You have just described one of the classic problems with "small" jobs, it is
very difficult to be adequately compensated.
We prefer not to get involved in certain types of work, especially the "it's
so simple it won't take any of your time" or the "we didn't want to pay for
proper engineering, and now we have this problem" variety.
However, when you are providing services for a client, sometimes you have to
deal with their little projects as well as their big ones.
The only input I can offer would be this:
1. Estimate the required fee assuming 50% of the project will take longer
than you thought. Don't forget to account for the costs of simply tracking
the job, invoicing, etc..
2. Get an agreement up front in writing that clearly defines the expected
scope of service. I know that writing an agreement takes time, but it is
worth the effort. Besides, a boilerplate agreement is relatively quick to
put together and the time (i.e. cost) should be included in item 1.
3. As soon as you become aware that your billing is going to exceed the
expected values, or that the project is expanding beyond the original scope,
let the client know before you proceed with the work. This way at least you
have a common reference point to work from.
My $0.02 worth
----- Original Message -----
From: Ed Fasula <tibbits2(--nospam--at)metro.lakes.com>
Sent: Friday, June 25, 1999 7:58 PM
Subject: Eating $$ (Over-Runs)
> I work for a small sole proprietorship. (Me, the boss, and a drafter).
> work on small projects combined with small consultations in the $350
> I'd like to find out how others deal with, or avoid, the biggest pain in
> 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
> to the dentist. It's just not workable to explain to them the job is
> 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
> was so simple (we refuse to do that anyway). In the end, I did the
> following work:
> 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
> 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
> 4). Investigate cantilevering the existing girder truss 4' and snubbing
> end 6".
> 5.) Finally, convincing the contractor to move a 4' wall 2' to pick up
> 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
> originally told him. Before all the new "challenges" I had estimated $550
> for the common truss snubbing and skylight repairs. Still, we did not
> 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
> 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
> (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
> 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
> raise out rates ($82 for him $70 for me). I am just trying to address
> problem analytically. Any input would be helpful.