Keith, good topic.
A few question / issues to consider:
- How strategic is this business to you? Alternatively put, is this the type of project that you want to expand to? Even if it makes you money short term, if it does not lead to something bigger, probably not a good use of time.
- How far out of your league is the project? Is it a 'just' a stretch or something that you have no clue in? Will it take tens of hours to learn or hundreds, etc.?
- How busy are you? If you have free time / spare resources, more worth considering.
- How many more headaches can you tolerate? Such projects will always have a number so need to figure out if you will accept that.
I have a very similar client I am proposing right now as well. The project we are proposing will include the following:
1) Network and WiFi
2) Surveillance system
3) Pro audio system
4) HDTV displays
5) Controls system
6) Wash lighting
My business partner and I have the ability to handle all of these ourselves without outside help. My partner, Kyle (also a member here) has a strong pro-audio background. Without him, I wouldn't take on the audio or control portion of this project.
Good news for the client is that we have the ability, between us, to handle each of these different segments of the project under one contract. There won't be finger pointing between contractors when something goes wrong. They will have a single source for repairs and warranty work. We can integrate most of the systems and control them with a single interface.
I guess my input would be that if you don't have anyone you trust with extensive knowledge fo pro audio, I would try to pass on that portion of the project. Pro audio is much more diffucult to do right than most would think. We spent by far more time planning and researching the audio/control portion of this project than the network/camera/HDTV/lighting combined.
I would think that it makes sense to at least investigate potential partner(s) in that area. A good partnership could enhance both companies' business - you could potentially see increased business referred by the partner as well as from being able to offer the partner's services for future projects.
I have a similar situation in that prior to last year I was strictly a computer tech and had not installed one single camera in my life. My best business client asked me about camera systems and I initially told them I knew nothing about them. After sitting-in on their first meeting with a very 'slick' security salesman, I decided to look further into the video world. I quickly realized that the modern IP camera systems were nothing more than computer networks with cameras at the end of the cable instead of PC's, and was pretty sure I could adapt my computer skills to video.
After doing a huge amount of research (thank you IPVM), I discussed the idea of doing my first video installation for them. My approach was basically "honesty is the best policy". They knew up front I was learning and that there might be some hiccups, and I kew they were taking a chance with me, so I made it worth their while financially so that I could "learn on the job".
I'm not going to lie, the thought of accepting the responsibility of designing and installing a 30+ camera system in a industrial type business as my very first job was a bit un-nerving. However, the beauty of a relationship like this can be a win-win situation for both client and integrator. The client gets a known, trusted person to do the work and usually gets more personalized service to boot, and for the newbie integrator, well he gets his first job under his belt and gets paid (albeit not top prices) to boot.
I now have them up and running with a custom server running a VMS and 15 cameras so far. Although I have a long way to go, thanks to this job and again IPVM, I no longer consider myself a newbie and have self-promoted myself to Rookie! My clients are extremely happy with the end product and even though I'm not even finished with their job, they have started recommending me to their business colleagues.
In the end, as long as you feel confident in your abilities and your potential to learn, this kind of partnership is a win-win for you and your client. Number one thing though is to be open, frank, and honest with them so both sides know the situation and expectations are aligned.
Hope this helps.
IPVMU Certified | 10/15/14 11:47pm
I had something similar come up a year ago, we took the job and asked a sub who we had worked with before, to work with us on it. Learned a lot and got us in to a new market and expanded our product offerings because of it. We didn't make as much as we could have but the learning experience was worth it in my opinion. It wasnt easy.
One basic rule might be "Follow your customers". If your top customer(s) asks you if you can do a certain thing, always answer "Yes!", but tell them you must check with your enginnering department to be sure. You can negotiate back to "No" in the future, but it is difficult or impossible to negotiate back to "Yes". If you answer in the affirmative:
- You can gather the necesary skills or relationships to do a creditable, honest job for the customer, and possible move your company into a new, profitable, related industry.
- Your customer may not know our secret industry acronyms and buzz words, and may actually be asking for something you are capable of doing.
- If you don't do it, they might find someone else who also has the ability to supplant your core business with that customer.
- If you really don't want to, or can't perform the tast, do research to find the customer a qualified dealer (who doesn't compete with you!), and provide your customer the name and references of other end users who have used their services.
I had a security dealer tell me a story about answering "no" to a good customer's request for an extensive sound system. Six months later, while visiting the customer, they discovered the customer had purchased a very large video door entry intercom system from a competitor. The dealer, somewhat put out, asked why they had not been invited in to quote it, and was told they were, but said they didn't do sound systems. The dealer pointed out that the system was a video door entry system, not a sound system, and the customer responded..."I don't know what you call it, but we push a button and sound comes out"
Build connections with professionals who can work for you as subcontractor.
You can keep your bit, and next time they can involve you in a project which is your profession.
If you can, hire a subcontractor and keep close tabs on them. Watch and learn as much as you can. Maybe you'll be able to do it yourself next time.
If you don't have time for this kind of close supervision, or if you simply can't see youself ever getting into that field, pass the job along to a buddy and ask for a small but reasonable cut or kickback.
If you feel like you can do the job, treat it like a learning opportunity. If you break even financially and gain a happy customer, you'll have a new product line to sell.
If you have an interest in expanding into that vertical then find a good local company and partner. Tell them exactly what your plans are and see if they are willing to work with you. A true businessman knows that the market is better with good competition to keep prices in line with the costs to offer the products and services. Do not think you will be seen as a threat.
If you just want to make sure your client is taken care of then find a good local company and let them do it. I recommend their contract is direct and you have some PM direct to client. You do not want to have to cash flow a scope you do not undrstand how to evalute for quality. You are the eyes and ears for the client and make sure all scheduled deliverables are met.
I gave the project back to my customer. He is spending a ton of money to get this place up and running so I didnt one to be the one responsible for a opening night blunder.
I tried finding a subcontractor I could trust but that turned out to be alot harder than it sounds since I have never done this type of project.