Standard of Care for Engineers- the Jury Instruction (law note)

Not perfection I’ve previously talked about the standard of care for design professionals on construction projects. 

As you should be aware, the standard is reasonableness, not perfection.  To illustrate the point, consider a standard North Carolina jury instruction on the standard of care for engineers:

 “Under our law, a professional engineer is required to exercise that degree of care which a professional engineer of ordinary skill and prudence would exercise under the same or similar circumstances, and if the engineer fails to exercise such degree of ordinary skill and prudence under the same or similar circumstances, the engineer’s conduct would be negligence.”

For an architect, just substitute the word “architect” for “engineer” in the jury instruction above.    Sometimes it can be challenging to meet a client’s expectations, and some clients believe that plans should (and can) be perfect.  In your discussions about the project with the client, be sure the client has reasonable expectations.  It is not reasonable to expect perfection in design plans.  Unforeseen conditions, changing criteria, and differing code inspector interpretations are all to be expected.  Educate your client about typical errors & omissions at the start of the construction project.
 
Do you have a question about the standard of care?  Drop me an email at mbrumback@rl-law.com.  Be sure to sign up for email delivery of blog posts directly to your inbox so you never miss a post!
 

A helpful compilation of Construction Search Sites (Tue Tip)

A fellow blogger sent me this link, which contains a few nuggets of good information.  The post title is “Top 30 job sites for commercial construction” and it is a compilation of sites that list construction projects up for bid, construction jobs, and related construction information. 

Close-up of large rusty chain links

Some of the links are better than others, but you might just find a great go-to database that meets your needs.  Check it out!

Photo:  (c) Horia Varlan via CC

Scope of your Design Services: Make Yours Detailed to Save Cavities Later! (Law note)

I’ve written in the past about the benefits of having not only an explicit Scope of Work, but also a set of Exclusions from the Scope of Work, in your proposals and contract documents.  Recently, this issue has come up again for me in the course of advising clients who are now facing litigation over whether or not a particular service was to have been part of their lump sum design fee.

scope mouthwash versus scope of services
Do you know what is in your Scope of Services?

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The Scope of Services (and related Excluded services) should be as detailed as possible.  Consider all of the typical issues that can derail a project, and address them upfront, such as:

  • Additional Services: are they needed? How are they compensated?
  • The Proposal v. the Contract Description—which prevails?
  • Value engineering issues — does the designer share the credit?
  • Extended construction: Is A/E paid for extended delays leading to additional on-site administration?
  • Contingencies & Assumptions included in the design?
  • Number of bidding rounds included in the A/E’s fee before additional compensation is due?
  • Delivery of Owner equipment (Fixtures, Furnishings & Equipment) and delays associated with same?
  • Safe harbor provisions for expected errors & omissions?

This is just a short list of items to consider when drafting your Scope of Services. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so make sure your proposals and contracts have thought through the entire scope of possible services prior to starting work.

 Thoughts? What issues have you run into on construction projects that could have been prevented with a good Scope of Services provision?  Share below.  
 
 
 
Photo (c) mandolux via CC.

Online Marketing Primer for Architects & Engineers (Tue Tip Guest Post)

 Today’s Tip is a guest post by Andy Durban, who manages Inspired Builder Marketing Solutions in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Inspired has been providing marketing services to the building industry of North Carolina for nearly ten years.  Andy has been involved in marketing and media since the late 80s and currently specializes in online marketing strategies.  The back link referenced in this article belongs to Inspired client Cirrus Construction.

There are still a few industries that benefit from a yellow page ad, if you are reading this blog you’re probably not in one. The internet search has been in popular use for quite some time and that’s not going to change anytime soon. No doubt you have been exposed to the hype surrounding social media, but no one is ‘Facebooking’ Architect, they ‘Google’ Architect. You may have great website which in itself has value but if doesn’t rank well then it will only be available to those already aware of your business. There are businesses looking for you and they use Google (and sometimes Yahoo or even Bing). And as you know from searching yourself they rarely go beyond the first ten results.

open phone book

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Every business with a website at some point has asked the question “how do we increase our rankings?” Let’s start with a somewhat simplistic view of the process.  The search engine’s job is to find the most qualified results for your search and they normally do a pretty good job. The way the search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing) do this is somewhat simple. Let’s use Widget manufacturers to demonstrate. Widget manufacturer ‘A’ has 100 employees; they have a full marketing staff including a copy writer, a technical writer, a PR writer, a webmaster and a team of engineers. Widget manufacturer ‘B’ works out of his garage and has himself a part time helper and sometimes his wife. Why does manufacturer A have an advantage?

Google (and the others) use two basic parameters to determine rankings, ‘content’ and ‘back linking’. A back link is a hyperlink on one site pointing to another. Metal Building Greensboro is a valuable back link to a local commercial builder. Google sees this as vote of confidence of that site and gives the builder ‘brownie points’. Content is simply the number of times key words are used legitimately on a website. Those key words will be found in the URL, the page file name, the page’s title tag, page copy, and alt attributes (used to identify images and graphics). Widget manufacturer A is adding keyphrase rich content to their site at very high rate, articles, case studies, news, instructions, FAQs, etc., even the engineers are helping by blogging technical information. Some of that content will warrant back links from other websites like the Widget Manufactures Association, Widget Digest and the Widget Buyers Guide. Widget manufacturer B is exhausted at the end of the day and barely has time respond to his email. His website is the same as it was five years ago.  Widget manufacturer A will likely rank top 5 in the top three search engines while Widget manufacturer B will not likely appear even on the first few pages and as stated searchers rarely check beyond the first page (ten results per page).

I have had clients express concerns about too much content on their websites– people don’t have time to read anymore! Well I agree to an extent: the website on its surface is a brochure. When we design a brochure for a client we do keep it brief and to the point. Your website is a brochure but potentially so much more; embedded links provide the opportunity for further investigation on a particular subject. So you are serving different personality types by providing more information. A marketing Director visiting the site may browse critical bullet points, while an engineer wants to gain as much information as possible before making a decision.

It’s that simple but of course not that easy; it takes effort. First, know what are your most valuable search terms. Then make a concerted effort to impact your website in a significant way on a daily basis with the intent of serving your client base. Eventually your site will rank top ten for your most valuable search terms. Once you get to this point, an analysis of your site’s stats will reveal opportunities that you never considered before. There’s gold in those ranking!

Comments or questions about your online marketing efforts? Share with Andy and me in the comments section, below.

Photo (c) How Can I Recycle This via CC.

Marketing your Design Business – Getting Started (guest post)

Today, the first in a two part series of guest posts on the business of marketing for your engineering/architectural practice.  Today’s post is authored by Amy Young.  Amy is the author of numerous articles relating to marketing and finance, as well as articles discussing secure credit cards for families.

Your company may have been in business for years, or maybe you are just getting started with an architectural company of your own. Regardless of your amount of experience in the business, you probably already know that getting profitable and desirable new clients is the only way to remain successful. Knowing how to market your company effectively will help you find these clients, set yourself apart, and convince them that you are the right architect for the job.

There is no universal solution to marketing problems with architectural or engineering offices because no two firms are alike, but there are a few common characteristics in all successful marketing plans. Here, I will focus on a few of the fundamentals necessary to start a marketing strategy.

business plan

Make a Plan

You may be wondering where to begin with your marketing plan. It all starts with strategy. Every marketing plan needs a strategy in order to brand and position the business. First, think about where your business stands, and assess the type of work you are doing as well as what the market may do in the future. Then, decide where you want to be and set your goals.

Consider what you have done to be successful and what you could change or what more you could do to continue your success. Know exactly what makes your company different than the rest. When you have come up with a sense of identity and direction, then you can start to brand your business to express the benefits you will offer your clients.

Marketing and Business Development

Once you have established your general goals and how you want to be branded, you can then start to form a plan for your sales approach and decide how you will look for clients. This will most likely include a form of market research and networking to help you get in touch with potential clients. Through this process, you can gain valuable information that can help you achieve the business of those clients.

You may want to take on these tasks by yourself, but many companies decide to hire an employee or a few employees to take charge of their marketing needs. Marketing a business takes time and skill that you may not have on your own. Hiring a consultant who is educated on the subject could save you time and a lot of aggravation.

In the business of architecture or engineering, new clients can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Some industry professionals get leads from other consultants, existing clients, or influential contacts. You may also be able to use references like your local, state, and federal registers or participate in industry activities and trade organizations to find your clients.

Some firms find potential new business by attending conferences sponsored by associations that serve many other clients. You could use part of your marketing budget to set up a booth at a trade show where you can meet with people and companies looking for an architectural firm. While at these conferences, you or someone from your company could present a paper or give a lecture in order to gain some brand recognition as well.

Show Your Best Work

Once you get the lead for a potential new client, the real work for marketers begins. You should consider how likely you are to actually get the client to accept your business, and if the outlook is good, then you can decide how much effort you will need to put into a proposal to get them to accept your business. Some proposals may take as much research as the whole project will require. Your clients will always be your best source of information, and while you may be reluctant to ask them for feedback, they may appreciate the effort you are putting in to make sure they like your vision. The relationship you build with the client during this process could ensure that they come back to you again.

 Amy and I welcome your thoughts and questions in the comment section, below.

Photo (c) Guilhelm via CC.

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