It may be human nature to want to get something for nothing. Free samples. Free trial services. Free membership. Buy one, get one free.
With tough economic times, why not try to get something for free or a a great discount? Comparison shopping is becoming the rule and not the exception. There is nothing wrong with this.
What about free engineering or discounts for engineering services? Does the consumer really get a discount or engineering services for free? A favorite author of mine used the acronym “TNSTASFL” (There is no such thing as a free lunch). I am a firm believer that when it comes to professional engineering services, there is no such thing as free engineering services.
For example, a potential client will call to request a proposal to provide engineering design services for a replacement septic system. During this call, we listen to his request, ask specific questions to gain a better understanding of his needs, answer his questions and based on his request and generally describe the professional engineering services that we offer. We then follow-up with a detailed written proposal outlining our services and associated costs that are specific to the potential client’s property and situation.
Since this process of engineering and replacing a failed septic system can be overwhelming, we contact the potential client to discuss the proposal and answer any questions.
This is where the concept of free or discounted engineering services enters. The potential client has a family member or friend that told him that our prices are too high and he knows a guy that will “do it” at 2/3 of the price, or some other low number.
Are the services being provide by the “guy” the same? Are they clearly spelled out in a written contract?
What I have found, when I have lost a client to the “guy” with the discounted price, is that he did not include the construction phase services and had to charge extra. The “guy” never returns a telephone call or is hard to contact. The “guy” takes “forever” to complete the design. In some instances, the “guy”, in order to reduce his costs, he provided the client with a standard minimal design, even though it may not be suitable for the individual property.
To perform services at a reduced cost, the amount of time being spent has to be reduced (no one works for free). When this happens, the quality of the design is compromised. The reviewing authority may question the design and require revisions prior to approval (careful, these revisions may be charged back as an extra). While the basics are provided on the design plan, the details, specific to a client’s property may not be clearly shown.
Maybe the “guy” has reduced overhead costs and can pass these savings onto his clients. For example, the “guy” may not have any Professional Liability Insurance or General Liability Insurance.
So the client now gets a set of plans at a discounted price, then asks several contractors for a bid price for the installation. While contractors know the costs for installation of various components, each design for an individual property needs to be reviewed and priced. When the plans are vague and the details are not really or clearly presented, the contractor will need to include extra costs in his bid. A complete set of plans that are well presented will minimize the need for a contractor to include a large contingency in his bid.
What was “saved” on the design plans can easily be spent during construction. So much for a discount.
There is noting wrong with comparison shopping among qualified engineering consultants. The consumer however, may not find out until it is too late, that the discounted price actually cost him more.