Be Your Own Boss

From Engineer to Entrepreneur

Rick De La Guardia, president and founder of DLG Engineering, discusses how to start, own and manage your own engineering firm.

 Article 

A Firsthand Look

It usually starts with a daydream.

“What if instead of working for my boss, I was the boss? What if I was the one making all the decisions? Maybe I could start my own company.”

For 99 percent of civil engineers, the daydream remains just that – the stuff of imagination.

Mike Howell, on the other hand, turned that dream into reality. After nearly 15 years of work for structural engineering companies in the eastern United States, Howell struck out on his own in the summer of 2019, opening Arrow Engineering in Morgantown, West Virginia. 

  Webinar  

Where Do You Start?

Discover the building blocks to properly prepare you for the freedom and independence of entrepreneurship provides.

  Article  

How to Find Time for Business Development

Anthony Fasano tackles the question, "How do I grow my small business?" 

  Book  

Success Strategies to Start Your Own Firm

This book illustrates real-life issues and decisions facing entrepreneurs as they find their niche, expand their contacts and launch their firms.

Expand all | Collapse all

The Self-Employed Engineer

  • 1.  The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 06-20-2019 08:17 AM
    Good Morning Friends,

    Six months ago I embarked on the most exciting journey I've ever taken in my career: becoming a self-employed engineer. At the time, it seemed like a terrifying undertaking but it's been paying off in several different ways. Just to name a few:

    1. Work/life balance on my terms.
    2. Flexibility of and power over my schedule (which means unlearning the 9-5).
    3. Replacing my old job's salary and then some.
    4. Having creative license over the business I operate under.
    What are some other benefits (or disadvantages) you see in being a self-employed engineer? Please chime in whether you're self-employed or not.

    Cheers,

    ------------------------------
    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    813.415.7872
    dave@...
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 06-21-2019 08:04 AM
    If you have a customer, then you're self-employed, and once you are licensed, there is no limit to the number of customers you can serve as a civil engineer.
    These are great opportunities for the self-employed with a reputation to attract steady work.
    At some point soon, incorporate your business.

    ------------------------------
    Persen Mosespaul S.M.ASCE
    Student
    Asokoro, 900231
    2340705 593766
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 06-24-2019 11:27 AM

    Hi David!

    As a semi-self-employed engineer, the benefits outweigh the challenges for me.

    In addition to what you've mentioned, I really enjoy not having to work from a set location. I shuffle it around by working out of libraries, cafes, college campuses and parks. It is also a challenge, because these places may be noisy or have poor connection.

    Something that is both a challenge and a reward is not always being able to / having to separate work and personal time. Ideally, it is preferable to separate the two.  However, I felt great when I was able to have a slow-running model on my laptop in the passenger seat, while driving kids to a playdate, or work with a napping toddler on my lap. It is a thin line though.

    The biggest challenge for me is not having a support network that you often have when working for a company - be it  input from a more experienced colleague, or IT support. 



    ------------------------------
    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA
    (323)382-6176
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 06-24-2019 12:29 PM
    Hey Natalya,

    I've heard it said that the self-employed life lends itself to the "work all the time, play all the time" culture. With regular employment, breaks to chat with your officemates are common so with self-employment, taking many short breaks is critical to a good and healthy workflow.

    I work mostly from my home office so I understand the blurred lines feeling but nothing is more rewarding than having say over your own schedule (for the most part, anyway).

    Good for you for being self-employed with a family. I know of a few engineers that do it with families and they love the flexibility of working while raising kids.

    Cheers,

    ------------------------------
    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    3104 N. Armenia Ave
    Suite 2
    Tampa, FL 33607
    813.415.7872
    dave@...
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 07-21-2019 06:41 PM

     Congratulations David!

    Some observations that your notes, and those of other correspondents triggered with their thoughts:

    1. "Work/life balance on my terms, and flexibility of and power over my schedule (which means unlearning the 9-5)."

    Absolutely true. Now you only have to work half a day, either the first 12, or the second! And Saturday/Sunday is just like, say a Wednesday/Thursday, except your golf mates are elsewhere!

    1. "Replacing my old job's salary and then some."

    And hoping that your current and future clients are not reading these posts[1]. But don't be concerned. Your competition will be certain to bring them to their attention.

    And BTW, at least early on, when you calculate in the overhead time, your seemingly attractive billable rate 'ain't all' that special, at least for the first 18 months or so. . .. usually.

    1. "Having creative license over the business I operate under."

    And by "Creative"and "I operate under"means you have engaged the services of a competent attorney and accountant who each meet the requirements:

    1. Neither of them are related to you or other family members.
    2. Each have no less than 7 years' experience advising engineers who consult with clients who work in fields of either service or products that you provide your professional engineering services to.
    3. You did your due-diligence to learn what legal filings were made against these two specialists or their partners over the past 20 years.
    4. The Attorney has made you clearly aware of the hierarchy and timing to assert your intended creative and/or business ownership of "Words & Things,"such as TM, R, Copyright,  and the like.

     Epilogue

    While in Houston, Texas, 1979 or so, as VP of a traditional Consulting E/A/C firm, I found myself drawn towards wanting to be more of a consultant. . . without really knowing what that would require of me.

     That next Sunday, in the Houston Chronicle, a seminar was announced, believe it or not, "How to be a Successful Consultant,"by Howard Shenson.

     Now realize, at this point, as a civil engineer with BS and MS degrees in Civil Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York, leading and managing over a 50-person technical group, like, what could this guy, tell me, about consulting?

     GET THE BOOK!

     Later, I learned the Mr. Shenson died prematurely at the age of 47.

     

    The Complete Guide To Consulting Success [2]

    by 

    Howard Shenson,

     

    [1]Right now, go online and <DELETE> your Facebook, Twitter, and other such social media trivia. If you need me to state why, ask. Better yet, ask your attorney.

    [2]Source:https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4530000-the-complete-guide-to-consulting-success  downloaded 21JUL2019



    ------------------------------
    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 07-22-2019 12:39 PM
    Congratulations, David.  I too was self employed between 1990 and 2008.  Then the economy went south but I was almost ready to retire, so I just coasted.  I think you will find, that no matter how much "salary" it seems you don't make, how much money you will end with after the first 15 or 20 years of self employment.  Besides, there's nothing like waking up in the middle of the night, worrying about a project, and being able to just shuffle off, down the stairs to the office, and beginning work - with that first cup of coffee.  But, then on Wednesday, when you can convince your friend to join you, going out to play a game of golf, with no boss watching over your shoulder.

    Keep up the good work.

    ------------------------------
    Russsell King
    Retired
    Lakewood, Illinois
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 07-23-2019 08:05 AM
    Congratulations David on being self-employed!  I took the risk in 2003 and enjoyed 5 awesome years.  Then 2008, then 2009, and then 2010 and so on...business dropped off considerably.  However, I was still able to hang on.  I took a position with a Civil Engineering firm for two and half years, learned a lot, grew a lot professionally, and resigned this past July and resurrected my firm once again.  My advice is multi-faceted - 1) always thank a client for the opportunity to work on their project, 2) don't take your clients for granite - take them to lunch, to a ball game, to a concert, anything, 3) keep marketing everyday - make a list of 5 or 6 potential clients each day and call them, 4) go to the ASCE monthly luncheon/dinner and sit with someone new and market yourself, 5) always pay your subs first and promptly it builds good will, 6) don't forget to enjoy the fact that you work for yourself, 7) maintain that work-life balance, and 8) as Russell King noted that is nothing like waking up at 4:00 AM worrying about a project and then to be able to walk into your office and begin working.  I am always amazed when I do this, the worry is gone, I am very productive, and the next thing I know is the problem is solved and I have started working on another project and it is now 11:00 AM and I have worked 7 hours - a very productive 7 hours.  Time for golf after lunch.  Keep up the good work.

    Mick Mathieu
    Self-Employed
    Tucson, AZ.




  • 8.  RE: The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 08-05-2019 06:15 PM

    David,

    I meant to ask you and forgot.  Having started on your own relatively young, is it difficult to find projects that are beyond what you've already done and allow for your professional growth? Do you have an advice on persuading a client to give you a task where you can't necessarily demonstrate past experience? 



    ------------------------------
    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA
    (323)382-6176
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: The Self-Employed Engineer

    Posted 08-05-2019 08:34 PM
    Hey Natalya,

    Is it difficult to find projects that are beyond what I've already done and allow for my professional growth? Not really. I've had the pleasure of working for a handful of firms after graduation. The range of site design experience was pretty vast in terms of difficulty and size and often times I was the sole designer and plans producer on those projects. I feel like I can offer better client service on my own than I could ever had with those other companies. However, this early on in the game, I haven't ran into clients that could over me those challenging projects, yet. I have to start somewhere, though.

    Do I have any advice on persuading a client to give me a task where I can't necessarily demonstrate past experience? Yes: be honest and upfront with your client, give them a price that is fair based on the learning curve you have, and don't try so hard to win their business (they are going to go with whomever they see is the best fit).

    ------------------------------
    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    3104 N. Armenia Ave
    Suite 2
    Tampa, FL 33607
    813.415.7872
    dave@...
    ------------------------------