I recently got an interesting question from a civil engineer who owns a small civil engineering company. I will call him Joe to keep him anonymous and let you know that his business consists of only a few people, and, at this time, he is very hands-on and does a good portion of the design work himself.

His question – “What is the best way to perform business development and the best ways to balance marketing and business development activities with design work? It seems like I never have enough time for business development.”

I think the bigger question here is, “How do I grow my small civil engineering company?”

Joe’s approach seems to be too small and not big-picture enough. He is trying to figure out how to balance his time, so that he can do both design work and business development. Instead, he should think through how he can get enough work to hire a full-time design engineer to focus on business development 80 percent of the time.

To accomplish this, he should focus on his repeat clients as his first source of business development. These are the best kind of clients, because they don’t require additional business development efforts, other than ensuring he provides them with great service, which he should already be doing.

He should take the extra steps needed to give them A-plus service and, when appropriate, look for ways to politely ask them for additional work. Maybe he can provide a complimentary audit on some of their existing projects and do a value engineering review. Or offer them a complimentary due-diligence study on a parcel of land they are considering developing. He should focus on this repeat-work strategy first.

Secondly, he should try to engage in business development activities that can get him more bang for his buck. For example, he could volunteer to speak at conferences in front of target clients. This allows him to improve his knowledge of the topics he speaks on through preparation, and then he can leverage his time by getting in front of many prospective clients at once. He should look for activities that leverage his valuable time.

Then, as soon as there is enough backlog work, he could hire an affordable design engineer who can start part time with the flexibility for future expansion. Hiring a person like this will give him the time to engage in more business development until he can afford to hire the designer as a full-time employee.

It won’t be easy, but if you try to do everything on your own, you will never grow your company to its fullest potential. I hope these recommended actions help you, as a small civil engineering company owner, to build a successful firm and career.

Anthony Fasano, P.E., F.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Career Coach website which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and has written a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills.