Why even have a consultant on a project?
Some owners say that they don't want to pay twice for design, talking about hiring a consultant and then having a contractor do shop drawings.
Other owners like to ask why pay somebody for consulting when the contractors do it for “free”.
Today I want to talk a little bit from the consultant’s perspective in discussing some of the important reasons why a building owner might consider hiring a consultant.
An important note here that not all jobs are the same.
Jobs vary in size and complexity and what's true for one job may not be the same for all others.
As a consultant, if you don't already know, you probably have a lot of differentiators that set you apart already.
But architects and building owners don't necessarily know that.
So, spell it out in your proposals and marketing material.
Make it easy on the decision makers to understand that you're providing real value to your client by heading off major issues early.
Here are some important benefits that owners can get from hiring a consultant. I’ve used each of these in marketing material in the past with some success.
Reason 1 – Consultants can convey a clear sense of scope, which can lead to better more consistent bidding.
A good set of scope documents can help bidders limit the ambiguous scope.
Ambiguous scope is bad.
The truth is that if there's a big unknown risk on a project, a contractor must either clarify or exclude that unknown in their bid, or they will throw in extra money in their bid just in case it works out poorly.
None of those two scenarios helps the building owner.
A consultant serves as a way to clarify the scope for a project to make it clear for the contractor.
Reason 2 - Avoid change orders and big surprises.
Ever added a fire pump to a job after all the contractors are on-board?
It’s difficult, and expensive.
A consultant can bring a whole lot of value by looking out for big surprises on a project.
Things like coordinating floor space, coordinating zones to route pipe, or calling can AHJ to clarify code questions, can eliminate major surprises and avoid expensive changes late in a project.
Reason 3 - A good consultant helps the contractors.
Not all building owners and architects are experts in fire protection.
Having someone who can advocate for the building owner and answer RFIs will help the building owner get what they want but also provide guidance to keep contractors moving on a project.
Reason 4 – Consultants can preplan architectural and civil needs.
Early planning with space, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing needs well before contractors even get on board, can help projects flow smoothly without costly design changes from other disciplines later on.
Reason 5 - Get code-compliant design.
Consultants can work with the AHJ ahead of time to clarify big question marks and convey a clear sense of scope to the contractor, again eliminating risky questions prior to bidding.
Things like: do we need a dry system for the porte-cochere?
Do we need a fire pump?
Do we need standpipes?
All of those can be clarified well before bid.
Reason 6 - The architect and owner have an advocate.
If a space has unique needs, a consultant can work with an architect or interior designer to work through different options and come up with a solution that works for everybody.
That is their job.
Contractors are working from a different perspective – the more time they spend in design the less profitable a job.
Also, asking a contractor to spend time and thoroughly discuss various options to make a more aesthetic result is kind of a difficult ask.
Changes at that point could add cost to the project through change orders.
Reason 7 - Contractors should not be forced to do consulting for free.
I see this come up all the time.
A building owner or developer gets a call from their insurance, a fire marshal does an inspection, or they’re changing their storage layout.
What do they do?
They find their nearest sprinkler contractor on Google and place a phone call.
In some cases, especially in large storage facilities, just figuring out what the proper commodity classification is, then the design criteria, then the capacity of the existing system, and then how much change would have to happen can be a substantial amount of design work.
The contractor shouldn't have to bear this work for free.
If the contractor does a week's worth of design work for free, then provides a scope of work to the owner with a large cost associated with it - what is the owner going to do?
They're going to take that scope and shop it around to get the best price they can.
Not only does the original contractor potentially lose that work, but they spent an entire week’s worth of time figuring out what needs to be done in the first place.
What if the price isn't that high and there's hardly any work at all?
Contractor loses again, they spent a week doing design work just for the owner to say that they are going to change their racking configuration to make it work.
Contractors shouldn't have to do this work for free.
This is what consultants do and what good consultants can do well.
A good consultant can come in and lay out all options on the table, provide a scope of work with each that can be sent for pricing.
I see this approach work all the time and it works very well, both helping out building owners save money, get an expert opinion, but then also avoiding forcing contractors to spending a week to determine scope just to get it shopped out and lose the job.
I’m sure there are many more reasons to hire a consultant, but these are the most common that I've come across.
The important thing is that if you're a consultant doing this type of work, be sure that your marketing material, your qualifications, and all your proposals help convey why you can help your clients do their work better.
We need quality work in this industry.
We need you to showcase your benefits and win more work.
I'm Joe Meyer, this is MeyerFire University.
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