Bid Specs--A Better Way

Over the last three posts, I’ve detailed what I think is wrong with the Bid Spec process. It’s too broad, too specific, it’s bad for integrators, and it’s bad for churches. Ultimately, no one really wins in a job like that. I believe that most integrators want to develop a partnership with their clients. In a partnership, everyone does their part and everyone wins. Those are the systems we come away from saying, “Wow…that’s a great AVL installation!” 

Win-Win Partnership

One of my pet peeves of the Church is that some inside the Church seem to feel that because it’s, “All for Jesus…” that they should get stuff for free, or at least heavily discounted. I know builders, electricians, plumbers, etc. who won’t work for churches any more because they were constantly beat up over their fees. My brothers, this should not be. Even when I was a TD on church staff I saw this, and I campaigned against it. I told our pastors, “When you stop taking a salary, then you can tell the contractors they have to cut their rate.” 

All companies, even those that serve the Church, are in business to make money. They have to in order to stay in business. And believe me…you want your integrator to stay in business! We can probably all recount stories of integrators who worked for cheap or free because it was for the Church, then went out of business leaving all those churches with no support. 

A good win-win partnership means the church gets a system that is designed properly for them and will accomplish their goals and the integrator gets paid fairly for, without having to work 20 hour days to get it done. 

And don’t play the game of, “If you give me a killer deal on this project, there will be plenty more after this to make it up on,” all the while planning on moving on to the next integrator when this project is done. 

Choose Based on Compatibility

There are a lot of good integrators our there, and each has a slightly different personality. Not every integrator is the best choice for every church. I often tell TDs that when choosing an integrator, pick someone you won’t mind hanging out with for a few months, because you’re going to spend a lot of time together. You should meet the person who will actually be running your project and make sure he gets what you’re trying to do. 

If you are a more traditional church, it may not be the best idea to pick an integrator known for creating big, loud, modern concert-like systems. Sure, that company can do a simple, traditional system, but it’s not in their wheelhouse. The reverse is also true. Some companies do biggest and best. And if that’s what you need, go for it. But others excel in delivering a great system at an excellent value and that might be more in line with your church. Make sure the two philosophies align.

Create Transparency

The best partnerships are based on transparency and trust. Neither party is holding back and secretly trying to win at the expense of the other. As a church, don’t bring in an integrator with the idea of a project being one way, then withhold information or switch it up after they’ve signed the agreement. 

Make sure everyone that is going to have a say in the system is in the room when decisions are made. I’ve seen churches completely exclude the TD from an AVL renovation, and when the system is done, the TD has nothing good to say about the process or the integrator. This is inexplicable to me, though I’ve heard some pastors claim their TD “only wants to spend money.” This is a shortsighted approach. 

The integrator should show you what you’re paying for things, as well. However, be careful about trying to whittle down every line item price to the lowest cost you can find on the internet. There will always be someone willing to sell any particular item for less than your integrator. But are they going to be sure it’s the right product for you, install it and support it? Probably not. Support after the sale costs money, don’t put your support system out of business. 

The Better Way

Ultimately, if I were choosing an integrator for a project (something I’ve done as a TD many times), I would do it based on relationships. If you’re new to the market, get some recommendations from similar churches who had successful projects. Talk to friends and find out who they like. Then interview 2-3 of the top recommended companies for you. You may need to pay their travel expenses to come out and see you for a day or two. Choose the company that gets you and that you like talking with, then go all-in with them. After the design agreement has been signed, they can begin working up the details for your project. 

A good integrator will be able to give you ballpark pricing and design ideas beforehand so you know where you’re starting, but don’t expect a fully fleshed out design document until you’ve agreed to pay for it. 

Well, there you go. My thoughts on how to best choose an integrator for you project. Having been on both sides of the fence, I’m confident this is in fact, the best way. Choose wisely!

Bid Specs--Bad For Churches

Continuing on our series on Bid Specs, today we’ll talk about why I think they are bad for churches as well as integrators. We’ve already talked about why I think Bid Specs are problematic in a generic sense, and how they are a challenge for integrators. One might be tempted to think that I’m writing this from a selfish perspective. I do work for an integrator, after all, and if Bid Specs are bad for integrators, it stands to reason that I don’t like them.

But here’s the thing; I’ve worked for churches approximately 5 times longer than I’ve worked for an integrator. And I’ve been leading build projects as a volunteer or staff member for about 12 times longer than I’ve been an integrator. I’ve also helped other churches with their projects, so I’ve seen this from all sides. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s a good way to go, even for the church that is looking for the “best deal.” Here’s why.

Unrealistic Budgets

As previously mentioned, Bid Specs suffer from being either too broad or too specific. Or both simultaneously. In either case, the integrator will hedge his bets so he’s not left holding the bag when the project is finally properly defined. Other integrators will bid low to get the job, figuring they can change order their way back to profitability as the project evolves. Either way, the church is looking at budgets that are either too low or too high. 

Again, there is not necessarily malice on the part of the integrators here. While there may be a few out there looking to make a quick buck, most are honorable people who like serving the Church. But given the inherent flaws in the Bid Spec process, it’s almost impossible to do so well. 

You’re Paying Too Much

I would be willing to bet that most times when a church does a Bid Spec, they end up paying too much. How is this possible when the whole idea is to get the best deal? Think back over all the problems we discussed: The specs aren’t accurate, the equipment list came from Church Production Magazine, over bidding, under bidding, generic designs. All of these things will lead to a higher cost in the end. 

Moreover, it’s likely that the church issuing the Bid Spec is not very well versed on the current state of technology. They may be unaware of newer equipment that is less expensive that will work very well for their application. As a result, they may be spending a lot more paying for the “old standard” while missing out on some newer winners. Every industry has manufacturers and products that fall into the category of, “You can get more but you can’t pay more.” But, with heavy marketing dollars and a good reputation, those are often the products that show up in the Bid Spec.

Lack of Customization

Good integrators pride themselves on delivering solutions that are designed for each client. They may work with packages of gear they’ve standardized on because they know it works, but it will be selected and placed for the specific church in question. A Bid Spec usually eliminates that. Because there is no real design going on, the bid tends to end up in the place of, “We’re pretty sure this will all work OK, and it’s basically what you asked for.” 

I’m not going to be proud of a system like that, and ultimately, the church won’t be as happy as they should be. Sure, it could be better than the 15 year old system they have—that was likely Bid Spec’d—but it’s not the ideal solution. 

Overall, there’s not a lot to love about the Bid Spec process. I cringe whenever I’m asked to do one, because I know that no one really wins. Sure, we may get the job, and the church may get a bunch of new gear, but do we really all come away feeling good about it? That’s the process we’ll talk about next time: A Better Way.

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Bid Specs--Challenging for Integrators

We’ve been talking about Bid Specs. Last time, I talked about some of the problems with Bid Specs in general; they are often too broad, too narrow (sometimes at the same time), and they tend to be light on design. It is my belief that generally speaking, Bid Spec projects are less than ideal, both for the church and for integrators. Next time I’ll share why I think it’s not good for the church, but today, we’ll focus on why integrators don’t love Bid Specs.

Over Bidding

One of the challenges for an integrator when faced with a Bid Spec is the tendency to over-bid the project. That’s because there isn’t enough detail in the spec, and in order to protect themselves, they’ll pad the project. It’s not (typically) an attempt to over-charge the church; it’s simply that there are too many unknowns, and as the job develops, costs are going to go up. And often, the church wants to hold the provider to the budget they submitted, the integrator ends up eating the cost. 

Keep in mind, this bid was what I call “best guess.” Based on the very limited information in the spec, we take our best guess at what might work. Of course, the downside to overbidding a Bid Spec job is that another firm will take a different approach.

Under Bidding

Many times, the point of the Bid Spec is for the church to get the best deal. If you’ve read this website for any length of time, you know I’ve talked a lot about the difference between a good deal and the best price. The two are often not the same. Since we know the church wants the best price, some companies will bid low, figuring they can change order the job up as it develops. 

Of course, the down side to this is that if the church refuses the change orders and demands the integrator honor their original bid—which was based on an incomplete document, remember—the integrator eats the cost. That’s not a good business model for the long term. 

Generic Design

Most integrators like to be proud of their work. They want each project, no matter how big or small, to be one that they could take prospective clients to and show off. Another challenge of a Bid Spec is that it forces integrators to use generic designs. They make take a PA from one project, a video system from another and a lighting system from a third. Those could be fine designs in and of themselves, but do they really fit the church in question? Is the equipment, the layout and functionality really what the church needs? It’s hard to say; it’s our best guess. 

Best Guess, Mr. Sulu

I don’t remember which Star Trek movie it was, but Captain Kirk asked Sulu to plot a course somewhere. The ship had suffered damage and the computer wasn’t working right. When Sulu pointed this out, Kirk’s response was, “Best guess, Mr. Sulu.” 

I’ve used that phrase a lot in this series, and you’ll keep seeing it. When we’re working on a Bid Spec, you’re getting the integrator’s best guess. Now, if they’re a good integrator, that may be pretty solid. It may get you in the ballpark. However, do you want the best guess, or do you want the best system they can design for you? A near miss or spot on target? Some churches rationalize that even a “best guess” is better than what they have now; but what if that’s only because the current system was also a best guess?

Personally, when I’m working on a project, I take great pride in getting the details right. Details that make the system just the right system for that church. Sometimes those details are similar among systems, but often, it’s the way the whole thing is put together that takes it from good to great. 

Hopefully I’ve made a good case for why I think Bid Specs are not great for integrators. Next time, I’ll talk about why I think they are not good for churches, either.

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