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Your First Employee

Your First Employee

Your First Employee

(OP)
I am at the point where I have more work than I can do at a reasonable pace and there is more work available. I am a one man operation. When did you hire your first employee? Did you hire an engineer, draftsman, or administrative assistant first? Lessons learned?

RE: Your First Employee

Haven't been there yet, but I'm in the same boat you are. I think it's important to look at the work you do and where your workflow could use improvement. For me, I'm not a great draftsman. I can produce (what I think are) a nice set of drawings, but I'm painfully slow. It always causes schedule backups for me. To try to make things more "efficient" I end up tying my engineering to my drafting, which slows down my engineering, which can cause problems with collaboration. The architect wants to do something crazy on a building - I need to catch it fast and work through it with them to keep things efficient and as fool proof as possible. The engineer-while-drawing model doesn't really lend itself to that, and I've had a few cases where I didn't notice it until it was too late and I had to sign off on something that, while it worked, was a pain for the contractor and expensive for the owner, when a compromise with the architect early on could have made everyone's lives easier.

So, for me, I'm expanding by bringing on a drafter/BIM tech. I'm setting up a clear, written, and enforceable CAD standard to make the process easier. I'm still not decided on a full time employee or finding a handful of contractors. Going from 1 employee to 2 is a huge step, but I've not had great luck in the past with contractors in this area. Part of that has been my fault (not having a solid standard to guide them), so I may give it another try once I have it all 'codified'. We'll see.

RE: Your First Employee

I have used Upwork to hire a part time a draftsman and an engineering assistant. This was a game changer for me, as I only pay them for the time they worked. They had other clients, but I was able to scale them up until my drafter was full time and my engineering assistant has as many hours as he wants currently. I used a weekly retainer to help balance out cash flow on their end. When I was interviewing them, I gave 2 different applicants a paid test project, and hired the best one.
I now use an agency for a full time draftsman, and I can add a second one when needed and they handle the training. The agency is in another country, so currency arbitrage keeps their costs significantly lower than hiring someone in the US. This has also allowed me to stay a single person company for tax/benefit purposes.

I have also used the following "hacks" to stem off hiring someone full time:
- I have clients fill out an intake form with all their billing info on my website. I use Zapier to send that information to Quickbooks for invoicing, emails me an excel file that I copy and paste into my contract template, and it creates a card in Trello with a standard checklist that I use for assigning tasks to my drafter. This has cut down tremendously on repetitive work.
- I have my CPA's firm do my bookeeping for a small monthly fee.
- I use a company to manage everything on my website.
- I use ChatGBT or Co-pilot for just about everything else non-engineering related within the business.

RE: Your First Employee

Quote (LOTE)

I have used Upwork to hire a part time a draftsman and an engineering assistant. This was a game changer for me,

LOTE - glad to hear you had success there. That's the way I'm leaning as well.

RE: Your First Employee

phamENG - I think the biggest mental hurdle to get over is that anyone that you hire is likely NOT going to be as efficient as you (at least to start). But if they take 10 hours to do something you could have done in 5 hours, your "hourly rate" is likely >>>2X of theirs. And it frees 5 hours of your time to do more high valued work.

I also find the effect of having a fresh set of eyes on drawings that someone else prepared to be invaluable.

RE: Your First Employee

Lote, can you elaborate on this statement from your post?

"I use ChatGBT or Co-pilot for just about everything else non-engineering related within the business"

RE: Your First Employee

gte447f- here are a few examples.
1. I had a client that was delinquent in payment. I used chatgbt to research lien rights in my state. I then gave it all the relevant information from my contract and had it draft a letter of notice of lien to both the client and owner.
2. All the automations after client intake mentioned above I learned how to do from chatgbt.
3. I am making an excel spreadsheet to design a structural system that I routinely deal with. I used chatgbt to troubleshoot my formulas as well as write VBA code for more complex functions. (I have examples that I am checking results against).
4. I recent added a state that my business is registered in. I used Copilot from Edge browser to lookup all the contractors and suppliers in my niche in this new state. I will now contact them to offer my services.
5. I have a blog on my website and routinely use chatgbt to give me an initial rough draft of a blog article idea. I do a lot of editing after that, but my biggest time sucker is going from blank page to rough draft and now I do that in seconds.
6. I'll feed client contracts into chatgbt to identify things that I should cross through or ask a lawyer about.
7. I always have chatgbt open and any random question that I run into during the day I ask it. Like what does this word mean, how do you interpret this statement, anything I would normally google, etc.

Outside of business stuff, chatgbt is my new cookbook! I love coming up with recipes with it.

RE: Your First Employee

For me, I love drafting and am very efficient at it. Plus I do 90% of my engineering while I draft. Drafting is typically the easiest thing to export to another person, but that hurdle of someone else drawing something that's not quite your style is hard to consider. If you guys outsource drafting, how do you teach the style and then control the quality, especially if it's from overseas?

RE: Your First Employee

jerseyshore - I was in a similar mindset to you for a while. Your ability to scale increases significantly though when you are able to outsource. Now I try not to touch anything I can send to my drafter, even if I could do it relatively quickly.

I have a very clear CAD template and CAD standards. I have my drafter update the template anytime we create a new detail that can be used on the next project. I also made a video tutorial on a typical small project, and we'll do Zoom calls if there is any kind of disconnect. Finding someone with experience in your niche is very helpful (there are a lot of drafters that are in the architectural space and the learner curve has been longer for them in my experience).

Another benefit of using someone overseas is the time difference works to your advantage. I usually get my drawings back around 9-10A.M., then I have the day to go over them and send them comments. And those comments will be addressed for me the next morning. This allows them to say working on one project at a time since they don't need to wait for my comments.

RE: Your First Employee

(OP)
Thank you all for your replies. When I would begin work at a new firm, the first plan sets I would develop would be based off recently produced plan sets by the firm. That is how I would mimic what was expected. I would take a similar approach, with the addition of clear standards, to get a draftsman up to speed.

Administrative help would be fantastic, but I fear how long it would take to train someone. There are tons of companies with employees, so I know it is possible!

RE: Your First Employee

One of my peers (he's better than me, though) started a company with two other partners. He told me, to the point of me knowing the story as well as him, how he hired a CAD drafter as his first employee. Well, she considered herself a CAD drafter only, to the point of not answering the phone. So, while him and his partners were out hunting work, she was the only one in the office and the phone was ringing unanswered.
She eventually got fired, for that and a lot of other reasons, and we hired her. And then we fired her, too.
If there's a point to the story, it's to make it clear in the interview that as the first employee, they might need to wear more than one hat. Our company likes to hire from contract companies and "try out" employees first.

RE: Your First Employee

Fresh out of college, I was "the only employee" for a year or so. Yes, I had to wear many hats (answer phones, fix computers, get coffee, prepare letters, etc.) in addition to drafting and the occasional calculation or visit to a client. The boss told me that not all guys fresh out of school could handle all that, and told me stories of various people he had employed over the last 5 years before me who had to go, because they couldn't. I'm sure he mentioned this to keep me motivated!

AgMechEngr,
If you aren't sure who you should hire first, find out. Try keeping a clock on your various activities (accounting, admin, drafting, etc.) and see what you spend the most time on. Supposedly you should already know this, in order to do your billing accurately, but I understand that not all business people do it. I also understand your qualms about training someone, but you should let your need lead the decision to hire someone. The amount of training needed will actually depend more on the person you hire. Find the right admin or draftsperson and they will teach YOU things. So don't base your choice on that. Base it on where you will gain the most free time, then optimize that decision by finding the best person you can afford.

RE: Your First Employee

Quote (IRstuff (Aerospace))

Just make sure you have sufficient, and sufficiently interesting, work for the new hire. Boredom is a motivator for finding a new job.
My current state right now :)



RE: Your First Employee

I'd say draftsperson, but they'd need to be able to do a lot of different things. Like down to invoicing, organizing the office, IT stuff, and even delivering mail. I found that fresh, nerdy graduates from a community college are good for this kind of stuff. People from good colleges want to work on beautiful things, and that's probably not what you're doing. You don't necessarily need someone who can do calculations; at the point of having one employee, you want to pass off your laborious, shitty tasks that you hate doing. You need a jack of all trades.

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