The freedom that comes with being your own boss can't be beat: You make your hours, find your clients and reap the financial benefits. However, the reality looks more like working all hours, babysitting clients and haggling for payment.
How you can lessen the challenges and enjoy more of the reasons why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?
What are you building, or what is the service you are providing? You must be able to articulate what your business purpose is and not by using technical jargon. Every entrepreneur — even one who is an engineer — is a salesman, so practice your "pitch" in a way that your customers understand your engineering value yet aren't intimidated by your language. Remember, customers are coming to you often because they are not engineers themselves, but have a problem for which there is a technical solution.
Write Your Plan
Whether your plan is formal or informal, you need one. What are your goals and how will you reach them? Just as a teacher would create a lesson plan to be ready for class, you need to be prepared to run your business from launch to marketing to a routine work day. Determine what supplies and resources you'll need, including overhead, equipment and staff. You will oversee every aspect of the business, from designing business cards to running payroll to finding leads. Now is the time to identify gaps in your personnel coverage and fill them.
Understand Your Limitations
As a one- or two-person engineering firm, you will most likely see success working an underserved niche. You might have researched this segment and targeted it before launch, or it may have evolved as your core business months after opening the doors. It's important to realize that as a small business, you can't compete point for point with the big competitors, but you can offer engineering insight that larger firms can't. The big names struggle to identify with small and midsize business (SMB) customers. One of your strengths is being an SMB. You are uniquely positioned to offer products and services that the larger companies can't. Often, your customers' challenges are similar to your own. Therefore you have a perspective that is valuable and different from the big players.
Line Up Funding
You might be able to startup with a line of credit from your bank or even your credit card. But for engineers requiring tooling, high-tech equipment or software licensing, you will need to find an investor. To start finding and vetting potential investors, join small business groups, both locally and online, as well as your college alumni association. The local chamber of commerce or Small Business Administration (SBA) chapter can be good resources. For example, the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program helps small businesses find investors. More than $21 billion of capital has been channeled through this program. Each SBIC is privately owned, but are licensed and regulated by the SBA. The SBIC directory is available here.
All your tools — whether of hardware, software or human capital — should be the best. The challenge you likely face is having a limited budget, so you have to make the most of it. Invest in the right tools to make prototypes. Bad production quality can ruin a fledgling operation. Create ways to encourage the brightest minds to want to work for you, whether as employees or interns. You might have an awesome location, convenient work hours or an affinity for pets in the office. Make your firm attractive to the types of people you want as workers as well as clients. Offering a competitive salary is only the beginning. You have one opportunity to make a first impression, be prepared to make it great.