How to become a freelance engineer

April 9, 2013
I dipped my toe in the freelance pool as an independent designer in 2007, the same year I graduated from college with a degree in a mechanical engineering.

I dipped my toe in the freelance pool as an independent designer in 2007, the same year I graduated from college with a degree in a mechanical engineering. As you know, 2007 was an awesome year to graduate. Jobs were plentiful! (cough cough) So what was a fresh grad, or even a seasoned engineer, to do when it came time to join the freelance herd? Crowdsource, my friend!

I knew I needed a portfolio of projects to build my business. But I also knew it wasn’t going to be easy since I was young and inexperienced. Crowdsourcing websites were my ticket to find clients. At the time, these Web sites were heavily populated with graphic design and data entry requests. Luckily there was a sliver of 3D engineering design opportunities. The 3D projects available ranged from easy to difficult so I started bidding, and winning, the easy projects like caps and containers. Voilà, a business was born.

Fast-forward six years and now look at crowdsourcing, it is booming. All you have to do is login, set up a profile, bid on projects, and deliver.

Here are four Web sites that can help kick-start your freelance engineering career:

ELANCE.com is packed with freelance jobs. They have a dedicated category for engineering and manufacturing projects. There are, on average, about 400 jobs available across subcategories such as product design, electrical, CAD, architecture, mechanical, civil and structural, and contract manufacturing.

GURU.com is a Web site I joined back in ’08. I thought the platform was easy to use but unfortunately it looks like their requests for CAD have declined. There are only 100 requests across similar engineering subcategories as Elance.com.

ODESK.com looks like they have gained requests for CAD and engineering services. They have about 300 requests under a category called CAD and engineering projects, and 100 for engineering and technical design projects. CADCROWD.com, a Canadian company new to the space, has less than 20 open CAD design opportunities. However, this is a niche freelance Web site that caters solely to CAD/3D projects. The site has industry-focused subcategories such as furniture, marine, medical, automotive, and then some.

Note the crowdsourcing model is not for everyone. If you are making over $100 an hour, you might be offended by project posters who say they only have $40 for a complete design with 12 custom parts. You might also be offended because you are competing with people who are willing to bid lower than $40 to win the project.

Also, project posters don’t know everything. There is a learning curve for posters just entering the product-development world. Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and 3D printing have opened the product-development arena to midnight inventors who sometimes have unrealistic expectations. For instance, if a poster makes a request for CAD files that can be directly taken to a manufacturer, guess what, it is unlikely to work without a prototype. Keep your reputation clean by explaining to potential clients the steps involved in product design. They will more than likely appreciate your open response, and you might even earn their trust, which is the quickest way to win a project.

© 2013 Penton Media, Inc.

About the Author

Lindsey Frick | Associate Editor

Lindsey has been an Associate Editor for Machine Design since 2012. She holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Cleveland State University. Prior to joining Penton, she worked in product design, packaging, development and strategy, and manufacturing. She covers the materials market and other areas of interest for design engineers such as 3D printing and methods to operate efficiently.

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