Have you contacted local companies?
Do you have a website?
I don't do work on my own, anymore, just because of personal preference,
but that's probably the two big things I'd start with. If you have a
website, you can call/write local companies do BRIEFLY introduce
yourself and direct them to your website for more information.
.....just my $0.02. (Keep in mind that I've never relied on that type
of work to feed my family. I've always worked full-time, for companies,
which I prefer.)
you'd pretty much have to be "married" to at least one solid customer to get
an full-time independent business going IMO.
I know several independent guys & they all have an engineer or architect
that "feed" them all the work they handle, along with whatever they can drum
up on their own. good luck
That ain't necessarily so Rob, and you're better off it ain't. I would
recommend against making any one client too important, no matter how nice
If you are a known quantity in some market I would start there with my
contacts-ALL OF THEM. I use people now and again, but only ones who's skill
and character are known to me. The thought of pinning my reputation on the
work of some virtual person at a distance would be too much to bear.
When I quit my job to start my business I had no clients (I had one project
to finish up for my previous firm but once those 2 weeks were done that was
it). I started by letting telling everyone I knew that I was going
freelance. I got a couple of jobs here and there from people I know in the
industry (architects, builders, other drafting company). Fromt there my
name was passed around and I started having clients who I didn't know call
me saying "so & so recommended you". One of my best clients got my name
from an architect firm that to this day nobody can figure out how they'd
heard of me. I'd never met anyone at that firm, I'd never had any contact
with anyone with that firm. The builder had been using them for years to
draw up his jobs and one time that couldn't meet his turnaround timeframe.
They told him to call me to see if I could do it in time. He called, I did
it, he never went back. I get ~20 jobs/year from that builder plus he's
referred me to 2 other builders (which combined = ~30 jobs/year). So I get
~50 jobs/year and don't even know how it started!!!!
Anyway, back to the topic....
Some more information would help give you more specific advice:
1. What field are you looking for work in? What types of projects?
2. What field do you have experience in?
3. Do you know many people in your field?
4. What services are you prepared to offer? Which ones won't you offer?
5. Why would someone hire you versus doing it the way they currently do?
(this question doesn't need to be answered to get advice, but it's VERY
important to know the answer to help steer your marketing)
I agree, not too long ago a client of mine asked me to start doing a bigger
part of his projects and I tactfully turned him down. About 20% of my
workload currently comes from him and if I took on the additional work it
would more than double, which means I'd be getting a lot of my work from one
client (which also means less time with other clients).
It's OK to have some clients that are a bigger part of your workload than
others, but IMO it's not a good idea to let any one client get too big.
When first starting out it would be more acceptable, because in the
beginning you might have to take any work you can get, but as you establish
yourself you'll need to be much more selective of which projects you will
and won't take.
Never underestimate the time and effort needed to win clients.
What too many people forget is that most companies already have somebody
doing the work you are after, the work is not just sitting there waiting for
So you have get out there and sell yourself.
But don't go crazy straight off. If you make a mess of your first approach
because of inexperience .. and you made that pitch to every prospective
client... you will be stacking shelves in the local store in no time.
Here in the UK most guys go freelance through an agency first.. then expand
to become a drafting company later.
Isn't it funny how it happens?
I can trace most jobs I've had back to one referral of a mechanical engineer
who knew me to another guy who didn't and never ended up using me, but
referred me to someone else and from there...like a chain letter.
If you stand it on end it looks like a tree, not a bush. (the question marks
Hehe...It's like that old cartoon about the swing someone wanted and all the
different versions of it....
This wouldn't surprise me as a suggestion from some of my "colleagues"
for a tree. These days, to get press you have to be outrageous.
What kind of annual money can be made from a freelance CADD company in
terms of US dollars these days? I'm gainfully employed in the ailing
Telecommunications industry, and believe it or not, I have current
financial commitments and a family with obligations. So I'm not just
farting around, I'm serious in my investigations.
I'm considering getting back into CADD after a 6 year break from it,
I've worked with Intergraph/Microstation and AutoCAD for 14 years
starting professionally in '83. I am now starting to looking into
hardware, software and other misc. prices to start a one man shop,
that will offer more than one discipline, perhaps Civil and
Structural, maybe in addition, Facilities Management. I'd like to
specialize in working with CADD and a Database designed in the
backend. A web interface to boot would be nice, but I think that
tends to suggest a GIS type thing, but there could be other DB backend
and CADD input fields.
Any insight, advice, stern words of warning, etc... is most
IMO, you'd be dreaming to think you could support your family off free lance
at first. I think you'd need to start it part time for a few years , pick up
contacts & customers , ect... if you would come across someone that could
guarantee like 20 hours worth of work a week, you might be able to swing it
If you take a step back, you'll realize that, at best, this is a very naive
If you are the top gun in your market and everybody knows it, that's one
If you are a unknown, unconnected and dim bulb, that's another.
I think that most everyones outlook out here is is bleak on this
subject as based on their own fears and perhaps personal failures.
I'm not trying to flame, but gez guys, come on.
Now on a positive note, ever hear about having a business that hires
those top guns? There are all types of CAD needs out there, and when
I say CAD, I mean everything that CAD can be applied to, like GIS and
FM & taking that info to the web via such products as Mapguide....
just to name a few biggies.
How about some realistic creativity here. I'm getting the impression
that everyone wants a corporate American blanket wrapped around them
and the thought of being without it spells failure.
I don't think I'm being bleak- just realistic. As for personal failures, I
haven't had any to speak of in a long while, at least the way I measure
things. I'm either lucky, clever or both.
Speaking personally, as someone who flirts with the idea occasionally of
having someone do some of the drawing for me, the thing that woories me
about freelancers is whether they are going to erode my reputation. I
consider myself to be in the "building" phase of my career, and so my
reputation is paramount, and I am loath to put it at risk.
Drafting well is hard enough for most people. Doing that and knowing
something about the things that you are drawing is another level entirely.
My bag is north american residential buildings. What's yours?
I don't know how you get that idea. I've been flying without a parachute
since 1980, and haven't crashed yet.
Comments spliced in below....
This is good, if not great for you. I'm sure there are many others
just like you and thats a big positive.
As I hire, if they were freelancers, I'd be hiring an Employee, even
if some were contracted though not my preference. I would personally
be reviewing all work as it progressed at certain key points/phases,
so anything that left my business would have my seal of approval and I
would not be blaming my staff for poor work, which would doubtfully
exist, but I would take the blame and thus perform quality customer
Civil/GIS and FM with some Structural and seperately, I'm a
client/server database professional, and as well as running a CADD
Graphic services operation several years ago. So I did it for someone
else and made them mighty wealthy.
Lets hope it's not a matter of time, though you sound well established
so if you did crash you'd not fall far.
I hope you have saved and invested your money wisely, thats not an
easy thing to do.
Well, FWIW I'll tell my story (since I'm a "rambler", I won't be offended if
you only skim read it):
After college (Associate Degree from a tech school - so I'm not a licensed
Architect) I got an entry level position at a very small Design/Build firm
(the "design" staff consisted of 2 Architects & 2 Drafters, the "build"
staff total 4 people) that has a phenominal reputation for super high end
residential ($3,000,000.00+ custom homes). A local restuarant decided to
expand nationwide and I was hired to help with those projects (in addition
to some other stuff including: addition to a church, couple of office
buildouts/tenant improvements, a day spa/salon, etc).
Over the 16 months I was there I did 13 restuarants (after about 4-5 of
them, they really started to bore me though). The restuarant owners decided
they wanted to expand faster than 1 new restuarant per month and part of
that decision was to hire a local architect firm for each location (after
less than a year of that, they realized that better way was to do all the
design work locally, through one larger firm).
So, since we were no longer going to be doing the restuarants there was some
concern about being able to keep all of us busy. The "design" staff
(including me) got nervous and the other 3 people found new jobs rather than
risk being laid off. I stayed to the end (mainly because I wasn't sure what
I wanted to do, go work for another small firm, work at a large firm, go out
on my own, etc.). Well, after a lot of thought and talks with my wife, we
decided if I was going to go out on my own, now was as good a time as any
(at this point my wife's income was good and we figured we could weather
some early business start-up issues). I gave my two week notice to the
owner and he made a offer to keep me (including a significant pay raise) but
I'd be doing more construction management with very little design/drafting.
Construction management has never interested me and I was excited about
going into business for myself. I declined his offer.
At the start my only projects were to complete the "inprogress" projects for
my old boss, which was only going to be about 2 months of work. To drum up
further work I told everyone I knew in the business about my new company
(which resulted in a couple of small projects, though years later those
contacts have given me a lot of work, but at the start it was slow coming).
The bulk of my early work came from my school, people calling looking to
hire a student or instructor to do work would be referred to me. This work
amounted to 15-20 hrs/week over the course of the first year.
From the start I've concentrated on residential work (new homes, additions,
remodels, etc). I've never really loved commercial work so I turned down
about half the commercial projects offered to me.
Fast forward to today.....
I've been in business now 5 years and I have 2 "full time" (30+ hrs/week)
and 2 "part time" (0-15 hrs/week) assistants. My assistants work out of
their homes, with me handling all client interaction. All projects come in
& go out through me (call me a control freak, but it's a big part of my
success). Over the 5 years we've done ~350 projects (most coming in the
last 2 years, in 2002 we did ~100 projects and this year so far we've done
128 - I just got 5 new projects on Thursday and 4 more on Friday -
arrrrrrgggggg!!!!). With our current client base I'm estimating we'll do
160-180 projects next year (A new client of mine first called me at the
beginning of October and since then has given us 15 projects! He estimates
giving us $60,000-$90,000 worth of work next year).
Starting your own business is not for everyone. It takes a lot of self
motivation, common sense, a decent business strategy, and a lot of hard
work. But, I wouldn't/couldn't work for someone else again. IMO the pluses
far outweigh the minuses. We've been successful enough that last August my
wife quit her six figure income job to stay home full time with our
daughters. She now does "office manager" duties for me (invoicing, helps
with scheduling, assistant coordinating, etc) about 12-15 hrs/week.
So, _can_ someone be successful starting their own company? Absolutely!
_Will_ they be successful? Odds are no. The first year or so of business
you'll have practically no income (due to limited client base, high business
start-up expenses, hardware/software purchases, etc). The other reason I
think most people do/will fail is they don't have a good business strategy.
I was able to grow my company fairly slowly which allowed me to work out the
bugs and put systems into place to ensure things run smoothly. We've never
missed a deadline nor have we ever lost a client (though I have told 3
clients to take their business elsewhere - that's another story)
Here's my basic "start-up" advice:
1. Figure out what your strengths/weaknesses are. - You'll want to play
up your strengths while down playing or avoiding your weaknesses. When I
started out my strengths included quick turnaround times, scheduling
flexibility, low cost, etc. My weaknesses included a lack of ability to
handle really large projects, a dislike for commercial work, no
refferals/client base, a very small circle of people in the field that I
2. Figure out why someone should hire you. - When I was starting out I
was willing to take on projects no matter how small. I got a lot of my
early projects because nobody else was interested in doing small projects
that paid $200-$500. You can't afford to be too picky when you're starting
out (but see below for why you shouldn't take every project that's offered).
3. Figure out what project type is ideal for you. - One of my first
repeat clients was a landscaper who had me do his landscape designs. But as
my client base grew I found I made more money doing other project types
(especially if I could give them to an assistant to do - instead of doing it
4. Calculate what you need to charge to be successful. - Most people
don't think about the business expenses involved with running your own
business. (computer, software, printer, plotter, copier, fax, internet
access, phone, cell phone, consultants like accountant/lawyer, office
supplies/consumables, marketing costs, vehicle expenses, health/dental
coverage, 401k/retirement plan, etc). It's pretty easy to spend
$20,000.00/year on this stuff. In addition to these expenses you've got to
add your wage plus company profit. (Also, don't forget "non-billable"
hours. I find my billable hours tend to be about 75% of my hours worked and
my assistants are all billable)
Now, with all those items answered, you need to figure out if a client with
your ideal project type would hire you and pay what you need to charge.
IMO there's a handful of reasons businesses fail. In no particular order:
Growing too fast. Spread too thin. Not charging enough. Bad business
strategy. Poor customer service.
Without a long hard look at all these things before trying to start a
business you're just setting yourself up to fail. It CAN be done, but it's
not easy. I work hard, but I make six figures and support a family of four
comfortably. The stress is high, the hours are long, the uncertainty is
nerve racking - but I won't hesitate to do it again.