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Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged
2

Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

(OP)
I'm curious what everyone's practices are. I'm a structural engineer. When I get calls from potential clients regarding coming out and inspecting a building or given condition I obviously have a fee for that...I'd consider that forensic related work. When I have potential design clients, I've been playing around with charging a fee to come as I've been getting more and more busy and can't be driving around and meeting for free as I would be wasting a lot of time. Recently I went out and met with a homeowner to look over his architectural drawings and site as they need a retaining wall for an addition to their home. When I brought up that I charge a fee to come out, he paused for several seconds and I could tell he didn't like it lol. So I said I'll come out for free and include the fee in the proposal if he decides to move forward.

Now I had another call the other day and was sent several invoices for steel trusses and columns from a potential client. They are looking to design a new 200'x80' building. I am debating to charge a fee as they want to meet on site, which is 1.5 hours from me. That will take up over half a day. I will tell them if they decide to move forward I'll remove it from the proposal, where it's typically included.

Just curious on other peoples' practices when it comes to this.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

Depends on the market I suppose - I worked during a lengthy recession for engineers in my discipline in Alberta and we largely had to do stuff like this for free to win jobs. Now I work in a booming market and we either charge for it upfront or just bury it in the fee (very easy because fees are padded comically where I work now).

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

(OP)
I definitely thought about burying it in the fee....I'm just concerned about losing time in the long run. On the flip side, there is always a chance you may not get the job but they refer you and you build your network. And I agree in that the market is booming now and it's easier to get away with it.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

Obviously proposal work will somehow be part of your cost. Mostly overhead I assume since you have to make more proposals than you get contracts for.

But as long as you don't actually give them advice, I think it should be free. This coming on site is for your benefit to familiarize with the situation so you can estimate what your proposal should be.

We often hire consultants for some trades, or whole projects. We usually offer a walk-through in an existing building to give them the opportunity to learn about the building in question before they submit a proposal. If we get 5 proposals, obviously 4 companies wasted money. But that is part of their cost of doing business. Like if you pay for an ad, but no one hires you based on the ad...
During the walkthroughs they sometimes volunteer interesting information, but we don't ask them questions or expect actual advice.

Same with contractors who bid on our projects. Only the winning contractor gets a contract (that i assume includes their overhead). Every other contractor gets nothing. Or in private life, if you get 3 quotes to get a new water heater installed, you don't pay the 2 non-winning plumbers any money.

The only time we pay for someone's time is if we invite someone to look at a building for small project and i want to hear their opinion on feasibility and for some reason we don't hire them. Then I offer them to pay for that hour or if I specifically asked them to look at plans. but that isn't contractually done, it is just because I want to do right and it is only one specific firm I invite.

If they expect you to give specific advice during the visit, then they should pay.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

I wouldn't normally charge for that, but I wouldn't provide them with any information. You need to go back to the office to think about it for a bit, prior to providing a proposal. I've been caught that way twice... once for a timberframed structure and once for a site drainage plan. In both cases I provided the 'future' clients with enough information that I wasn't needed.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Do you feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

I'm a one man structural shop, so I understand where you're coming from. I consider this to be an overhead cost, not a project cost. How much I'm willing to pay is dependent on how busy I am, how interesting the project is, and how much margin it's likely to have. If I win the project, I roll it to a project cost and capture it. If I don't, then it stays on the books a an overhead expense.

One of my biggest scheduling challenges is making time now to win the work I'll do next month.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

From my sole practitioner viewpoint/experience:
-I am more successful if I stack it into the inevitable project proposal and fee. Yeah, I'd prefer to bill hourly for everything before the proposal is accepted but I'm not a lawyer (nor do I want to function like one)
-It sucks to lose half a day, but it very much sucks more to backpedal if you issue a proposal before the preliminary site visit and things are not as expected
-A lot of this risk can be managed by straight up getting the potential client to do some legwork and send stuff electronically before the site visit
-That first site visit with a new client is a funny dance. As others are mentioning, too much information renders you useless. Not enough info makes them question who they're hiring

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

I will visit prior to a proposal for consistent clients. Usually, they call me when they know the job is going forward, but there have been a few times when I've been to a site, the project dies, and I eat the time spent. I would also do this for a potential client for a significant project where I needed to be familiar with the existing building in order to draft a scope of work.

I do not got to a residential evaluation without an agreement to be paid. Ain't nobody got time for that.

I have also declined to go to a building for a "walk through" with a developer who wanted an opinion on whether a building is structurally sound enough to invest in. In a situation like this, saying "if it turns into a project then we'll hire you" isn't sufficient for me.

I have also been semi-duped into a long drive for a site visit. I sent a contractor an hourly proposal for a big rehab and he was like, "great, let's meet at the site." Then, after the visit, he says, "now that you've seen it, can you get me a fixed fee." I went along with it, judging that it was still in my interest to get the project, but it went nowhere. All I got was some free business education and a nice drive through lovely countryside.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

As a sole practioner, and a provider of opinions, advice and design-basis information rather than hardware, I work solely on an hourly rate basis, never fixed price jobs, so if a potential client wants my opinion, they have to pay for it - in other words, yes they pay for the initial site visit.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

Existing good clients I will put out a bit of time to meet. If its a meeting for getting scope, etc. I will factor in size, time spent, etc and how much I would want the job. If its a 'is this structurally feasable' I tell them I change a fee to do a walk thru/evaluation, but then also provide a report of my thoughts. In said report I offer my services to provide design services and quote it if it becomes a structural project to the client.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

You should be compensated for your time. We are not a charity. If a client pauses at paying you a few hundred dollars for your time and expert opinion, I'd be willing to bet that it will be difficult to collect from them for your services during the project. At least in my neck of the woods, we are very busy and the current economic climate allows us to be very selective of our clients. If someone takes exception to your fee schedule, drop 'em and go to the next client in line.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

What MotorCity said. I charge for my initial visit or meeting - existing or new client. If they have a problem with that, I don't want their business.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

If this is a smallish potential client, I will give them a little time for free, but nothing like a site visit.

A medium potential client may get a site visit.

A large potential client will get a site visit and report on recommendations before I have a signed contract.

Anything like a one off/residential is frankly not worth my time, and I would need a signed contract in hand to go to work. A person will be much more successful focusing on the clients providing 80% of their revenue as opposed to the 20%.

Also RE other comments on proposals - it is one thing for the client to scope the project and ask that I price it. It is quite another for me to have to scope the project and then price my own scope. I expect to be paid for scoping. Some clients do not understand the difference, and I often get very poor scopes in RFPs.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

For the situations you are describing where you are being solicited to visit, evaluate drawings, etc. then charging a fee is appropriate. However, when "bidding" on engineering contracts that are not in place yet site visits are the cost of doing business and are generally charged to overhead.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

I charge my minimum 4 hour fee for local site visits and more for farther away. This is another way to weed out the serious clients. If further work is needed, I write a proposal. Been doing this for many years and it works for me.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA, HI)


RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

msquared48, I do similar, and it works for me for most situations.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

Couple of strategies, depends on the client.

Local to me will usually be free but quick - as others I have fallen into a trap of saying too much.

I've also done charge a small call out fee but state it will be discounted from the main fee proposal. This creates a sense of sunk cost but ultimately doesn't cost the client any more and deters time wasting.

Do remote (via zoom/teams etc and pdf architect plans, maybe a walk round on the phone) site visits to get a sense of the project. Bit of risk not seeing it but for simple jobs it's acceptable and quick.
A solicitor did this with me recently (on my request) but still needed face to face to sign documents.

Just charge time and mileage for anything far away. I don't profit particularly but I don't lose. This is better for commercial clients and they can justify covering costs.

RE: Charging for Meetings/Site Visits Prior to Being Engaged

Depends on how highly sought after you are. The more by the book you go with your potential customer, the lower your chances of winning the customer.

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