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Overlooked Fee Issues

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Wise consulting engineers always calculate engineering fees in two ways:

First, they estimate the hours that will be required and the associated costs, based on their billing rates.

Second, they estimate the expected fee based on a percentage of the construction cost of the work of their disciplines.

Continue reading Overlooked Fee Issues

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Almost any kind of speaking engagement enhances your image and credibility. Promote business by public speaking.


Most professional organizations offer continuing education courses. It will enhance your reputation to arrange to be a guest lecturer.

Don’t let yourself get roped-into a multi-night teaching engagement at a local college. It is very time consuming with little benefit, poor pay, and (in most cases) no student appreciation.

New Service Lectures

Every time that you start a “new service”, try to be a guest speaker at any professional organization whose members might use your service or recommend you. We had a local Mayor, who had the reputation of being available to speak at the “opening of an envelope”; my criteria was not much higher.

Code – Cycle Seminar

Codes are not updated yearly; they are updated on a cycle, usually every three or four years. Consider holding a mini-seminar for your clients’ tradesmen and technical staff. I recommend a 1 ½ to 2 hour seminar (instead of a 10 hours) covering the highlights. Your client will see that you are keeping-up with the new changes and it improves your relationship with the client’s staff. Hold it after working hours and break for a light dinner and soft drinks.

Major Seminar

When something Dramatic happens, seize the opportunity.

In 2003 we had a tragedy in Rhode Island; 100 people perished in a fire at the “Station Nightclub”. This catastrophic event was the impetus for a dramatic overhaul of our State Fire Code. The most revolutionary thing about this code was that it was retroactive; the “Grandfather Clause” did not apply. All existing buildings were required to meet the new code.

Once it became law, I decided to put on a “free” seminar to educate fire officials and building owners of the new impact.

All my Project Managers were expert Fire Alarm System designers. I decided that my staff would be the “panel of presenters” and “field the questions”. I personally introduced our services, with a power-point presentation, describing the advantages of hiring a consulting engineering firm to design Fire Alarm System upgrades.

I rented the largest banquet hall at the fanciest, centrally located hotel in the state, for a grand buffet breakfast meeting. We did a mailing to our Mailing List and to the mailing lists of all the Chambers of Commerce throughout the state. We did radio advertisements, (1 minute spots, liberally mentioning our company name), starting 10 days before the seminar. Note: Ethically, advertising by engineers is severely frowned upon; but, these were “Public Service Announcements”, sponsored by an engineering firm, so not a problem. I had many sleepless nights wondering if we would make incompetent fools out of ourselves and provide breakfast to only a handful of fire officials.

We had over 500 guests and our Seminar was an “enormous” success. It generated well over $1/2 M in Fire Alarm System design fees over the next 5 years and promoted other types of work throughout New England.

I am certainly not saying to take advantage of the misfortunes of others. But, I am saying: look for opportunities; have the courage to proceed; and do it first class.

Excerpted from The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING © 2015 John D. Gaskell. Used with permission of Professional Value Books, Inc. All rights reserved. Order at Use coupon code “paperback” and save.


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The main source of clients for most Consulting Engineers are “Architects”. However, others often hire them. “Private Clients” are any client who is not in an architectural practice. The following is how engineers find private clients.

Trade Contractors

Trade contractors are often asked by General Contractors to bid on “Design Build” projects which include plans & specifications sealed by a Professional Engineer. Sometimes, these projects require some missionary (unpaid) work up-front. My advice, if you are willing to take a risk, don’t donate more than 8 hours and get paid for an extra 40 hours, if the project goes ahead. But, BEWARE: Contractors are notorious for “stiffing” engineers. However, you can usually trust the Contractors on your Selected Bidders List because they are already somewhat beholden to you.

Housing Authorities

Housing authorities are great for upgrades: i.e. electrical include: fire alarm, generator, and lighting). But they usually hire architects for major renovations.. This work, of course, is subject to funding cuts.


These are critical facilities and the work is specialized. The same comments as above apply here. This can be some of your most profitable work; there is little competition; and the need for hospital work usually does not fluctuate with the economy.

Colleges & Universities

Higher educational facilities are recession proof clients. The same comments as above apply here.

Federal Agencies

Effective January 1, 2002, the FedBizOpps (FBO) database has replaced the Commerce Business Daily (CBD). This new FBO/CBD database (@ is identical to the old CBD format. This is an on-line electronic database that can be searched for Federal Government Architect & Engineer opportunities.

Attorneys/Law Firms

If you are confident, knowledgeable, and well-spoken serving as a Forensic Engineering/Expert Witness should be part of your engineering practice.

Excerpted from The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING © 2015 John D. Gaskell. Used with permission of Professional Value Books, Inc. All rights reserved. Order at Use coupon code “paperback” and save.



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How engineers find new clients

Searching For New Architectural Clients


Hopefully, as a Consulting Engineer you are usually busy, but it is always smart to promote work from new sources to keep the pipe line full. This article is about how engineers find new clients. Expand your list of potential clients to include those who you have not worked with in the past. First look through the list of contacts that you have acquired since you started working; both in the course of business and in your work with engineering societies. Those who you have impressed are often willing to introduce you to potential clients.


Continue attending some of the meetings of the engineering and industry societies to which you belong.

If you haven’t already, also become an associate/affiliate member of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and attend some meetings. There, you will see some of your current and past clients, who may introduce you to potential clients.

Consulting Engineers

Consulting engineers of a different “specialty” are often willing to share clients. I often got good leads from mechanical engineers, civil engineers, and structural engineers. They frequently provided firm names and contact information, as well as names of upcoming projects. We were not competitors and I reciprocated when I could.

Land Surveyors

Land surveyors often find out about proposed projects, even before an architect is selected. Making friends with them and periodically contacting them can provide good leads. Passing this information along, to your architectural clients, who specialize in the type of project planned, can pay off for this and future projects.


Up-coming major projects are often mentioned in “News” Items in your local newspapers. If the architect is mentioned, give him a call. Express congratulations and ask if your specialty is not yet committed. If already pledged, ask about other projects coming up.

If the architect is not identified in the article, get his name from the project contractor, developer, local building inspector, mayor’s office, or Chamber of Commerce.

Another source of leads is the Classifieds. Government agencies publish “Requests for Proposals” (RFPs) for Architect & Engineers for most upcoming projects. Most of them are for Architectural Services. Most architects are “generalists” and will pursue any kind of project. Others specialize in one or few types of projects. (Historic Restoration; Custom Homes; Libraries; Housing Authorities, etc.). Ahead of time, prepare an e-mail list for each of the most common categories of clients, along with a standard message:

Attached is a recent RFP to which you may be interested in responding. If so, we would like to be part of your team. Attached is a copy of our company description; my resume; and a list of our related projects. Let me know if you need any additional information. As always, I am available to attend an interview with you.

Once you have this system set up, your secretary can do most of the work.

Construction Lead Services

Construction lead service companies provide leads for contractors. Friendly contractor may be willing to share appropriate leads with you.

Excerpted from The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING © 2015 John D. Gaskell. Used with permission of Professional Value Books, Inc. All rights reserved. Order at Use coupon code “paperback” and save.



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RFPs & RFQs for A & E


RFPs are Requests for Proposals and RFQs are Request for Qualifications. In both cases these are notices of the need for architects and/or engineers. Both types are advertised in newspapers, or in the FedBizOpps (FBO) database, or elsewhere. Both require a submission of qualifications. But, an RFP usually also requires a submission of a fee proposal or an hourly rate schedule.

You may become aware of these by calls from previous clients, potential new clients, or from other contacts.


If you are a Consulting Engineer, on most projects, you will not be the “prime professional”; you will be a “sub-consultant”, usually to an architect. For example: If a hospital is building a new wing they will hire an architect to handle the whole project. He would be the “prime professional” and you would be a “sub-consultant” to the architect in your specialty.

On the other hand, if the hospital wants to add a generator they might hire an electrical engineer to be the “prime professional”, who might in turn, hire an architect as a “sub-consultant” to design a generator building and a mechanical engineer as a “sub-consultant” to design the exhaust, ventilation and fuel supply requirements.

Assuming that you are not qualified to be the “prime professional”, notify all existing clients who would likely to be qualified and interested, by e-mail or fax. Encourage them to respond and include a list of your previous similar projects and request to be part of their team.

Attend the “pre-bid” conference. Be seen and get a copy of the attendance list. E-mail or fax qualifications and a request to be part of the team of the architects that were not accompanied by an engineer of your discipline. Follow through with a phone call explaining why you are the best qualified consultant for the project.


Pay special attention to projects for which you are qualified to be the “prime-professional”. On these you will sit in the driver’s seat, will not have to give a portion of your fee to an architect, many of these will lead to repeat work, and often to referrals.

Read the request carefully and respond completely, in the order listed, with the number of copies requested. Also include other appropriate marketing materials.


To learn about “FEE CALCULATIONS” “Click Here”.

To discover “FEE CONSIDERATIONS” that you might be overlooking “Click Here”.

Excerpted from The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING © 2015 John D. Gaskell. Used with permission of Professional Value Books, Inc. All rights reserved. Order at Use coupon code “paperback” and save.


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The Highest Electrical Engineer Salaries

Electrical Construction & Maintenance Magazine (EC&M) recently reported the five US states that offer the highest electrical engineer salaries.

  1. Washington

Hourly mean wage: $49.40

Annual mean wage: $102,750

  1. District of Columbia

Hourly mean wage: $49.64

Annual mean wage: $103,260

  1. Massachusetts

Hourly mean wage: $49.84

Annual mean wage: $103,660

  1. Alaska

Hourly mean wage: $53.63

Annual mean wage: $111,540

  1. California

Hourly mean wage: $55.16

Annual mean wage: $114,730

If you’re an electrical engineer interested in making your way to the top of the pay scale, California’s apparently the place to be. As it was in the year before, the Golden State topped the list for highest paying states in the country for electrical engineers, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Occupational Employment and Wages Study from May 2014). Let’s take a look at the rankings in descending order.

The Engineer’s Resource extrapolated available data and adjusted for inflation and offers the following 2015 estimate for various disciplines throughout all US states in US Dollars:

         SPECIALTY                  ENTRY           5 – 10 Yrs.             10-20 Yrs.              20 + Yrs.
Electrical Engineers $64,000 $94,000 $126,000 $154,000
Mechanical Engineers $62,000 $90,000 $121,000 $148,000
Civil Engineers $55,000 $81,000 $108,000 $131,000


For more about consulting engineering see The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING © 2015 John D. Gaskell. Order at Use discount code “paperback” and save.



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Private Client Project Phases

The following explains how to divide your consulting engineering contracts and your time cards into “Project phases” to simplify your accounting. Being consistent in the allocation of time allows you to accurately compare “budgeted” time and “actual” time spent. For “Private Clients”, I recommend the following breakdown (The % indicates both the effort and the associated fee.)


Study- (Separate Optional Phase)

Preliminary – (0 – 15%)

Design Development – (15 – 30%)

Construction Documents – (30 – 70%)

Bidding Phase – (70 – 75%)

Construction Administration – (75 – 100%)

Study Phase

The scope of projects that you handle for private clients will primarily be in your specialty. The result of the study is a written report including: A description of the proposed project together with options; a cost estimate (including your fee); a time schedule including design, bidding, and construction; and usually an 8 ½ x 11 sketch showing the relative locations of the major elements. Present bound copies at a meeting with your client at his office. Don’t just plop the reports on the conference table and say “here it is”. Before the meeting, highlight the important parts (in your copy) and read or “paraphrase” these parts at the meeting.

Preliminary Design Phase

This usually includes 15% progress prints (Three copies, stamped “Progress Prints”), a preliminary cost estimate, and a preliminary project schedule. Present them at a meeting with your client, including typical catalog cuts of major equipment, if appropriate.

Design Development Phase

At this point a final project scope and a description of systems should be developed and presented as an outline specification. Usually include 30 % progress prints (Three copies, stamped “Progress Prints”), a design development cost estimate, and a design development project schedule. Present them at a meeting with your client.

Construction Documents Phase

This is the phase where you prepare the drawings/plans and specification for bidding and is the bulk of your work. Usually the preliminary drawings/plans are upgraded to become the design development drawings/plans and then upgraded again to become the construction documents.

The meetings for this phase are similar to the preliminary & design development meetings. Usually one or two plus a final are all that are needed.

Bring a copy of a “draft” of the Project Manual to the final review meeting. Again, before the meeting, highlight the important parts (in your copy) and read or “paraphrase” these parts at the meeting.

If feasible, include some “alternatives” in the bidding. Alternatives are things that can be added to or subtracted from the project to allow it to meet budget. This can avoid the trouble and expense and delay of “re-bidding”. Additive alternatives are usually best; contractors are more likely to offer a discount to increase the contract price. In my practice I found that adding work in certain areas (floors or wings of the building) worked best. Painting of raceways, heavy duty generator enclosures, and nicer lighting fixtures were other frequent options.

Also, at the final review meeting, provide a copy of your selected bidder list, and recommend that only these bidders be invited-to-bid. Usually a selected-bidder-list will not be allowed on government projects.

If your selected bidder list is approved, there is no need to publish an invitation for bids. Notify your selected bidders and verify their availability and willingness to bid. However, if bidding is open, include an invitation for bids in your project manual. Make sure that the owner places advertisements in the local newspaper (and/or government publications). Coordinate the dates and allow adequate time, especially during a holiday period.

Complete the approval process.

Bidding Phase

Arrange for printing of an adequate number of sets of drawings & project manuals. The cost of these should be reimbursed by the client. Get a deposit from the bidders, to assure that documents are returned. Electronic PDF copies on a CD are now common and are often provided at no charge to the bidders.

Have bids submitted directly to the client in a sealed envelope that is not to be opened until the bid opening date & time. For government clients, hold a “public” bid opening and tabulate the bids, including “alternatives”. Distribute copies of the tabulation, congratulate the low bidder and arrange a meeting for the contract signing.  For private clients, I recommend a “private” bid opening. After the bid opening, call the low bidder to congratulate him and arrange a meeting for the contract signing.

Construction Administration

The first meeting during the construction phase is called the “Pre-Construction Conference”. This is the meeting where the basic construction requirements and procedures, which you included in the Project Manual, are reviewed.

Schedule construction meetings on a day and time agreeable to the client, contractor, and your project manager’s schedule; usually weekly. In your project manual, you should have included an agenda for each of these meetings.

Make sure that the punch-list items are completed, including those of your consultants.

At the completion of the project, there is a lot of “Close-Out” paperwork to complete. It is tedious, but necessary. Don’t overlook it or neglect to follow through.

Learn the details of project phases for “Private Clients” in Jack’s new book.

 “Excerpted from The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING © 2015 John D. Gaskell. Used with permission of Professional Value Books, Inc. All rights reserved. Order from” Use discount code “paperback” and save.

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Consulting engineers first need the technical skills to perform the tasks required of their engineering specialties. However, as they move into engineering management they need to learn how to communicate, engage and influence their staff and their clients.

Published in the Virginia Engineer – March 2015

“Three Practices to Communicate, Engage and Influence People”
By Nathan Jamail

How many parents have a toddler that can work an iPhone or iPad better than they can? What about the parents of teenage kids or young adults that cannot communicate except through texting, email or social media? With technology constantly evolving, technical skills and know-how will be the most common skills among the working and business public—but the ability to communicate face to face will always be one of the most important aspects of business.

While younger generations preparing to enter the workforce should keep up with technology to remain relevant in today’s economy, they should also continue to practice and focus on perfecting their soft skills—communication, interpersonal interaction, influence and personal effectiveness in a social and business setting. These abilities are the great differentiator in business of the future.

In order to develop these relevant skills and to create the best team today and in the future, there are three things a leader can do. First: learn how to be a coach to your players; this, most likely, is not what your manager did for you. Second: identify what you want to coach. Third: commit and implement a true practice program that requires the leader to participate.

Learn to coach
The word “coaching” is used in business today as much as the word “culture”, but in the same way that “culture” is used in most organizations, it is merely a word with very little impact or “law”. Leaders tell their managers to coach, but they never teach them how to coach. Many managers may say, “Hire good people and then just let them do their jobs.” This strategy will suffice if a leader is content with never making their employees better.

In professional sports a coach drafts the best player they can find and they commit everyday of their professional life to making them better. In business it is the leader’s job to hire great people and make them better. The key to start coaching is to change the mindset from managing to coaching. To accomplish this, the leader’s actions must change from a reactive approach—of getting involved when needed—to a proactive approach of getting involved before they are needed in order to prepare the employee to win.

What to coach
A very important factor in coaching is understanding what to coach. Leaders need to stop focusing on just product and industry knowledge and begin to focus on perfecting the soft skills like communication, personal interaction, body language, voice inflection and the transfer of positive energy. Envision what you consider great customer service and bad customer service, or what separates a top performer and a bottom performer. The most adept leaders have harnessed face-to-face communication. In baseball’s World Series, the greatest players are still practicing the fundamentals, such as throwing and catching the ball. In business we must do the same, and practice repeatedly throughout the duration of a career. This includes the big and small parts (which really equal the big parts).

Implement a practice program
When one thinks of a practice program, they may instantly feel overwhelmed and attempt to outsource it. This is a big mistake as leaders of an organization need to be a part of their practice program—and it is not nearly as overwhelming as one might think once it is kicked off. Team engagement and immediate success and results will snowball this into full blown commitment on everyone’s part, making it even easier and more effective. The hardest part? Getting it started and staying committed.

A first and simple step is to implement weekly practice sessions that the leader mandates and runs. Just like if a parent wants to coach little league sports, the key is they must make the team practice during the week, so they win on the weekends. In fact, similar to little league sports, the more serious the competition and priorities placed on winning, the more practices take place. In business everything is serious and competitive when it comes to success and winning, because winning matters. Learning to practice is almost as hard as learning any new skill. It will feel awkward, redundant, uncomfortable and hard at times, but just like parents tell their kids, “If you want to be the best and win, then you have to practice.”

While social media and a litany of gadgetry have streamlined our ability to connect and interact, there will never be a substitute for stout communication skills. Focusing on these time-honored skills and building better teams in business follows the same principals of raising better kids—yet it can prove more difficult because of the lack of the familial connection that makes us willing dedicate our time and sacrifice for our children. It requires a commitment and an involvement that can be difficult for many people, and it also requires conflict and asks the leader to not always be the most popular person. Remember, great coaches are coaches, not buddies, they should be respected by all team members and should be focused on making everyone—individually and collectively— better, more prepared and more successful—today and tomorrow.

About The Author
Nathan Jamail, president of the Jamail Development Group, and author of the best-selling Playbook Series, is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and corporate coach. As a former Executive Director, life insurance sales professional and business owner of several small businesses, Nathan travels the country helping individuals and organizations achieve maximum success. Nathan has worked with thousands of leaders in creating a coaching culture. Get your copy of Nathan Jamail’s most recent book released by Penguin Publishers, “The Leadership Playbook” at

About Consulting Engineering

Learn more about engineering management skills and successful communications in the new book The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING by John D. Gaskell, Retired Professional Engineer at Use coupon code “paperback and save.

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Marketing For Engineers


Find out how to make your Business Announcement; Letterhead; Business Cards and Brochure distinct from those of your competitors. Learn how to make your Mailing List one of your most important promotional tools and why to include more than just existing & potential clients. Discover what lists and forms that your practice needs. Continue reading Marketing For Engineers

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Operations Manual For Engineers


Your Operations Manual is the “Guidebook” to your engineering practice. It will be unique to your practice and, if thoughtfully prepared and well organized, will be a major ingredient in your firm’s success. Every Consulting Engineering firm needs an Operations Manual. Continue reading Operations Manual For Engineers