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Too tight of a niche?

Too tight of a niche?

Too tight of a niche?

I'm thinking of starting a business focused on municipal and county stormwater and floodplain management.  I would be interested in working with communities that are either too small to have a full time stormwater program manager or are just on the verge of needing to add staff for their stormwater programs.  I'm also interested in helping communities come up to speed on NPDES Phase II (water quality) regulations.  I'm just about to leave a city government job where I spent the last four years building their stormwater program.  I loved the work, but personality conflicts abounded with a boss who frankly had a hard time accepting my expertise was greater than his (ego issue).  Do you think it is too specific of a niche market?  I could add some sewer and street work in a pinch, but my experience in these areas is more limited (I could do basic design, but its been a few years and I don't think I would want to get into treatment design as it really isn't my expertise).  Basically, I repeat line and verse of anything you ever wanted to know about stormwater quantity or nonpoint source pollution problems, but I wasn't sure if this was enough for a business venture.

I guess the good news is that if I turn out to be wrong, it isn't a high capital investment business.  Just the loss of a salary and benefits.  Has anyone done a lot of work with municipalities?  

So many thoughts running through my head as I try to decide where I want my career to go from here.  Oh, and I am a PE (been one for 7 years now).  Interested to hear from this group.  

Thanks in advance,

Missouri PE

RE: Too tight of a niche?

What I have seen in Central Ohio, with a lot of smaller jurisdictions around a large one, is some cooperation between them to have similar language in their regulations.  To acheive this, most picked a single firm to provide those services.  I think there were two or three firms in total involved and most of the regulations and systems were similar.

Breaking into this market here, would be difficult, but smaller communities detached from a larger city may have a need you are looking to fill.  You may want to make a few contacts to see if they need that service, and you may want to join some professional organizations where you can interact with these folks to gain some name recognition.

Don Phillips

RE: Too tight of a niche?

Thanks, Don!  What you describe is similar in some parts of ours state (St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District actually has 60 co-permittees for Phase II), but in other areas even the "big city" that creates the urbanized area is behind the proverbial 8 ball on the Phase II stuff.  Thanks for something more to think about though.

RE: Too tight of a niche?

If you're willing to take on a lean income while setting things up, I think you'll be able to explore niche expansion opportunities as you go along.  Although what I do isn't in the same realm as yours, I made the jump nine years ago and never looked back.  It was certainly a big cut in pay to get started, and I had to invest in my business (software, computers, other items) to get up to speed, but I wouldn't willingly trade back at this point.  In fact, the independence I now enjoy will allow me to move away from this huge Phoenix area to just about anywhere in the world while keeping existing clients (and meeting new ones), based on my current business model.

Jeff Mowry
Reason trumps all.  And awe transcends reason.

RE: Too tight of a niche?

Do your homework.

Do some market analysis. How many of these municipalities are there in your trading area? How much storm water work do they do? How much of this do they contract out?

Do some competitive analysis. Who else offers these services? How about other smaller companies? What about the big full service firms?

What is a reasonable slice of the pie that you can expect?

Look at other options for marketing your services. What about smaller consulting firms that need to provide storm water work to their clients but do not have the expertise in house? What about developers?

If your first look at the market suggests that there is some room for your services then go for it. Like you said it’s a low risk start up other than losing some salary and the payoff of being your own boss is well worth it, in my opinion.

Get professional accounting, legal and insurance services before starting anything. These people have their own professional expertise and like the services of a professional engineer they are well worth their cost in the long run and the avoiding of potential problems later.

Good luck and welcome to the independent consulting field.

Rick Kitson MBA P.Eng

Construction Project Management
From conception to completion

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