Sometimes you feel you are working for free

Sometimes you feel you are working for free

As a practising engineer I initially found the situation very tiresome. You get an enquiry, review the drawings, markup the details, give the client some advice or input over the phone and then….never hear from them again. Of course you soon get to realise you are simply a price check or to use a more and more common terminology ‘column fodder’. This phrase has developed because your price often gets put in columns B, C, D etc on a spreadsheet and is used simply to ensure the current ‘supplier’ is offering good market value.

It used to frustrate me immensely as an engineer as the review and preparation of a fee took me time (and therefore cost me money). More so though, it effectively meant that our (me and my fellow tenderers) design and draughting services were being treated as a commodity, with price being the only differential.

Don’t let it get you down though. As with everything in life….try and see the opportunity. I began to see it as a positive that my name and company were being shortlisted for tenders (at the very least my analytics were working). The tendering process also gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my ability to propose smarter ways of designing the same structure/component, easier ways to build or manufacture the frame or to deliver the project to a tighter time frame. Essentially what I was doing was ‘solution selling’. I tried to use the opportunity of getting in front of clients to show them that their focus shouldn’t just be the price of my element of work but how that aspect of design could go on to influence the overall cost of the project. Sometimes unfortunately, the client just took that input and passed it on to his preferred engineer but that (sadly) is the world we live in.

Sometimes we can't help but be frustrated

Sometimes we can’t help but be frustrated

When solution selling, try and find out what the ‘pain’ is that the customer is experiencing. Why might they go with you rather than the engineer that helped them develop the parameters which you are pricing against? As I often talk about, engineers, detailers and specialists are in ever increasing demand. If you can deliver the work within the required timescales (even if you need to temporarily scale your workforce) that alone might be enough to get your foot in the door.

The whole process also gives you an opportunity to test your pricing models. I found that depending on location, project size and required turnaround, price points varied greatly. By better understanding which rates were relevant where, as well as working with my supply chain to understand how (and if) the projects could be more cost effectively delivered (or if we could be doing anything differently), the tendering procedure allowed me to carry out A/B testing to quite accurately understand where the market was, where we were positioned in it and on which projects the company could make the best profit.

Another useful piece of advice I was given in the early days of starting up our practice was ‘review the client’. Three key questions I used to always ask myself before submitting a fee were:

  • is the client giving us the chance to solution sell?
  • are we dealing with the decision maker or will our input be lost in the ‘columns of a spreadsheet’?
  • does the client have a ‘pain’ point other than cost?

If the answer to each of the questions above is ‘no’, I would also advise you that it’s never wrong to refuse to price. It’s then up to the client to improve his processes of tendering if he wants to make sure he is getting market value. After all to EngLancer, quality engineers are our asset. We work hard to ensure out tendering and QA procedures work for them. Make sure your clients put the work in to get best value from your service.

As I mentioned earlier, the most frustrating thing personally was that engineering design, draughting or modelling was being bought as a commodity. This frustration was made doubly painful as the same clients didn’t then want to pay for it as a commodity. The most powerful solution to this is (of course) to build a brand. Whether it be based on quality or an alternative product or method of project delivery, ensure you tender on more than price. At EngLancer, quality is a our biggest focus. We do everything we can to avoid our platform being seen as a race to the bottom for design, detailing or consultancy services. Our new recommendations feature is a further aspect of our commitment to promoting great engineers, with our QA and payment mechanisms also focussed on ensuring effective project delivery.

Images supplied under a creative commons license by torbakhopper and Eric.

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