starting civil engineering firm

6 Things to Consider When Starting a Civil Engineering Firm

The field of architecture and engineering is pretty wide and diverse, with a range of different niches fulfilled by different kinds of professionals. In a previous article entitled ‘How to Become a Freelance Civil Engineer’, we touched on the importance of civil engineering, the growing popularity of independent work, and what freelance engineers can offer to clients.

While being a freelance engineer means you can choose the projects you want to work on and work on your own time, it isn’t the only option available for engineers looking for a bit of independence. Those who want to take things a step further may want to consider starting their own civil engineering firm.

One of the biggest attractions to starting your own firm is that you have complete autonomy over your projects, clients, and time. You have the freedom to choose, and can often make much more than what you would otherwise earn as a manager. Another good reason would be the challenge and the sense of professional fulfillment you might get from being your own boss.

If these sound appealing to you, then you might just have the right temperament for starting your own firm. The road ahead isn’t easy, however, and you may need to do some careful consideration before taking the leap. So here are a few things you may need to keep in mind before starting your entrepreneurial journey.

The Experience

While your degree goes a long way in giving you the skills you need to start off, that’s only half the battle. Clients and firms are going to be looking for practical experience, which you need to be collecting as soon as possible.

MIT chancellor and Bernard Gordon Professor of Medical Engineering Eric Grimson encourages students to find their specialty as early as possible, which can usually be done by identifying interests. As a direct result, finding projects that can work to your benefit becomes much easier, and you’ll soon have the experience to back up your ambition and impress clients with.

The Business Plan

Every company, big or small, needs a business plan. A business plan is what you’re going to need in order to map out your journey from your first year to three, five, ten years into the future. How many employees are you going to start off with, and how many more do you want to hire in the years to come? What kind of work are you going to be taking on? A business plan is important for identifying your company goals, as well as pinpointing your niche or specialty.

The Business Structure

The next thing you’ll need to focus on when starting a civil engineering firm is the business structure. What kind of company are you hoping to make? What are the legal guidelines and regulations that you’ll need to follow? It may be tempting to register as a sole proprietorship at first — or as a partnership, if you’re starting your firm with some fellow engineers.

However, you may find that registering your business as an LLC or incorporating your business would be more ideal. Do some research and find out what structure meets your needs and use that to map out where you want to be in five or ten years’ time.

The Clients

Figuring out your niche is important, as we’ve mentioned above, because it shows prospective clients why they should pick your firm and not another. Blank Label co-founder Danny Wong encourages firms to do thorough research, produce relevant content, and be available for clients, among other things.

It’s not just your paper portfolio that will attract new projects, but the reputation you build as well. How well are you able to meet your clients’ needs? Are you able to stick to a schedule? And are you able to offer your clients services and results that they won’t be able to find anywhere else? Specializing helps you achieve this, and is one of the best ways you can set yourself apart from other firms.

The Pricing

Any project that requires the services of a civil engineer is sure to be costly, but nobody wants to hire a firm that overprices. Finding the right balance between competitive pricing and proper compensation can be difficult, especially for beginner firms. If you need a refresher, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Connecticut has outlined the basis for many companies’ pricing, which can serve as a helpful guide.

The Scaling

Finally, you’re going to need to think about your future plans. The purpose of your business is obviously continuous growth, so it’s important that you have at least a rough outline of how you’re going to achieve that. To do that, you’re going to need to make sure that you’re hiring good employees, mentoring them well, and taking on projects that stimulate professional growth, while not biting off more than you can chew.

Like many things, starting an engineering firm takes a lot of careful work and planning. With careful communication, the right tools and expertise, and great relationships with clients, you can continue to grow your portfolio and build your client base. While it does sound simple, it isn’t easy, so make sure that you’re willing to put in the time and work.