on November 26th, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

You can pick up the newspaper on a daily basis and read about those incredibly persistent individuals who were previously trades(wo)men, technicians and engineers and who have set up powerful businesses which they are absolutely passionate about.

In these challenging times; you should never expect someone to provide you with a job – you should go out and create the work. We need entrepreneurs providing services and products that add real value to our lives.

You are an ideal Entrepreneur
Engineering professionals are highly creative about making things which are ultimately useful and are ideally suited to being entrepreneurs. However, you also need to build on your business skills. The keys to success also include marketing and sales and being able to count the dollars and cents to ensure you are indeed profitable.

Engineers generally hate business uncertainty and risk – a key part of being an entrepreneur and this can prove challenging in becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Examples of Engineering Entrepreneurs are Everywhere
Engineering entrepreneurs have been around for thousands of years. From those fellows who built mines in Spain and boats for the Mediterranean to more recent examples of James Watt and the steam engine world.

Recent mega entrepreneurs who were engineers include: Microsoft with Bill Gates, Oracle with Larry Ellison, and Google with Larry Page.

But no matter how humble your skill or occupation is – you can become a successful entrepreneur.

Passion is what Makes it
You can’t suddenly decide to become an entrepreneur. You have to have a genuine passion for a product or service and be prepared to persist.

Importantly, though, becoming an entrepreneur does not necessarily entail striking out solely on your own. You can often do it within your existing company structure – genuine owners of businesses delight in welcoming like-minded engineering professionals to extend their businesses with new products and services.

Be ruthless about whether it is a feasible product you are proposing. Many companies have not been able to survive as their key products, whilst useful, have simply never been viable business ventures.

Some suggestions for you
As engineering professionals we tend to focus on the technical aspects of the product. This is what gets us excited. However, it is the ‘filthy’ business case on which we need to center our attention – “Can this product or service be sold to make money?” – the overwhelmingly important question before launching an idea.

Engineering professionals often neglect the business factors as they are less interesting. Sadly, the market will not beat a path to your door because ‘you have designed a better mouse trap’. Ideas are a penny a dozen – it is the business strategy and plan that is critical

A business plan defining your product and strategy is absolutely essential. And it should fit on a single sheet of paper with all the key thoughts worked through and built in here. If you can’t explain simply what you are doing in a few words to your grandmother, it is probably going to be difficult to make it work. Items to be included in your business plan include; those aspects of the product that are unique, why you will be able to sell it, who your competitors are, the costs and predicted revenue, the cash available to fund the venture, how long it will take to develop the product, the members of your team, an outline of the operations and admin issues and finally, a simple implementation check list with dates.

Initially, try to finance the product yourself and demonstrate that it is workable and bringing in a solid profitability before going to others for funding. Borrowing money from others or getting partners onboard, when the product hasn’t been proven, is fraught with danger. You might lose control at a very early stage to others.

Put overwhelming effort into your marketing and sales. Persistent communication of your idea to prospects for your products is essential.

Once you have your product out in the marketplace, you have to listen carefully. You may find that you have to change your strategy considerably as the market might want something else.

It is an extremely lonely mission setting up your own business. Make sure you have oodles of support from your life-partner and that she or he is absolutely committed.

Even when you have a highly successful business, it takes aeons to see the first dollars come in. Often you end up with two years of virtually no income as you build up the business. Can you cope with this and more importantly can your personal life cope with this? Cash flow is always a challenging animal to deal with, but it is always king in business.

And an issue I have tended to scorn in the past (to my detriment), is the operational and administrative side of running the business. You have to put in place systems to deliver your product or service easily and effectively, with a high and continuing level of quality and profitably.

You do need passion and persistence at least a dozen times a day in the course of running the business.

There is no doubt, that it is enormously satisfying as an engineering professional to run one’s own business, bring new products and services to the market and take control of one’s own destiny. I continue to see so many vibrant engineering businesses opening up that are absolutely inspirational. These range from consulting, to software and hardware development, to electronic product development, to education, to construction and shipbuilding.

When considering entrepreneurial ventures, as Amos Bronson Alcott remarked “Our bravest and best lessons are not learned through success, but through misadventure.”

Yours in engineering learning,


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