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How to progress your engineering career as an independent contractor

After kickstarting your engineering career in-house and spending your formative years soaking in experience, you’ve come to a crossroads: you like your colleagues, the security you get from fixed employment and, of course, you enjoy your day-to-day working life.

The freedom of becoming an independent engineer is certainly enticing: you become your own boss, for a start, and your earning potential will be defined by your drive and commitment. In other words, you get back what you put in. On the other hand, it’s more than likely that a few concerns regarding stability have crept in. Nevertheless, becoming an engineering contractor is not as unattainable as you might think.

If your sights are set on flying solo, these are the critical steps you should take:

Top up on your value

Before you make the leap, take stock on your current skillset. You may have gained a certain amount of experience in your in-house role, but are there any particular areas you wish to improve on before you leave the nest? As an engineering contractor, your success will be determined by your ability to attract and retain new clients, so now is the time to cultivate marketable skills that will serve you well in this new role.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day: if you need a few more months to gain more experience and upskill in your free time until you’re ready, don’t hesitate: you’ll thank yourself for not rushing into it unprepared.

Determine your offering

Once you’ve sharpened all the tools on your belt, consider how your experience and expertise could help your clients; what unique value do you bring them that your competition doesn’t? Think about your current job: what do you bring to a project that others don’t? All too often, engineers fall into the trap of promising unrealistically diverse skill sets to their prospective clients. In doing so, they set themselves up to fail.

Rather than being a jack of all trades and a master of none, independent engineers should focus on being the very best in one particular niche. Ultimately, the market wants specialists: your aim, therefore, should be to refine your offering rather than broadening it.

Grow your network

Your first lesson as a freelance engineer? Never underestimate the value of a vast network. For the cost of a cup of coffee, you could land yourself a key contact who will unlock otherwise unexplored doors to exciting opportunities. Not only do more contacts mean more projects, your career as an independent engineer will undoubtedly benefit from the advice of well-seasoned professionals in your field.

Regularly attending industry events will allow you to establish and nurture these relationships over time, but don’t forget to dedicate time towards developing your online presence. Increasing visibility across the web will ensure all your bases are covered.

Chart your course to success

Becoming an independent engineer is not a decision that should be taken lightly – after all, you are in effect beginning your own business. However, if well mapped-out and planned in advance, it’s a choice that can be incredibly rewarding. After you have refined your offering and sought advice from your network, it’s time to make a solid plan for the next six months.

The future is unwritten, but there are certain things you can set in stone from the get go, for instance – what kind of clients will you target? What rate will you charge? How and where will you operate? Where you do you want your freelance engineering business to be in six months? If there’s anything you’re unsure on, don’t hesitate to you seek further advice before establishing yourself as an independent contractor.

If you’re looking to cut out the middle-man, our Engineering team has a range of contacts within the sector looking for specific skillsets. Get in touch with us today and find out how we can help turbocharge your career.

By Mike Taylor