How to Become a Freelance CAD Designer

Do you want to become a freelance engineer? Before we go into the details, step by step, let’s discuss why others have chosen to go down this path. Freelancing in America is picking up steam, but why? Economic uncertainty? The desire to live life on your own terms? People have different motives, but in the US, fifty-seven million people are now freelancing according to a recent report.

These days its rare for engineers who to stick to one job for a long time without a side hustle. Why? The passion for their day to day work is to be desired, so they venture out to help other companies solve problems that resonate with their core values. Also, in far more cases, there is the need to have another part-time job or side hustle to make some extra cash. Lastly, no matter how good you are when it comes to your job, there is a certain level of unpredictability that comes to play. Your company might experience certain fluctuations in the workload, may need to let some workers go for administrative purposes, or may need to replace the workers with new blood.

If you’ve ever had to worry about any of the above, or if you like the idea of having the freedom to work with more employers while working at your own pace while sharpening your engineering skills at the same time, you might want to embrace ‘freelancing.’ If you’re not entirely familiar with the term, here is a quick guide to this new trend that continues to garner much attention.

Freelancing refers to the process of working as a writer, performer, designer, etc. for various employers, selling services on hourly, weekly, daily, monthly, or yearly basis. Freelancing as an engineer is not so different, in that it requires providing engineering services to various employers while getting paid for your work. The term freelancing may be relatively new in the engineering and manufacturing industry, but companies have been hiring contractors for years. However, freelancing is different from your typical full-time job in that it’s not restricted to one employer or a regular salary basis.


Building a career as a freelance engineer requires that you take a particular approach and gather some skills. In a bid to help reduce the burden of the work, we present to you some crucial steps to consider to kick-start a career in freelance engineering:

Be Certain Of Your Decision

Before diving right into freelancing, you need to feel comfortable with the decision you’re making. If possible, share your decision with your family and friends, explaining why you think this is the right choice for you. Also, it is vital to ensure that it doesn’t affect your current job in any way. One sure way to do this is by moonlighting (working your regular job by day and freelancing every other time).

Assess The Needs Of The Market And Determine What To Offer

It is essential to understand what services employers are looking for, before deciding to work as a freelancer. It is also equally important to recognize what skills and values you have acquired over the years, as this will help you determine what services to offer. Lastly, as an engineer, one thing that you can do that will help you stand out amongst the crowd is to understand what creates commercial value for organizations and investors. One sure way to do this is by seeking advice from those who know you, as well as professionals in your field. Focus on your best skills and don’t pretend to be a professional at everything. This may leave you with bad reviews in the long run.

Build A Solid Business Plan

Becoming an independent freelance engineer means you will be your own boss. The same way a product cannot be manufactured without the initial design/prototype, it’s impossible to successfully run a business without a solid plan (I recommend lean canvas). Creating a solid plan involves knowing what services to offer, what rate you’ll charge, where (and how) you’ll operate, and the niche of key clients to focus on.

Create A Professional Resume And Portfolio

Depending on the client, you will, almost certainly, be asked for your resume. Your resume is probably your most important marketing tool, and more often than not, your resume/profile will influence a client’s decision to choose you or not. Be sure to create a digital portfolio of your CAD designs and other projects that you can share with potential employers. If you’re getting started as an up and coming engineer/CAD designer, be sure to participate in crowd-sourced design challenges, because this is a sure fire way to get some experience and add projects to your portfolio.

Look For Ways To Improve Your Skills

Although your skills will unconsciously improve while working as a freelancer, it is pertinent that you consciously and consistently make decisions to sharpen your skills. Keep abreast of the latest trends and developments in your field, and try as much as possible to stay relevant. There have been countless professionals before you, so you can reach out to them and learn about more ways to succeed in your career as a freelance engineer. Also, leverage continuous improvement resources, especially those that provide badges and certifications (another way to showcase your talents).

Bonus tip: Be cautious of platforms and marketplaces that are a race to the bottom

Several online marketplaces out there is a race to the bottom, meaning the lowest bidder wins. It’s not uncommon to see quotes for under ten dollars an hour. If you’re a US-based cad designer/engineer, it can be tough to compete, and why a majority of freelance work still comes via word of mouth. Following the steps above are sure to help you kick-start a successful career as a freelance engineer, and you will find that opportunities await you in this now-trending service. 

Avoid the race to the bottom and establish yourself on a marketplace dedicated to helping engineers and designers rediscover their passion.


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  1. Jan 15, 2019
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