About my work life

I work with my husband, Brian Lytton, in Peak Engineering Ltd. a structural engineering company that is based in our home office since 1992. I am the civil technician, office administration and web geek for Peak Engineering and Brian is the Structural Engineer. Both Brian and I have worked for Engineering companies for most of our life, Brian as an Professional Engineer and I was a Draftsperson, “drawing on the board” in the 1980’s and then computer drafting. As a Drafter, I went from one company to another as engineering consulting work is dependent on the economy so through the 1980s to 1990s, my work history was from one job to the next.

In 1985, we decided, as the economy was slow, to take out some savings from a Co-operative and travel Europe for six months. That was a great idea for us as that year the Co-operative went bankrupt after we went to Europe. When we got back from Europe, Brian got an offer to work for an American engineering company in Florida so we stayed in Ft. Lauderdale for two years.  I wasn’t able to get a green card like Brian so I enjoyed my ‘retirement” by learning how to use a Mac and exploring Florida.

We came back in 1989 and we bought a house in Maple Ridge when I offered to help take care for a friend’s children after their mother died.  After six months, I did go back looking and found drafting work. The commute from Maple Ridge to Vancouver was a tiring 1 ½ hour each way for myself and Brian.  Brian saw an ad in the local paper for a sign company needing engineering services so he decided to do some part-time engineering.  I was between drafting jobs so I did all the setup of Peak Engineering as an incorporated business; set up a home office in a back bedroom with a computer and started doing the bookkeeping and computer work.

A few simple designs to do on the weekend for one client lead to referrals on to other clients. So when Brian’s employers in 1997 decided to lay him off due to a work shortage, he had enough part-time regular clients that he thought why not stay at home and look for more clients.

So, we got a business phone line and put ads in the Yellow Pages and I put a website up for Peak Engineering.  Brian had worked in Vietnam for an engineering company back in 1995 for six months. Six weeks after he started working fulltime at Peak Engineering, he received an offer to work in Vietnam again for another engineering company designing bridges so he went there for three months. Peak Engineering was hired as the sub-consultant to the other engineering company so that got us through 1997.

In the meantime, I went out and networked in the community joining the local Chamber of Commerce as Peak’s representative and volunteering at the local Home Business Association and art gallery (for my own personal interest). We never had to use our retirement savings plan as a “Fund” for income as Peak Engineering always managed to get through the good and the slow years of the economy with a variety of work.

Around 2005, our company got quite busy so even though I enjoyed my volunteer work, I gave it up to help more in the office. We are still getting getting customers from word of mouth, referrals and through the phone book and website. We have recurring business customers who need something engineered on a regular basis and one-time only private customers usually needing a house designed or renovated. We have managed to weather the bad economy with a variety of jobs rather than specializing in one niche.

What is the message of this story?

  • Go out and try a new business on a part-time basis and you will see if there is a market out there for your business. Don’t just start a new business without doing research first as to the potential market.
  • Your good reputation is what will grow your business. Word of mouth referrals are an important source for new customers. So remember to treat all new customers with the uttermost respect as they will be the one who will spread the word about you and your business.

Regards,  Jane Gardner.

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