When people talk about civil engineering, they often imagine grand projects such as digging tunnels under rivers or building giant suspension bridges above them. In reality, though, most projects are actually very small. Local authorities and private businesses often want simple services, like repaving a parking lot or lawn care services.
For entrepreneurs looking to get into the sector on the cheap, this is good news. You don’t have to accumulate a vast sum of capital. Instead, you can wade in with little more than a truck and the know-how to do the job correctly.
So what opportunities are out there for people with a background in civil engineering in a limited budget? Take a look at some of these ideas.
Becoming a paving consultant is an ultra-low-cost way of getting your foot in the door and making waves in the sector. These guys don’t even need to buy physical capital to get the ball rolling. All they need is sufficient expertise to provide decent advice to companies in the local area, and they can start making a living.
Paving consultants usually work solo, so this would be more of a personal business than something more significant. But it can be lucrative if you have to provide solutions for complex projects. Often architects need advice about draining and slope. And builders want people on-site who can tell them whether they’re creating solutions that will actually work.
Project Management Services
Project managers perform a vital role in construction projects, overseeing work, and ensuring that material arrives on time. Thus, this civil engineering business idea is great for people just starting for two reasons. First, if you already have the skills and experience, you don’t need to invest in physical capital. And secondly, it is scalable. You can hire a team of managers and provide each of them with work while skimming profits off the top.
Project managers can sometimes organize two or three projects at once. Thus, you can have multiple concurrent clients on the go at any given time, helping to make you even more money.
Private individuals and businesses are often looking for ways to live and work more sustainably. Rainwater harvesting, therefore, is becoming a big part of their operations. Campsite operators, for instance, want to collect rainwater in big tanks to supply their toilets instead of relying on local supplies. Even city-center office buildings are trying to collect rainwater for sanitary purposes.
Installing a rainwater harvesting system requires some expertise, but not a lot. Most systems are cheap and easy to install. The learning curve isn’t as extreme as you might think.
Supply Ready-Mix Concrete
Concrete is a vital material for constructing new buildings in cities. Companies are always looking for vendors who can supply the stuff at a low cost, ready-mixed.
Sourcing concrete and then mixing it, ready to go, is relatively simple. You need a supplier and machinery that can deliver material to site. But once you’ve made the upfront investment, opportunities abound. Firms are always looking for suppliers who can provide them with ready-mix concrete at the last minute. Services like these tend to thrive in cities with a lot of high-rise development.
Land Survey Services
Civil engineering is about building, but it also focuses on planning too. Land survey services are specialist outfits who measure the precise boundaries of a property and determine whether development is feasible. They also investigate the topology of the surface to decide whether or not it is suitable for construction.
Thus, if you like creating maps and traveling to client sites, this sort of business could be ideal. It is also relatively scalable. Some survey services employ more than a dozen people, helping to increase the return on your investment.
Paving might seem trivial, but it is an essential part of the urban environment and a good area on which you can focus. Sometimes, companies and real estate developers will hire you to discuss the beautification of their landscapes outside their buildings. Other times, public authorities will talk to you about pedestrianizing streets. You’ll also have to learn about the placement of things like Amercast manhole covers and how it fits into the overall scheme.
Marketing a paving consultancy is pretty easy too. You just focus on how your work can beautify properties and increase rents.
Over time, bathtubs and countertops lose their luster and fall into disrepair. Often though, they’re still perfectly serviceable, so it seems like a waste for the owner to throw them out.
Refinishing services as an ideal business opportunity for civil engineers, even if the idea sounds a little bit out of left field. The idea here is to help people avoid making costly updates to their homes by simply returning their old units to an “as-new” condition.
As always, there’s a bit of a learning curve here, but it isn’t too steep. Plus, because jobs are typically quite small, you usually get a large number of orders relatively fast.
Building Material Supplier
Civil engineers usually understand construction very well. For that reason, it makes sense to set up as a building material supplier and provide local firms with the materials needed to conduct effective operations.
Building material supplier companies have relatively limited start-up costs. You’ll need to rent a warehouse and purchase the initial supply of stock. But beyond that, there isn’t a great deal else you have to spend your money on. Sure, you could wind up losing money, but sunk costs are low. If you can hit your volume targets, you can fly.
Because people expose chimneys to a lot of heat, they are prone to damage. Over time, the brickwork starts to loosen, and eventually, they wind up with a problem on their hands.
Chimney repair services are an excellent way for civil engineers to deploy their skills without having to retrain entirely. Currently, the market is going through a period of expansion, thanks to the resurgence of interest in traditional fireplaces. Customers are finding that their old chimneys that once served owners well in the past are now in a severe state of disrepair and in need of fixing. There are, therefore, plenty of opportunities here to use your civil engineering skills.
Repairing a chimney stack is specialist work. You need to understand the basics, such as maintaining bricks and mortar. But you also need to understand structural forces too, and even smoke dynamics. Flues might not be broad enough.
Construction companies are generic operations that base their work on the fundamental principles of civil engineering. Here, you either provide a wide range of services or concentrate on something a little more bespoke.
There are costs and benefits to each.
If you do something bespoke, people get to know you as “the guys who do X.” You quickly make a name for yourself in the community because you focus on a specific aspect of construction work and offer tremendous expertise.
The other route is to offer a comprehensive service. Clients and other businesses like this approach, too, because it means that they can go to you for whatever services they need completing.
Be warned, though, if you try to become a jack of all trades, you risk becoming a master of none.
Commercial Painting Services
Commercial painting is fundamentally different from its residential equivalent. It’s a highly technical task that requires an in-depth understanding of things like paint lifecycle and surface conditions. Commercial environments often have high throughput, so paint solutions also need to reflect the client’s needs.
These factors, therefore, call for experts – people who understand how pain works in a variety of conditions. For instance, a client might ask you how to best apply paint to high-stress environments, like the hull of a boat or the cables on a bridge. It’s then your job to provide them with the correct advice and set them up for success in the future.
Civil engineers don’t often think of themselves as people who would naturally start up a business, but it is something that they can do. You don’t have to join a big engineering firm. You can strike out by yourself, using the skills you learned in university (or perhaps just on the job).
Finding work in the sector is much easier than you might imagine. People are always looking for experts who can solve specific problems. The B2B market is huge, so you can find yourself subcontracting regularly.
The very best civil engineering companies are often those that solve the problems faced by other firms. More often than not, a construction company will take on a project that is way outside of its comfort zone. It needs people like you to step in, take up the slack, and provide assistance where needed the most.
Remember, setting up a business will ultimately give you higher earning potential than just selling your labor. There might be some pain in the short term. But with all these things, it’s the long-term rewards that make it worthwhile.