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Freelance Design

Freelance Design

Freelance Design

I was layed off last Friday. I have been in the fire protection business for the past 18 years. I am thinking about starting my own freelance design company. I am NICET IV in water based and level 1 in special hazards. Anyone else out there start their own design company?

RE: Freelance Design

Sorry to hear about the layoff. I quit my job as GM of a mid-sized sprinkler company just over two years ago because I believed that the market for good quality sprinkler system design in my part of the world was under-served, and went into business with an FPE.

I can say unequivocally that the largest hurdle for me was the transition from a steady paycheque to the good old "you'll get paid when we get paid" line. That is a hurdle that I still have not fully overcome.

There are some guys on here with far more experience in this arena than I have, and will probably be able to offer far better advice than I can. That said, I would still be more than happy to share any tips, tricks and advice that I possibly can. You can find my contact info through the link in my signature.


R M Arsenault Engineering Inc.

RE: Freelance Design

I have been a "freelance" design guy for the last 16 years. It is a great business, but it is not for the weak of heart.

As mentioned above, you will not have a steady paycheck. I tell anyone thinking of starting to have at least 6 months of living expenses plus business startup costs before starting.

Computer: +/- $3k
Software: +/- $10k (This includes autocad, sprinkler design software, PDF editing, quickbooks, office software, etc...)
Insurance: +/- $10k. You do NOT want to try to be a solo design person without proper errors and omissions insurance. We live in a very litigious society. I carry $2M coverage. It runs me about $10k per year. I also carry $1M general liability for when I am on site doing survey work or something. Again, do not skip on this expense!!! That is only a couple hundred per year.
Marketing / Advertising: Figure at least $1-2k per year. It can be a lot less, but that is a good budget.

Then, you have to start getting work from your network. And, plan on taking about 2-3 months after completing a project to get paid.

You will need to get your pricing structure set up. It is far different than working as a salary employee. You need to figure in your desired hourly rate, all of the costs mentioned above, "vacation / sick / holiday" time (this was all built into your rate of pay, whether you realize or not). Don't go too cheap to start. It will be very difficult to raise your rates. I honestly have not been able to change my rates for the last 7-8 years. Don't go too expensive or you will price yourself out of work.

Feel free to contact me direct and I can help you with more startup issues.

Travis Mack
MFP Design, LLC
"Follow" us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/MFP-Design-LLC/9221...

RE: Freelance Design

Sounds like a doctor practice, who also makes little money, because of the overhead

RE: Freelance Design

I tried it for a couple of years back in the early 1990's.

It is not for the faint of heart or somebody that feels work balance is important in their life because there's no such animal as work home balance.

Startup is tough and as Travis mentioned you're going to want at least have 6 months living money because you're not going to see any for the first six months, except for maybe a day or two.

I found it very hard to do myself. With all the expenses the insurance the health insurance not to mention the equipment in the software it seems like all my money went to everyone else but me.

Looking over my wage history, as reported to Social Security in 1991, I took a solid 75% pay cut between 1990 and 1991 and luckily I had savings to back me up. Savings you're going to need it.

RE: Freelance Design

Oh. One more thing. Don't think you get to be your own boss. I have more bosses now than I ever did working for a single company. Each customer / client is a boss with their own demands and requirements.

I honestly LOVE what I do. I have a true passion for fire protection. I am very blessed that I have created a job for myself that provides for my family. But, as Art mentioned above, it is not for the faint of heart smile

Travis Mack
MFP Design, LLC
"Follow" us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/MFP-Design-LLC/9221...

RE: Freelance Design

Like Travis said the thing is we get into this line of work and fall in love with it. Looking back I am fortunate that I never dreaded a Monday, never viewed Wednesday as a hump day and Friday was a day like any others.

Sometimes, when beginning a different or interesting project, I would take work home to work on it over the weekend just because it was a fun thing to do. I seldom watch television so I'd sit at a monitor in the same room as my wife watching television and everyone was happy.

Having been designing over 40 years, my first NFPA 13 standard was 1974 where everything was pipe schedule, I'll be 70 in a couple years and I don't have any plans to quit, retire and do nothing. What I would like to do is find a very small company that needs an experienced full time designer that does enough to warrant minimum wage for 40 hours. Show up maybe one or two days a week just for something to do and because I like it. My mind is still sharp and I need to exercise to keep it that way.

I want to work for a small company because I want to be a statutory employee so I can skip the errors and omissions insurance that I absolutely would not do one minute of freelance without. One little mistake, and it might not even be yours, could wipe you and your family out.

RE: Freelance Design

I can truly agree with the never dread Monday. Probably because I seem to work every day profile smiley

But this truly is a great field to be in. We get to do things to save people every single day!!! I am blessed to have been introduced to this industry when I was just 17 years old. I'm 27 years in now and still enjoy it completely. It is crazy to see all of the changes and how detailed the industry has become over the years. We now need to know more than just NFPA 13. We have many NFPA standards, building codes, local codes, etc..

It's crazy. One other startup cost is industry memberships. You will want to belong to the major industry associations for a couple reasons. First, you get NICET points for just being members. Second, you get free or discounted training courses. These are vital as an independent designer.

Continued training is vital in this industry.

Travis Mack
MFP Design, LLC
"Follow" us at https://www.facebook.com/pages/MFP-Design-LLC/9221...

RE: Freelance Design

I have done IT&M for 30 years, portable fire extinguishers, special hazard installs and sprinkler repairs. I love my job, and customers. I have the freedom to fire customers if I need to, but have not had to fire very many. You will need a wife who understands the gap in working and getting paid. She will need to understand why you have to put in much more than 40 hours per week. She will need to understand why you drive down the street and point to a job, and say "my job", with pride. We have saved unknown lives and property because we did the job properly. When you get a phone call, and the customer says
'The Fire Marshall, Fire Chief or Building Inspector said I have to talk to you about my construction project", your chest puffs out a bit.There are downsides also. Time missed with the kids, vacations interrupted because of a problem on a job, the need to purchase a new tool for a special job. And the hours, yesterday I started at 8:00 AM and got home after driving 150 miles, at Midnight

RE: Freelance Design

Interesting discussion. Sorry to hear about your layoff, and I hope things work out for you in the long run.

I started in this industry in 1988. After Working for a large company for 25 years I went off on my own to do independent consulting. I am in FPE was focused On code work, high pile permits, has mat, etc.

I also found it to be difficult, including getting paid, the marketing aspects, and not having the backing of a large company behind me. With that said, being on your own and nimble also has some benefits.

I ended up closing down my company and went back to my original firm. Overall, it was a good experience, but I am glad to be out of independent consulting and back with the larger company. Just my .02.

RE: Freelance Design

Thank you all for the replies. I appreciate all the advise and guidance. I am going to give it a go and see where the good Lord takes me. Foor and Associates will be up and running by the end of the month.

RE: Freelance Design

Let me start off by saying I admire your courage. You are doing the exact same thing I would like to do one day. Start my own design company. I feel that if you're a good designer who keeps his word, there is the potential to do very well in this industry.

As a design manager I would give my right arm to have freelance designers who would meet deadlines without me having to hunt them down or threaten them to pull the job away. As a small company we utilize free lance designers for about 40% of our design load. SpcFoor if you are interested please reach out to me I would love to give your newly established company a chance. I remember being a very young designer thrown to the wolves to learn design. This forum and members like the ones in this thread have saved me many of hours of research by blessing me with their knowledge. By giving you a chance, I see this as a small way to say thank you to all of you guys for your helpful attitudes. SpcFoor I wish you the best of luck and I will keep you and your new business venture in my prayers. If your interested in doing some work please dont hesitate to reach out. I look forward to hearing from you.

RE: Freelance Design

Simplex13, thank your your offer. My email address is Shawn.foor@gmail.com. Until I can get my business email up and running.

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