How to Start Your Own Engineering Practice is a guest blog by Allison Hail
So you want to start your own engineering practice? Becoming an independent engineering consultant can be very lucrative. It also gives you freedom over the work you do. But it is a very different lifestyle than working for an engineering firm. There are several important items to consider before taking the plunge.
Find Your Niche
As any engineer will tell you, engineering is an enormous field of work. Even within your specialization, there is a huge variance in the kinds of projects you might take on as an engineering consultant. With innovations occurring every day in the tech sector, this variety is only set to increase.
This presents a wide array of possibilities to specialize your practice. While it may not be wise to be picky about the type of projects you take on at first, aim to be carving out a niche for yourself over time. Building a profile as the go-to person for certain kinds of projects will reduce the time you need to spend finding new clients. As word of mouth spreads, clients should start coming to you off the back of your reputation.
Stay on Top of the Admin
Running your own practice requires a lot more administration than jobs you may have had before. Managing invoices, communicating with clients, and staying on top of tax obligations are all things you will be responsible for. Make sure to account for this work on a week-to-week basis. It can be advisable to hire a professional accountant to keep your books in order.
Make Sure You’re Covered Legally
Unfortunately, it is part of the game as a consultant that occasionally you will have disagreements with clients. In some cases, this may lead to legal action. Whether you are at fault or not, this is a costly process. While it is never pleasant, it is important to be prepared for this eventuality.
Investing in professional indemnity insurance is the best place to start when thinking ahead in this area. This type of insurance covers consultants whose clients make claims against them. It can cover legal costs and any potential settlements relating to such a claim. Also, consider maintaining a relationship with a contract lawyer who has some understanding of the industry. These measures help to protect the livelihood and reputation of your practice.
Account for Updates and Equipment Costs in Your Pricing
As an engineer, a lot of the software and equipment you use every day is highly specialized. This makes them expensive to buy, update, and maintain. Be sure to factor this into your pricing. Routine maintenance or unexpected repairs are occasional costs, which can make them seem hidden. You may occasionally have to purchase the latest design software as well. To avoid being stung by these costs out of the blue, be sure to include this as a consideration in your budgeting and pricing models.
Don’t Take on Too Much at First
Finally, it’s important to know your limits. When you start out, it is likely that your practice will only be yourself and the occasional subcontractor for specific tasks. As you find your feet as an engineering consultant, make sure to be realistic about what you can handle at once.
Taking on a lot of projects might increase revenue, but could lead to projects being delayed or burn you out quickly. Take the time to get comfortable, and look to expand when you feel you are ready.
Starting your own engineering practice is a rewarding experience, giving you control over your career. While it requires adding a few more tools to your toolkit, with a bit of planning, you will be on your way to running a successful business.
About Allison Hail
Allison Hail is a freelance writer based in Wellington, New Zealand. She has experience writing on a wide range of topics including business, travel, and lifestyle. Follow Allison on Tumblr to read more of her articles.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share on how you started your own engineering practice.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success