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RE: Managing Business

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I don't think that we were particularly ignoring the question. I think most
of us were hoping for a good answer ourselves.
This is a business driven by the economy and the problem is that we are
prone to floods and draughts. The only consistent factor is the "worry
factor". We worry about having too much work and not meeting schedules, and
we worry about not having enough work and where it is going to come from
next.  After fourteen years in private practice as a one man show (using
consultants and joint-work cooperation) I found it needless to worry about
if and when - but I still worry about meeting the schedules.
It's interesting how some of these topics blend into to one another as in
some way, this one is related to the thread on Project Portals from Jennifer
Chu - let me explain:

In 1985 I was taking an Urban Planning course at Cal State Northridge (I was
a 35 year old returning student). I wrote a paper on how the tightening of
the corporate belt was creating a market for independent small office
engineers as well as encouraging larger engineering offices to consider
reducing the cost of the real-estate by encouraging employees to, using
personal computers and modems, to work out of the home. My paper was about
satellite communities - breaking the loop of traditional  rejentrification
common with a society built around manufacturing. It was no longer necessary
to live within a commutable distance of the central business district.

Smaller, pockets of closely knit communities would begin to pop up where
families worked within the community and still tied to large corporate
offices. These types of communities encourage localized rejentricication and
allows expansion into outlying area where new communities can grow on
affordable land. This new growth was a boom to the growing number of
independent engineers and building professionals.

To make a long story short (I knew you would appreciate that) I just about
flunked my paper. The teacher was the one of lead city planners for Los
Angeles and would not accept the possibility that people would move away
from the large cities follow affordable land opportunities.

As far as my position - I left aerospace after taking my PE, stayed in Los
Angeles until '93 when the threat of recession was at its peak and moved 150
miles east into my first home (on affordable land and one that I designed).

Now look at what has occurred since! We have a network devoted to peer
helping peer with some 15,000 subscribers - albeit few active participants.
We are scattered over the world and developing work relationships that are
based on using technology to create cooperative work relationships.

The problem - technology is in its infancy and we have a lot of mistakes and
learning to do before we have tools that work flawlessly. Broadband is one
area that is lagging behind which will be a great boom to making portals
work in real time. Education is, perhaps, the greatest hurtle and if people
aren't reluctant to learn new tools, they don't have the time to even try.

In a long about way of answering your question - I think the key for small
firms is to learn to use the available tools productively, try not to employ
full time but developed working relationships with responsible consultants
(very difficult) and invest in technology.

One final note: Large offices have had since the mid 70's to cut the fat out
of everything in order to maintain profits for owners and shareholders. It
finally reached a point where the only thing left to cut was labor rates.
Small offices have less time and the complexity of technology to cut through
the excesses. Since there is less "fat" to give up, we must look to
maximizing our skills and tools.

There are opportunities and I hope that those reading this don't think I am
pessimistic about business opportunity. I am only pessimistic about anyone
prospect of relying upon someone else for my future. I think the trend is
toward scaled down independent engineers and offices.

Dennis S. Wish, PE