Are you an
By Mike Brown, PE, AICP
I founded Urban Innovators in January 2022 after retiring as the founder of Metro Analytics. Where Metro's strengths are in data, analytics, research, and freight, Urban Innovators aim is to excel at design and implementation strategies to foster economic vitality, sustainability, equity, and livability. As of now, there are just a few of us. Are you passionate to excel? Are you already highly skilled? Are you tired of working for "the man?" If so, the rest of this page could be just what you need.
I have worked as a freelancer and at startups much of my career. There are many wonderful things about "being your own boss," but there are also many challenges. It helps to have a team. Without a team, your friends at prime firms may love working with you, but they default to their own inferior, or less experienced staff unless it's clear they can't win without you. Why? Because their firm needs their own people to be billable!
Freelancing comes with a lot of tripwires and paperwork to figure out. "Urban Innovators" is a platform to help freelancers or 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 low overhead and independence from a "job" or a "boss" (the benefits of freelancing).
Consider the points below, and also think about these Top 10 Reasons to join us.
Then contact me if interested.
How to Tell if Freelancing with Us Might Be for You
Suppose your job pays you $50/hr, but charges clients $150/hr. The extra $100 covers their overhead and profit. That's a huge, but typical, markup! With this $100 increment, they usually pay for some or all of your health insurance, 401k, computer and software, conferences and training. They also pay your salary while you work on marketing, and they'll keep paying it, at least for a few months, when your proposals are not selected.
But "overhead" also includes extravagance: rent at premium locations, and splurging on dinners, parties, and a lot of items of questionable value. They develop costly proposals for jobs they are ill-positioned to win. They pay over-priced middle-managers and corporate leaders to hobnob at every conference, staying at 4-5-star hotels, rarely doing billable work. Who is paying for the luxury? You are.
What if you had more direct control over how that $150 gets spent? You'd be careful in budgeting for marketing, health insurance, retirement, conferences, training, and computer needs. You also wouldn't fund primo office space, do-little middle managers, or corporate extravagance. You could pocket the difference, or pass some savings to clients so you can be more cost-competitive than their alternatives! Urban Innovators requires you to cover most of your own overhead, but also allows you to keep any extra that is often wasted by inefficient corporate bureaucracy.
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 network of great people makes it easier to form talented teams, also necessary for winning - and delivering! But sadly, you also risk getting stuck with "lemon" team members who consume budget without producing quality work, and you are stuck with a boss or structure that won't deal with the problem.
Being brand new, "Urban Innovators" doesn't yet have brand recognition, but we know the name resonates with existing clients. With just a few current members, we don't yet have a deep bench of talent... but you also won't be saddled with underperforming team members. Eventually we can have strength in brand and talent, but for the time being the few of us already here have a good network of top-notch complimentary talent (other freelancers and alliance firms) to help you form teams that can succeed.
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 in this libertarian freelance / startup environment. If you are moved by the list below and by 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 a lot of planets will 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 can be half as billable as now, and 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, you can 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 you (and they) need more than just you? Can you easily get on teams? Can you build teams? If your network is light, could you explore our network to see if it works?
Do you have sufficient savings? 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 expectations. Maybe you don't want high expectations and don't need a lot of billable hours for your situation?
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?
Can you tolerate unpaid marketing and admin? Can you tolerate the reality of doing a lot of unpaid marketing, only to not win in the end?
Can you tolerate hourly or 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 "don't make us look bad" by doing a poor job on any projects you do win.
Can you work from home? Can you arrange your own space? Can you hold larger meetings at government offices, a library, 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 I hope we 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 a visit, I would gladly take some time to explore this option with you. While I am "recruiting," I do not want to get anyone into something they're not prepared to handle. I 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!