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Posted on Monday, January 17, 2005 - 12:12 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Ok, so we have had a tremendous response regarding specwriters salaries, but how about us lowly independents, I would like to know how my fellow spec writers develope their fees. Our firm does not consider construction cost, because the amount of work for a $2 mil project could be the same as a $50 mil project. We base our fees on how much time we think we will need to prepare the specs. We consider the client - the repeat customers who pay their invoices within reasonable time do get the better fees. We also consider the amount of time to prepare the specs, though for the past year we have gotten calls for specs 'tomorrow'. So how about it fellow independents, please share your experiences and your insights, for one of the advantages to independent spec writing is that their is always room for improvement and change. Oh, by the way this will be the first time posting anonymous, hopefully it will be confined to this thread alone.
Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 06:50 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I'd like to know a couple of things here. First, all you specifiers who are indies, as Anonymous says, how do you set your fees? Second, all you specifiers who are indies, how do you market? Most of the people that I know who are independent specifiers in this area have as their primary client the large firm that used to employ them on staff. So, since I've only ever worked for firms that have specifications written by their Project Managers, I can't sell to them (they still have the PM's doing the job). How, please tell me how?? Although I'm currently employed as a construction specifier with a large firm (ok, so finally it happens) and very happy with the firm and the work, there's always the thought of self-employment lurking in the back of my mind.
Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 08:21 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I set fees based on a table of contents (attached to the proposal letter) with a multiplier (from 1 hour per section to 10 hours per section, based on "degree of difficulty" for the project.) If they don't like the fee, ask them which sections they want deleted from the project manual.

For every review more than two (one at 70% and 95%,) I charge a flat fee (6 hours) for printing and compiling the document. DD specs are thrown in for free (organizational tool for me) but if the client wants ONLY a DD spec, then its a flat fee. Throw in some hours for how many consultants you have to coordinate with. (3 hours per consultant or so) I used to offer a 2% discount for payment within 10 days, but no one ever took it. Division 1 and bidding documents are always an extra, flat fee. About half projects need it, half don't. The half that do, usually need a LOT of help. (and for some clients with multiple projects for the same owner, that allows them to reuse the same Division 1 and save money). As for hourly rate, because I did so much public work, I kept my "rate" at 10% above what architects were allowed to charge so that I seemed reasonable. However, my fees were lump sum, based on approved TOC, and if I finished early, then I kept the profit. Track your scope carefully -- (that's what the TOC is) -- if you are going to more meetings, producing more submittal packages or doing more sections, send a letter asking approval for a scope change. I always got that approval, because usually the client's scope changed, too.

Develop one "product" that is profitable. When I started them I was the only one in the area doing flat fee DD specs (suitable for lender's approval) and I charged $2000 for what was less than 4 hours work. And then I developed expertise in building types. Eventually, my expertise paid off, but the "product" kept me solvent.
Try to gage which clients pay quickly, and which don't. Public work can often be 3-7 months out, so I took those as "extra " jobs, not as bread and butter jobs. I developed commercial clients who did quick turn around in their payments for day to day work. Stress that if you are spending 1/2 your time on one client, you need to be paid quickly -- you can't float that fee very long. I was typically the smallest consultant on the project, and was able to be paid before other consultants if necessary. Cultivate the billing manager in each client office so you submit your bills before their billing date for their clients; and hold to those dates. in 10 years, I had only one client who didn't pay, and it was for a fee of $1600.
as for marketing: a business card ad in the local AIA newsletter will bring you all the work you need - that's your clientele right there. If you're not an AIA member, find out how to be an "affiliate" or "associate" member - the reduction in the cost of the ad will pay for the membership. And... my former firm was never my biggest client. Your target market are firms from 5 to 30 people who do some public work that requires a real project manual, and do three of them a year. You need 10-20 of those clients.
Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 08:24 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

OK, here tis from an indi for 24 years!
I promote working by the hour but do work on a fixed fee upon request. When requested, I base my fee amount on what I believe to be 3 percent of the Designer fee. Yes, that is a guess.
What I market is an ongoing service at an hourly rate for time spent.
Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 08:46 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Two advantages of self-employment as a spec writer: being your own boss and time flexibility.
Unfortunately there are huge disadvantages, like no benefits, no sick time, no insurance, no paid vacations, having to wait sometimes 60 days to get paid, very long hours...to name a few.
As far as getting the work, I did start doing work for a previous employer as my first client, however that relationship soured over the years due to them taking advantage of the situation and my services. I find that getting work is no problem, the advantage I have is that most firms have very few people like me with my experience and knowledge base, and most firms find spec preparation too time consuming, too much of a chore that they would rather outsource to someone like me - of course I am able to keep my fees competitive because I am a one-man firm. Architects can be cheapskates - I know, I am one, so pricing is always a chore, however I have found that once I establish an account with an Architect or a Developer, unless I really screw up, that client is a long term client, who seldom fights the fee, as long as I stay fair and provide the service they expect. Occassionally I find I must do a project for that long term client at a reduced fee, almost a freebie for a host of reasons, including the Architect's own fee problems, but that is always considered a marketing advantage for me - which pays off eventually.
BTW, my office is in Florida and most of my work is there, although I am doing projects in Virginia, South Carolina, Nevada, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. 70% of our work is multi-family and hospiality nigh rise; the remaining 30% is commercial.

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