Are you an engineer who’s fed up with your 9 to 5 job? Do you lack fulfillment or a sense of pride when you show up to work? Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to explore ways to make money as a freelance engineer online.
Regardless of whether you’re buried in student loan debt or you just want some extra spending money, this article can give you tips on how to make money as an engineer online.
And, at the end of this article, who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to take the next steps and get started!
Best Freelance Engineering Fields for Making Money
Not all fields within engineering are the best for remote or online work. Fields such as manufacturing, construction, or research engineering have more opportunities on-site than online.
It’s not to say you can’t be a freelance engineer if any of these fields are your specialty, it just might be harder finding work that directly relates to your core competencies.
If you want to work as a freelance engineer or work on side engineering jobs, you’ll find a lot of opportunities in software development.
Types of engineering that are good for remote roles include:
- Web Developers: Frontend, Backend, and UI/UX
- Dev-ops or other IT functions
- Software engineers with a core specialty/competency
- CAD Designers / Mechanical Engineers
- RPA Engineers
- Engineering Managers
- Project Engineers
- Professional Engineers (Licensed)
Regardless of if you’re in one of these engineering fields or not, when there’s a will, there’s a way. If you want to start freelance engineering, the choice is up to you.
I’d say if this is something you’re passionate about, or if you’re hoping it’ll lead you away from the corporate life, then go for it!
However, I don’t recommend quitting your job tomorrow and going cold-turkey into the freelancing world. It has to be a progression that you prepare for.
Adding a couple of extra jobs or projects while you’re still employed will allow you to see if you enjoy freelancing and have a foundation to be successful.
The Difference Between Freelance Engineering and Working as an Engineer
Working as a freelance engineer is different than working for a company as an engineer.
There are more perks including flexibility and freedom, and you can work on projects that interest you, rather than work on things that your boss wants you to do.
However, freelance engineering doesn’t come with the security, guarantee, or benefits that working for a company does. You won’t be paid every two weeks, and work won’t magically appear.
Plus, as a freelance engineer, you won’t just work on engineering tasks. You’ll be responsible for winning customers, creating invoices, figuring out marketing tactics, and completing the work.
It’s a lot more demanding of a role, and you typically won’t make as much money as a salaried engineer at first. And if you do, the hourly rate might be higher, but it’s probably not consistent like a typical 9 to 5 is.
Things to Consider when Freelance Engineering
When you work as an engineer for a company, the company you work for also takes on your liability. That means if something happens to the product or device you make as an employee, the company will take the hit, not you as a person.
As a freelancer, you’ll take on the liability for the work you do. This could range in severity depending on the types of projects you take on.
I highly recommend studying the rules regarding freelance engineering and check out Professional Engineering licensure where you live.
This isn’t to scare you out of freelance engineering. It’s just to give you perspective before taking the plunge. A lot of engineers who work as freelancers work a regular engineering job, and then work some extra projects on the side. If your employer allows this, then it’s a great way to bring in extra cash without having the pressure of making a livable income.
Another option is to find a remote engineering position. That way you have the security of working for a company, without the requirement of sitting in a dull cube farm.
How to Make Money Online as an Engineer
Ready to take the leap and earn some extra money online as an engineer?
Like I mentioned above, some fields in engineering are a little more conducive to working remotely than others.
This list should give you some ideas regardless of if you’re trying to earn a little extra money, create a side hustle, or start an online business.
Read through these options, make a choice, and get to work. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing is.
You can try one (or all) of these activities, but make sure to give yourself time to gain momentum. Nothing is an overnight success, so keep that in mind on your journey to making money online as an engineer.
1. Use a freelance website like Upwork or Fiverr
First on the list is creating a profile on popular freelance websites like Upwork and Fiverr.
Upwork is a popular freelancing site that covers more than just engineering. Companies (and individuals) post jobs, and freelancers can apply for them. It’s like applying for jobs but on a smaller scale.
The process can be a bit tedious, but if you figure out your Upwork strategy, it can be quite lucrative.
On the other hand, sites like Fiverr allow you to decide what kind of engineering services you provide and then offer them for sale at a set rate.
So, if you’re an expert at creating CAD models in Solidworks, you could create a service for it on Fiverr. Customers looking for mechanical design can then purchase your service, and Fiverr will pay you once the work is complete.
With any of these sites, it takes time to gain traction. But once you start getting your first batch of customers and improving your service ratings, it could be a great side gig that you can do at your leisure.
Need to keep track of time and invoices? Try And.Co.
2. Sell Files and Services Online
Another option is to create an online store and sell services or products.
Continuing with the CAD modeling service, you could create a profile on Cults3D and upload all of your CAD models and 3D printer files as paid digital downloads.
Anyone looking for that service or 3D printing file can buy the files they want, and pay directly online.
You can also set up an online shop using Sellfy and offer custom engineering services. Combine this with a growing Instagram, YouTube, or Social Media channel, and you could have a pretty cool engineering side hustle.
The nice thing about using a platform like Cults3D or Sellfy is that you can offer downloads or services to customers online without having to figure out how to set up a website or collect credit card payments.
Learn More: Set up an online store in 5 minutes or less.
3. Open a 3D Printing Farm
If you’re into 3D printing and own a 3D printer, you can offer to fulfill and print files for people. You can create a Sellfy or eCommerce site or use a platform like Treatstock and register your 3D printer.
I only recommend doing this if you are comfortable and confident with 3D printing. It isn’t as simple as just buying a 3D printer and then making money on prints.
It’s important to understand how to use a 3D printer, print with various materials (PLA, ABS, PETG, etc.), and configure the files so that they print correctly.
Plus, some prints can take hours (or even days) to complete, so you’ll want to make sure you have the time and resources to complete the jobs correctly.
4. Teach courses on engineering topics
If you consider yourself an expert on a particular engineering topic, you can create and sell online courses to help other people learn the material. Here are my courses on robotics.
There are two ways to do this: 1) use a course platform that already exists, or 2) build a website and host the courses yourself.
The first option uses an online platform to host your courses. If you don’t want to be a web developer, then this is your best option.
You can spend less time working on the design of the website and more time developing course content.
There are a lot of online course platforms you can use, but I recommend checking out Udemy, Thinkific, and Teachable. The main differences between these platforms are cost, features, and platform fees. If you’re looking for a way to maximize your earnings, I’d check out Thinkific's free plan.
The second option is to develop a website and host the courses yourself. This is a good choice if you already have a website, or if you’re comfortable with web development.
5. Become a GLG Council Member
The last idea for making money online as an engineer is to become a Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) consultant. GLG provides consulting services for its clients. Rather than reading whitepapers or technical reports, GLG connects companies with experts in the field.
As a GLG independent consultant (also known as Council Member), you’ll talk and mentor employees at various companies.
For example, if your specialty is Automated Manufacturing, then you might be asked to accept an opportunity where a company is looking to learn more about how different robot arm manufacturers impact production lines.
If you are assigned the job, you’ll have a half-hour to hour phone call with the company and advise them on the subject. Once you finish the call, GLG will pay you for your time.
It’s a pretty low-pressure way to make money advising companies in your engineering area of expertise. You can set your hourly rate and payments are made directly into your bank account.
There are also opportunities to participate in engineering research surveys, which pay anywhere from $30 to a few hundred dollars.
Being a GLG Council Member won’t replace your day job, but if you are an expert in a specific engineering field, and want to serve as an advisor to other companies, then it could be an easy way to make more money each month.
Learn more about applying as a GLG Council Member, here.
Want to earn extra income as an Engineer online?
In this article, we explored five different options to earn money online as a freelance engineer.
No matter if you want to create a side hustle, start your own business, or have a little extra spending money, these options can help you get ahead while showcasing your engineering skills.
Not every engineering field is conducive for freelancing; however, if you have a game plan, play it smart, and know your stuff, you can put your engineering skills to work.
As an engineer, you already have the building blocks for problem-solving and critical thinking. Combine this with strategic thinking and careful planning, and you can put yourself in a position for financial independence and long-term growth.
Which of these ideas are you going to try? Are you currently a Freelance Engineer? Leave your tips below!
And, if you have a friend who’s looking to get into freelance engineering, be sure to share this article!