A career as an engineer can be both exciting and interesting. But engineers working in larger firms often find that they don’t have all that much ownership over their projects. They’re briefed from on high, and then they have to carry out the will of their bosses with little personal input.
Thanks to that, many are deciding to build their own businesses of one. They’ve gone from just another cog in the corporate wheel to freelance work and consulting. So how have they done it?
Find the right tools
Many engineers are mechanical engineers. That means that they take a client concept and turn it into a real, physical product. Along the way, they have to learn about stud welding, tensile strength and Pythagoras’ theorem. But actually creating a product requires that engineers invest in the right tools.
Subi Shah is an engineering entrepreneur who runs her own consulting business. She says that in order to model and design her ideas, she needs a couple of critical tools. First, she needs some kind of computer modelling software so she can build detailed models.
Next, she has to have a 3D printer to prototype new designs quickly. She suggests that new engineering startups combine both these technologies together. When they do so, they can produce work much more rapidly. Shah warns that they are both upfront investments. But, she says, they pay off over the long run.
Make connections in the industry
Finding good opportunities is the perennial problem of the freelance worker. Right now, you’re probably surrounded by people who are interested in your designs and products. But if you strike it out alone, you’ll have to look for people actively.
And that, of course, will involve the dreaded networking. Shah recommends that engineering startups go to industry meet-ups engineering, especially new consultants. Try, if you can, to find people with diverse backgrounds and different needs. This way, you’re more likely to find people in need of your unique skill set.
The next stage is to write follow-up emails based on any discussions you had. Cover what you already discussed and then talk about next steps.
Get smart on your quoting
Quoting for engineering work is particularly challenging. That’s because the nature of what needs to be done can quickly change as the project progresses. Shah recommends, therefore, that engineering startups operate on a “cost-plus” quoting model.
Here, engineers quote the cost they expect, plus any additional unforeseen costs that might be incurred. It might sound strange, but this kind of pricing tends to work better for both the business and the customer.
When costs are fixed at the start and later overrun, the business then has no incentive to keep working. Thus, it’s in the client’s interest to get flexible when it comes to pricing. Shah advises new businesses to be upfront with clients about the potential cost overruns.
Tell customers that the cost of materials, for instance, aren’t included in the price because they could change. Then make sure that you schedule that project into your timetable. Remember, you can only benefit a limited number of people at once.