Monday, October 26, 2009

Starting a CAD Business... suprisingly easy!

Although one can readily see that small businesses are virtually everywhere, the understanding of what legal steps are required to start as a CAD entrepreneur might seem a bit daunting. Like many in technical professions, you may have invested a large portion of your life to developing your CAD and engineering skills and abilities, and probably never gave much thought about the details of a small business until, well... now.

Whether driven to an entrepreneur spirit by circumstance or desire, fortunately it is not complicated to get a small business legally registered. Some measure of apprehension is normal, and that actually indicates one appreciates the seriousness of such an endeavor, which is commendable. But there really is no mystery or insurmountable legal hurdle to overcome. As we will see, there are essentially three basic steps involved. Before discussing these, however, it would be be good to consider a few aspects that will make those legal steps that much easier, along with bringing added benefits once you've 'thrown your hat in the entrepreneur ring', so to speak.

Bringing Your Ideas to the Table
  • Give thought to a business name that tells people something about your services. That doesn’t mean it can’t be catchy, but it should inspire people to look to you for more information and promote confidence in your professional skills. You probably should avoid being too vague, but keep in mind the services you provide might expand in the future, therefore you shouldn’t be too narrow in the scope of the name either.
  • Familiarize yourself with web services. A suggestion in this regard might be to avail yourself of free web site hosting (i.e.: Google, etc) and free advertising opportunities (i.e.: Yellow Pages, Google / Yahoo business listings, Craig’s list, etc.). Such services obviously minimize the initial expenditures of a business start up. However, if your CAD business plan warrants a paid web domain name, then by all means pursue that avenue. It really comes down to a personal choice and the scope that you foresee your business taking.
  • Also, give consideration to a marketing plan(s), including a networking approach (i.e.: your LinkedIn account), to professionally promote your services to others.
So, having the aforementioned concepts of your proposed business in mind, the next steps are then to make it a reality by having your business legally registered. Please bear in mind that the following information is provided simply as a guide and should not be viewed as professional legal advice. As with anything where legal aspects are involved, one should investigate what requirements apply in a business owners community, county, state, and country. You may also find it beneficial to familiarize yourself with the business terms used and their definitions to gain a clear understanding of the topics.

Taking the Steps

There are three basic steps to becoming legally registered. For the intent of this article, we will use the example of CAD Graphics, LLC, located in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
  • Create a Corporation or Limited Liability Company (LLC): This step involves contacting and registering your business with your respective state. For Wisconsin, one would contact the Department of Financial Institutions and follow the instructions provided. Determining your business type, whether a Corporation or a Limited Liability Company, is of course a personal decision dependent upon the CAD business model you are developing. There is an initial filing fee required, and a yearly renewal fee of moderate amount.
  • Request an Employer Identification Number (EIN): This is simply an Internal Revenue Service identification number for your business that you will use for any monetary or tax related identification, and is available without charge.
  • Create an Operating Agreement: This is a written operating agreement that you would keep in your business records file. It may or may not be legally required, dependant upon location and state. It also may not be necessary if one is a single proprietor. It's purpose is to identify managerial rights and duties, and examples are readily available on-line.
So in conclusion, it is surprisingly easy to create a legal registered company that reflects your CAD aspirations. Additional personal research on the topic of business creation is recommended and will contribute greatly to building your confidence that this can be a rewarding endeavor. Laying such a foundation may well provide unique opportunities that highlight your personal commitment in providing professional CAD services.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

File Management... it's not just for CAD anymore

When it comes to electronic business file management, taking some time for forethought can go a long way in preventing wasted time in sorting, managing, and finding files later. It might seem like an elementary topic, but for the SolidWorks CAD entrepreneur there is an acute awareness that (1) each client has unique needs and (2) SolidWorks has inherent dynamics for CAD file references. The later often being both a blessing and a curse.

Obviously, a diverse array of file management structures can exist, limited only by imagination. So it really comes down to efficiency. As such, let's look at some basics that promote efficient file structure methods.

It is highly recommended that a unique folder be created specific for each client you are working with. Many professions mange their record keeping in this format, whether with physical folders or electronically. And it makes logical sense. When needed, one would first find the folder pertaining specific to the client, looking deeper for more information, as needed.

Client sub-folders
Now is where some forethought will prove beneficial. There are some common files that will exist for each of your clients. These may include business files such as Contracts and Invoices, as well as informational and reference data provided by the client or those you may glean from the Internet. Ask yourself how you anticipate working with this client, not only currently but into the future as well. After giving consideration, you most likely will be able to use one of two methods:

  • Long-term Basis: If you can foresee working with a client on a long-term basis, then it may be best to start with having a sub-folder specific to business related documents. Then use project folders at this same level for data specific to each project.
  • Project Basis: If you anticipate working only on a project basis, perhaps having a sub-folder identified by the project name would prove to be useful. Subsequent project folders can then be added as you provide further services to the client. Each project folder could then have within it a sub-folder to contain all your business files associated with the corresponding project.
CAD folders
Herein lies probably the largest opportunity to benefit from considering how you will be working with your clients. As noted above, because SolidWorks uses file references, there are some serious aspects to consider. The basic goals should be to have your data easily available, easy to revision and create drawings, all without having to re-create files or losing previous revisions.

A CAD file structure that works well and provides great flexibility is that of three folders, within each project folder. These may be labeled as Archived, Released, and Working.

Because most CAD business owners operate without a PDM system, using the system of naming CAD files with a reference to Revision level is also extremely helpful, if not essential with the folder structure noted above. This file naming convention allows for easy understanding of each part, assembly, and drawing revision level simply by viewing its name.

In summary, it will be to great advantage to plan ahead for the file structure which will be most applicable to the clients you serve, and these can easily be based upon the two basic structures we have discussed, as shown above.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

CAD... Big Job, Small Job, Long Job, Short Job!

In the field of providing CAD services, the array of job opportunities that become available can be quite varied, and of course unpredictable at times. It isn't always feast or famine, as it were, but is typically somewhere in between.

As the title to this segment indicates, the extents of job opportunities will range across the spectrum of client needs. The challenge really then becomes managing your time and effort, in a manner conducive to effective and efficient work. To this we will view a number of job opportunity scenarios, as discuss the benefits and potential concerns of each.

Big Jobs:
Big jobs intrinsically carry the sense that you will be working at an extremely involved level with a shared deep commitment with an employer. They will expect much for the time expended. Additionally, it may well require that you work very closely and cooperatively with others on the project. This may even require employer stipulations that you work on location with the employer only during their business hours.

By handling this responsibly, you may well earn a good reputation and gain a client who will look to you for their extended CAD needs again in the near future. A possible concern could be only in failing to communicate effectively and thereby falling short of the expectations that you will be held to.

Small Jobs:
Small jobs are small only in a relative sense. They still require the full scope of your effort to accomplish a quality result for the time expended. And it is important it bear in mind that small jobs could easily have the potential to become larger in the future, especially for clients that are growing.

Some real advantages of small jobs are the varieties of CAD work that can make for an interesting and robust portfolio. A potential concern is to avoid the trap of thinking that a small job somehow requires less than your best effort. Always remember that a dissatisfied customer, however small, can easily erode the good name you have endeavored to make.

Long Jobs:
A long term contract job is ideal in the practical ways of being able to provide a steady income while working in a familiar setting for an extended time. Similar in many ways to the 'Big Jobs' mentioned above, it also allows the opportunity to become an even more trusted contributor to the client or employer. In fact, many fellow workers that you work closely with may begin to interact as if you were one of them: a regular full-time employee. Be cautious therefore, not to lose sight of your professional responsibility. That means working as diligently late Friday afternoon as you did on Monday morning, regardless of what water cooler banter about the upcoming weekend is going on around you!

Although a long-term contract client will most likely negotiate a lower rate, the duration of the longer terms will easily make up for any perceived sacrifice. And there is a potential that an employer may come to be so pleased with your CAD services that an offer for full-time employment could even be extended to you.

Short Jobs:
Short jobs can be unique and afford an opportunity to expand your client base. Similar in many respects to ' Small Jobs', these are limited in terms of contract time required. Consider that a short job client might simply be 'testing you out', as it were, to determine if you would be a good candidate for more involved or lengthy contract work. That being said, you will certainly want to take advantage of developing good communication and rapport with those you will be working with.

Realistically, the variety of job opportunities may not always come as you may desire, but being flexible and balanced in your accepting work are important decisions, all the same. Your personal needs and goals in developing and maintaining your CAD business should obviously be weighed in as you consider which jobs to take or decline.

Finally, if your circumstances allow, don't forget that even offering to do a very small job for no cost can make a huge impression. Genuine appreciation expressed by word of mouth will not only promote your SolidWorks CAD business, but also indicate that you are the type of person that others should be interested in contracting with!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Latest & Greatest? ...When to start running the latest SolidWorks CAD release

The anticipation of a new release of SolidWorks typically carries a measure of excitement! After all, we have become accustomed to seeing recognized design and software needs addressed or improved upon. As SolidWorks users, we certainly appreciate the efforts expended toward such development and the benefits that each new release brings. But this also means that each year we are faced with the question of when to start running (a.k.a. committing to) the newly released version. While some individuals or companies have a prearranged plan or standard, others simply wing-it as it were, and hope there will be no repercussions.

There are a number of factors involved which should be weighed in the decision of committing to running the new release. These should include awareness of:
  • significant user interface differences
  • limitations of version compatibility
  • necessity of service pack upgrades
  • file collaboration
  • PDM integration
As with anything new, the more information we have in advance, the better our decision making capability should be. This is certainly true regarding the above points as well. It is therefore prudent that one would take advantage of any opportunities to learn as much as possible about the newest release prior to determining when to make the commitment. Most VARS (value-added resellers) of SolidWorks will annually hold a 'premiere' event to showcase the newest version and highlight the main aspects that will interest and impact users. By all means attend, if possible. It is probably the most time effective means of seeing the new features and software in action, and the most cost effective as well, since the event is free.
User Interface Differences
These differences should be almost self-evident. Because interface upgrades are intended to make the user-experience more efficient and effective, they are probably the most eagerly anticipated aspect of the new release. The only concern should be the learning curve involved. Regular users will most likely catch on quickly, but bear in mind that significant interface differences will mean your work will take a little longer until becoming accustomed to the new methods, icons, shortcuts, etc.
Version Compatibility
This is simply an awareness issue, especially for novice users, but is vital knowledge in determining what version to use in creating new files and when to commit to running the newest version. SolidWorks files are not backwards compatible. In other words, you can save an older file version into a newer version format, but you cannot do the reverse such as saving a newer version into an earlier version format. Yes, once a file is in the latest version, there is no going back with the exception of completely redoing your design in the earlier version.
Service Pack Upgrades
This too is an awareness issue. No matter how enthralled you or anyone feels about the newest released version, remember that it is not perfect! It will require necessary upgrades to work properly. This has been evident year after year, and really goes with the territory that SolidWorks lives in. The constraints of having to release a new version each year (read 365 days) limits how thoroughly the alpha and beta versions have been properly tested. Therefore, some choose to exercise patience by waiting until a number of service pack upgrades have been released before committing.
File Collaboration
If you are working in collaboration and sharing files with another, then this will be a major concern and most likely one of the main limiting factors in the decision to commit. Ironically, however, it may also have bearing on the impetus of when to commit. It is directly related to version compatibility, but additionally brings in the factors of other designers, toolers, or manufacturers that you may be working with. Typically, whomever in the design chain implements the newest release causes the others to commit. If your design chain goes in one direction, it may not be such a concern, but if your design chain tends to flow in both directions, then there may be issues. While it is not necessarily a negative, it is important that the commitment be communicated and agreed upon, or else one could run the risk of introducing a delay in the development process that could easily have been avoided.
PDM Integration
This should only be a concern for those who manage their CAD in vaulted PDM systems, or work in collaboration with those who do. Non-SolidWorks PDM systems can be intensive and expensive operations for a company and carry compatibility issues such as Viewers, which allow others in the PDM network to view a CAD file without necessarily having the CAD software. In this type of scenario, the PDM system may exert a large measure of influence on when, and even whether one commits to newer releases. If you are working in collaboration with a company that uses a non-solidworks PDM system, ask what SolidWorks version they are using before assuming they are running the latest. Note that some large companies have been known to be actively running SolidWorks versions that are at least 2 years old simply because of the restrictions placed by their PDM system and the expensive upgrades that are involved in keeping up with corresponding CAD releases.
In summary, by being cognizant of the above issues and weighing their relevance, the decision as to when to commit to running in a new release may become self-evident. That being said, some have determined that a specific calendar date, extended some months after the initial new release, is well suited on which to coordinate committing to running the latest release. Others may choose to be flexible, for example by waiting for a specific service pack upgrade (i.e.: 2.0). As with many business issues, communication and awareness will always be the most valuable aspects in the coordinated decision to commit to running the latest released SolidWorks version.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

CAD Business Network Essentials

Does networking seem to be an inconvenient necessity? Is there significant value in networking for your CAD business interests? Well, it can actually be easier and bring greater, more far reaching benefits than one might initally think.

Let us begin by considering something we may not have given much consideration to: Most of us already have a social network, be it family or friends. That being said, it is easy then to look upon our existing social network and realize the value that communication provides. Communication is the essential ingredient to the degree of good relations and mutual support that we might share with such ones. And we are naturally motived to communicate with those whom we care about and share interests with.

Now extending that understanding and these principles to the business realm can enable us to build and maintain a solid professional network that provides shared value. Yes, no doubt you have met or worked alongside engineering, manufacturing, or marketing individuals whom you recognized to have skills, talent and abilities that you admired. And, if you are one who conscientiously strives to give your best to the tasks at hand, then your peers have most likely noticed such qualities in you as well. So there it is! Your current or past work associates, and those you have performed CAD services for, easily make for a good foundation to your CAD business network that simply needs to be built upon and maintained.

In essence then, a business network is a very powerful existing marketing tool that requires recognizing two key aspects.

Business is Business
A business or professional network is exactly what it says it is. In other words, your relationship to such individuals is business or professional in nature. Therefore, when you do communicate, whether in person or electronically, you will want to be conscientious and respect that their time is of value. Use discernment and good judgement in the amount of time you would take to show genuine personal interest and sharing updates with one another. Displaying such respect will go a long way in fostering a continued favorable view of you, and notibly it is accomplished without many words.

Network Street is Two-Way
Beyond mutual respect, ask yourself 'what ties me to this person?' Well, your answer should be not only what this person may offer in the way of supporting business potential, but equally important is what can you offer them? Acknowledging your role in this way is vital. Displaying a selfish, self-serving attitude will quickly diminish not only your professional reputation, but also your business prospects. In practical ways then, let those in your network know what you can do for them in promoting their interests. For example, one way to address this is to simply ask: "Is there anything I can do for you?" It seems so obvious, but in a hurried world such kindness is often overlooked. When sincere thoughtfulness is expressed, it will be genuinely felt, long remembered, and most likely returned.

Obviously, your interests to build and maintain your CAD business network will determine the extents of who you will be in contact with, and the frequency. Aside from maintaining your own personal records of contacts, professional networking sites such as LinkedIn can provide an easy-to-manage resource tool to keep contacts up to date. Therefore, by recognizing the inherent value of your business network and applying the two key points discussed above, one can affectively utilize professional relationships to maximize business opportunities, and doing so in a respectful and dignified approach.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Go for It! ...Ways to generate CAD business opportunties

Generating new CAD business opportunities can initally appear to be an intimidating challenge, especially if you don't consider yourself to have marketing savvy or shtick. However, a genuine approach with sincerity and enthusiasm can do much to counter any deficit when it comes to creating and building business rapport and opportunity with others.

With that in mind, begin by noting that there are two basic types of CAD jobs. The first are those that may involve repeatable or continuous work, and the second are those that may be single or one-time jobs. Therefore, it only makes sense that one can alleviate a great deal of anxiety by focusing mainly on the former, and fitting in the later as circumstances might allow. With this understanding, one can then tailor their approach to bring the greatest reward for the effort invested.

Repeatable opportunities:
Repeatable SolidWorks job opportunities might include working locally with the following:
  • manufacturers
  • fabricating shops
  • design firms
  • providing instruction at a high school or technical college
  • sub-contracting under another associate
These above areas, while potentially being more self-sustaining will also require an investment in time and resources to make initial contacts. State and local websites listing businesses in your area are an excellent resource to finding contact information to assist in your endeavors. Thereafter, regular networking and routine inquiry should become a pattern.

For general convenience, you might choose to designate your home as 'ground zero', per se, and make your intial contacts within a defined radius of your location. This radius can then be expanded as necessity warrants.

It should go without saying that you will want to document all your contact efforts. Doing so will allow you to not only become better acquainted with the many businesses in your locale, but will also aid in establishing your contact database to make your future efforts that much easier.

Single one-time opportunities:
Single or one-time jobs may come from being contacted by or pursuing:
  • independent inventors
  • home-owner projects
  • internet freelance jobs
These single type opportunities will typically come about from being contacted through your marketing efforts or from referrals. Internet freelance jobs are, on the other hand, dependent upon finding, bidding and being accepted.

So, being creative with SolidWorks can mean much more than just modeling and design. For the SolidWorks CAD entreprenuer it also involves using your ingenuity to enthusiastically pursue and generate your business opportunities!