How to start a CAD business

Experienced computer-aided design (CAD) users are in high demand in a variety of industries. Although CAD has been widely used in the architecture and engineering fields for years, there are still many professionals who lack CAD expertise or simply the time to produce their own drawings. Smaller firms often rely entirely on consultants to produce their drawings, and even much larger companies hire independent CAD consultants from time to time to assist with large projects and help meet looming deadlines. If you have the expertise, running your own CAD business can be a very lucrative career decision.

Weigh the pros and cons of the many different small business structures available to you. A sole-proprietorship is the easiest solution if you will be working alone. Other options include a partnership, corporation or a limited liability company.

Contact your local and state government to determine if you will require any licenses or permits to operate your business. Local codes may restrict where your office may be located.

Develop a written business plan outlining finances, management, marketing and goals. Having a written plan will help keep your business on track.

There are countless applications for computer-aided design and it is impossible for any single CAD professional to master them all. You can provide higher quality work if you choose a specific area of expertise, such as architectural, residential or mechanical drafting. Make sure you are familiar with the most current drawing standards for your chosen field.

Consider the type of equipment you will need to purchase. CAD software requires a fast computer that meets or exceeds the software manufacturer's recommended system requirements. You may also need a phone, fax machine and other miscellaneous office supplies. Determine whether you will need to rent office space or purchase new furniture.

Decide which software you will use and how much it will cost. CAD software can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Some software manufacturers offer financing to help with the purchase and subscription programs that lessen the cost of future upgrades and product support.

Determine how you will submit your finished work to clients. You may purchase your own large-format printer or plotter or work with a local printing business to produce finished drawings. You may also submit your work to clients in electronic format for them to print independently.

Once you have determined your costs, decide whether you will need business financing. You may be eligible for a loan from a local bank, or even a small business grant. Be aware that many small businesses fail; do not invest money that you can't afford to lose.

Decide how you will charge your clients. Most CAD professionals charge an hourly rate, but some in the architectural field charge per square foot of project space, or even a flat rate per project.

Consider your tax burden. Small business owners are responsible for more taxes than are regular employees. Your rates should reflect your added tax burden; you will need to charge your clients more than you would earn hourly as an employee at another company.

Ensure that your rate will cover all of your business costs and still provide a reasonable income for you.

Once you have determined a rate, compare it to similar businesses in your area to ensure that you are competitive.

Contact potential clients directly. Many professional organisations, such as the American Institute of Architects, maintain online directories of professionals in your area. Write letters to local architects or engineers to promote your business.

Put your business on the web. Either create your own website or hire a professional to do so. Having an Internet presence will help potential clients find you. A website is also a great way to showcase your completed work and share customer testimonials.

Advertise in your local paper and other publications.

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