History in the making

History in the making

Ove Arup, Ted Happold, Mark Whitby….who’s next?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has read more and more about how the UK workforce is changing and specifically in relation to how professionals are wanting more flexibility and autonomy in relation to their careers

This was actually a major factor in becoming an engineering freelancer or ‘contractor’ myself a few years ago. Having a young family, having the flexibility to follow hobbies etc (triathlon in my case) were all important factors. However, looking back now the flexibility and autonomy that was the real benefit was having control over the people you work with, the people you work for and the people you work against (i.e. who you compete with).

I would truly recommend taking the plunge though to anyone thinking about taking the ultimate control over their career. If it’s part time or full time….putting yourself in that situation is the only way you can discover if its for you. That colleague you can’t stand, but who seems to be moving up the corporate ladder; the problem client who is never satisfied; your frustration that you are still waiting to work on that specialist or larger scale project that never lands, or goes to another office. You can solve all of these problems in one step, well leap….go out on your own. You choose the projects, the clients and your colleagues. It’s not easy (but you know that) but the things that are worth doing in life rarely are (you didn’t need me to tell you that either)..

In the past our blogs have looked at why engineers don’t set up their own businesses and a number of recent LinkedIn groups have also considered a similar question. A lot of the replies we get focus and revolve around the perceived barriers to entry. I do accept that some are particularly significant and specific to the engineering industry. None of them though can’t be overcome….and here’s our advice for engineering your way around them.

Finding work

This is probably the most important thing to consider when you first ‘go it alone’. The best place to start though is your current company, or companies you have worked at before. After all they know how good you are. Furthermore, it’s a great time to broach the subject. Engineers, technicians and modellers are in demand so chances are they won’t want to lose you completely.

Working on packages of work or for a set number of hours for your past employers is one of the best ways to soften the transition. Keeping some money coming in but providing time and flexibility to allow you to think about the type of business you want to build for yourself. EngLancer is also a great place to quote for jobs, test your fee levels and find outsourcing clients with whom you can build a relationship. My final bit of advice re finding and winning work is never turn (good quality) work away. I think we all want to be as honest as we can with clients but you also want to build a brand as a company that can deliver. Why not look to outsource, or perhaps work collaboratively, obviously adjusting your your fee levels as necessary. Every job is an opportunity though to grow your business, your network or your customer base…so don’t pass up the opportunity.

Getting paid

“Cash is king” and “late payments kill businesses”. These phrases are everywhere and they are very true. Your clients will expect you to turn projects around quickly and hit deadlines. Expect the same in return regarding payments. Late payments are a big problem in the engineering and construction  industries and you have to protect yourself as a micro organisation or SME. Don’t be afraid to be firm regarding payment. Nobody wants a client that doesn’t pay. Again, EngLancer can help you enforce strict payment mechanisms for new or high risk clients…..or even as part of a robust payment control system.

Professional indemnity and project risk

Yes, what most engineers do involves risk…but you are appropriately qualified and experienced or you wouldn’t be considering going out on your own. Also, where there is risk…there is opportunity. However, PI is expensive and can prohibit you winning (or even tendering for) those larger or more specialist jobs that you would ideally like to compete for. My advice is this… “work collaboratively”.. A larger firm might be willing to offer their PI to secure a project you have won and also to use you and your resources to deliver it. The terms of engagement and fees need to be carefully worked through but outsourcing to the ‘bigger boys‘ can have real benefit to a micro or SME engineering organisation.

Large overheads, software costs and permanent staff

Working collaboratively and outsourcing smartly also lets you keep costs associated to software, office space and permanent salaries to a minimum. There will come a time when you will want to take on the right people to help you grow your organisation. However, getting this process right costs a lot (both in terms of time and money). Getting it wrong though really is a cost your fledgling business really can’t afford.

You need to build up a robust supply chain of engineers, specialists, draughtsmen and multi-disciplinary partners that you can call on to deliver projects and packages of work, when your competitors can’t. Or you need to deliver the same work more cost effectively than the competition, who have a large number of staff, overheads etc. A network like this though, again takes a lot of time and effort to develop and more importantly maintain. EngLancer provides an effective ‘hack’ to a certain degree, in enabling organisations to gain access to high quality individuals, groups and organisations…often across geographical boundaries.

Hopefully I have demonstrated that working smartly can go a long way to engineering out a lot of the perceived barriers to entry when building your own engineering business. The road to better engineering is endless….but let’s walk it anyway. Come and help us reengineer the way we engineer at EngLancer.


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