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Things an AEC Company Or Owner Should Know When Hiring An Estimating Consultant Firm To Do Work For Their Business
By Edward Walsh, Executive Director - CERT

The Consulting Estimators Round Table [www.CERT-USA.org] has developed some recommended guidelines for any AEC firm, building owner or developer thinking about hiring the services of a CE firm. The CERT is a national non-for profit association which promotes ethics, validation, education and fellowship of consulting estimator firms based exclusively in the United States.

There are an estimated 1300 established consulting estimating businesses in the United States which are well enough established to list themselves in the Blue Book and other industry directories. Another several thousand “startup” firms are estimated to be active. Due to industry slowdowns and layoffs the number of new “startup” firms has spiked in the last few years, but will likely decrease as many of the estimators will find full time work back with an employer.

AEC companies or owners considering hiring a consulting estimating firm need to take into account the scope of need so they hire the right firm for the right project. Some basic criteria should include:

Credentials – is the firm “in business” or someone moonlighting from the kitchen table? Are estimators in the firm certified or validated by industry peers and organizations qualified to hold in significance?

Experience – is the firm an established member of the industry? Are the firm’s principles qualified by years of estimating for others? Has the business survived by repeat business over a long period of time?

References – how did you get the firm’s name- in a directory, via an associate? Can the firm offer you names and contacts from current clients you know and trust?

Talents – with consulting estimating firms the adage “one size fits all” certainly doesn’t apply. Be sure your consultant is an expert in the field of estimating your project needs. A great estimator in one trade may think he can cover others, but is your project the one he learns the truth on?

Professionalism – is the consultant you are looking to hire a known quantity? Has the consultant held office in a local or national association, are they members of a local association, do they teach or train others or do they give back to the industry in other ways?

Rates – estimating consultants earn their money by being more talented and able then their peers and the odds are you’ll save money with a consultant over a full time estimator on many projects. In the United States you could probably find a consultant for as little as $25 per hour, maybe even less for an online service overseas, but this begs the question “am I getting what I pay for?” Why is the rate so low? Can they provide back up for the numbers? Will they be in business in 6 months? A consulting firm with experienced talent, that pays its taxes, insurances and fees has a cost of doing business- they are playing by the rules and the rates they charge are going to reflect that.

Obligation – a consultant can become part of your team and bring an even stronger sense of getting it right to your bidding process than a new employee – simply because the consultant chooses you as much as you choose the consultant. The vested interest in development of a “regular customer” keeps a consulting firm thinking about your best interests.

Services – an employee is paid to perform work on the company’s behalf, a consulting firm is paid to be masters of the estimate and to help your company succeed. In addition to the estimate the consulting firm brings knowledge and advice as part of the package and in the long run this advice may mean more than anything else.

You may have noticed the first letter of the paragraphs above when combined comes out to spell “CERT-PROS” and that is for a reason. The CERT wants to see every consulting estimating firm meet certain baseline standards, provide qualified advice and estimating practice and do all this while maintaining the ethics of true professionals. After reading the guidelines above you may be asking who CERT is so here is a little information.

Work was started on the development of the new association called the Consulting Estimators Round Table back in early 2010. The CERT has as its mission “to promote the business of the independent consulting estimating firm, while promoting professionalism, validation of business practices, fellowship and ethics”.

It sure is not very common that a brand new association pops up to join the ranks of the many others in the construction industry, but in the last few months that is exactly what has transpired. While it may seem like there is already one group or another around to satisfy the needs of every professional person in construction, the founders of the CERT saw an opportunity to service a formerly underserved niche. Unlike organizations that service the “estimating” side of the profession such as ASPE and AACE, the CERT was established to contribute to the ‘business’ side of the consultant’s business.

The CERT started out in 2010 as little more than a discussion group on LinkedIn and originally called the ‘Consulting Estimators FORUM’. The forum was open to any company or individual, that was based here in the United States and operates as a consulting estimating firm in private practice. The typical member of the forum was from a sole proprietorship or a small two or three person estimating firm. The focus of forum and “Best Practices” conference call discussions were the nuts and bolts of running a business. The skills in estimating were a given. Topics like marketing, networking, getting paid, contracts, partnerships, handling client concerns and even professional liability insurance were fodder for debates.

In 2011 a small group of the most ardent members of the forum began to think in terms of setting up a true industry association dedicated to serving people like themselves and the niche of the industry they work in. There were three hundred consulting estimators in the Consulting Estimators FORUM when a small group of consultants met in upstate New York, then in Nashville and Chicago over 3 months to hash out a structure and vision for the new organization they would be starting.

The CERT has developed a dues paying member base, a peer to peer Validation program with some of the industry’s top consulting estimators as the committee, by-laws and organization structure, member discounts through affinity programs, a national database and more. Going forward the goal of the Board of Directors is to hold at least one national conference per year.

The Board of the CERT believes strongly that it has a role to play in the industry starting with an expression of its interest in seeing the AEC and owners learn more about the differences between a qualified consulting practice and those not quite ready for prime time.

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