I used to be a mechanical engineer on salary, but I left my job because I wanted more proprietorship in my work.
For those of you who know my story, know that my loss of a salaried position was not a mutual decision.
So in other words, I was kicked out of the plane with no parachute.
Lucky for me, that is how I operate best! I am one of those guys my brother likes to call a Journalist.
I do best when the stakes and pressure are extremely high. And if the normal day-to-day operations are not risky, I create the risk myself.
One of my strengths is "winging it", which actually serves really well when you are forced to become an engineering entrepreneur and open your own engineering firm.
Have you found yourself wondering how to start an engineering consulting firm? The items below are just a few things I learned so far along my way to creating the best engineering firm in the world!
Breaking into the Engineering Consulting realm
1. Work Smarter by Using The Right Technology
My career as a professional engineer allows me to turn people’s dreams into reality using my skills and abilities. It could mean constructing a downhole tool for oil rig workers or another amazing project like a beer caddy for a drone that fly drinks from your fridge so you never have to leave comfort of home when hosting guests (See video below)!
To complete projects, I needed a modeling program and 3D printer.
The Opportunity Machine here in Lafayette, La has been an amazing launching pad for the success of StoneWall Engineering as a co-operative workspace.
Use your Engineering Toolbox
Ask yourself what is required of the job as well as what you have in your engineering toolbox and whether you can get what you need to see the project through to completion. Putting up the money on the front end of this undertaking can provide long-term returns on the back end.
Within my own network, I found qualified vendors and manufacturers, many of whom were in my community, you could do the same by searching within your own network.
Some people might overlook that one key aspect: a powerful network. Your network doesn't have to be personal contacts, you can use digital tools to find almost anything these days, let these tools work for you!
2. relationships are key
An engineering consultant's biggest issue may be locating prospects. With the skills to create anything, sometimes the real challenge is to come up with ideas for products, but this challenge can be conquered by finding people who are in need of an innovation to solve their unique problems.
To achieve this, one must engage with others to learn the challenges they face (so you can provide the solution) and continue to maintain that positive relationship. By providing the solution to their problems and continually preserving the positive relationship, you're more likely to attract more business and expand your network through word of mouth.
Embracing the idea of networking and building relationships not only builds interpersonal relationship skills, but also builds your reputation and establishes credibility in your field.
Attending events and conventions related to the engineering industry is a great way meet new people with various skillsets (many of whom you may need/want to partner with later down the road), as well as promote yourself and what value you provide in your own field.
If you live in the Acadiana Area, a great place to start would be Young Professional's of LAGCOE. This organization has played a vital role in the success of StoneWall.
Nurture your connections
The first thing you need is a good place to store your connections. There are a lot of CRM tools on the market these days but the one I found to work the best is HubSpot. I literally use HubSpot every day. Even better their CRM is free! Our marketing partner Vested Marketing will even set you up for free.
Sending an email the day after meeting someone is probably the hardest thing to remember for me—but it’s critical. Be sure to include what you talked about and what a next step could be.
Efficacious communication is a staple in engineering consulting. It is also something our millennial generation struggles with.
Just ask my friend Justin Courville, he wrote about the dilemma here.
Start investing time in hobbies your customers love! For example, IV drips, golf, fishing, or hunting. Invest in taking your potential clients on a guided hunting trip. I have won more work from spending a weekend with a client hunting than anything else I have ever done. If you need some help on a place to go, check out our friends at Jayhawk Creek Ranch. These guys are rock stars at the entertainment game! After a long hunt I also like to visit my friends over at Drip IV for a little Hydration therapy to feel refreshed!
Show clients a little love by sending them unique products from wherever you're from! For example, here in South Louisiana, we are passionate about all things Cajun, so I like to send my clients something from the Cajun Creole Market, a one-stop-shop of unique, Cajun products delivered right to your door! Check them out! (My personal favorite is Sirop De Sazion Old Fashioned Cocktail Mix)
Social media may be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of connections and building relationships in our modern era, but remember digital marketing, a unique marketing strategy paired with a growth-driven design website and frequent inbound marketing can also be game-changers for making industry connections.
3. Think strategically about Estimates and Project Management
If you are looking to work on a project for the first time, it is good idea to consult with people who have experience in your endeavor.
The best thing you could do for your customer is to meet them where they are.
Most of your customers are going to be business owners who already have a specified budget for the work they want to be completed.
The reason they have this budget is that they know how much money they will have to spend in order for their project to be profitable. If they have to spend more than their budgeted amount then the project is not worth doing.
Something we do at StoneWall is actually help our customers figure out if their new tool, or project, is worth their investment.
We are not just engineers being used for our valuable skill set. We are talented businessmen who understand that the only way a project is worth doing is if it makes the owner successful.
We have actually "killed" more projects that we have started. While this can hurt the short-term gains for our company, we value the long-term relationship over the short-term money and having the proper policies in place to mitigate financial loss.
It is not easy telling an inventor who has spent half of his life thinking about his idea that it currently won't be profitable or won't realistically work. In the end, though the customers usually thank us for our honesty, and while they are heartbroken, they are grateful to not lose their life savings in the process.
Level Yourself Up
Put yourself in your client's position: it would be frustrating to deal with someone who takes on more work than they could handle and would have to push back the deadline after a contract was signed.
Therefore, by estimating more time, you allow yourself extra time to double check your work and gratify your client by meeting their needs earlier than expected.
Conversely, giving yourself more time in the estimate to handle unexpected problems that pop up throughout the process.
While all of this talk on schedule sounds great, all of us who work in oilfield engineering, manufacturing engineering, coastal restoration, and the energy sectors of the world know scheduling a project based on your bandwidth is usually not realistic. Everyone in the oilfield, especially upstream oil and gas, needs their design yesterday.
The best way I have found to meet this demand is to increase your personal bandwidth. You are much more capable of Higher Performance than you give yourself credit for.
The little engineer in you tells you that you need to be perfect so you stifle your performance with your perfectionism.
Remember that 120% perfect does not exist. You only need to be 100%. And if you are really good, you can make your 80% be better than other's 100%.
If you are looking for a place to start with increasing your performance, check out HP3. HP3 is a learning group defined as:
A group of learners aimed towards redefining high performance of the mind, body, and spirit.
We aim to continue structuring and nurturing a fellowship whose aim is to improve daily performance and competence in all of our "chosen" roles by developing a learning, accomplishment-oriented mind, a healthy body, and a virtuous spirit.
4. Be your clients partner
Generally speaking, it's best to keep your clients informed about their projects, whether it's good news or bad news. Your client probably wants to know if everything is going according to plan or if there are any unexpected issues that have come up.
What I have learned from past projects is that the more you communicate the better the outcomes of the project, especially in a time of crisis.
For more on Crisis Communication, check out our friends at InCentrik. They have created a Crisis Communication App, a tool specifically designed for our industry.
There is a lot of ambiguity in new design and engineering projects. Everyone has their own assumption of what is intended to be accomplished.
The goal of your communication is to disambiguate the intended accomplishment so that you and your customer are on the same exact page.
Show progress and deliverables
Different clients will have different needs and expectations as far as how often they want to meet or be updated, so keeping this in mind will prevent a 'one-size-fits-all' mindset, which provides a better experience for your client and differentiates you from your competition.
Your client most likely doesn't care, nor will they understand, how you solved your Finite Element Analysis or determined centrifuge torque, nor came up with g-force calculations. They just want to see the results and know when it is going to be ready to produce.
It's always a good idea to keep the future in mind, so before the entire assignment is complete, mention upcoming endeavors, it may help your client to remember you and could potentially increase your chances of being contacted for a job in the future.
The best time to get new work is when you already have work. Most engineers miss this opportunity. What we do as engineers to support our clients is not always as evident to our potential customers.
Having the opportunity to be involved with a client's day-to-day operations, or the opportunity to meet with the engineering manager on a weekly basis does not come often. Use this opportunity to see where you could offer additional value to their company.
And for goodness sake, just ask them how you can help!
5. Accentuate Your Unique SKillset
You may reach a point in your career where there's no immediate work to do, but this can be an opportunity to do side projects and continue your practical skills with side training.
As engineers, we are always inventing and innovating new widgets for others but deep down we really want to do this for ourselves.
Spend your downtime honing your skills by inventing, designing, and engineering one of those ideas you had back in college or when you were working for someone else.
I had the opportunity to do this when I was fresh out of college and it has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Not only was I able to receive my first patent, it taught me some extremely valuable lessons about business and engineering consulting that I still use today.
Honestly, I really do not think I would be a consulting engineer today if it wasn't for that project. Oh and I also got the opportunity to not only meet one of my idols but become his business partner through the process.
For those of you who are not baseball fans, this is Hall of Famer Craig Biggio putting the ball on the tee for me as we test out out training bat we designed and patented together.
6. Measure your success
KPIs are the best (and easiest) way to show how your hard work contributes to company revenue. For business owners, knowing the right KPIs can give you an accurate picture of where your company is going and can help you know what to do to control your future.
KPIs are business metrics that track the effectiveness and efficiency of strategic objectives that go hand-in-hand with a goal. KPIs should be monitored throughout the length of a campaign to allow for optimizations to be made, with the intention of reaching your business goals and objectives.
If you are struggling in defining your KPIs, check out our friends at Blue Margin - they are masters of business development.
7. Practice makes perfect
Engineering consulting can be a lucrative endeavor, however, it contrasts form salary work in the sense that you could either have a ton of work or not much at all sometimes, it just depends on a number of factors (some of which may be out of your control).
While it may seem difficult or overwhelming at times, you can find success and a sense of unrivaled freedom from blazing your own trail.
I would love the opportunity to support you in your walk if you are considering becoming an engineering consultant. Feel free to reach out to me. I will buy you a cup of coffee or let you join me for a workout at Reds!
Practical Engineering Solutions will always be dedicated to providing top-notch customer service to meet our industry demands.
We set ourselves apart with our consistency and timely turnarounds. We are always committed to being responsive to our clients, KEEPING OUR PROMISES, making delivery schedules, and standing by our designs!
From concept, design, and engineering, to project management and integrity services. We are your gateway to your journey's engineering endeavors. Including oil & gas, hemp & CBD, dredging and wetland construction services, and food industries.
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