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Going out on my own.

Going out on my own.

Going out on my own.

I am seriously contemplating starting out on my own with a civil consulting business.  I have some clients who, I believe, would come along.

My question is, when and how do you approach them to get a commitment?  You don't want to do it too soon or too late.
Thanks. Hawk87

RE: Going out on my own.

Hi hawk87,

I would caution you not to bank on clients you already work with as they already have some kind of relationship with your current company and they don't usually like to compromise these relationships.

From what I know, you will need to build your own client base and you will probably find that your business will come from clients you never had.



RE: Going out on my own.


More info needed.

How old are you?

Do you have your PE license?

Do you have enough money to carry you and your family for the next twelve months?

Do you have a marketable expertise?

Have you testified in court as an expert witness?


RE: Going out on my own.


I am 41 and have been with the same firm for 15 years.
I am licensed in Iowa & Illinois as a PE.
I do have the money but would rather put it into the business than use it to live on.
I am not an epert at marketing whatsoever but realize that I will have to become a salesman from day 1.
I have never testified in court.

Thanks for your reply!

RE: Going out on my own.

Sounds like you're experienced and determined. Just look for the following before you open your own firm. Is your firm (mid size or small)turning down work because they can't handle it or it is too small a job? If so then, your marketplace is busy and you can assume you will hit the ground running in your first year.  Second, can you partner up with a colleague so you may share expertise, expenses and manpower.  If not, remember you have to be the secretary, drafter, engineer(field and office), book-keeper, marketing head and owner-you'll get burned in few years. Third, are there some solo engineers that have an existing engineering firm, where you can buy their practice-they will gladly transition you in and you have revenues and clients from day one. Lastly, are there many small firms closing down offices due to economy or not getting paid, lawsiuits etc, if so then it is just not the right time, may be even not the right geograpghical location.

In conclusion, talk to current owners of firms in nearby counties and just soak some information and then make a run for it at the right time. If many engineers are succeding so will you.  By the way, go to www.bizbuysell.com to see any a/e firms for sale in the midwest. Good luck and take calculated risk.

A Member of

RE: Going out on my own.


Thank you. You are on your way and have filled all the squares.

I wish you all the best.

RE: Going out on my own.

Becareful not to interfere with business relationships and contracts or you may find yourself the target of a cause of action for such an action.

I started my company 13 years ago, and I did not contact anyone that was a current client of my then employer.  He would have come after me if I had ... I think it is important to show some ethics and professionalism in this arena ... CLients and professionals see this !

AFter you have set things up sit down with your current employer ... he too probably went thru this ... he may refer you work.  If not, at least you were a professional.

Contact other companies and past clients that have no current contracts with your present employer ...

If the Clients are so inclined to give you an opportunity will contact you if you drop them a card but do not solicit.

Just one opinion .. I have seen this done very successfully the opposite of what I said ...  GOOD LUCK>

RE: Going out on my own.

Thanks to all of you for your advice.

RE: Going out on my own.

Fisrt of all, I suggest you find out if flying solo is for you. Just as for any other businees, you will need some character elements essential in an entrepeneur. You can do some search and take a quiz about entrepeneurialship over the internet. If you think you are ready, I'd like to share my personal experience with you, hoping it may serve you as a guidance:
I started my MEP practice in Miami, FL last February. I was not even in the Engineering field before: I was in contracting.
I rented an office ina centric but affordable professional plce where engineers, architects and contractors are located, and I share office space with an Electrical Engineer. I am a Mechanical Engineer, so I get some work from him.
Additionaly, I prepared a presentation package - intro letter, company capabilities, etc, and mailed it to all the Architects I could find in the area - about 500.
I got a contract right away, which I used it for my start-up.
Now I follow up with Architects every so often. As I finish projects, I add a brief description and a pricture to the company brochure, which I email and mail to Architects about once a month.
I contact all Engineers I know so they introduce me to their Architect clients when they need MEP's.
I do buy wide format plotters or new furniture, I rather buy what I need from the invoices I get. I set aside 40k as a back-up, but never touched a dime of it.
I price my work 10% lover than average if I have too, but not more than that because it it very frustating to work for cheap, and additionally if you go too low, you are destroying your own market and affecting other who make a living out of Engineering.
You will have to develop some marketing skills, read some books, I recommend one by Bo Dietl, "How to become Billionaire" by Donald Trump(at the end you will realize the best technique is to write a book about how great you are to feed your ego and market it to the silly, but there are some good pieces of advice in it), and the most recent by Jack Welsh, unfortunately I don't remember the title name. I also recommend books about Ronald Reagan, the great communicator.
I hope this helps you.

RE: Going out on my own.

Do it right and your current employer could be one of your clients... you are taking away skills they evidently have needed and will need to plug that gap till they can recruit. If you do them some "favours" they might never make that recruitment.
Of course, they might never employ you either but it's an option... many companies often resolve short term staffing problems with contract employees... and even a little income from them could help you survive to build your own new client list.


RE: Going out on my own.

I'm out on my own...  (!)

1) Get out of debt!  When you're out chasing your own biscuits for a living you need to have 0 debt.  It's either feast or famine for the first couple of years. (The famine really stinks!)

2) Get your home office set up and ready to go BEFORE you quit your job.  Have everything you need ready to go when you walk out the door.  (Tighten belt a few notches)

3) Have a fully stocked emergency fund with 4 to 6 months expences in the bank.  (Think rice and beans, beans and rice)

4) Research your market VERY carefully.  Know your competition and let them know you.

5) Network! Network! Network!

Good Luck!

RE: Going out on my own.

I am contemplating the starting on my own as well.  I am moonlighting with new clients to gain experience and highly recommend it.  Try reading "Inside the Technical Consulting Business" by Harvey Kaye.  The book is about 20 years old, but the advise is from an engineer and written in easy to read no-nonsense terms.  Best wishes!

RE: Going out on my own.

Somebody has listened to Dave Ramsey (see TerraSouth above)!

Check out Dave Ramsey's books, websites, etc.  Great stuff.

RE: Going out on my own.

Try working a few years on a contract basis. Get to know more people and establish that you are independent. Even contract back to your old firm Use the rate to invest in library and comuter equipment. Get onto standards committees. This is the cheapest way to get access to the encessary current standards library. It alos develops your netwrok.

Be a specialist that your old company hasnt got 9 now you have quit) or evryone else hasnt got. No point competing at the low end. Look at the medical profession. Common and garden general practitioners eek out a living. Brain surgeons own the beach.

RE: Going out on my own.


Sounds like we are probably in pretty close proximity to each other.  Starting your own firm has become the norm recently.  I believe getting fed up with corp red-tape is a pretty common reason.  In '04 I went into business with an Architect and an Interior Designer.  I'm a Structural Engineer, licensed in IA and WI.  I am still learning the business of business, but here are a few things to consider:

-unless you have a non-compete clause with your current employer, you may contact current clients after you leave.  They are, afterall, utilizing your talents and skills to complete their projects.  It is only unethical if you do it before you leave.
-don't expect current clients who really enjoy working with you to leave your current firm.  We have experienced the mentality that they "need" a large multi-office A/E firm to work on their projects, even though, the reality of it is that while there may have been 40 engineers in the office, you were the only one working on their project.  (Frustrating!)
-don't burn bridges, even though you may really want to.  Not only may your current employer need your services or refer (ha!) projects to you, on the flip side, if clients hear about the lam-basting tirade you went on the day you quit, you may lose their respect.
-get a line of credit established at a local financial institution if you can.  This will help cover you while waiting for clients to pay.
-be careful about moon-lighting, check your employee handbook for restrictions

Marketing has been a challenge and one of business partners has developed a jeckle & hyde personality, which hasn't been much fun.  If you decide to take on partners, make sure you know them, or at least have legal documentation to govern the business.  Overall, I really enjoy being "on my own."  Having the flexibility that comes with being self-employed and not having someone telling me what to do have overshadowed the risks.

Best of luck!

RE: Going out on my own.

Feb 06 marks the first anniversary of my own startup. what a year it has been. Here's my tips:
-join the Chamber of Commerce.  Network with members, many useful leads came from the COC.
-find a good cpa, pay for a coupla hours startup advice.
-buy the cheapest version of Qbooks pro,  learn how to use it, couldnt run my biz without it
-get out, and stay out, of debt.
-visit local engr firms and offer to help out when they  are overloaded.  My best customer last year was a local engr firm that needed a PE with my background.
-dont waste $$ marketing. Let your customers market for you.
-if you  really want to do this,  jump in!

RE: Going out on my own.

I have to agree with most of what you say.

Almost all marketing in the service sector is contact based. Chamber of Commerce is a good way to get contacts with the purchasers of engineering services.

Not only a good CPA but a good lawyer and insurance agent are essential for a start up.

Qbooks or any competing product. These make the grunt work of accounting very easy and are well worth the money. (I use Simply Accounting and am satisfied with it,)

Debt is a real killer. With no debt you can survive lean periods both as a business and personally. I have only used short term, debt in my business and have followed the rule that capital purchases are only made when the equipment is needed for a project that will generate enough net revenue to pay for that purchase. This includes the latest and greatest software available out there. Otherwise I’ll rent anything and cost it to the project.

Other engineering firms are a major source of my clients as well. They will use your services on an overflow basis and do a lot of the marketing work for you as well. If they get a potential client not in their area of service then they may make a referral to you, just repay or better prepay the favor as often as you can. I often participate in the marketing/proposal stage with these firms.

The only marketing expense I have is keeping my contact network active and expanding. I’ve tried some other means but in 12 years have never gotten any significant work from any source other than personal contacts.

Participate in as many organizations as you can, call everyone in your contact list a couple times a year, even if just to say “Hi” .Actually especially just to say “Hi” so they don’t think that you only call when you want a referral.

If you want to do this then jump in. No dipping your toes in the water while keeping your day job, you cannot faithfully serve two masters.

Rick Kitson MBA P.Eng

Construction Project Management
From conception to completion

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