to look over their daily mailings of Planner's Book Store catalogs in some time, but I think I remember seeing one.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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    Cyburbian
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    There are other aspects as well--what kind of work do you want to consult on?

    There are at least a couple of options including development services consulting--running permits, preparing rezoning applications, managing site plan processes etc...

    or, bigger picture process stuff like area plans, zoning ordinance revisions etc...

    or more land planning/design type consulting...

    Best advice (for me if I was considering doing this and I have) is to find a niche in the local market and capitalize on it.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    7) Come up with a vision for what you will be doing. I am sure you know how to do a visioning process by now.
    All kidding aside, it IS a good idea to engage in the ol' SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) exercise. What are your strengths & weaknesses in terms of your skills? What opportunities can you capitalize on? - e.g., weaknesses of your potential competitors; unfulfilled needs of your market, etc. What kinds of things will you need to outsource or hire others to do?

    Consultants are a dime a dozen. You need to decide what will make you stand out from the rest.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    I disagree with MZ's list on one point. Starting in your "spare time" may work for some individuals, in some types of businesses. But I do not think you can start a planning practice without plunging in. What will happen, after all, if the contract that will get you properly launched comes along, you have to take it right away, and you have obligations to an employer? There are also conflict of interest issues. Those can probably be avoided, but overall I think you have to go off the board, not stand there bouncing and looking down at the water.
    That is always a point to wrestle with, one I am wrestling with at the moment because paperwork for my divorce has begun and, lo and behold, there is now a local assistant planner job being advertised (closes Sept. 9th). So, now I don't know if I value eating or independence more.

    However, even if launching the business needs to be done on a "plunge right in, the water is fine" basis, I think a lot of the groundwork can be laid beforehand and that is partly what I meant. Sorry that I did not make that more clear. I think coming up with a vision/plan, finding out what you need to do to make it legal, brainstorming a name for the company, designing a business card, writing up a list of services offered, etc, etc, etc. can be done before you take the plunge. And if you get offered that make-or-break contract, that might be a good time to put in your two weeks notice.

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    One can (and should, says I, who did not, except by accident), lay the groundwork while one is still collecting checks if that is possible.

    Eating is better than not. And even a relatively short term of service in local government planning will enhance your ability to sell your services as a consultant later on. I had seven years of local gov't experience when I started.

    On the other hand, if you truly think you'd make a lousy employee, taking the plunge might be the right thing to do. But beware your own perception of your employability. Karen constantly moaned about being unemployable until she actually started looking, and partly for the reason you mention: she has very definite ideas about things should be done! But she has been offered an interview for every postiion she has applied for, made the second cut where there was one, and been offered 2 of the 3 where she interviewed (she also declined one interview). It isn't true of every situation by any means, but your internal compass will give you an edge over other applicants in some cases.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    One can (and should, says I, who did not, except by accident), lay the groundwork while one is still collecting checks if that is possible.

    Eating is better than not. And even a relatively short term of service in local government planning will enhance your ability to sell your services as a consultant later on. I had seven years of local gov't experience when I started.

    On the other hand, if you truly think you'd make a lousy employee, taking the plunge might be the right thing to do. But beware your own perception of your employability. Karen constantly moaned about being unemployable until she actually started looking, and partly for the reason you mention: she has very definite ideas about things should be done! But she has been offered an interview for every postiion she has applied for, made the second cut where there was one, and been offered 2 of the 3 where she interviewed (she also declined one interview). It isn't true of every situation by any means, but your internal compass will give you an edge over other applicants in some cases.
    Thanks, for all your thoughts. I am seriously considering applying. I am waiting to hear back on a proposal I wrote before I decide. If money comes through on that, I should have adequate breathing room to get by while building a business. I have already laid a lot of the groundwork for business and I do have concerns (if I get a job) about conflict of interest (what with my rail plan), that my present circumstances likely won't allow me to work full time and continue developing the million and one things I am involved in, etc. There is a fine line between faith and delusion. I have a lot of faith in myself. But I like to check my ego at the door on important matters like making sure me and my kids eat.

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