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Where to find clients/projects

Where to find clients/projects

Where to find clients/projects

I've been working just shy of 10 years now, for a variety of companies, larger and small, I'm licensed, and I'm considering going on my own.

I'm confident in my technical abilities (and my perspective on my own technical limitations, I don't think I'd take on something I'm not qualified to handle).

Two issue/challenge I currently see are drumming up work and not having my own portfolio of work.

I'm sure the first is a challenge for all firms, but just wondering how do people get started. Where do you find clients and projects? Just blanket the local community of architects and contractors with some kind of advertisement for myself and see what falls out?

As for the second, I've worked on numerous impressive projects over the years, but they aren't mine, they were employers projects. With that in mind, If I set up my own professional website, for example, what can I do about this without misrepresenting myself. Obviously in theory if i land some work, I'll soon have my own images to populate a portfolio with, but what about in the meantime?

Again, this is something I'm considering, not set in stone, so general thoughts and advice are appreciated.

RE: Where to find clients/projects

One of the major reasons business startups fail is under-capitalization, which is aggravated by the lack of planning for a ramp-up of business. I think that everyone who starts a business has the same issue of drumming up business. What you need to plan for is at least one year, possibly two or three, of slow or nonexistent business, and being able to live off your savings. You might want to look at your local resources such as professional association chapters, etc. Networking is probably a necessity, to get your name our by word of mouth.

FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies

RE: Where to find clients/projects

"Blanket local community with ..." is an excellent way to go broke. Think about your current position. How much unsolicited mail and e-mail do you get every week? What do you do with virtually all of it? Me too. Most hits the trash unopened. I get 5-6 pieces of paper mail and 10-20 e-mails a week from people who want to provide me with drafting services, specialized engineering services, or accounting services. I don't open much of it. I don't respond to any of it. Ever.

Starting up is hard. My business is all with companies so they don't usually choke at my hourly rate. I would kill myself if I had to deal with homeowners who want a million dollars worth of work for a couple of hundred. Working with industrial customers, the way to get your foot in the door is to differentiate yourself in a non-marketing arena. Active participation in a local professional association chapter (officer or ubiquitous volunteer) can help. Writing papers for tech magazines is good. Presentations at national professional association groups can be good. Providing useful answers on eng-tips.com has been really good for me (I got another new client today through a post I made last month, the new client followed the link in my signature, looked at my Samples page, and called me--it happens several times a month).

Don't underestimate IRStuff's advice about under capitalization. I started with a client on the hook and had billable hours in the first month, but I still started with 6-months of living and operating capital in a separate account that I haven't touched (except to adjust some investment directions and add some money whenever I've had windfalls) in 9 years. That reserve is totally separate from my operating accounts and it is truly a pain in the butt to get into it (purposely). My plan was to withdraw my minimum budget once a month until I (re-)established cash flow. That reserve was the main reason that I felt I could make a go of this business. I borrowed it from my 401K (long since paid back with interest). Without a client on the hook I would have needed a year in reserve.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Where to find clients/projects

I guess I lucked out on this one. I was kind of forced to start my own business when a company I was working for went under a few months ago. I was basically working with a steel fabricator doing design work for them. When they failed everyone scattered like rats. Basically I am getting work from fellow employees and contractors I used to work with. I also called up a few architects I worked well with in the past as well. In my eyes all was fair games as the company I used to work for went out of business. FYI, I absolutely hate making cold calls and just talking to people in general so I guess my business will be doomed. Right now my business is OK, not great. Currently I am seeing cycles in work. There was a period when I didn't have much to do... now I am swamped.

I uses a spare bedroom in my house for my office. I am going to see my accountant next week to help set up some accounting software and see what I can claim for expenses. I manage to run my office with a computer and a few small printers (8-1/2" x 11" and a 11x17") all of my prints are done at Staples for huge $. I also have some old software that my former employer gave me on the way out.... they didn't want or need it so I asked if I could take it with me and they agreed (that was huge). This biggest expense in insurance........ I continued on with a policy that was set up for me at my previous employer and it costs a lot.

I don't go out with friends to often... heck, I rarely leave the house. When I was working I was spending $60/week on gas.... now there was a month when I don't think I went to the gas station at all. I think my average gas bill for my vehicle is running about $20.00/week. Not much of a life but hopefully there is an end to the means.

As far as previous work examples, I don't know what to tell you. I have looked at other peoples websites and they usually list themselves as an engineer on "such and such project" while working for employer X. I don't know how well this will fly. I guess it will depend on what terms you left your employers.

Just my $0.02

RE: Where to find clients/projects

Oohh, one more thing. Think about what it will cost for health insurance. If you are in the US this is something you may need to deal with. My wife picks up my insurance so as of right now I don't have to worry. However if you do not have that luxury you will need to pick it up. If you don't know how much it will cost take a look at the Mass Health Connector since the Massachusetts plans was basically the same plan that was implement throughout the country.

RE: Where to find clients/projects

To get work you're going to need connections. So let's assume that's already taken care of, you're well known in the design community, customers (architects, businesses, whoever has the money you're after) see you as the face of your designs. So that part is done. Now you have to give these customers a rea$on to move from whomever is filling this design need to you.
How are you going to do work cheaper and better than its currently being done? Per SteelPE's example, he has to cut back on other expenses to feed the beast. Every time I think about that, it roots me into my current job even deeper.
And the other issue is, you can work 16 hours a day, do great work and clear a little money. But can you expand? You can't hire people and expect them to put in the hours you do. So you're in the position of making less money when you expand than when you're a sole proprietor.

RE: Where to find clients/projects


I'm not quite sure how to interpret your post, but the lifestyle I lead is a convenient choice that fits pretty well with my current situation. When I decided to test the consulting waters I made the decision that hiring employees was not what I wanted to do. To much of a headache trying to pull work in for them to do. Then there is the paperwork associated with hiring employees.

While my goals somewhat remain the same, the path to my goals has changed significantly due to this downturn. Spending as little money as possible fits the path quite nicely. Hopefully at some point I will be able to sit back and laugh and it all.... and my clients are paying fair market value for my services... the problem is that I have only been in business for 7 months and I still have a long way to go.

RE: Where to find clients/projects

As for the ins and outs of running a business, the Small Business Adminstration (SBA) has a program (SCORE) that provides free and paid seminars/workshops related to running a business. They may even have retirees that can mentor you.

FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies

RE: Where to find clients/projects

SteelPE, it isn't a criticism, just using you as an example of what it takes to make a business work.

RE: Where to find clients/projects

Thanks everyone, I appreciate the constructive thoughts.

M.S. Structural Engineering
Licensed Structural Engineer and Licensed Professional Engineer (Illinois)

RE: Where to find clients/projects

If you want make contacts in my town you play sport. Strange as it may sound, if you have packed a scrum, shared a 100run partnership, won a tennis match with them, they will trust you for this and recommend you on to others. My largest client came this way

"Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning."

RE: Where to find clients/projects

I think you are getting some very sounds advice here, especially about the amount of money you will need behind you, six months to one year absolute minimum.

Personally I would not consider giving up a job and starting a business in the current climate unless I had a company or a group of companies that were committed to giving me at least 20% of my billable hours. As STEEL PE says even when you have a client base “fall in your lap” things are very tough, good luck BTW to you.

To go in and think I have a business now all I need is some clients is a hugely risky strategy, especially in hard times when established companies are fighting tooth and nail for what often amounts to little more than scraps.

If you are seriously considering going on your own I would recommend currently trying to attend trade shows, seminars etc and building up a list of contacts, try to find a list of contacts, try to speak to the sales reps who often have a great knowledge of whose who and what projects are about.

I would also recommend attending evening classes in the things you are weak in regarding running a business, sales, IT, bookkeeping whatever that might be and trying to get everything in place with regard to equipment, things always seem to cost much less when you don’t need to stress purchase.

If you are not prepared to put in this extra work outside of your normal day job then you are probably not the right person to run a business, if you are you will at least have an edge over someone who is thinking of doing what you currently are and have a far better idea of if you have a realistic chance of success.

RE: Where to find clients/projects

Participate on LinkedIn.com
Your name might be picked up when you answer questions on groups there - similar to this forum albeit on a different platform.

Networking is the key. Get the word spread that you're working on your own now.

RE: Where to find clients/projects

Have you ever gotten work from a LinkedIn contact? I'm not terribly active on LinkedIn, but so far I haven't seen enough useful technical discussion to make it worthwhile to increase my effort there and my mostly passive participation has not resulted in any billable hours at all.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

"Belief" is the acceptance of an hypotheses in the absence of data.
"Prejudice" is having an opinion not supported by the preponderance of the data.
"Knowledge" is only found through the accumulation and analysis of data.

RE: Where to find clients/projects

What kind of structural work do you do? I do mainly residential work, so my clients are mainly architects, builders, and realtors. Architects around here depend on word of mouth. Builders go through who knows who, like to good ol' boys network. Realtors need buttering up - they need to know I'm for real, know what I'm doing, and not just Bubba(ette) with another dumb idea.

After two years, I'm getting my name around pretty well. Folks here are right - don't expect anything to come from just blanket advertising. Try going to the local AIA meetings, or Builder's Association meetings, or whoever your clients will be. The more folks see your face, the more willing (hopefully!) they are to remember you and work with you.

Good luck! I wouldn't trade the flexibility and autonomy for anything!

RE: Where to find clients/projects

Nope I have not, but I'm currently starting up my own business (welding engineering) (going for real next year), and so I'm expanding my LinkedIn network,
Seeing that welding is a rather closed circle (I mean a very particular branch of fabrication) where I live, I can find most of my potential future clients on LinkedIn.
I am planning on advertising my business on linkedIn, just to get my name being "all around", to get it "sound familiar" (like in, "Hey, I've already heard from you/seen your ad/...").

RE: Where to find clients/projects

I have few questions before I can assist you further. In your past 10 years, have you written proposals, negotiated with clients on closing a contract, called up overdue clients, etc.? Basically, what business and adminstrative side of tasks have you performed?

RE: Where to find clients/projects

Not to hijack the thread too far into a side topic but regarding the Linkedin idea, I have found it to be extraordinarly powerful in networking. I don't think the power is in getting someone to randomly send you work or cold-calling you with a technical question but I have found it to be useful in reinforcing connections I have made in other areas...professional associations, meetings, etc. I would probably never contact someone I connected with on there a request for a new job but I would definately check out the profile of someone I met in a meeting (or in this case, was hearing about a new startup firm in the area). It just gives a good opportunity to get your credentials out there.

That being said, lots of good information already posted here. Network as much as you can and try to be willing to offer a service others may not. Since you are structural, some opportunities I see to gain an advantage over competition might be connection design for fabricators, erection plans for contractors, etc. This is the fringe stuff that you could carve a niche in.

Eastern United States

"If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death!"
~Code of Hammurabi

RE: Where to find clients/projects

FixedEarth, I have experience writing proposals, and dealing with clients, but this is from the technical side. I do not have experience chasing delinquent payers, closing contracts, etc. I believe I have the wherewithal to budget and handle the financials in a book keeping sense.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to get the sort of experience you are describing while working for someone else unless I wait until/if I'm brought on board as a principle, at which point I may be far enough into my career that starting my own operation is less appealing or logical.


M.S. Structural Engineering
Licensed Structural Engineer and Licensed Professional Engineer (Illinois)

RE: Where to find clients/projects

Isaac- You have what it takes to start a firm for sure. There are a lot of other factors and not all can be mentioned here- some things would be unique to your situation. So here are your good points: 1- You show a passion for your field, 2- The economy is growing and 3-You are realistic about what to expect on your uncharted trip.

Now you need to improve on these skils: 1- Mannerism - returning calls & emails the same day. 2- Networking- informing your network of colleagues about your new firm. 3-Website- getting a professionally designed website with very detailed services pages & keyowrd optimization. 4-Marketing- Google adwords is a must but also Linkedin, book publishing and email newsletters will help. 5-Charging too low- $80/hr is too low. A $110 to $160 per hour is about the right range. (All of these are obvious but I ahve seen many sole proprtietors not grow at all due to the above errors).

This is not scientific by any means, but I have noticed engineers who strike out after age 35 seem to do better than those who started in their late twenties. Two things that have helped me tremendously - Free PROFESSIONAL ADVICE FROM www.SCORE.org and a Consulting book by Alan Weiss.

To answer your questions- How to get started: Go to www.Netsol.com and get a website domain name + hosting package. Then go to www.Elance.com and hire someone for $300 or less to design you a keyword optimized current website. Then order stationary, get a phone, fax and email setup. No need to incorporate until the business has proven itself (just my opinion).

How to get clients: Go to adwords.google.com and set up an advertizing campaign. Try $50 a month budget. During the early years, 50 to 80% of your sales will be from this source alone.

How to identify work you have done: Mention that you were in the design team but it was under your previous company. For now you can use stock images of bridges, buildings, etc.

Expect about 4 to 6 years to become an established engineering firm. Market all the time. Give business cards, use email newsltetters, and tell local Architect and Geotechnicla firms taht you are available.

Genral advice- charge a fair price, use high quality calculation and plans documents (using color, PDF files and having consisting look across your work), deliver the work before you promise and give charity to the needy. Good luck.

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