A Success Story – Beningo Engineering…
Jacob speciaizes in the “development and design of quality, robust embedded systems.” He has a degree in Electrical Engineering (another gEEk), started consulting in 2009, and has been on his own since 2011.
Here is the interview:
(1) What prompted you to consider consulting? Was there an event, like a layoff, or was it just a general itch to be on your own?
Pretty much since I was a Junior in high school I’ve had the itch to start my own engineering/consulting company. However, I didn’t start to give it serious thought until the 2007/2008 timeframe when I was working as the lead engineer at a start-up.
That company didn’t survive the economic down turn of the time but I started working at a university and started my company as a part-time side project at the same time. I guess you could say that the collapse of the start-up helped give me the extra push to have more control over my own career.
Over the next two years my part-time company eventually got enough work to support a full-time engineer. I took the plunge and have now been doing this full-time plus for the last two years.
(2) How has it been going? See you started in 2009, so obviously you are established in your business.
Paperwork and my first client was back in 2009 mid year. I consistently had part-time work for around a year and half before going on completely on my own in 2011.
In 2011 I was actually working full-time as a W2 employee of one of my clients from the year previously. We were developing sensors for measuring blast profiles from IED’s in the defense industry and there was enough work there that I went on there full-time until the project was completed.
(3) What do you like MOST about consulting?
The best part is all of the projects and technologies I get to work with. Working for just one company you often get highly specialized or forced to live within a small box within the larger design cycle. I don’t have those restrictions.
I get involved sometimes as early as designing the system requirements, in the heavy development or sometimes at the end just to perform system verification. I have my specialization but also still keep a good birds eye view to understand the technologies and industries and see where they are going which helps my clients immensely.
(4) What do you like LEAST about consulting?
The thing I like least is having to sell. I always feel like I’m boasting when I go through our capabilities, what we bring to the table and what we have done. The customer though wants to feel like they are getting an expert in the field even though, in my opinion, expertise is fleeting with the rate at which technology changes.
(5) How do you get your clients? (BTW, the number one question I get asked when someone finds out I’m a consultant.) What marketing techniques work best for you?
Word of mouth is one of the best techniques for me in addition to LinkedIn. I’ve found that networking with people and just getting in front of someone for 30 minutes with some example projects can go a long way.
(6) How do you set your fees? (Second question I get asked.)
I like to use the different consulting salary surveys such as the IEEE consultant survey. It gives a good idea of what other consultants are charging. The value tends to be on average $110 – $120 which is also what a typical engineering company will charge per hour as well.
Personally I like to come in below that average. I can easily reference that average figure and then show them how they are getting a deal immediately. The quality of our work for the price I think really goes a long way.
(7) How did you decide what to consult about? And why? (Third question I get asked.)
I consult about what I know. I’m an embedded systems guy with a heavy focus on embedded software. It is what I know best so my clients get the best value by having me consult in that area.
Now that doesn’t mean that I always just do software. Embedded software is tightly coupled to electrical design and hardware. Sometimes I’ll consult just on the hardware design without any software input. Other times I’m given the entire project and design hardware and software, system tests and the whole thing.
If you are just starting out focus in on a niche and then over time open up capabilities. Starting out its tempting to go general to get any business but its better to just focus your attention on one thing. (Easier to say than do).
(8) Lessons learned since you started consulting?
I’ve learned that I always have to be selling. Just because a big project comes along doesn’t mean that the selling can stop. That project will eventually end and if the selling stopped then there could be months before the next project comes along. Time needs to be set a side every day/week to network and work on selling your services.
(9) What next? Do you plan to do this the rest of your career (like I did?) Or is this a stepping stone to other things?
The goal right now is to do this for a long time. Hopefully with time the work load will grow to where we can hire more consultants and eventually develop our own products. We are moving that way but consulting will remain a core for a very long time. It’s fun, challenging and working with different companies and people is just too much fun.
(10) Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to our fellow engineers who might be thinking about consulting?
Focus on a single niche and go after it. Don’t generalize your service. Sell, Sell and then Sell some more. (Sorry that’s two pieces but once I start talking/writing it’s hard to stop).
Here are some of my comments to Jacob that you may find of interest:
Thanks for the information. Although I’ve featured a few other firms, you are the first of my “interviews.” I’ll probably post that in a week or two.
Glad to hear it is going well. Once you get past the first year or two, you finally realize you’re going to make it. So, congratulations!
I certainly agree with your assessment regarding working on different projects. That has been a major appeal for me too.
Frankly, I wish more engineers would break loose so they could enjoy engineering again. Way too many stuck in the corporate rut. It really pleases me to hear of your success.
Yes, selling can be a pain, but it is a fact of life when you are in business.
A little trick I play on myself is to treat the marketing and sales challenges as just another engineering challenge. After all, we’re problem solvers, so what is another problem to work on?
I also consider myself a bit like a doctor — here to help clients either get well or stay well. Put in that light, it doesn’t feel like I’m bragging when I explain what we can do for them.
Finally, keep on having fun!
Would you like to be featured here? Answer the questions in an email. Can’t promise it will make you rich and famous, but it might just help inspire somebody else to make their own JumpToConsulting.
PS – You don’t need to be a geek — all are welcome to submit their consulting success story.
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