How to Succeed in Engineering Consulting

By Andrew Armstrong, an Octane blog contributor

Are you an engineer who likes analyzing problems, solving them and working with all types of people? Engineering consulting might be for you. It’s easier than ever for an one-person operation to get started, with the help of cloud-based collaborative tools and simple, low-cost methods of communication.

Here’s a look at why engineers branch out into consulting, the best ways to get started and how to ensure success.

The pros (and a few cons) of consulting

Engineers who choose consulting say they like the autonomy and the chance to feel ownership in their projects. Both are in short supply in mega-engineering firms.

Others want to deal directly with clients and have a chance to engage with them along the entire scope of a project. Many feel that engineering consulting provides more accountability and reduces the feeling of being an engineering cog in an assembly-line of projects.

As a freelance engineer, or consultant, you can choose when to work and with whom, on projects that challenge and interest you.

Stress is a day-to-day companion at the beginning because there won’t be a regular paycheck. That’s a major negative to setting up shop for yourself. However, balance that reality with the fact that you won’t be limited by pay grades. You will get to decide what your worth is.

First steps to start an engineering consulting firm

To acquire clients, you’ll need a specialty that sets you apart from the competition. Clearly establish what that competitive advantage is before starting out. Know your expertise and clearly state it so your target market knows why they should hire you.

Take a class through the Small Business Administration or a business incubator at your local university. Every business owner needs to understand the legal and financial basics to set up a business correctly.

Think low overhead. Don’t try to impress prospects with an upscale address and fine furnishings. Consider working out of your home until you get established.

Success tips

Here are three basic tips for success in engineering consulting. Your success will likely hinge on how well you handle finances, the quality of your equipment, and your ability to market yourself. By far, marketing is the most essential because if you don’t have clients, it doesn’t matter how good you are.

1) Learn how to market yourself. Clients can’t find you unless you get visible, both online and in face-to-face. Know your target audience and get in front of them. Go to trade shows and conferences. Come up with an effective presentation to sell your expertise to audiences. Pay an expert for help putting it together.

Follow up faithfully after you make connections. The wider your network, the steadier your stream of clients will be.

Get a website, blog regularly, learn how to get found by the search engines, and establish yourself on social media. Make the best use of your time and money by hiring professionals to help with this.

2) Invest in the proper tools. Make sure you have a first-class computer and high-speed internet. Make use of collaborative, cloud-based apps for project management, communication and design work. Buy a 3D printer to help with prototypes. Put your money in good equipment. It will help you do your job, impress clients and get referrals.

3) Learn about business finances. Take a class in accounting. Find an accountant you trust and is easy to talk to. Learn to make accurate quotes. Stay on top of your income and expenses because it’s the lifeblood of your engineering consulting business.

Andrew Armstrong is a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and digital strategies consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His recently published works include contributions to Renewable Energy World, BPlans.com, Entrepreneur Architect, and Tech.co. A graduate of U.C. Berkeley in 2003 through the Interdisciplinary Studies Field program, Andrew writes and consults for numerous clients in the field of product design, software, and professional services. Follow @kickstartsearch

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