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Thread: Entrepreneurship

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Apr 2011
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    Kansas City, MO
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    26

    Entrepreneurship

    I'm curious what kind of opportunities there are in planning for those with an entrepreneurial bent.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
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    10,069
    There are a handful of currently or formerly self-employed persons on Cyburbia, myself included. I started my company in 2005 with a focus on planning, but gradually shifted to focus on economic development, which has always been my specialty. What I have found is that the current market is very poor. There are few projects and many competitors. It helps to have a niche and some expertise to back it up.

    Even in the good times, I did not make a profit for two years, broke even the third, and began making enough to pay myself only in the last two years. Like many people, I worked full-time elsewhere during a couple years as I started.

    Most of my work comes from referrals. Responding to RFPs is second, and a couple people have found me online or through events. I would like to be present and exhibiting at more events (state and national APA and economic development groups) but there is a significant cost. Registration, exhibit space, and travel will easily eat up $1000 each. Advertising is also expensive, starting at $100 for some state APA chapter websites and going on up.

    The first piece of advice I have for anyone starting a business is to be generous in your estimation of costs. You can't skimp on things. You will need a good computer and software (ESRI and Tableau both run $1500 to start, with annual maintenance of $200 or so). You need a color laser printer and stocks of office supplies. You need a good place to work, even if in your home. You will probably have to invest in binding equipment, maybe a large-format printer, and other equipment. You need to inform your prospective clients, which means brochures, mailings, email campaigns, business cards, and other costs. You need a web site. You may need to have general and professional liability insurance. Just to launch, I estimate that I spent about $30,000. After that there were continuing costs. Travel and postage were two that I underestimated. Sending out responses to RFPs is expensive.

    The second piece of advice is to anticipate unsteady income. Assume that you will not make anything for the first several months, unless you already have contracts in hand. Then, know that you will not be billing a steady amount each month. Some months will be big and others you may bill nothing, but your costs will always be steady. You should also anticipate trouble with payment. Even good customers do not pay in 30 days. Make sure you have a good contract - I have had to take one deadbeat engineering company (that Chet and I both worked for) to court to seek payment on subcontract work I did for them.

    The final piece of advice is to seek partnerships. Find other solo and small consulting businesses to collaborate with on larger projects, or parlay your expertise into opportunities to fill a niche in larger companies. I am fortunate to have expertise in market analysis that most planning firms lack, and more planning RFPs are requesting a market analysis as part of the project scope. This is my bread and butter work right now.

    A lot of planners are out of work right now, and with the poor job market many of them are trying their hand at consulting. Most will fail. They are no different than any of the other planning firms out there, who are more established, have relationships with clients, and have hundreds of projects they can use to show their experience. Figure out how you are different and whether there is a market for that. If so, you may stand a chance.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Colo Front Range
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    2,576
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    There are a handful of currently or formerly self-employed persons on Cyburbia, myself included. I started my company in 2005 with a focus on planning, but gradually shifted to focus on economic development, which has always been my specialty. What I have found is that the current market is very poor. There are few projects and many competitors. It helps to have a niche and some expertise to back it up.

    Even in the good times, I did not make a profit for two years, broke even the third, and began making enough to pay myself only in the last two years. Like many people, I worked full-time elsewhere during a couple years as I started.

    Most of my work comes from referrals. Responding to RFPs is second, and a couple people have found me online or through events. I would like to be present and exhibiting at more events (state and national APA and economic development groups) but there is a significant cost. Registration, exhibit space, and travel will easily eat up $1000 each. Advertising is also expensive, starting at $100 for some state APA chapter websites and going on up.

    ... After that there were continuing costs. Travel and postage were two that I underestimated. Sending out responses to RFPs is expensive.

    The second piece of advice is to anticipate unsteady income. Assume that you will not make anything for the first several months, unless you already have contracts in hand. Then, know that you will not be billing a steady amount each month. Some months will be big and others you may bill nothing, but your costs will always be steady. You should also anticipate trouble with payment. Even good customers do not pay in 30 days. Make sure you have a good contract - I have had to take one deadbeat engineering company (that Chet and I both worked for) to court to seek payment on subcontract work I did for them.

    The final piece of advice is to seek partnerships. Find other solo and small consulting businesses to collaborate with on larger projects, or parlay your expertise into opportunities to fill a niche in larger companies. I am fortunate to have expertise in market analysis that most planning firms lack, and more planning RFPs are requesting a market analysis as part of the project scope. This is my bread and butter work right now.

    A lot of planners are out of work right now, and with the poor job market many of them are trying their hand at consulting. Most will fail. They are no different than any of the other planning firms out there, who are more established, have relationships with clients, and have hundreds of projects they can use to show their experience. Figure out how you are different and whether there is a market for that. If so, you may stand a chance.
    All spot on. Your reply should go in that compendium someone is making as a reply to those who say they want to go into planning.

    I also found this in a prior business that I had in a completely different field; I no longer do that because it wore me out. This is how it is in most businesses. Everyone tells you that owning your own business is better than chocolate ice cream and sex, and by golly, you should own your own business too, because that makes you an American. They don't tell you that you won't have a life if you are serious about not wanting to work for someone else.

    What I would add is to emphasize how many hours you will work. In this climate, without referrals and no development happening, you will work many, many, many hours against established firms trying hard to keep their doors open and paying their employees with families.

    Lastly, you need to ask people for money. You will have to be tough and when they don't pay you in 30 days, you will have to hound them in a nice way to get them to pay you in 60 days, which means that you aren't paying your bills and people are hounding you, which means that you are not paying yourself. If you can conduct yourself throughout the day with your work with all this in the background, by all means go for it. It is just a game and nothing personal and you are just playing a game to get a job and get paid. If somehow luck comes your way and something comes along to alleviate these burdens, you will have success if you continue to work hard and luck continues to come your way (and luck comes to those who work hard and are smart enough and clever enough to take advantage of it).

    [/frreals]

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