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Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

(OP)
I know lots of you are self employed in various capacities. I'm at sort of a crossroads professionally and would like to hear any anecdotes you're willing to share. I'm mainly interested in:
-How did you first make the leap from employee to business owner/consultant/whatever else you might classify yourself as?
-What kind of work do you do and how did you decide you were qualified to do what you do on your own?
-How satisfied are you in terms of enjoying your work, work/life balance, income, etc.?
-Anything else interesting you feel like sharing.

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

I would think your main question would be "What circumstances should be present for one to consider becoming self employed?" List of possible clients?; money in bank to live on at the start?; your reputation: Office: 40+ hours a week; family needs; etc. and more!!

For me it was easy. Retired as part owner of engineering company at age 55 and wanted to keep busy. Was active until recently, now age 89.

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

I retired in 2012 from the corporate BS, became an engineering consultant and enjoy each day. If I feel I can't perform the work I tell the client. They appreciate the honesty.

I really have not worked in 5 years.

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

3
I retired from a big corporation in 2003 (the minute I turned 50, the retirement health benefit was maxed and I thought I could do a better job managing a lump sum retirement than they were doing). Borrowed 6 months living expenses from my 401K and was in the black in the first quarter.

Basically I treated my 23 years with the corporation as an internship for my current position. While employed by them I was active in the local Society of Petroleum Engineers chapter (Section Chairman) with my management's enthusiastic approval, a member of the local National Society of Professional Engineers, member in NACE and ASME. Went to all the luncheon meetings to network. Presented a couple of papers a year at each of them. Went to one big conference with a corporate-approved paper every year. Got to know a LOT of people. Many of them became my clients. Bottom line is if people have never heard of you, it is impossible to differentiate yourself from the other dozen cold calls that any engineer with a budget gets every day.

That network got me through 10 years or so (until all of my contacts retired, damn them). Then I started getting calls from people who liked one of my posts on eng-tips.com and followed the link in my signature and liked what they saw on my web site. Several people have said that they asked themselves "if he's giving away this much good stuff, I wonder what we'd get if we paid him?" Then they called and the rest as they say is history. You have to stand out from the herd or you will become a statistic.

Work/life balance is as it has been for 45 years, I need to work 60+ hours/week to keep myself as sane as I ever get. Projects are Oil & Gas facilities and I jacked my hourly rate up high enough that I only get called for interesting problems. It works for me.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

I got laid off from my best job ever where "we never do lay offs" because of industry collapse.
Decided to roll the dice and start a solo consultancy.
Nine weeks later the 9-11 Event occurred. The economy entered a deep recession.
Six months later all startup cash had evaporated, no leads, no work.
So did, apparently, every engineering job on the planet. You had to be there and experience it.
Previous company called for consulting help with one of their customers.
That started a 9-month series of contracts that re-built my confidence and got me some operating funds.
Re-started my business and went prospecting again.
I discovered that, for those who are honest, ethical, sincere, and willing to dig and put forth the effort, there is work hiding under every bush. This applies in all business cycles, up & down, because everyone has problems that need solving.
It takes time, hard work, and finesse to build a clientele of delighted customers. It's absolutely critical to do so because those are the people who will provide good references for your work.

TygerDawg
Blue Technik LLC
Virtuoso Robotics Engineering
www.bluetechnik.com

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

OK so you guys are:
89
late 60s?
64
tygerdawg I am not sure

What is the minimum age? You can't consult much fresh out of engineering school.
I'm 45 and I see dozens of old engineering class mates on Linkedin as CEO of a company with their family name.
Some only for a few months.
How realistic is that. I guess you need to have a golden idea, some luck and not count the hours.

How do you put up with all the non engineering/admin work? It must be half of the work, right?

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

There really is no minimum (or maximum for that matter) age that people have been successful starting consulting businesses. There are some restrictions on licencing for a company that holds itself out as competent to do "engineering" (e.g., in my state you cannot get a local business license for a company offering engineering services without a P.E. in responsible charge) so however long it takes to get a P.E. might define the minimum age, but I know of some consultants that make a go of it without a P.E.

The real key is how do you stand out from the crowd in a good way. My claim to fame is three patents, a text book, contributing author to another book, dozens of publications, a broad network, and a reputation for solutions that work. Can you differentiate yourself in a sentence? If not, then your chances of success regardless of your age go way way down.

As to the administrative parts of the job, I put aside one day every two weeks to pay bills, do billing, read backed up journals, and think about where the next group of clients might come from. It is plenty, and I'm usually back to real work by lunch time.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

Laid off at 49 in 2009. Spent 12 months looking for a job but there was nothing. Paid $40 to the state for a business license. I was a PE already.

Finally landed a job at an engineering firm 13 months after lay off so I put the business on the back burner. Resigned 5 months later because I wouldn't lie.

One month later had a job at a measurement manufacturer. Resigned 6-7 months later because I wouldn't lie.

That's when I decided to put to good use my business license, which was May 2011. I spent years in industry studying instrumentation, control theory, and systems. I spent years applying that knowledge and did some good work. I got great training automating manufacturing plants and I built on that training because it was interesting to me.

Going into business for myself has been a good decision for me and especially since I've aged out of Corporate America. It's been expensive but I didn't think I had too many choices because I wanted to avoid ethics conflicts. You never lie. It is unethical and casts a dark shadow on the profession.

In 2014, the business was going up nicely but unfortunate events really knocked the wind out of my sails. It's been a struggle ever since but I'll either sink or swim.

I've learned a lot running my own business. I've learned more about my strengths and weaknesses as well as some aspects I didn't know about my personality. I've learned more about professionalism and laws that govern my conduct as a Professional Engineer. I've learned the subtle nature of conflicts with the law through some Clients. Running your own business sharpens you tremendously, in my experience. Engineering is more than just the technical stuff and, as an engineer, I am able to do more beyond the technical stuff.

I set aside time each week to take care of the paperwork. You'll figure out what works best for you.

As I reflect on my career, I could have begun my own company after about 10 years of experience. By that time, I had enough experience running projects of my own to do it.

I think it's wise to always learn and push yourself to grow into running your own business. Employers need to be grooming their employees, at every level, for leadership and business to one day take the reigns. But, that's my philosophy.

All the best!

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC
NSPE-CO, Central Chapter
Dinner program: http://nspe-co.org/events.php

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

"Employers need to be grooming their employees, at every level, for leadership and business to one day take the reigns. But, that's my philosophy."

I couldn't agree more, but the sad reality is that 80% if not more of the managers, at least the ones I met in my career, apparently have major self-confidence issues, in the sense that the lower ranks are seen as threats that are better kept as dumb as possible. Needless to say that this goes against the company's interest.

Anyway even dumb I guess one can learn very fast once laid off and left without alternatives :)

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

epoisses,
I see that characteristic of bad managers more as "if this guy gets promoted, how will my group meet its goals?" than threats. I've been in salary meetings with many managers that fought like wolverines to get more money for people they refused to promote.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

Well I like how you gave a positive turn to the story, but I think I would have noticed the "more money" part :)

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

Grooming employees for management roles may be a great idea in other professions, but for most in engineering it would be a waste of resources given the relative few that become managers.

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

Sometimes the decision is made for you, I was working for a company as a designer, and doing fiberglass sailplane repairs as a side job. I got a flood of work in broken fiberglass gliders, and was complaining to a co-worker that I did not know how I was going to handle it all.
This co-worker promptly ratted me out to the boss, and Voila 2 days later I did not have to worry about it, I had a full time job fixing fiberglass sailplanes. That job lasted for 12 years before I decided to shut it down and take a job with General Dynamics.
B.E.

You are judged not by what you know, but by what you can do.

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

epoisses,
I didn't mean to put a positive spin on it. I find these managers who hold people back to make their team (and therefore themselves) look good to be self-serving slime that are just as worthless as the tiny little guys that hold people back because they personally have low self-esteem and want to punish ability. I've seen them both in abundance and hold them all in disdain. I've had several managers who consistenly consider the needs of the company and the needs of the employee over the long term instead of just looking at their own goals, ego, and successes, and they are fun to work for, too bad they seem to be kind of rare.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

@zdas04 - OK I see what you mean.
We have a few of those rare ones here, the people underneath them thrive but the rest of the organisation reacts like a body to foreign matter implants that are not really compatible with it :(

Whining along, I know, sorry.

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

A manager once told me there was no way I would be promoted. According to him, I was too good at my job to let go. It was a compliment but it ultimately didn't serve the company or me.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC
NSPE-CO, Central Chapter
Dinner program: http://nspe-co.org/events.php

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

Quote (CWB1)

Grooming employees for management roles may be a great idea in other professions, but for most in engineering it would be a waste of resources given the relative few that become managers.

That is true but those managers are short-sighted. Everyone needs to be developed to benefit the company and to keep the company moving forward in the best possible ways. Whether an engineer intends to go solo or not, engineers need to maintain their development as though they are. Succession planning up and down the ranks is important. I've seen cases where operators weren't adequately trained and it caused problems. Every job matters.

If you invest in others, they're more likely to invest in you. It's always about relationships and how to maintain healthy ones. I'm still learning that myself.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC
NSPE-CO, Central Chapter
Dinner program: http://nspe-co.org/events.php

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

The investing part is so true. There is a company I know that does heavy investing in their employees and they probably pay +20% less than most. Everyone at that company though is known to be a baller and if worst comes to worst, they can find a job anywhere else and not skip a beat. They have much less turnover ,too, than most organizations that have that specialty.

Training is probably one of the cheapest ways to keep employees, whether it is used or not. Considering how hard and expensive it is to recruit an experienced engineer , training easily offsets the cost if it persuades someone to just stay with the company longer. The longer people hang around, the less your turnover cost will be. Training shouldn't be viewed as a loss if it isn't used on lifers.

RE: Self Employed Engineers-How did you make it happen?

The way I see it (I anticipate this will be a bit extreme as skeptical analysis...), coming from the oil and gas segment, entrepreneurship is turning to be a necessity in order to survive in an industry that has become extremely volatile and fast changing. The threat of the "Adapt or Die" paradigm necessitates a changed mindset more than ever. We were told that before of course, but I am afraid we are on our own now.

For instance, recently, say after the last collapse of oil prices, I saw big mergers and acquisitions happening involving billions of dollars in particular in the energy / oil and gas sector, just to shutdown the same relevant facilities/businesses after two or three years, thereby impacting hundred of thousands of people and their families.

My point, maybe it is time to question the common belief that there (must be) is "a pilot in the airplane"... At the end, being enrolled in a corporation keeps you assisted to a certain extent. Not saying the experience is of no value, but the corporate model may not correspond anymore to the global socio-economical situation. There is no evidence that the economic cycles / patterns the world experienced in the past (from very far backward to recent decades) must preclude the type of the economic chocs and crisis that we could be exposed to in the future. Unknown territory.

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