by Jeff Hardy
It’s hard to put together an accurate community budget for the new fiscal year without getting proposals for the recurring services that are the responsibility of the community. As a general rule, August or September is the right time to send out Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) for the next year. That way, you have some hard costs to plug into the proposed community budget.
You should not plug the lowest bidder’s proposal amount into the budget, the lowest bidder might have misjudged the costs of performing the job or worse, might be planning on cutting corners to make up for the low bid. It’s generally best to take the median proposal amount and use that for the proposed community budget. That way, the community officers will have choices in whom they select for each job and still stay within the budgeted amount.
I am going to assume that most community managers already have specifications written for the normal recurring community services like lawn maintenance, pool management, snow removal, trash removal, annual audit and tax return, etc. So rather than focus on those, I think it would be more helpful to discuss how to find a contractor for one-time or unusual jobs.
Unusual or one-off jobs
I managed a community years ago that had several tennis courts. The tennis court surface had taken a beating over the years and needed to be resurfaced and the nets replaced. Never having done a spec on tennis court resurfacing before but needing one so I could get several competitive bids, I went to the Yellow Pages. (Today that would be a search engine like Google.) I found several companies listed under the headings “Tennis” and “Tennis Court Construction”. One had an emblem in their ad showing they belonged to a national tennis court association. That’s the contractor I called first to setup an appointment to meet at the community’s tennis court.
While meeting with the contractor at the tennis courts, I made notes about the things he said needed to be done to repair the cracks in the asphalt courts and how his company would approach doing the resurfacing. To do it right, the courts needed prep work where the cracks would be filled, then a base coat to seal it and a finish coat to complete the job with the lines repainted with a special paint. The old posts and torn nets would also be replaced with commercial grade equipment designed for public parks that get hard use. My notes from this meeting became the basis for writing a set of specs that I then used to get other bids on repairing and resurfacing the tennis courts. The courts were successfully resurfaced and the new surface lasted for years, so my board of directors was very happy with the job that was done.
Writing the Specs for the Work You Need Done
Having written specs, even for basic services like lawn maintenance (how many cuts in a season) or snow removal (when snow reaches a certain depth) is essential to getting a proper RFP and selecting the right contractor. The above story underscores one way to approach writing specs for an unusual job—pick the brain of an expert in that field, then write the specs based on the information you get. Another way would be to look for specs online.
There is a wealth of information on just about any subject that is just an internet search away—including specs or the information needed to write specs. If you don’t have strong written specs, you will get bids that may not be comparable when the community officers review them to make a decision on awarding the job. Further, the resulting job may not be done adequately to fix whatever the issue was—which then presents a problem which makes the manager look badly.
Tip – As you write a new spec either for an unusual job or a normal recurring job, be sure to store it in a spec library so you can use it again in the future, and others within your organization have it as a resource as well.
Finding potential Vendors
So you have your specs, how do you find qualified contractors? Of course, if you are an experienced community manager, you’re going to know a number of contractors in your area that do normal work like lawn maintenance, plumbers, electricians, snow removal, pool management, etc. But if you are new to community management, then use the following resources to identify potential contractors:
- Google Local Search – look for companies the belong to a professional organization. (You make it 'local' by adding your location to the search string, like "Tennis Court Repairs in Tampa Bay")
- Angie’s List – it’s only a few dollars a month and there are contractors for most kinds of maintenance work, plus, you can see their customer satisfaction rating.
- Yelp – yes, Yelp now has categories for different kinds of contractors and you can see their customer satisfaction rating.
- Referrals – ask other community managers or existing contractors you work with for referrals to other non-competing contractors.
To get you thinking about how to write a proper RFP, I've created a sample template that you can download. It shows the main items you need to consider in every RFP you send to contractors in order to get bids.
When you work with contractors, you are literally the “middle-man” (or woman) between the contractor and the community officers. You are not actually doing the work, but you are responsible for that job being done properly. Having a good set of specs for the work, then selecting a qualified contractor greatly increases your odds of getting a well done job. A well done job makes you, the community manager, look more professional and credible in the eyes of the community officers.
Specs and RFP’s, both are essential tools for the successful community manager and for creating an accurate community budget.
We've prepared a free RFP Template for you to download. While every RFP is different, this template will give you a layout and a basic understanding of how it should look.