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What I’ve Learned After One Year of Running My Own Drafting & Design Firm

Exactly one year ago I quit my full time job and started my own drafting and design firm. After ten years of working for a few different great companies as a project manager and drafter, I decided that it was time to start my own business. This past year was full of challenges, but not once I regretted my decision.

During this time I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I want to share in this post. I’m writing this not as someone who has arrived and knows it all, but rather as a fellow designer on the journey of entrepreneurship.

JumpJust Do It!

Not to sound like Shia LaBeouf, but JUST DO IT! There will never be a perfect time to make the jump into self-employment. We tend to overthink things. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Of course, I’m not talking about blindly quitting your job and hoping that somehow things will work out. They won’t! You have to have a plan in place, established connections and potential clients, but don’t wait for everything to be perfectly aligned.

Save, Save, Save…

Make sure you have some money saved! I’ve heard it somewhere that you should have at least three to nine months’ worth of expenses in your savings before making the jump. Believe me it’s true. When you are on your own and those paychecks don’t come on regular basis it will do two things to you. First, you will be glad that you saved up some money, if you did. Second, it will make you hustle to grow your business.

NetworkNetwork

Being a solopreneur can get lonely. Sitting in front of the computer all day can get to you, even if you are an introvert like myself. Whether you like it or not, networking is extremely important. By networking, I mean connecting with other like minded people, especially other freelance drafters and designers. I never look at other designers as my competitors, but rather as someone I can network with. If you approach it with that mindset, it can lead to support, new leads and even joining forces to tackle bigger projects. You can read more on networking here.

Currently I’m committed to two mastermind groups and they benefit me greatly.

Never Stop Learning

I’m a firm believer in self-education. I think that once you stop learning, you stagnate as a person. This applies to every aspect of our lives, especially when it comes to business. Luckily, we live in an era of the internet, where learning is practically free and infinite. There are so many amazing resources online where you can improve your skills, even if you are an experienced designer and drafter.

I have put together a free toolbox with resources that I personally use on weekly basis to expand my knowledge on design, drafting and business. You can get your free copy of this eBook by subscribing to my blog below.

 

Designer's Toolbox

Prepare Not to be Understood

Sadly not everyone will support or approve of your decision, and that is ok! Not every person has that entrepreneurial bug in them. Some people will never understand it, but that shouldn’t stop you from following your dream!

Protect Your Work Space

If you work out of your house this is very important. You have to make clear boundaries as far as work hours, work space, schedule, etc. I wrote a lot on this specific topic in the two posts below.

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11 tips for freelance drafters working from home

Backup Everything

You don’t want to skip on this one, believe me! Invest in a good external hard drive, cloud storage or whatever else you need to store your files. Last thing you want to happen is a deadline hanging over you with all files missing.

Learn to say NO

As you start your own business it’s so easy to jump on every opportunity and project that comes your way. It’s hard to say no as your are building your firm. Nonetheless, it’s important to keep the bigger picture and vision of your company in front of you. Is that the type of client you want to work with? Will that project undermine your integrity? Will taking on that project hinder your ability to take on future projects? These are the questions you must keep in mind as a visionary of your company.

Stay Organized

Now that you don’t have to report to and impress “the boss”, it’s easy to stop caring and have a messy workstation, files saved in weird “temporary” folders on the computer (we all know that those “temporary” folders become permanent folders) and drawings scattered all over the place. For some it comes naturally, for others it’s a struggle, regardless staying organized is crucial to running a successful business. Keeping track of your business expenses, receipts, income, checks, files, etc., will help you in the long run and save you headache later.

FireDon’t Burn Bridges

When you are ready to venture on your own, as much as you may want to, don’t say something that you will regret later on. Burning bridges with your former boss and coworkers will not add any value to your business. Keeping healthy relationship with your former boss can actually help you grow your business through referrals and possible outsourcing opportunities.

Learn to Wear Multiple Hats

Owning your own firm means doing tasks that you never did before. At least in the beginning, you are the owner, accountant, marketer, drafter, designer and other positions you never even thought existed. Depending on your business growth and personal strengths, there will come a point when hiring or outsourcing some of these tasks will make more sense. Until then, get used to doing a lot of research.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Are you a freelancer? Do you own your own business? What lessons did you learn?

Eugene Kovalenko

I’m a husband, dad, blogger, and owner of DraftingHub.com. I provide inspiration and resources for designers, students and drafting firms.

22 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned After One Year of Running My Own Drafting & Design Firm

  1. Hi Eugene, I just read your post and its splendid. I’ve been working on starting my own drafting firm and your posts have been really helpful.
    Keep up the good work

  2. But Eugene (hey i grew up in Eugene!) . . . how do you deal with skumbag clients that take months to pay you? That is the biggest problem i have faced over the 20 some years of running my studio. Sometimes it is all good sometimes one gets a bad run eh? And saving. . . ha ha ha oh my that is a good one!

  3. Always keep an eye on your market, as things move fast such as technology it also worth understanding what is moving our economy and how political decisions will in turn effect your business.

    “If you see bad weather coming always prepare”.

  4. Ten years? Personally I think it takes more time. some folks who are just drafters call themselves designers. It’s taken me two decades a few layoffs and many companies to earn the title designer. I tried the at home thing, not for me at all. I have to be away from home to work. Well if it works for you its right for you if you have the client base. Also keep in mind you have to stay educated because companies are doing away with drafters in favor of designers and engineers. Engineers can pick up cad fast. Want to be more marketable learn MicroStation also. You can go any where if you can use both those in a production setting. It may even expand your client base

    Good luck

  5. i thought you would mention the late payment of fees that clients seem to put us through, waiting for 3 months for a payment for work can be torture.
    Also the end of the mining boom in Australia has had a big impact on contract opportunities and employment

  6. There hasn’t been a truer word written in a long time – what I found was trying to factor in all of your aforementioned roles into the cost of completing a project. You have your productive design and drafting work, but then the less accountable administration side. The website updating, the document controlling, the invoicing and chasing of payments etc. The marketing time blah blah blah….. All of which you can’t directly charge to a client but have to be factored in when pricing for a job or producing an hourly rate.

    It’s great to see someone has put the effort in to highlight this.

    Thanks
    Phil

  7. Hi, Eugene, Thanks for your helpful article and true lesson learn. I am working with same profession as a CAD Drafter for oil & Gas Company, Many times I would like to start my won but, I don’t have the contacts where I can initially start. and now I am in the turn where all dreams collapse n lost my job, as you might know Oil & Gas Market down and specially in my region (Norway). Could you please suggest or help any place where I can start. thx

    1. Hemendra, sorry to hear about you loosing your job. If you want to start your drafting firm the first thing I would do is set up accounts with freelancing sites online, then start hustling and contact local firms asking if they are interested in outsourcing their drafting. Start reaching out to other drafting and design firms, network, etc. Best of luck to you!

  8. Amazing post. As of last year I have seriously been considering venturing into entrepreneurship. The information you providedo was very informative and helpful. Greatly appreciate the testimony.

  9. I am currently in the process of starting my own firm. I have contractors, engineers and my current boss an architect that are willing to use my services and will help out where they can in advising me on running my own business and taking on my own projects. I am a college graduate and worked for architects and engineers for the last 9 years and feel business might be better for me if I breakout on my own. I look forwards to any further business startup tips Eugene.

  10. This is excellent. I am starting my Drafting Company here in Ghana and your message has been so useful Thank you

  11. Hi Eugene,

    I have been running my own firm for more than 3 years now. I started in my garage at home and after a year and 2 months I launched the opening of our new office. Everything you said in your post is valid. It is important to just do it! It is important to network (I can’t stress this enough).

    I would like to share a few of words of advice for anyone who is venturing out on their own:

    1. Have a mentor. Have someone you can look up to and study how they made things happen, how they design and how they treat their clients. I am not saying to copy them exactly, but use them as inspiration because if they made it work and made it happen, then what they are doing can’t be wrong.

    2. Most jobs in our industry come from word of mouth. If you are dealing with a client, make sure they are always happy. I don’t say this ignorantly as you will get people who will not be happy – but make sure you don’t burn that bridge either. Leave them on good terms if you can.

    3. Always pick up your phone if clients or consultants call and if you miss it, then call them back as soon as you can. People appreciate punctuality.

    4. I have always used this formula of which I am happy to share:-

    1 happy client = 3 new clients
    1 unhappy client = 11 potential clients you have lost

    Well done on your post and good luck with your ventures and hopefully cross paths in the future!

  12. Hi Eugene! I love your post and most probably will need your advice, I’m gathering as much as I can since I’m a complete novice. I, like other students had all the misconceptions about architecture and it’s until you graduate and start looking for a job that reality hits you right in the face. The market is actually very bad in Australia. I’m trying and will make sure to setup a home business with couple of friends in the same boat. However, our main aim is to gain work experience by working on various non profit, volunteering and virtual projects (competitions) to build our portfolio, and obviously whatever paid drafting contracts we can get on and off. Most of my friends and myself can’t find a job in our field and doing odd jobs. Do you think this is a good way to start rather than doing odd jobs and improving our chances of getting a real job or who knows the business actually grows!

  13. I’m very new to this. I love Home Design and my very heart is into this. Would it safe to put some of my basic floor plan on the internet for show. Then allow people to get in contact with me to show or them more information..

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