Entrepreneurship in Your Engineering Career

Start Your Own Engineering Business

This is a guest blog post by Robert Green.

Many of us have had more than a few years of experience working for companies providing engineering services of one sort or another, while others are just starting their engineering careers. As I tell my kids, every day builds on the prior lessons learned from yesterday as well as the day(s) before that. Our career follows an ever increasing level of responsibility, skill level and knowledge base. At some point, many of you will want to claim your independence and start your own engineering business.

In my case, I learned that I could engineer businesses. My engineering career has given me valuable experience in everything from problemsthat need to be solved and exposure to tools, technologies and skills that have helped bring solutions to those problems, make happy customers and become a better engineer along the way.

The engineering career path takes a journey from college to first job with greater challenge today as entry level jobs have great competition for recent engineering grads. The jobs for mid career and senior level positions tend to require more years of experience, higher levels of education and training and are also competitive. These factors, plus economic factors involved in growing a family at the same time as your career will need to be balanced with your career objectives.

In the case where one might want to increase their experience base and/or increase their income, launching your own business is a great opportunity, responsibility and challenge worthy of every minute of sweat you put into it.

In order to engineer your career you need to establish what your requirements are, formulate a plan or statement of work to meet those requirements and execute your plan. Starting a business can be done with the same planning steps. However, when you first start your business, as Eric Reis says in The Lean Start-up, there is a lot of uncertainty with a start-up. You need to apply the same engineering rigor to starting your business as you do with your education and career. You also need to be willing to adapt to customer needs and match your skills or products with their needs.

My career has allowed me to focus on process engineering, automation and data visualization. These are the key ingredients to measuring, adjusting, and measuring again. As I stated earlier, I learned I could engineer businesses the same way I might engineer a manufacturing or order entry process. As such, I enrolled in the local university MBA program to learn the business skills necessary to compliment my engineering skill set. I make myself available to help businesses and non-profit agencies become efficient and coach experimentation process and process excellence techniques to improve performance. This gives my customers flexibility to run the business of their dreams without having to be an expert in business.

Starting your own business while working a full time job is difficult, but could be a great way to test the waters before leaving your current job. Creating a business is the only alternative when it becomes impossible to find work. When you work for your own company as an engineer providing engineering services, you are working as a contractor. Your goal should be to maximize value, i.e. become more efficient at all steps in your value chain. This requires the engineering discipline that you’ve already come to learn and experience in your career.

You may find that working as your own boss gives you the ability to work on more and more interesting projects that suit your personality. Be careful though to watch for co-employment concerns or tax laws that might have you fall into the category of employee and not contractor as well as non-compete clauses in work contracts. You might want to check with an attorney regarding special cases.

The only way to determine if something will work for you and your career though is to stick your neck out a little and experiment. Consider it prototyping of your career path if you’re so inclined. Starting a business and keeping it running can be a rewarding and gratifying way to engineer your career.

Robert Green is the owner and chief consultant with Lean Start-up Services providing business engineering, strategic planning, scorecard/dashboard technologies, and data management for both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Learn more about Lean Start-up Services at http://www.leanstartupservices.com or email Robert at robert@leanstartupservices.com.

Find me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/rjgreenwave

  • http://www.ericaleeconsulting.com Erica Lee Garcia

    Hi Robert – Great post! I agree that engineers make great continuous improvement professionals, whether it is operational problem-solving and efficiency improvements on the factory floor or business process improvement – business engineering as you call it. I had the opportunity to get my Six Sigma Black Belt, then later a Lean Manufacturing certificate, which were great stepping stones to starting my own business. I find the mix of people management, financial calculation and analysis/technical stuff to be a great fit for my personality and strengths. Congrats on making a go of entrepreneurship in a tough economy!

  • http://www.leanstartupservices.com Robert

    Thanks Erica!

    I appreciate the positive feedback and your experiences in what lead you to pursuing your own consultancy in L/SS process engineering. I completely agree, it is fascinating work and it is great to help people think through interesting and challenging problems to get to a simpler, more efficient and/or higher quality value stream.