11 Ways on How to Choose an Engineering Firm to Hire

Discover the 11 secrets of how to choose an engineering firm to hire for projects of all sizes and complexities.

Choose wisely, and you’ll get top-notch results. But pick the wrong firm, and you might end up in a world of hurt. As someone who’s been both a customer and an engineer, I’m here to share 11 pointers on how to choose the right firm for the job.

#1 Check the firm’s core services

Opt for an engineering firm whose main services match your project’s scope. This way, you’ll dodge rookie mistakes.

Also, if a novice firm claims they can quickly learn to tackle your project, make a run for it. You’re not shelling out big bucks to teach a bunch of engineers. In engineering, the real challenges lie in the last 1% of the work, and that takes years of experience to master.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm 

Tip #1: Project history

Ask to see recently completed projects similar to yours, along with customer references. Otherwise, the original designers might’ve already hit the road.

Tip #2: In-house work 

Ensure the firm handles its offered services in-house. Some firms claim they provide a service, but they’re actually outsourcing your entire project.

#2 Will the firm go the extra mile for your project?

engineers discussing construction matters

Seek out a firm that can either handle your project in-house or has a proven track record in project management. In the latter scenario, the firm will expertly manage all subcontractors on your behalf without sacrificing quality.

Spreading your project across multiple firms is like playing with fire. Your project could quickly spiral into an engineering and management disaster. That is, unless you’ve got some engineering management chops of your own. But let’s be honest—do you really want to wrangle engineers when you could be doing something way more fun?…

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm 

Tip #1: Number of subcontractors

Ask what percentage of your work will stay in-house.

Tip #2: Organizational chart of contractors

Request a flow chart showing all the subcontractors under the prime contractor. This way, you’ll know everyone involved in your project. Also, ask about the firms’ experience working together.

Tip #3: Project approach

Ask for a detailed preliminary project plan to see how the firm will tackle your design. This is an excellent way to gauge their experience, too.

#3 How solid are the firm’s relationships with other agencies and companies?

Strong relationships are key to a smooth-running project. So choose a firm that has built connections with all the essential players your project requires.

For example, if you’re looking to upgrade your factory’s electrical service, a firm with ties to utilities and building departments is a huge asset.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm 

Tip #1: Identify the players

Ask the firm to list all the outside agencies your project will involve. Then, inquire about the agency requirements and lead times.

Tip #2: Your role in the project

Find out if you need to be hands-on at any stage of the project. A firm familiar with your project’s scope will know the extent of your involvement.

#4 What about work quality?

Sure, everyone wants top-quality engineering, but no firm will admit they deliver subpar work. That’s where your research comes in.

Look for firms with many long-term customers. Repeat business is a good indicator of quality.

Also, check if the firm has a history of working with large companies or government agencies. These clients don’t tolerate bullshit, and big-name clients show the firm is well-respected in their field.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm

Tip #1: Deliverable submittal packages

Check whether a firm will provide not only drawings and specs but also all other necessary documents. This includes project documentation, utility applications, and more. You want a one-stop shop for your project.

Tip #2: Quality control

Inquire about a firm’s in-house quality control protocols to minimize project errors.

#5 How creative is the firm? 

golden gate bridge black and white
Golden Gate Bridge (Photo Credit: Angel Origgi)

Creativity and engineering go hand in hand, especially when it comes to complex challenges that demand inventive solutions. For example, consider the creative engineering behind the Golden Gate Bridge. This should give you an idea of what to look for in a firm.

But remember, you’re paying expert professionals to do the heavy lifting, so don’t micromanage the design process.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm 

Tip #1: Understand the design approach

Ask questions about your project and see what kind of solutions the firm offers right away. Look for innovative, simple, yet effective ideas.

Tip #2: Customer design suggestions

A good engineering firm won’t blindly follow your design suggestions. Instead, they should analyze your project scope and provide input, even if your idea seems fantastic. After all, you’re not the expert – you need professional advice to avoid future design problems.

Tip #3: Work samples

Request project samples to gauge the firm’s experience. Don’t rely solely on website claims. A firm could say they designed the Empire State Building, but they might have only submitted a preliminary design that was rejected.

#6 What’s the firm’s track record?

Choose a firm with a stellar track record. If they’ve burned even one customer, steer clear. You don’t want to be their next victim. Remember, there are always three sides to every story: what others think happened, what the firm thinks happened, and what actually went down.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm 

Tip #1: Google search

Do a deep Google dive, and search for any dirty laundry.

Tip #2: disgruntled customers

If a firm has a bad reputation but denies it, ask to speak with their disgruntled customers. If the firm knows they weren’t in the wrong, they’ll gladly provide you with the requested information. Then, after speaking with both sides, make the final judgment call.

#7 What’s the firm’s billing rate?

No doubt, cost plays a big role in your decision. You want to make sure a firm can stick to your budget.

But don’t sacrifice quality for a bargain. You get what you pay for. Aim for the sweet spot between quality and cost. And remember, even pricey firms can deliver shoddy work.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm 

Tip #1: Quality versus cost

If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Do some homework on the firm to assess their work quality.

Tip #2: Break it down

If you only get a lump sum cost, ask for a detailed breakdown by task.

Tip #3: Get the cost structure

Learn about a firm’s cost structure to better understand the project’s total effort. Do this by asking cost-specific questions and comparing quotes from other firms.

Tip #4: Don’t be a cheapskate

Quality engineering isn’t cheap. If you try to haggle too much with a top-notch engineering firm, they might just send you packin’.

In the grand scheme of things, the initial design cost is small potatoes. Quality engineering will save you from unnecessary expenses down the road.

#8 What type of insurance does the firm hold?

Insurance is crucial for any engineering project. If something goes sideways, your project needs to be covered.

Think of it like hiring a contractor for a home renovation. You wouldn’t hire someone without insurance, right? The same goes for engineering projects. Make sure the firm’s got the right insurance and coverage.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm

Tip #1: Insurance coverage limit

If a firm doesn’t have the insurance coverage limit you need, don’t write them off just yet. Engineering insurance isn’t cheap.

Sometimes firms downgrade their coverage when they’re not working on big projects, but they’ll upgrade when the big jobs roll in. It’s pretty common.

Tip #2: Coverage versus quality of work

Low insurance coverage doesn’t necessarily mean a firm’s inexperienced. It might just reflect the kind of work they’re doing at the moment, in most cases at least.

For instance, a firm might specialize in hydroelectric design, but if they’re only working on solar projects for a year, their professional liability insurance might be $1 million instead of $5 million.

#9 What’s the firm’s delivery timeline?

You definitely don’t want your project dragging on forever, especially when you’re working with a tight deadline. So, it’s essential to find a firm that can fit your timetable like a glove.

As you chat with different firms, you’ll quickly discover that project timelines can differ dramatically. Some may claim they can wrap things up in 3 months, while others might need a whole year. My advice? Seek out experienced firms first. Then, double-check they can deliver your project within your desired timeframe, as long as it’s realistic.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm

Tip #1: Set an ambitious project timeline

Don’t be afraid to push the envelope with your proposed timeline. Firms tend to push back and try to extend deadlines, and unexpected hiccups are all too common.

Tip #2: Request a detailed project schedule

Before you sign on the dotted line, ask for a comprehensive project timeline. This way, you’ll have a record of the agreed-upon schedule and any potential contingencies.

#10 How responsive is the firm?

smoke signal looking for a response
Photo Credit: Hugo Jehanne (image cropped)

One thing that really gets under my skin is unresponsiveness. You know, when it takes ages to get a simple response. Trust me, nobody is that swamped! It all boils down to priorities and sheer laziness.

I’ve had instances where I dangled tens of thousands of dollars in front of engineering firms for projects, and all they had to do was sign the contract. But, even after multiple follow-ups, it took them weeks to sign. And these were firms that had approached me for work previously! Their excuse?

“Sorry, I was slammed with work. You know how it is?…”

Newsflash: I don’t buy it.

In a nutshell, I’ll always happily pay extra for a responsive firm. Not only will you save cash by speeding up the project, but you’ll also keep your sanity intact. When you’re shelling out big bucks, open lines of communication should be a given.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm

Tip #1: Schedule a face-to-face meeting

Arrange to meet your project’s direct point of contact in person. You can learn a lot about someone through face-to-face interactions.

Tip #2: Test their responsiveness

Ask plenty of questions before settling on a firm to see how responsive they are. If they’re slow to reply or give rude responses, then it’s time to hit the road. Remember, at this stage, firms should be eager to win your business.

Tip #3: Discuss communication preferences

Find out how they’ll keep you in the loop regarding project progress. Will it be through direct emails, video conferences, or in-person meetings?

Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not suggesting you constantly hover over a firm’s shoulder. That would be a nightmare! Instead, aim for a healthy balance in communication between you and the firm.

#11 Does the firm hold all the necessary licenses?

It’s a no-brainer, but the firm must have all the required licenses to take on your project. Otherwise, you won’t be able to submit your design for approval—assuming, of course, that your project needs a license.

Having all the right licenses under one roof makes everything run like clockwork. It’s like having a one-stop-shop for all your engineering needs. With everything in one place, the coordination between engineers just gets better and better.

Added tips for choosing an engineering firm

Tip #1: Know your project’s licensing needs

Don’t be shy—ask what types of licenses your project calls for.

Tip #2: Get the scoop on their licenses

Request license numbers and double-check that they’re active and free of any penalties.

“How to choose an engineering firm?” wrap up

Sure, finding and selecting an engineering firm can be a bit of a slog. But trust me, it’s worth every ounce of effort. Once you find the right fit, you’ll have a rock-solid partner you can count on for years to come.

In my experience, most clients I’ve worked with keep coming back for more, year after year. It’s like having a go-to plumber or electrician who’s practically part of the family—you’ve got their number on speed dial.

What are your thoughts on how to choose an engineering firm? Which qualities matter most to you when hiring an engineering firm?


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