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Business Owner Profile: Ann Johnson, P.E.

Ann_Johnson
Ann Johnson

Ann Johnson, P.E., is President of Professional Engineering Services, Ltd., which provides civil-engineering consulting and construction-monitoring services for public and private clients throughout Minnesota. We sat down with Ann to find out how she got started, what her challenges were, and where she found support.

 

Who or what inspired you to start your own business?

I was working for a large consulting firm at the time, and was doing most of my project work on my own.  It occurred to me that I could be doing the same work from my house with a computer and a cell phone, even though this was long before many people worked from home. Frankly, I was also frustrated with working in a very male-dominated organization and wanted to make my own way.

 

What were your fears about your business venture, and how did you overcome them? 

My main concern was if I would make enough money to support my family. To supplement my income at first, I took a teaching job at a local technical school. That allowed me to have insurance, and also to have a base salary to rely on, even though the teaching job was at a barely living wage.

I was also concerned about how to do all the administrative work that had been done for me before, like paying taxes, invoicing, etc. I hired an accountant to do my taxes, contracted with a payroll service, and set up an invoicing system that was similar to what I had seen at my previous employer. It worked!

I had one employee in addition to myself. I worried about how I would keep her busy. Before I hired her, I laid out the conditions of the job:  It would be hourly work, as needed, and when this project was done, we’d look for another project to keep her busy. I paid her significantly more per hour than she would have typically received, to make up for the hourly work without benefits, and kept her fully informed as to the status of her employment.  We worked as partners, and she stayed with me for several years before landing a great job at the DOT.

 

Did you have any mentors or groups you were affiliated with on your journey to becoming a business owner? 

Yes, one of my good WTS friends, Lisa Raduenz, already owned a successful DBE firm. She was a great resource for me; she told me how to incorporate, set up my business, and get started. But more importantly, she convinced me that I could make it work! Her friendship, encouragement, and reassurance made a huge difference to me, and was the push I needed to start my business.

 

What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business in the transportation industry? 

Never ever burn a bridge. You don’t know when you will need to rely on a previous relationship or work with someone from your past. Maintaining relationships and a good reputation are invaluable.

Live your beliefs. Be the kind of employer that you wish you had when you were working for someone else.

Be generous with the people who have made you successful, which includes your employees as well as your clients. 

Send hand-written thank you cards, for work and good service.

 

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