When I talk to CEOs of engineering companies, I always ask them what they are looking for when they hire engineers, especially in this economy where they hire fewer than they used to. They all answer this question the same way: they reply that they are looking for engineers who do more than just engineering. They are looking for engineers who can also manage projects, manage people, and ultimately bring in more business for the firm.
I noticed this in my engineering career first hand when I worked for an engineering design firm. Those engineers that could bring in new clients and new projects essentially put themselves on the fast-track to the next promotion, because they were directly impacting the company’s bottom line, and there is nothing that executives love more than a positive impact to the bottom line.
The challenge here is that there are very few engineering schools (if any) that have undergraduate or graduate engineering courses on business development. To be good at developing new business for your engineering company, you will need to have above-average people skills, including your ability to network and build strong relationships. The following are seven strategies that you can employ in your engineering career to help you find and develop project leads for your company:
- Improve your people skills. People always say that you must have good people skills or interpersonal skills to be a great engineer, but the question is, how do you get them? My recommendation to you would be to read a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (affiliate link), or listen to it. I listen to this audiobook whenever I have a long car ride, and it has dramatically changed my ability to interact with people, especially people who are angry or upset.
- Improve your public speaking skills. This is another one that people will tell you time and time again: become a better public speaker. Why? Because not only will public speaking improve your confidence and communication skills, but business development requires you to be a salesperson at times, and in order to sell something, you must be able to present it. Improving your public speaking skills will help you to be able to confidently present your company’s services as a solution to a prospective client’s needs. Here is a recent post I wrote on public speaking entitled Public Speaking Skills for Engineers 101: The More You Speak, the Better You Get.
- Join community networking/business groups. While joining and participating in engineering associations is critical to your engineering career development, joining local community business and networking groups is important in your business development efforts. These groups allow you to meet other local business professionals and also give you the opportunity to get involved in your community, both yielding great opportunities for relationship building. Groups I have belonged to in the past include BNI, Le Tip, Toastmasters, and the local Chamber of Commerce, and I have heard great things about Rotary.
- Network when you attend events. Many engineers have this idea that networking is simply collecting business cards and building a huge contact database. This is false. This is only the first step in the process; then it is up to you to build relationships with the contacts that you have made. I have recently dedicated an entire blog post to this process entitled Engineers Please Remember Networking is a Two-Step Process.
- Become an industry leader on LinkedIn. If you want to build relationships, you must take advantage of LinkedIn, the number one social media site for business professionals. I have created so many opportunities for myself and all of the companies that have employed me through this dynamic social network. I did it by building a solid LinkedIn profile, joining the right LinkedIn groups, and posting relevant information for my connections to enjoy.
- You must want to help people. The single most important thing I have learned about networking over the years is that in order to be successful, you must be mentally prepared to give selflessly to others. Many people think that by networking they will immediately develop more business and make more money for themselves and their companies. Bad approach. Instead, you should strive to help people in any way that you can. When you do so, the relationships that you build will be very strong and the favors will be returned over time, but they should not be your main focus.
- Stay positive. Building relationships (especially those that yield new business for your engineering company) can be a long process, but I encourage you start the process as early on in your engineering career as possible, and to be prepared for a long ride. Cultivating relationships is just like cultivating a garden—it doesn’t happen overnight. The relationships require constant attention and care, but in the long run, they will bear fruit.
I hope that this post helps you find and develop new project leads for your engineering company and in turn helps you facilitate your engineering career development.
In our Institute for Engineering Career Development (IECD), we help engineers develop their networking schools and build strong professional networks. During the month of April you can become an IECD member for $10 per month. Click here to see all of the engineering career development benefits you can get for just $10. Offer ends April 30th.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success