Looking for work

John Quinn wrote:


John,
This post struck me as very telling. You're getting what I'm going to say from others, but thought it might be helpful if one more concurred.
Let me start by saying that if you're aware of a needed service that you can provide, success is quite possible, if not likely. The problem is that this assumes that you KNOW the business you're entering and are good at providing this service. I'm not suggesting you are not, simply that you need to be honest with yourself about assessing your own capabilities.
You say you're a client/server database professional, and I don't doubt you. As a CAD professional who dabbles in client/server databases, I would never consider going into business doing client/server databases. (I've been in the civil field for just shy of 15 years, from draftsman to designer.) I wouldn't consider doing architectural drafting work, either. I'm sure I could do it, but it's not what I KNOW. If I took on architectural work, I'm likely to get myself into jobs that I either couldn't handle, could not do very well or simply be beaten by my competition. I consider myself a very competent Acad draftsman/designer, but not of buildings or mechanical components, etc.
Bottom line, to me, is this: Do you know what you're getting into, and can you provide the services of a quality necessary to be successful? If so, and the service is needed, then you should do fine. If you're biting off more than you can you chew, you might find yourself in big trouble, really quick.
Best of luck to you in your endeavors. If you're good and honest, I'm sure you do well. ;)
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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 knew/knew me.
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 all myself).
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.
HTH,
Michael (LS)
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Great advice!
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Yes, it is, from all of you. This is a ton of food for thought. I shall mumble to myself for a while as I kick all this around in my head. I'll be back and give some of my thoughts in a day or so. I'm at a cross roads of things now, continue perusing the "my own business", or secure my future as a DB professional for corp. America. So, Risk potential failure and start life over or be a great success with my own business and be in control, or potentially be replaced by a Hindu Hari Krishna in corp. America if I don't watch my back in this viscous IT telecom world.
On Sun, 14 Dec 2003 20:14:13 -0500, "Michael Bulatovich"

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Still thinking...
wrote:

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