Why become an independent BIM consultant?
Hamel Tailor, Founder of BIMstem, tells us why he decided become an independent BIM consultant…
If I were ever asked 6 years ago: Would I independently start my own BIM consultancy from the ground up? I may have hesitated to say yes. I would have asked myself questions like…Do I have enough experience? Where would I start? Who would I work for? Followed by an endless multitude of other hesitant questions to put myself off the idea of something which initially sounds extremely daunting.
But the truth that I now know is that those really weren’t the right questions and I didn’t value the knowledge and skills that I had and that I continued to develop, to do it for myself.
The questions I should have asked myself, and I now do, are: what experiences do I want? Where, what and who do I want to work for? These questions not only make me a lot happier to answer, but also make me a lot more confident to be forging my own path as an independent BIM consultant.
Having spent most of my early years in the industry contracting, I quickly recognized that there was a lot of fluidity in the specialist BIM market. A lot of businesses were looking for reliable BIM expertise, usually project-based and as a reaction to a project requirement or digital business transformation. It was easy to transition between contracts, jumping from project to project in an ad-hoc fashion. Clearly businesses saw this method of procurement beneficial and it enabled them to have the right expertise, receive express delivery, service and cost flexibility. These were all quite reassuring factors to me when deciding to go independent and have only got more important as we currently go through a particularly rough time in the UK economy.
Heading for the Greener Pastures of self-employment
Starting an independent consultancy has been, and continues to be, an extremely exciting and rewarding journey for me. After contracting for many years, I felt very prepared that I could jump into new challenges and situations on the fly and contribute great value as a BIM expert. Contracting has helped me diversify my BIM skillset between sectors and collate a knowledge base of best practices that I have seen executed and working in a multitude of companies. I am fortunate to have worked under some great leadership who have always commended me for my contributions to their projects and helped me to realise my value.
I now feel a lot more in control of the work that I do, so I can be more specific about projects that I want to put myself forward for. On a deeper level, I also feel more respected and important for my craft and the value of it. It has given me the opportunity to truly lead the way for BIM within projects and businesses, while sharing a vision with my clients. BIM has always been my passion and I have always found enthusiasm to advocate for it, so it brings me great pleasure to focus my energy in this area without other distractions.
Ultimately, it has given me a huge amount of flexibility and freedom to live the lifestyle I want, making a living from a sector that I love.
One great element that I did not foresee is that consulting really allows you to focus more on your strengths, interests and the time to explore and diversify your BIM skillset. Something that you would not usually find time to do as an employee, beyond project work. This in turn also allows me to bring broader knowledge and services to my clients. Consequently, this has also helped me define my value to the right clients and projects for me. Overall, it means I have quickly been able to define a niche, and become a specialist in an area to win more clients and projects that are looking for my particular expertise.
The hurdles that cause doubt
The challenges which some might see as cons, is that setting up a business does require you to look not only at BIM, but at the overall scope of a business: investing in and managing software licenses, certifications, administration, accounting, marketing etc. All of which are usually sorted by your employer. These do all add up into the 1000’s of pounds and hours of time, but as a business you are also seen as a business by your clients. This means that they too understand you have overheads and running costs to cover beyond your BIM expertise and that your respective cost encompasses all of this. So when I went into business, I hesitantly increased my day rate. I thought it might put clients off but I found the right clients are always the those who understand business and the true value of your expertise, and they were always the clients that came back for further services.
My parents often spoke of the great benefits employment packages that large distinguished firms would give their permanent employees: reliable income, attractive pensions, private healthcare, life insurance, rewards and benefits, company stock, progression in salary etc. But they also mentioned how these had substantially minimised and become harder to obtain over time, with fierce competition and longer hours. Companies’ fluctuating resources mean lower operating costs, restructuring for efficiency, adjusting to the market and attempting to find the most innovative talent to develop more profit. No doubt the list goes on.
To me, it feels like permanent employment is like a fish fighting for space and recognition in one densely-filled fish tank, where you could risk being part of the body of water that overflows when times get rough. Whereas self-employment truly gives you the opportunity to be part of multiple fish tanks, reducing the risk of being part of the overspill. Furthermore your flexibility allows you to jump in and out to help keep each business’s tank from overflowing. I feel a sense of comfort that the possibilities for work are within my control, and I don’t have to rely solely on one company to both sustain and/or increase my personal financial value or professional value.
I understood it would be hard and probably very unstable, which is why I kept contracting at times. But when I initially began sourcing and winning multiple private clients, I slowly found stability as my network grew and saw there truly was an abundance of people who valued my skill and knowledge. It took me showing people my work and my skill and proving I am good at what I do. Not only that, but you really get to know your clients and form friendships and loyalties that become very robust business contracts, based on mutual trust. This can make every contract a pleasure, like you’re working with a good friend; helping them reach their goal and getting paid well for it.
It was extremely liberating to start this consultancy and it has helped me grow my mindset in business as well as BIM. If, like me, you enjoy and take pride in taking ownership of something, strategising, researching and nurturing something to grow, this avenue certainly is for you and is well worth the risk, considering the rewards. I found the risk was always controllable for me: I didn’t just quit my day job or stop contracting to begin this and I would highly recommend not doing so either.
In the early days of my consultancy, I continued to contract until I was able to find stable contracts on my own through various channels and set myself up to deliver projects. I then completed my final contract assignment late 2019 and set sail on my own when I knew and felt I could. Contracting still benefits me greatly at times where business is slow and sometimes I dip back into it as crutch to support me in times where work may get a little slow. For BIMstem these are still early days and I am finding building partnerships with businesses and clients is allowing me to move further away from having to dip back in, instead hopefully scaling my business moving forward.
Opportunities in an uncertain market
The current economic climate has certainly brought some uncertainty to many industries, with companies trying to manage costs better without sacrificing quality of the expertise they are paying for and acquiring. Being a consultant feels like a beneficial position to be in as it reduces the commitment companies need to make to up-skill against full time employees and also overheads that may still occur for employing contractors directly.
I believe good, reliable BIM professionals are still hard to find in our industry, and with BIM constantly evolving and developing as a satellite function within larger more established AEC firms, some parts of our industry are still in their infancy. I feel SMEs understanding of BIM as a whole is seen as still too expensive, time consuming or not for them for deriving value and benefits. This makes it increasingly important that there are those who do work outside of that model, independently aiding those companies and clients. This is where I hope BIMstem will thrive, as support to make BIM expertise more accessible to all levels and sectors of our industry.
If you are interested in becoming a freelance BIM Consultant, head over to the BIM Expert Directory to get your free listing and access to resources to help you set up.