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How I started on my own.

How I started on my own.

How I started on my own.


Here's my story.  It might be more helpful than the ethics arguments that make up the bulk of every other 'starting out' thread.

I've always been interested in product design.  I even played with the idea of being an industrial designer in school.  I had worked in a lab on campus that gave me exposure to Pro/E, so I graduated in '96 with a leg up.

My first job out of school was designing industrial equipment.  It gave me the basic documentation skills that school failed to teach.  I was laid off after 3 years.

My second job was with a medium sized product design consultancy.  I learned how to design/model plastic parts well enough that I could consider myself an expert.  I was laid off after two years as the company closed all of its satellite offices.

My third job was with a medical device company.  There I saw documentation/testing/quality taken seriously.

While I was at my third job I started doing jobs on the side.  Many of them were modeling and part design tasks that I was able to get through contacts at the product design firm.  Those jobs were typically overflow work from other firms.  

Jobs were in the 20 hour range, and I could usually get them done in a week or so.

I quit after about 5 months of part timing with a promise of 3-4 months of work at contractor rates ($45/hr) and the ability to work from home.  I was still able to do the other overflow jobs as they came in at consulting rates ($70/hr).  My wife also worked full time, so we could cover some of our expenses on her income.

My contracting job provided me access to a license of Pro/E, so I was able to put off purchasing my own.

After my contract had been extended once I was offered a job at the firm I was contracting with.  I turned them down, saying that I wasn't interested in a salaried job.  They made up about 50% of my income, the other 50% coming from the less steady, but better paying work that was coming in.

After my contract had been extended again, they offered an equity stake in the company.  I agonized for a little while, but realized that joining them (there were two partners prior to me) would allow me to hire and therefore grow.  I would have been incredibly difficult to hire on my own with little experience, no office, no software, and no time to do anything but work.

So that's it.  No real trials.  No horrible slow periods yet.  I kept my expenses low and worked like a dog (and still am), and had enough cash to buy in for a share.

I've learned a couple of things.  The first is that the safety of a corporation is an illusion.  You're only safe if you're not dependant on a paycheck to make ends meet.  The second is that a reputation for being good at what you do is the best marketing you can have.


RE: How I started on my own.

I took a somewhat different path.  I treated 23 years with a major corporation as an apprentiship.  I got exposed to a lot of things, made sure I was involved in every network or other group available.  Was active in industry groups.  Presented papers at every opportunity.  Met a lot of people outside of my company.  Got my MS and PE when none of my peers thought that the pain was worthwhile.  Finally at 50 years old I had maxed out the non-financial portion of my retirement and left.

My company is still (and hopefully will remain) a one-engineer shop working from a home office with very low overhead and plenty of work.  My first client was 100% of my time for 6 months and then their policy on contractors changed and billing dropped from 250 hours/month to zero.  That taught me about adequate reserves and for the next year I struggled to fund a 6-month reserve while rebuilding my work load.  Now I have three clients each with about 1/3 of my time and 4-5 clients trying to decide if I'm really worth my exorbatant fees.  Life is good.


RE: How I started on my own.

hmmmmm.......I am pondering here about my attempts and I must still be in the apprentiship mode (not by choice).  The knowledge gained during the time spent working at self sufficiency has taught me that self discipline is essential for self governement!

RE: How I started on my own.

I am working at the mechanical design industry, using Pro/E only. I am interested in doing some part-time job design using Pro/E during weekends. How can I find the client to give me a project? How to contact the potential clients?

RE: How I started on my own.

Finding clients is the hard part.  When starting out on your own, contacts are more important than equipment or skills.  Networking with people I'd worked with in the past lead to most of my jobs.  Pro/E users groups and other industry groups are other alternatives.  

Being full time makes it easier to find contacts, as there is no ambiguity in how you represent yourself.  But, quitting your job is a hard step to take.  I'd recommend looking for contract work that would allow you to devote time to recruiting contacts with a clear conscience, and still be able to pay the bills.  Contracting will also help set the self-employed mentality in your thinking.


RE: How I started on my own.

Hi Guys:
You are supposed to be not only engineers but businessmen,
too. Why don't you mention your field of expertise and
perhaps post your URL ?  

Plesae read FAQ240-1032

RE: How I started on my own.

Everyone commenting on this thread should either already be a businessman (or businesswoman if you prefer) or should be interested in becoming one.

That said, I believe that nbucska has called us out.  I typically leave identifying info out of forum posts, but real examples are much more meaningful.

We are a group of (mostly) mechanical engineers that specializes in product design.

Here's a link to our website:

We'll be revamping the website's content soon, as the portfolio area is getting dated.  We've done some cool stuff in the last year or so that we'd like to showcase.

Our typical customer is a company that does not have the internal design resources required to bring a physical product to market.  This includes startups as well as companies that are focused around a particular technology and do not put out enough new products to maintain an in-house design staff.


RE: How I started on my own.

I got my start out of sheer necessity...

Since I'm not the type who fits the "management material" profile, I didn't always play well with others - especially beureaucrats.  I have always been a family man first, and a proud, talented designer, second.  My ideal job revolves around a schedule, and a challenge that nobody else is up to, but without all the "fluff" of working for a large company.  You can imagine that I was perfect layoff fodder. (I like to work my shift, do it well, and leave it all behind when the whistle blows)

With that approach, guys in this field generally last about 5-7 years between layoffs.  So, knowing that I was highly talented in specific areas, I started on my own, beginning by opening accounts with my former employer(s).  They knew my work, and wanted what I had to offer - but without the hassle of a guy who hated crew meetings and diversity training.  Conversely, it was grand for me, because I got the skillset of someone working fantastic large projects for a major corporation, and I could bring it to my own small company.  With $25,000 in hand, I started a home office business, and have been cranking since.

Our company provides high-end CAD design, and rapid prototyping services.  I supplement it with Software (CAD) sales, and training.

Our particular specialty is Advanced surfacing design.  We use Catia software, and I get the lion's share of my work from the automotive, (mostly tooling for the most complex shapes) aerospace, and marine industries.  We also do any type of 3D design, and work with any customer who has a design or tooling need.  My background was heavily industrial - degree in Manufacturing Engineering - so it's only natural that we also procure rapid prototyping services.  I frequently attend trade shows (very enjoyable) to keep abreast of the latest technology, and we have built a top notch supplier network. (manufacturing is very unforgiving, so I only use the best that I can find)

I have gone on too long.  But the point is, I'm finally doing what I love - and I'm doing it MY way!  Don't every let anyone tell you that you can't get paid for doing what you love to do.  Hopefully this thread (with all of its posts) will inspire many new entrepeneurs.

Professional and reliable CAD design engineering services - Specializing in Catia V4, Catia V5, and CAD Translation.  Catia V5 resources - CATBlog

RE: How I started on my own.

zdas04 (Mechanical)
I don't usually include my full signature in the soft fora.  I usually include it in the technical fora so that people who like my answers to technical quesitons can find me.  It has resulted in some work and I'm in negotiations for more work that started with a tech post.  I list of skills in this thread would be unlikely to result in substantative contacts.

eng-tips.com is the only advertising I do, and it has worked well.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering
Please see FAQ731-376 for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips Fora.

The harder I work, the luckier I seem

RE: How I started on my own.


I truely enjoy reading threads like this to share ideas and approaches.  Some answers have come to me in the enlightenment of you folks.  bvanhiel, you have made a very simple point that allows a person to see the trees inspite of the forest!

I have contacted my local and county chamber of comerce and have recieved quite current contact information and brief background of what the companies do in my area that I believe I can service.  Now it is up to me to make a proper presentation to them (hmmm thinking my hobby of fishing might shed light on this)to get them to bite.

One thing I did to make great strides in my personal weakness was to join a TOASTMASTERS INTERNATIONAL group.  I am amazed at how everything I have fundamantally learned about life was learned in my early years of school.  TM has not only given me the practice of making various presentations it is honning my ability to author this material for presentation.  It is a very cheap way to get constructive critisism on your manorisms in front of large and small groups of people.

(Website to come soon.)

RE: How I started on my own.

I am in the business of manufacturing castings. I wish to present a few comments

a) Unlearn all that you learnt in college when you get into business.

b) Get into the business mode as fast as you can.

c) Have an exit plan in place while you start off.

d) Relearn your engineering now. You will find and appreciate a lot more.Learning will be a joy.

RE: How I started on my own.

In the PTCUSER.ORG email exchange there is a fellow who does web design and has a mechanical design back ground.  He is trying with some success to put together Pro-E people with companies that want the work done.  There are association fees to get into his network that are not unreasonable.  I have spoken to the guy several times and is on the up and up in what he is doing.  I am curious if there is any of us here needing to network between us that have this desire.  It is my goal to provide services to companies with out the head hunters getting their cut.  Thats kind of what this guy I was talking about is trying to accomplish.

RE: How I started on my own.

So he's a headhunter.  A discount headhunter, but a headhunter nonetheless.  I naturally distrust anything that keeps you on the other side of the velvet rope until you pay the admission fees.  There are several free sites that do the same thing, but they lack the critical mass of users to make them a success.

Craigslist seems to be the most logical place to go for both job seekers and providers, since it's free to post job listings.  The only problem is the lack of a national search.


RE: How I started on my own.

If you don't want the headhunter to get his cut, why not form a corporation, and be your own headhunter?  If you've got what it takes to be a businessman, surely you can figure out how to land contracts?

If no, here's some basic advice, that I once thought to be "too basic" for myself - attend small business seminars and roundtables at the local SBDC through the local community colleges.  I've never learned a thing at these sessions; but I've made some GREAT contacts who had me doing business withing hours of our meeting.  I usually talk to the people who are in the SBDC office, to see when there will be speakers with a background even remotely similar to my own, or who have worked for the places that I want to get work from.

It really is about WHO you know, as well as WHAT you know.  They are definitely not mutually exclusive concepts.

Professional and reliable CAD design engineering services - Specializing in Catia V4, Catia V5, and CAD Translation.  Catia V5 resources - CATBlog

RE: How I started on my own.

ProEDesigner00 (Mechanical)

His interest is getting the peoples concerned together.  What happens after that initial contact he does not care.

His forte' is Web design.  His friend/ProEdesigner shares office space together and thus this initiative to do such a thing.  I agree anything toward a head hunter stinks.  but this expense he charges can be deducted from the S corp set up.  Head hunter/W2 forms cannot be.

RE: How I started on my own.


Good stuff. You are obviously doing what you enjoy doing. Your experiences are similar to my own although I am in a different part of the world. A few more tips:

1) Dont spend more than you earn. It sounds simple but it takes a lot of the heart ache away.
2) Dont invest in hardware or software because its the latest and greatest. Make sure it will give you a return on investment in time or money.
3) Volunteer for ASME or other standards committees and network
4) Represent a professional body and become a liason officer with the local university. (free high level technical advice and mentors)
5) Enjoy doing what you enjoy as a priority. Make other things a secondary. Read Povey on whats important and urgent.
6) Make sure your wife is on the same train and understands that this is something you want to do to be happy, not for the money, but because you want to do it.

Life is about living not material possessions. You will end up successful but dont look for the big hit, slowly slowly you can build a reputation. Tell people what you, present papers etc etc.

RE: How I started on my own.

Before you jump, read the book "The E-Mythe Revisited". There are 3 hats you must wear:




Know and undertand these 3 roles (I didnt at first) and you will at least have a better feel for the road ahead.

RE: How I started on my own.

wow, great stories guys. i am trying to start a business of my own, so let me pick your brains some.

where do i go to get the initial capital needed? i need a computer and some software to get started. i estimated about $10k. i tried looking for some small business grants, but the search is taking more time than i have.

where can i find out what insurances, licenses, permits, etc. i need to start? maybe i don't need any, i don't know.

my background...
i am a structural engineer going for my PE in october, it took me a while to decide to get it. i was thinking of starting off with some drafting and modeling work before i go full time on my own. then i would get into engineering design, analysis, and drafting.

any help would be appreciated. thanks.

RE: How I started on my own.


First your search should start right here.  All of your questions are answered here they may not be obvious but they are right here in the Starting Business thread.  Secondly, if your a recient grad then I suggest that you stay employed for a bit.  Pay attention to the unobvious things that your superiors face in making decisions.  Understand why things are done they way they are.  In your spare time write a dream paper than later on becomes a business plan.  10K wont even scratch the surface to get software bought and to pay for the hardware needed.  If you search this thread you will find hard numbers about all of these things.

Secondly, perfect how you corespond with others even if it is a lousey posting board where no one is being critical on how you use grammer and punctuation.  Thisa is where a person practices how he presents himself to others,  You  never know you might post something here that later on could grow a client relationship!  I am not perfect in this but I try to be as forthright in my communications as I can because my clients and boss's require that I am.  join ToastMasters International.  it is a very great way to meet possible clients, to cheaply hone your speaking and presenting skills, and its a load of fun once you burn off the frustrations and fear of doing it.

Have a good evening.


RE: How I started on my own.

Here's my story.  It's all true.  Nothing made up.  Movies were made of lesser tales.  Put your seatbelt on and read away.

I earned a 4 yr degree in ME, and chose to spend a year in grad school because I had some money tucked away from my college-era job.  After that ran out, I got a job at a local engineering firm doing design work.  Heat exchangers, pumping systems, chillers.  It was all thermo and stress analysis.  Very much in my comfort zone.  I finished my MSME at night, and I was still a bachelor.  But after 3 years, I was going nuts from boredom.  I decided to challenge myself by getting a job "in the field", in a Fortune 500 chemical plant.  

In the 5 years employed at the plant, I took advantage of every management training course or seminar - in house or 3rd party - that a Fortune 500 company can offer and my superiors would let me take.  PSM, HAZOP, Mechanical Integrity, I got my boiler operator's license, you name it, I took it. I even paid for some myself.  I also went back to school and got my MBA, and passed my PE exam, and got married, bought a house, and had 3 kids.

In 1999 I started doing side work.  I let my superiors know, and they were cool with it.  Basic inspections, some documentation.  Not much money, but I liked the autonomy.

In 2000 we were told our plant was going to shut down and close up in one year, and when the door shut I was going to get 6 months of severance.  That gave me 12 months to come up with what I wanted to really do with my life, and a 6 month cushion to get it rolling.  I chose industrial contracting.  I fell in love with it when I started working at the plant, and I love it today just as much, 10 years later.  

So in 2001 I hooked up with welder that had done some work in our plant.  He was independent at the time (worked for himself), and when the plant closed I approached him.  I would do the engineering and project management, he would handle the field.  50-50.  We started out small, just me, him, and two other guys.

Four years later, we had 28 people in the company.  We had growing pains, but we were in demand.  And I was workig the lion's share.  90 hour weeks versus his 40.  But I wasn't going to rock the boat.  I had a people-pleaser personality back then (please note that this is foreshadowing), so I didn't bring it up.  My goal was long term success.

Then my partner went insane.

His substance abuse problem (that I didn't really know about until it was too late) reared up in 2004.  Picture the owner of a $3 million construction company showing up on site under the influence, and pushing the operator of a piece of equipment out of his way and him getting behind the wheel.  My dream started to unravel.  No matter what we (me and a few of the other PM's) did, he wouldn't change.  It all came to head when - the day after the best financial meeting the company ever had - my partner gets blasted, I catch him and order him home, he gets in a fight with his wife when she walks in the door, she starts packing her bags, and he hops in his truck, drives to the second highest bridge in the state, parks in the middle lane during rush hour, walks over to the railing, and jumps.

Front page of the paper.  Strangers stopping our employees at traffic lights, asking if this was "the guy" (company was his last name).  Customers looking at me funny.  Business crisis consultants.  Work volume takes a nose dive.  My partner lives, but ends up in rehab.  The writing was on the wall.  It was over.

The last straw was after his return from rehab, he gets a DUI in the company truck at 9:00 am on a Monday.  Within a month the company folded.  Belly up.  Corporate bankruptcy, trustees, judges, process servers at 10:30 at night ringing my doorbell.  Bankruptcy is a whicked experience.  The worst part is the very end when you're sitting in front of the judge and she's asking you pointed questions about what happened.

But the story doesn't end here.  

Soon after the decision was made to fold, I approach two of the managers.  I propose a 3-way partnership, because I couldn't do it all alone.  In the span of two weeks, we sign a lease on a shop.  We buy six trucks.  A complete compliment of tools for 15 men.  We embark on a whirlwind tour of the state to ensure there'd be work when we opened our doors.  Opening day comes, and we're up and running.  Within 2 quarters, we're showing a profit.  Right now we're on our fifth straight quarter of making a profit (modest, but a profit).

But again, the story doesn't end.

I am being approached left and right to do engineering work, above and beyond what I do for the new firm, in areas that have nothing to do with the construction contracts we execute.  This time, instead of me working like a madman at 11 at night for free, I'm doing it different.  I have a 1/3 stake in the construction firm.  But now I also have my own firm (no partners) for performing work independently.  A steady, dependable salary in a company I own, and a separate firm to do special projects.  Working until 11 at night now appeals to me, because there's money it.  There's also talk now of the 3-way firm subbing out engineering to me.  I don't know how that will pan out.  That discussion is next week.

So my story will continue.  I could have went and got a job in another plant, and stayed an employee.  I chose this path.  Would I have done certain things differently?  Hell yes.  Will I ever go back to being an employee?  Hell no.  Once you get a taste, you're hooked.



RE: How I started on my own.

Great Story INBCPe!  I do not envy the part about the disparaging partner but the rest I admire.  I believe part of my trouble with such immediate success is the populas of my area, very sparce and poor.

RE: How I started on my own.

I can relate personally to your experiences though in a different world, I am still carrying on with some of the judicial cases due to earlier deliquencies (A legact left behind by partners) .

But joining a job in exchange no way and I have been making profits and clearing my past dues.. My wife supports the family and I have very modest expenses.

I do not continue to work till midnight for others unpaid but do it now as a rewarding work.

Such experiences enable you to take life headon and living becomes worthwhile.

RE: How I started on my own.

An update to my start.  Last Monday I noticed that one of the council members of the town I live near scheduled a meeting for that evening by posting a notice in our little grocery.  I quite turkey hunting early that evening so I could attend.  (The choices we make!!!!!!!!!!!)

I was asked by several of our county chamber members of what I offered and whether I had any pamphlets.  I gave all I had on hand.  I was then asked to attend a breackfast scheduled for tomorrow morning to present my company to a new product manufacturer coming into our area.  It is believed from the understanding the chamber rep understood thatthis company is looking for an outside design service to take on responsability they dot want to hire for at this point.

I have a 2 minute on stage sales pitch to do then one on one with them.

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