Can I make it as a freelance mechanical engineering consultant?
October 3, 2013 11:47 AM   Subscribe

I have a BS in mechanical engineering and a couple years experience performing FEA simulations for a company in the US military/aerospace industry. I recently found out that there are consulting firms out there charging a lot of money for the same type of services I perform. If possible, I'd like to get my PE license and begin offering my services on a freelance basis. If I can do that successfully, I'd like to form my own consulting firm. My main concern is that I won't be able to find clients. How can I find my way into this market? I've heard that a lot of CAD work is being outsourced and I'm not sure if the demand for these services is really there. I've searched for mechanical engineering listings on freelance sites but I've mostly found low paying odd jobs. My ideal customers would be legitimate companies that need reliable FEA services but are small enough to not have their own mechanical engineer. How can I find these customers? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
posted by PeterKlayton to Work & Money (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Most folks who do this have ready set clients before they branch out. Former customers, former co-workers, etc. Why not start out as a consutant for a consulting firm first? See how it all works, make some contacts.

If you don't know where you're going to get your customers, you're not going to be able to sustain yourself as a freelancer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:52 AM on October 3, 2013

All the people I know (from a range of fields) who have their own consulting businesses got there by working for someone else (firm, agency, etc.) in that field first. It seems to be the fastest way to build a network of future clients and referrers.
posted by rtha at 1:12 PM on October 3, 2013

Sequence is everything.

Find customers. Then leave.

Best to pursue it informally and/or with permission from your employer.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen folks jump ship unprepared. It's one thing if you are laid off or fired, but another entirely if you quit and hope. Hope has to be out of the mix. Certainty should take its place (or as much certainty as you can get in employment matters.)

There's more to being self-employed than a single marketable skill, too. It's good you have it, but are you able to manage the biggest pain in the ass employee ever, meaning yourself? Can you prospect, quote, close deals, write documentation, solve problems, deal with logistics like rent/insurance/collections? Ever patent something? Hire anyone? Fire anyone? Manage anyone? Do you know any accounting/economics/finance/bookkeeping? Got a big financial buffer prepared? Do you know what capitalization is? Business form? Got a lawyer? Accountant? Is this a good time to be going out on your own? Do you have good people skills? (If not, stay put. You need these more than the rest.)

FEA by itself is like wheat. You need to be able to bake bread, for successful self-employment.

It's certainly possible with an ME, but man, if you don't have the passion for self-direction, self-employment is not that simple. It's wonderful if you can get it to work. Good luck, amigo.
posted by FauxScot at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2013

Short of forming your own consulting firm, your could try contract employment. My experience is also in the aero industry, where I've worked as both a contract and direct employee. If increasing your income is your main goal, contract employment (under the right conditions) can do that. You can avoid the aggravation of running a small business, but still catch a few tax breaks for being self-employed. A couple years experience is a bit on the low side, but I know plenty of engineers with 3-5 years experience that were hired as contractors.
posted by yqxnflld at 8:17 PM on October 3, 2013

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