We Want You!...
But only IF you are truly an ambitious "Urban Innovator"
By Mike Brown, PE, AICP
At Urban Innovators, we excel at fostering economic vitality, sustainability, equity, and livability. Are you passionate to excel? Are you highly skilled? Are you tired of your firm's bothersome rules, wastefulness, and bureaucracy? If so, the rest of this page could be just what you need.
Our program allows you tocall your own shots like a freelancer, but without the associated paperwork, vulnerability, and marketing weakness. There are many wonderful things about "being your own boss," but there are also many challenges. Without a team, freelancers can't prime large jobs, and it's hard to get subconsultant roles. Why? Because while many prime firms may love working with you, they still look out for themselves. They default to their own inferior or less experienced staff unless it's clear they can't win without you!
Urban Innovators is a platform to help freelancers and self-motivated consultants get the best of both worlds: the benefits of networking, branding, and economies of scale (like at long-established firms), while also offering reduced overhead, rules, and bureaucracy (the benefits of freelancing).
The Math of Working FOR Them vs WITH Us!
Suppose your job pays you $75/hr as salary (75*2080=$156k/yr), but they charge clients $225/hr (a 3x multiplier, which is typical). The extra $150 covers overhead and profit. Much of the overhead is for things that you need: some or all of your health insurance, and they pay for your computer and software, conferences and training. They also often give you a reduced billability target for marketing and admin, and they may contribute to your 401k.
But "overhead" also includes a lot of luxury for do-little middle-mangers and general wastefulness: rent at premium locations, and splurging on dinners, parties, and a lot of items of questionable value. They often develop costly proposals for jobs they are ill-positioned to win. They often pay over-priced middle-managers and corporate leaders to hobnob at every conference, staying at 4-5-star hotels, and rarely doing billable work. Who is paying for this luxury? You are. Overhead is high largely because employees and managers cannot personally benefit from fiscally wiser choices.
What if you could keep the savings from smarter overhead choices?
Where most companies take around 67% of your billings for overhead and profit, at Urban Innovators, we require only 20% for "mutually beneficial" overhead and presently 0% for owner profit. Here's some math. Say today your salary works out to $75/hr but your loaded rate is $225. In our program, maybe you'll charge end-clients only $200/hr - a good deal relative to what your time costs them today, and it makes you more cost-competitive. So now, from the $200 you charge, Urban Innovators deducts $40 for mutually-beneficial overhead and $0 for profit. This leaves you with $160 per hour - a whopping $85 more per hour than you are making now!
However, you can't keep all of that for your Ferrari because you'll also need to pay for some of your personal overhead from that mega-raise! Computer, specialty software, conference attendance, training, health insurance, and hours for marketing, admin, and PTO. But where your former company would blow a ton of that $85 on dumb stuff, maybe you'll spend just $40 to get the same value. Instead of spending well over $1000 per month for the privilege of a $20 health insurance co-pay, you'll instead self-insure for anything under $10k, and you'll spend just a few hundred per month for "catastrophic coverage" (anything above $10k), and in about a year the savings will cover your $10k self-insurance.
Instead of fancy hotels, maybe you go for AirBNB and pocket the savings. No longer will your hard-earned cash finance long-shot proposals and other foolish marketing efforts. No "taxes" for primo office space, do-little middle managers, or corporate extravagance. You pocket the savings, or you pass some savings to clients in the form of a lower billable rate so you can be more cost-competitive than your peers!
The 20% "mutually beneficial" overhead covers things are cheaper with economies of scale, or simply more practical as a group item rather than individual: Liability insurance, website & server maintenance, business cards, marketing flyers, email setup, Office 365, IT support, invoicing support, tax compliance, registrations, accounting and legal, and other paperwork issues. Note: 20% is subject to change from time to time, either up or down, depending on transparent disclosure of mutual overhead costs.
Corporate Strength... We're still building that
Traditional firms give you two things that are hard for freelancers to compete with. First, you get the firm's decades-old reputation, brand recognition, and a well-oiled machine that helps in winning work. Second, their internal network of great people makes it easier to form talented teams, which is necessary for both winning and delivering! But sadly, you also risk getting stuck with "lemon" team members who consume budget without producing quality work, and you get stuck with a boss or structure that won't deal with the problem.
At "Urban Innovators," we're admittedly weak in brand recognition because we are small and new, but the goal is to gain these advantages and even surpass the strength of traditional firms. We already have "pretty good" national brand recognition gained through thousands of users of our StreetPlan.net, Strong Towns articles and support, and through other venues such as CNU advertising. But we also know our name resonates with clients, helping make up for lack of recognition. "Urban Innovation" is exactly what they want!
As for our "deep bench" of talent?... With just a few current members, we don't really have that yet. But those that we do have are rock stars! You won't be saddled with underperforming team members. Eventually we will have strength in both brand and talent, but for the time being the few of us already here have good personal networks of top-notch complimentary talent (via non-affiliated freelancers, personal friends in the field, and alliance firms). If you need support, ask around and we'll help you get what you need.
Is Urban Innovators Right for You?
I have worked at a Metropolitan Planning Organization, a traditional urban planning firm, a startup firm, and freelancing. I have a deep perspective on the nature of people who can make a lot of money and be very happy within this libertarian-like freelance / startup environment. If you resonate with the list below and with our other Top 10 list, contact me. I'll help you think more deeply about the pros and cons, and odds of success. I also won't pressure you to join, because "planets may need to align" for it to be right for you during our early start-up phase.
Do you have loyal clients? Do you have clients who don't care which company you are with? If so, you may not need a big company to secure sufficient and satisfying work. Low overhead means you don't need as many contracts to make money. If you are half as billable as now, you might still make the same money!
Do you have existing work? Are you involved in projects that would need you to finish, regardless of what firm you are with? If so, bring those projects with you then channel the overhead and profit going to your current firm directly into your rainy-day fund.
Do you have a network? Sure, your clients love you. But do they also need more than just you? Can you easily get on teams? Can you build teams? If your network is light, explore our network to see if it fills the gaps.
Do you have sufficient savings? If neither you nor we have immediate work for you, do you have at least 3-6-months in savings? If so, then you can probably pay your bills while you secure contracts and issue invoices.
Are you semi-retired, or need part-time work? Regular jobs with salaries have high 40-70 hour expectations. If you don't want the pressure and don't need a lot of billable hours, our program may work well for you.
Do you have strong ambition? Do you have a calling or mission that drives you? If so, is your job hindering your ability to progress toward your goals?
Can you tolerate unpaid marketing and admin? Can you tolerate the reality of doing a lot of unpaid marketing, especially if you have an above average losing streak?
Can you tolerate commission over salary? Salaries come with expectations. Since Urban Innovators would not be "hiring you," we have no expectations of whether you work full-time or part-time. Our main concern is that when you do have billable work, "don't make us look bad" by doing a poor job.
Can you work from home? Can you arrange your own space? Can you hold in-person meetings at government offices, a library, a work-share location, or wherever?
Do you need strong teams of other "Urban Innovators" in order to win work? If so, you may need to wait until there are more Innovators or a stronger network of partners. Eventually we hope to have a lot of strong members for strong teams, but today you'd need to be independently strong - able to sub-consult for winning teams, or win outright as a prime with the help of partnerships and other freelancers we can assemble together.
If this resonates enough to warrant giving us a call, I would gladly take some time to explore your options with you. While we are "recruiting," we do not want to get anyone into something they're not prepared to handle. We will be honest about whether your situation looks like a good fit, or if it might be better to wait for more planets to align.
Email, call, or text me below, or the contact form also goes directly to me.
Join us if...
your situation allows it,
you want to change the world,
you are crazy enough to think you can!