How I Left My Job To Start A $9K/Month CAD Design Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Scott Tarcy. I started CADdesignhelp.com.
The business started purely as a side hustle. I create CAD designs and prototypes for businesses and independent inventors. I started the business in 2015.
After a few years, I expanded the business revenue to include selling my own invented products online (eCommerce).
I average about $9,000 a month in revenue. Each year I average about 200 clients (some repeat) so after 5 years now I would say I have done work for 1,000 different people/companies.
There are so many project examples but an interesting one in the early years was a portable vacuum to clean up dog poop when you walk your day. It was called the “Vacapoo”
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before I started my business, I went to college for mechanical engineering. I then worked a few corporate jobs as a design engineer. But in these jobs, I spent maybe 10% of my time actually doing design work. The other 90% was meetings and paperwork, which I hated. On top of that, I was required to be at my job 8-5, Monday through Friday. I had little control over my schedule.
I worked this as a side hustle for about 6 months before quitting my full-time job and doing this full time. That was probably the hardest I ever worked in my life.
After 10 years of this, I was pretty depressed. I had a good salary but the lack of control of my life and freedom was taking a toll. I would have gladly traded less money for more time and freedom.
I read The 4-Hour Workweek and The $100 Startup and those 2 books gave me some ideas on how I could start a business to eventually be my own boss.
When I finally took the first step, I didn’t have any hopes of achieving what I have achieved today. It seemed impossible to replace my full-time salary. I started the business as a side hustle.
The 2 books I mentioned talked about taking a skill you are good at and enjoy (in my case, 3D design and product design) and using that to create a business.
I found my first clients by going to some in-person networking events. I launched my website before this but never got any traffic or clients.
I worked this as a side hustle for about 6 months before quitting my full-time job and doing this full time. That was probably the hardest I ever worked in my life and I knew after 6 months one of the 2 had to go (cad design or my full-time job). It was a pretty easy decision, the cad design business was way more enjoyable.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
At first, I did not have any products. I was only a service-based business. But after a few years, I had learned about the ups and downs of a service business. One month I would make $10,000 and the next I would make $1,000. It seemed very random on the amount of business that would come in (and still is).
Another thing I learned in some of the entrepreneurship books and podcasts I read was that you should try to create multiple streams of income.
Because I own 6 3D printers, I knew I could make my own products. To date, I have probably created 50 different products but only 10 or so sell well. Maybe another 10 sell a few units a year.
I choose popular products. Things like replicas from famous bands, like my Led Zeppelin Object. The ones that don’t sell why are hard to explain because typically they are something that would appeal to a large audience.
I sell all my products online. This has really evened out my income. So even when my service revenue is slow, I have online sales as well.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I actually launched the website at least a year before I got any customers. I simply had no online presence and I wasn’t aware of any good freelancer websites. The only one I had tried was Upwork, and to this date, I have had very little luck on that site.
My first customers came from in-person networking, specifically at Inventor’s groups.
Inventors need someone like me, who can create their product in 3D and make a prototype.
The lesson learned here is that you should go to where your customers are already.
I funded my business through my own savings. My main costs were:
- Computer - $2,000
- Software - $5,000
- 3D printers - about $20,000
I purchased these over time. I didn’t buy it all at once. I more or less bought these items when it became clear I would invest back quickly.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I got a little lucky that I stumbled upon thumbtack.com in the early days. Thumbtack is a site where customers post jobs they want to be done. I was very active there and built up my portfolio to be the highest-ranking CAD designer on the site today.
I tried Facebook and Google ads and those never worked for me. At the best, I broke even on the ad spend.
Working on my organic SEO seems to have worked well. I wrote many blog posts related to my industry. I also started a podcast (The Engineering Entrepreneur Podcast) that has helped my SEO.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I have been averaging $130,000 in revenue with a cost of about $50,000 per year (variable costs).
One thing I learned in some of the entrepreneurship books and podcasts I read was that you should try to create multiple streams of income.
This is enough to sustain the lifestyle I want by putting some money into savings.
At this time I only want to scale if it will not take up additional time from me. In other words, I only want to expand if the income is passive.
I primarily do that by creating more products for my online stores.
Ideally, I will eventually get to 80 to 90% of my revenue from purely eCommerce or other passive income methods. Currently, eCommerce is only about 50% of my revenue.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned what bad customers look like. I have particular red flags I look out for.
Customers to have unrealistic expectations or are extremely demanding are not worth taking on.
I can now tell who these people are early on and decline the job.
I’ve had too many horror stories and even today I still make mistakes on who I take on at times.
Another thing I learned is that generally, it is not worth taking on jobs for equity. I tried this once, where I did a job almost for free. In return, the customer was to give me 10% of future profits on the product. Once I completed my part (the cad and prototype), he never did anything with the product. I would only entertain this model of work for equity if the client had a proven track record for bringing products to market.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For CAD design, I use primarily Solidworks. I use Blender some as well.
For 3D printing, I use Ideamaker, Simplify 3D, and Preform software.
For podcasting, I use Camtasia Studio for editing.
I do all my project management in Excel.
eBay, Amazon, Etsy for my online sales.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for social media.
Upwork to find client work.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- The 4-hour work week
- The $100 startup
- Tropical MBA podcast
- The Tim Ferris Show podcast
- Side Hustle podcast
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
When just starting, try to say yes to as many opportunities as possible. I say no a lot more now, but when I first started I had a lot of free time so I said yes to a lot of projects that I probably wouldn’t take now.
On top of that, you need to be resilient. I got denied many times over on jobs I’ve bid on. Even now, I only land 10% of the jobs I apply for.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I have quite a few contractors on staff that I use as needed to fulfill the work. I would like someone in the Charlotte, NC area who can repair 3D printers. Repairing the machines takes up a lot of my time.
I am considering some marketing help as well. I think my website could rank a little better.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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