freelance civil engineer

How to Become a Freelance Civil Engineer

Freelancing has grown in popularity with the rise of online freelance marketplaces and the gig economy, and many civil engineers are getting more into to the idea of becoming a freelance civil engineer.

It’s not traditional though to use the term “freelance” for a civil engineer though. Technically, freelancing just means you’re working independently and on your own for different clients, companies, or fellow engineers or architects. So there’s nothing strange about the term nowadays and you can surely call yourself a freelance civil engineer or a freelancer in this profession.

If you’ve caught the freelancing bug, here are 8 tips to get yourself started on your path to an independent career in civil engineering.

In this article, you’ll learn about the technical and business skills you need, how to acquire clients, building your online presence, and how to market your services.

What kind of civil engineers can freelance?

Civil engineering branches out into many different professions in the engineering and construction industry.

You may specialize in design and consulting professions, which are primarily office-based, or you can choose the path that requires your presence on-site at projects, such as construction management.

As a freelancer or self-employed civil engineer, you can work in any of these fields. However, there’s a clear advantage for services that can be offered remotely.

If you’re a structural engineer, transportation engineer, geotechnical engineer, water resources engineer, quantity surveyor, estimator, or any civil engineering professional that can work remotely on a project after receiving all the data you need, then you have a wide range of possibilities to work remotely with clients and companies all over the world providing many types of services.

There are limitations to what you can offer though. In most countries, the engineering and construction industry is highly regulated, and you need to be licensed in that country or state to offer your engineering services. So you may be only able to offer a limited number of services such as CAD drafting, QS, and design support work, and that depends on the country and the client you’re working with.

As for construction management and site-based civil engineering roles, your work will mostly require your physical presence, so your options as a freelance or self-employed civil engineer are limited to local projects and clients. That’s not a bad thing at all though, especially if the local construction market is growing. You can make a lot of money off a single project as a construction or project manager.

1- Build your skills and experience

In civil engineering, building years of project experience matters. It is a very hands-on profession, and you only get to learn about it when you’re on the job.

It’s best if you get several years of experience before you go on the independent path of freelancing. In the US and Canada, you must work as an EIT (Engineer in Training) before you get your license, and you can’t even officially call yourself an engineer until you get it.

There’s no harm though in offering your freelance services in your early years in design support roles where you can assist other engineers or firms for a fee.

To become a successful freelance civil engineer, use your time to build essential skills in your field of expertise:

  1. Gain enough experience and practice to produce high quality work on your own.
  2. Improve and sharpen your engineering software skills.
  3. Become fast and efficient in your engineering work.
  4. Learn as much as you can from your seniors.
  5. Find mentors, especially senior engineers who are self-employed or business owners, and learn everything you can about how they do their work and how they engage clients.

Keep an open mind and observe where opportunities lie unaddressed. Do that so you can fill the gaps yourself with your own services when you’re ready.

2- Create accounts on freelance platforms

Put your name out there. There are many freelance platforms on the web that you can create profiles on. Most of them are generalist platforms that address almost every industry that exists, and only a few are specialized. Handiss is specialized for architecture, engineering, and construction, so it’s a good place to start.

Most freelance platforms are selective to certain degrees, so make sure you put effort into optimizing your profile.

Your profile is extremely important in getting clients to hire you. Here are some tips:

  1. Write a career summary that shows what you can do. Avoid silly terms like “I am a resourceful and ambitious person” that really tell your profile visitor nothing of value.
  2. Make sure you have no language or formatting mistakes.
  3. Write your information in a clear and concise way – not too long and not too short.
  4. Upload a professional profile picture – pay a professional photographer if necessary.
  5. Add work samples.

Next, you’ll need to convince clients to hire you through writing great proposals.

3- Write winning proposals

A winning proposal is much more than the lowest price. In fact, it’s often not.

A serious client who’s looking for real value and quality work is not necessarily looking for the lowest price.

Most freelance platforms are built in a way to encourage very high competition from almost anyone, and that usually brings the prices way down. You should not underprice your services (unless you want to aim for getting a large number of small jobs for small pay). Instead, maintain a good price and show value in other areas through the way you present your offer and by showing why you’re the right person for the job, with evidence if possible, such as work samples.

On freelance platforms, serious clients will either reach out to you themselves after finding your profile, or they will take a good look at your proposal and hire you despite not having the lowest price, especially if you’re clearly showing them better value.

That also goes for clients you get off of freelance platforms whom you submit proposals to. The bottom line is: be professional and show your value.

How to write a winning proposal

Writing a good proposal and winning a project is like making a successful sale. Selling is a core skill you’ll need to master as a freelance civil engineer.

Here are some tips to write a winning proposal, whether it is a short one on a freelance platform or a 10 page document for a complex engineering project:

  1. Keep your proposals short: Nobody wants to read about your life and entire career. Keep it straight to the point and only write about what is relevant. For freelance platforms, a solid template that you adjust from one proposal to another can be a great idea to make things go faster.
  2. Get detailed and give it the effort it needs: Learn about the client whatever you can before you write your proposal so you can address the project and client in the right way. Showing the client that you understand what he/she needs shows that you have a good understanding and that you’re detail oriented.
  3. Add your work samples: If you’re writing a proposal on a freelance platform, it should be short – a few small paragraphs or so. Add your work samples after the first paragraph, and make sure those samples are relevant to this specific project. If you’re submitting a proposal document, place your work samples in the early pages of the document in a tasteful way, and highlight the key points briefly for each project without bulky texts.
  4. Convince the client why they should pick you: Talk about the value you’ll bring to the project, and mention clear facts about yourself that push for your case. Work samples are one thing, but also use testimonials from previous clients, your education if necessary, your experience, etc…

4- Create your own website

These days it’s so simple and easy to create a simple website. You can use a website builder like WordPress or numerous others to create one in a day or two, and you don’t even need a developer. You’re an engineer, you can figure it out.

You should make a website because it simply boosts your professional image, and it’s a small investment.

Use a template that you like, describe your services, write about yourself in a friendly way, add your work samples and previous projects, add testimonials from your clients, and make sure to add a call-to-action in several places on your website, like a contact form or blog subscription. A call-to-action is a button or form that directs your website visitors to something you want them to do on your website, like contacting you.

5- Write a blog about your experience in civil engineering

A well written blog with several articles is a great way to show your clients that you know your subject matter well. You can easily integrate your blog within your website.

The great thing about a blog is that it can also drive traffic to your website as people search for the topics you write about. Here are a few topic ideas to get you started with your writing:

  1. Write about your project experiences and include photos of your work, or of the construction site.
  2. Offer tips and tricks about the software you use in your designs.
  3. Write about your civil engineering niche and discuss a certain sub-topic.

Add a mailing list to your blog as well so you capture readers’ emails and info. You can create an email automation so they receive a curated set of emails from you. The list can build up over time and become very valuable for your business, allowing you to maintain a level of awareness about you with your subscribers. Some of these subscribers may one day turn into clients! Email service providers such as Mailchimp and Hubspot are excellent tools you can start using for free.

6- Create a Google My Business account

Create a Google My Business account for your website and freelancing business. It will help you get local clients when people search for civil engineers in your area.

Once you set one up, you’ll appear in local Google search results and that will drive users to your website, generating more traffic, and therefore more leads, and more projects.

7- Network with your peers

Attend networking events and conferences to mingle and network with local engineers, architects, and construction companies.

Build up your network starting from your existing connections, and grow it meaningfully. As your peers learn about you and your services, some of them may contact you for your work, or partner with you on multiple projects.

8- Post content on social media

Use social media to your advantage by posting about your thoughts, blog posts, progress, project photos, and whatever helps you build your image. However, do this strategically.

The point is to get people to like you, remember you, and trust that you’re good at your job. Just be yourself, whether that’s funny or serious, but don’t be annoying or distasteful with what you post.

You’ll find so many tips online about building a social media strategy and building a personal brand if you’re interested in pursuing this angle.

Recap on how to grow as a freelance civil engineer

We’ve presented several tips about how to become successful as a freelance civil engineer. Choose what works best for you personally, or go for all of them if you like. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Know where you stand and what services you can offer
    • Design, consulting, and some support functions can be done remotely, and that opens a global market for you.
    • Project-based civil engineers such as construction or project managers will want to establish themselves in their local markets as self-employed freelance engineers.
  2. Create accounts on freelance platforms
    • Create a great profile on a freelance platform to get started.
    • Use these platforms to connect with clients and get jobs.
  3. Build your skills and experience
    • Become a master of your field.
    • Learn from senior engineers and business owners.
  4. Write winning proposals
    • Don’t underprice your services.
    • Instead, focus on showing your value and convincing the client that your price is worth it.
  5. Create your own website
    • Websites are cheap and easy to make yourself – build one.
    • A website creates more credibility and helps you bring in more leads.
  6. Write a blog
    • Write about your various experiences and opinions in your career.
    • A blog can bring in more traffic to your website and therefore more leads.
    • You can also build an email marketing strategy based off your blog.
  7. Create a Google My Business account
    • It will bring in local google search traffic to your website.
  8. Network with your peers
    • Networking can allow you to create more local relationships, even cross-border ones to build working relationships.
  9. Use social media
    • You can create and work on a social media strategy.
    • Building your personal brand can be great for you in the long-term.

These tips are just the start. Once your freelance work grows into a larger business, then you can expand into more elaborate strategies.

Good luck on your freelancing journey!

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