I work for a small sole proprietorship. (Me, the boss, and a drafter). We
work on small projects combined with small consultations in the $350 range.
I'd like to find out how others deal with, or avoid, the biggest pain in the
neck in our business: when a tightly bid or estimated (as they all are)
project gets more complicated.
Most of our customers see coming to an Engineer as a notch worse that going
to the dentist. It's just not workable to explain to them the job is twice
what you told them before they added the, "oh, there's one more little
problem I need you to address."
Here is an example from this week. I was asked to come by and recommend a
repair for some residential wood trusses that needed to be snubbed 4" and
hung from a girder. The contractor wanted the design on the spot, since it
was so simple (we refuse to do that anyway). In the end, I did the
1). Design repairs for snubbing (2) different types of trusses.
2). Design repairs for (3) types of trusses to be involved with
installation of 30" wide skylights that obviously don't fit between trusses
at 2'-0" o.c.
3). Investigate connections and truss designs to hang an existing (2) ply
girder truss which supports a 20' LVL beam from a new (3) ply girder truss
which was installed 1 1/2" from the existing truss - leaving no room to
install fasteners in any reasonable way, much less get the hanger in there.
4). Investigate cantilevering the existing girder truss 4' and snubbing the
5.) Finally, convincing the contractor to move a 4' wall 2' to pick up the
load on the existing girder and solving the whole problem.
6.) Total of (2) visits to the site.
Now, I warned him that we bill by the hour and the cost would be more than I
originally told him. Before all the new "challenges" I had estimated $550
for the common truss snubbing and skylight repairs. Still, we did not feel
we could bill out more than $1200 for the job. What makes it harder is
that, after we did all sorts of work, I was finally able to convince him to
make changes (bearing the LVL beam and using narrower skylights) so there
was not much "to show" for our work. In the end the business ate some time
(money) in addition to my coming in a early twice to work on "my own" time
just to ease the cost on the business and meet the contractor's time
Are we just chumps, or do others out there have similar experiences? It
seems that with the small jobs, it is so easy to run over expected costs,
hard to convince laymen why it honestly gets much more expensive, and often
becomes rocket science because of constraints from sources such as picky
people or unprofessional actions by careless builders. And it's not as if
you can charge more on the simple ones to help cover costs. There always
seems to be someone willing to do an easy job for cheap.
My boss built this business over 20 years as a 1 man show. Sometimes I
wonder if these little jobs are feasible with the added overhead of 2
employees. Maybe we need to search out more customers with advertising and
raise out rates ($82 for him $70 for me). I am just trying to address this
problem analytically. Any input would be helpful.