Dealing with professional advisors

At several points in the process of implementing a project it will  be necessary to take advice from professionals who have information or skills that are not necessarily available to the project team  These  could include:

  • Architect
  • Building contractor
  • Quantity surveyor
  • Mechanical/or electrical engineer
  • Financial advisor
  • Solicitor
  • Accountant
  • Business Plan consultant

As a starting point it is useful to know:

  • What different kinds of professionals do
  • What processes are available to select them
  • What your project team may need to think about before taking professional advice

The kind of advice you may need will depend on:

  • The kind of project being developed and its specific circumstances.
  • The skills and resources available to the organisation or individuals championing the project, and
  • Whether an existing organisation is seeking to develop and implement the project or whether an organisation will need to be established.

Identifying advisors

Ask advice. If you are looking for a professional advisor have a word first with your COSS advisor who will be able to help. In addition, professional associations can be contacted to find professionals in the area where the project is based. Some associations also provide examples of contracts or terms of appointment for professional advisors.

Check out their experience. You can directly approach people for information about the services they provide and their experience and qualifications. All advisors will be accustomed to providing evidence of their qualifications and experience and will be reassured when it is asked for as this demonstrates a sensible and informed approach.

Criteria for selection. Whatever the circumstances, the following general principles should be applied to the selection of all advisors and contractors to provide advice and services:

  • They should be suitably qualified - this can be checked by ensuring that they are registered with a relevant professional body
  • They should be suitably insured - evidence (policy certificates) can be requested from potential advisors that they are insured against any liabilities arising from any poor quality work they do or advice they give. This may include professional indemnity insurance and collateral warranties
  • They should have relevant experience - projects are often complicated and advisors with experience in working for not for profit community based organisations may not be easily available in your area. But it is important to use someone with relevant experience not only in the type of project you are proposing but also the way in which you want to deliver it.

Get recommendations. You can find professionals with relevant experience by researching those who have worked on other similar projects, and speaking to the people who commissioned them to see if they were happy with the work delivered. In other words, through testimonials or references from previous clients. These can be sought in writing or over the telephone, preferably from a person who had direct contact with the advisors concerned.

Selecting Advisors

Once several qualified and suitably experienced advisors have been identified you can select the one you want to work with using one of a number of methods. The three most popular methods are:

  • Negotiated Fee Bid
  • Quality/Price Balance Method
  • Design Competition

You can find out more about these methods and the circumstances in which they are most commonly used in the ‘Your Buildings, Your Future’ publication by Matt Bridgestock, which is available to download at the bottom of this page.

A prevalent view is to appoint on the basis of the lowest price. Whilst this may be appropriate for well specified building works for example (even then it is questionable) it is not likely to produce the results you want when selecting design and legal advisors with whom you may need to have more dialogue to ensure they are clear about exactly what is needed or indeed possible. Moreover, you may be willing and able to pay a higher price for design solutions that are particularly innovative and, for example, reduce the running costs of a building, make the building more accessible and attractive to people, or enable it to be used in a more flexible way and so meet a wider range of local needs.

When selecting advisors, you will need to give them enough time to prepare a proposal for you. This might involve a site visit, bringing together a suitable team including sub-contractors, or further discussions with you to understand exactly what is required. As a rough guide, two weeks might be enough time to prepare a proposal for a feasibility study, four weeks might be more appropriate for a full project proposal.

Briefing and instructing advisors

It is worth remembering that professional advisors are specialists who often have their own jargon and ways of doing things. They are experts who may find it difficult to communicate in simple terms. Dealing with them will therefore require:

Preparation -a tailor made brief (or set of instructions) produced for the advisor. All briefs/instructions to advisors should be based on achieving the objectives of the project and overcoming the issues that may be faced in implementing it. As a minimum, briefings should include clear information on the following:

  • A vision for the project
  • A description of the site that is to be acquired or developed
  • What you want the professional advice in question to achieve for the project.
  • Who the project is intended to benefit (including where possible the number of people who may use the site and any particular needs they may have)
  • What activities you see taking place in the building or on the land and an idea of how the space should feel
  • What legal and operational issues there are in relation to the site (such as extent of ownership, access, surrounding uses, availability of utilities)
  • The people and organisations that need to be involved in the design of the space
  • What aspirations you have in relation to sustainability – in terms of running costs or environmental impacts
  • Timescales – how long you expect each stage of the project to take
  • What resources are being sought to deliver the project
  • Any particular concerns or queries that need to be addressed.
  • Which people in your organization are empowered to issue instructions to or receive advice from advisors.

Costs of advice

Some professional advisors offer pro bono (free) advice for the initial assessment stage of projects. It is important that no formal commitment to appoint them to work on future stages of a project is made to professional advisors at this stage, as this may not be acceptable to the project’s funding bodies, which may have very specific requirements for the selection process and agreement of professional fees they will pay for in relation to projects.

Different professionals also charge in different ways. Fees for land and building professionals, for example, are mostly related to the total costs of the building contract. For other professional advice, different rates may be used –for example charging for advice by the hour or day and seeking reimbursement of a range of expenses associated with the work (for documents, permits, travel expenses, subsistence, etc).

It is possible to ask for the work to be quoted for on a fixed fee basis and the hourly and daily rates that would apply for extra work not covered by the fixed fee. An estimate of the expenses that will be payable in addition to the fee can also be requested. Most of these charges will be subject to VAT. Whatever the rates being charged they should be agreed in writing before any work is carried out.


Related Resources

Your Buildings, Your Future

A guide to commissioning sustainable architecture for community organisations.

By Matt Bridgestock

PDF icon Your Buildings, Your Future