How to Get the Best Deal for Church Technology

If your church has been thinking about purchasing or upgrading a sound, video, or lighting system, then you likely have a few questions.

How do you get the best deal for your next tech upgrade at church?

How do you know if a contractor is giving you a fair price?

How do you decide if one proposal is the right solution or if you should select another bid (even if it might be a little higher)?

When is it good to buy equipment online or from a music store, and when should you get a contractor involved?

These are important questions.

The answer to these questions can make your project go super smooth, or it could be a disaster that ends up over budget and still doesn’t fully meet your needs.

Disclaimer: I’ve been a Sound Tech, Tech Director, Contractor, and Consultant at different times over the last 20 years (sometimes all of them at once). I’ve see projects go amazingly well and I’ve seen others completely fall apart. The tips shared here are from lessons learned along the way. Hopefully they can be of help to you and your church. 

How To Plan & Prepare

It’s no secret that successful projects start with good planning and thoughtful preparation. But you need to do a little more than simply compile a wish list of what your technology system will look like or have in it.

One of the most important things a church can do when preparing for a new tech project is to consider the deeper reason for why you need or want the equipment in question.

Technology upgrades are not simply about numbers and tech specs. The ultimate goal is to fulfill the mission and purpose of the church.

I know that is a broad and general statement, but you’d be surprised at how many churches look for new equipment without really considering the bigger picture of how it truly helps them deliver the Word.

It’s also true that a lot of contractors or sales engineers might not understand how important this philosophy is for a church.

5 Quick Tips for Church Tech Planning

  1. Write down the mission of your church and then specifically define why the system or equipment you are considering will help you better fulfill that mission.
  2. Understand where technology systems fit within the other ministry functions of your church in respect to use, benefit, and budget.
  3. Consider the future needs of your church and factor in variables like congregation growth, special event needs, worship styles, and ongoing maintenance requirements.
  4. Work with the leadership team to ensure everyone has the same understanding of goals and realistic expectations for any technology upgrades.
  5. Think about the different groups that will need to use and operate the technology systems and factor in the level of skill required to use the gear effectively.

Following these quick tips will help clarify your needs and expectations for new installations or upgrades.

Once you have a good understanding of your needs and how fulfilling those needs can assist your mission, it’s time to dig into the details.

Details (and what matters)

Your church has specific needs that are rather unique, especially when it comes to audio, video, and lighting requirements. Those needs are likely very different than the church across town.

This means that the details of your particular project matter. A lot.

Don’t be afraid of getting specific with your church tech requests. In fact, the more detail you can provide, the better chance that you’ll end up with the right system and components.

  • What is the most important result you want to achieve by implementing the new equipment or system?
  • How long do you need your new tech gear to last before major repair or replacement?
  • How can your tech solutions grow and adapt as your church grows?
  • What are the specific requirements of your new system components (e.g. sound quality, video image size, lighting effects, etc.)?
  • Are there any special needs to consider for your sanctuary or meeting space?

And these next two questions are so important that the answers can immediately determine the gear you need to get (and what you should avoid).

  • Who will be responsible for operating and maintaining your tech systems?
  • Are they trained or will there be training provided as part of the upgrade?

The systems, equipment, and training that will work for you should be defined by your specific needs and technical requirements.

Church tech solutions are rarely “one-size-fits-all”.

Price is certainly a factor in getting "the best deal", but you must always balance out the other qualities of what you need in order to make an informed decision.

How To Get the Best Deal

Getting the best deal is not just about finding the lowest price for something.

This part really comes down to maximizing value.

What is the best solution for the budget you have?

A lot of churches avoid stating their budget for fear that a contractor or sales engineer will overprice a system or sell them a bunch of parts they don’t need.

In my experience this is seldom the case, and a reputable contractor or designer will work very hard to get you the best solution for the budget you have.

Defining your budget is one of the best things you can do to know if you’re getting the best deal.

Once you have a general budget and basic details in hand, you can then seek out the advice of various contractors, consultants, or suppliers depending on the scope of your project.

Even if you plan to do all of the installation work yourself, it can be helpful to get an opinion from a qualified person that regularly works with the equipment you are considering.

The right consultant or contractor can truly become a ministry partner, helping you fulfill your needs and mission.

Take the time to interview and select the right folks for your job and invest in building the relationship.

This relationship can really be one of the best things you can do to save time and money in the long run, and you get the added benefit of growing with a technology partner.

How To Budget

There is a right way and a wrong way to approach the budget for your church tech project.

Here’s the wrong way:

  • Send a contractor or supplier an email with your proposed system or equipment list and ask them for a quote.
  • Take your product wish list and go online to find the lowest price for each component you think you need.
  • Enter those prices in a spreadsheet and add everything up.
  • Compare your online research with the quote from the contractor or supplier.
  • Get frustrated that the contractor is ripping you off and charging too much.

This is a simplified example, but you’d be surprised how often this exact scenario plays out in church planning groups.

There are several things wrong with the steps above.

First, they are out of order (more on that in a moment).

Second, there probably isn’t enough detail in the equipment list, bid, or the budget to really determine if you are getting the great deal you want.

And third, there is an assumption that a contractor or supplier is ripping you off because they have a higher price than an online supplier.

There is a better way to start the budget process that will provide much better results. 

The right way to budget for church tech:

  • Do your own research or work with a consultant to establish an equipment list that meets your specific needs. (This can involve visiting other churches, calling manufacturers, and working with engineers to understand what components will work best for your particular facility and system.)
  • Compile your equipment list and model numbers, then seek out accurate market pricing for the equipment. (Never base budget pricing off of prices you might find on Amazon, eBay, or other “bargain” websites.)
  • Factor in engineering, labor, programming, and training costs to your budget. These will certainly vary depending on the size and scope of your project. It’s OK if you don’t know what these costs will be yet, but adding a basic line item or placeholder will help you assess your budget and bids when they are presented.
  • Compile your notes about the specific equipment needs and performance requirements, and then submit your equipment list, details, and anticipated budget to a contractor or supplier.
  • Communicate clearly with the people working on your proposal to ensure that they have a good understanding of what you want and need.

Starting your planning and budgeting with this method will give you insight into the real-world costs of various equipment and it will show your contractor or supplier that you are thoughtfully engaged in the proposal process.

The more specific you are with the budgeting and request for proposal (RFP) process, the more clear and accurate your returned proposals and bids should be.

Selecting the Right Solution

Once you’ve received a list of bids and proposals, it’s time to compare them and see which one best meets your needs.

Be careful though.

This step could be more confusing than it sounds.

Depending on the level of detail in your request for a proposal, you could get any variety of quotes and bids.

Some of the bids may be a basic paragraph on company letterhead with a title for the system or equipment and a single price.

Other proposals may break the price out by sub-systems or even individual components.

Other quotes might have detailed descriptions of how the contractor or supplier expects to install the system and they may even include preliminary product data or drawings.

There is no right or wrong proposal format, but the documentation provided to you should be detailed enough so that you can be assured that the contractor or supplier understands your needs and is delivering the right products and services for the project.

It is also important to understand what is included and excluded with each proposal.

You may need to specifically ask each bidder what is included or excluded once you’ve reviewed your options.

Again, competitive pricing is only one component of selecting the best solution and getting the best deal.

This process is all about determining the ultimate value and “bang for the buck” that the bidder provides.

Resist the temptation to share competing bid details with other contractors.

This is unethical, and it isn’t the right way to treat your potential partners and solutions providers.

If you are unsure about how to determine the value of a proposal, hire a third party (like a consultant or systems engineer) to review the documentation and help with the selection and qualification process.

Tools to help you get it right

There are several tools and techniques available that help you with the budgeting and planning process.

Here's what we're going to cover:

  • Simple Organization Tools
  • Collaboration & Planning Tools
  • Budget Pricing Tools
  • Request For Proposal Tools
  • The Best Budget Tool for Church Tech (includes a product review)
  • Summary & Recap

If you want the quick summary, simply scroll to the bottom for a brief recap and bullet points.

OK, let's dig in!

Simple Organization Tools

There are a lot of tools you can use to plan for your future church tech systems and prepare a budget.

One of the most common tools is to use a spreadsheet like Excel or Numbers to prepare a list of components and pricing.

Then you can use a Word or Pages document to draft your specifications and detailed project requirements.

While that solution can work just fine for smaller projects and requests, you can quickly find limitations in the level of detail or convenience in sharing these documents with team members or prospective bidders.

There are different software and online cloud-based options available that can take this process to the next level.

Using a service like Google Drive with the included suite of document and spreadsheet programs helps make creating, editing, collaborating, and sharing files a smoother process.

Collaboration & Planning Tools

If you need more collaboration options than a Dropbox or Google Drive account, then you'll likely benefit from some of the following services.

There are many options available to help you and your team plan and manage a project. The service you choose will largely depend on the type of organization and planning tools you need.

Services like Asana and Basecamp provide good tools for managing tasks and related discussions.

Slack and Trello are great for brainstorming and organizing a planning committee.

Your church may already be using another dedicated software or service that can help with this, so be sure to explore those options.

Prices for these services can range all the way from free to $100s per month depending on your requirements and the size of your team.

Budget Pricing Tools

Another big challenge is loading your budget with accurate and current pricing.

This is one of the most tedious and time-consuming parts of preparing a budget.

A spreadsheet might be fine for entering part numbers and adding up prices, but you still have to find the current pricing.

This is where dedicated online services can save a ton of time and give you the most helpful budget information.

It is important to select the service that is compatible with the technology systems you are looking for. The audio, video, lighting, network, and security markets are very specific and there are only a few software providers that specialize in all of them.

Using the right service can save you loads of time preparing an accurate budget with current pricing.

(There is an online service that is perfect for churches that I'll share in a moment.)

Request for Proposal Tools

The culmination of your planning and budgeting work is to provide a sufficiently detailed request for proposal (RFP) to your bidders and suppliers.

For some projects or requests this might be as simple as a phone call or sending an email. You don't need a fancy RFP to order a couple new microphones or cables.

More advance projects will require a little more description about why you want a new system or piece of equipment, how you expect it to perform in your space, and any qualifications you expect the contractor or supplier to meet with their proposal.

You may even want to include product data sheets, floor plans, photos, or other information to help a bidder get all of the details right.

You can prepare this information in a basic document, or you can create a custom package to distribute to your bidders.

Some churches will include these details in an email, a PDF document, a bid specification form, or even a slideshow presentation.

The important thing is that you include as much detail as you can and provide the same details to each bidder.

This will really help you later when you want to compare the bids and proposals.

The best budget tool for church tech

There are a lot of different tools that can help you budget, but I personally don't like most of them.

They are too complicated, too expensive, or not specific enough for the average church tech project.

I've spent most of my career using spreadsheets and manually entering in pricing data.

It's tedious, time-consuming, and prone to error due to typos and out of date information.

Then when you're done with that, you have to format a request for proposal or quote and send it with all of the other supporting documentation.

Fortunately there is new service that is solving most of the problems that churches face when planning their tech projects.

Jetbuilt came out a few years ago when Paul Dexter (a recording engineer, church AV contractor, and founder of the ChurchMix training website) created a software tool to help his contracting group streamline the bidding and proposal process.

I heard good things about Jetbuilt from some contractors, and then I met Paul at InfoComm in 2016 where we discussed a few more details.

The software has really been adapted on purpose to be functional for both contractors and churches.

This was a bit surprising to me at first and I was a little skeptical, so Paul invited me to dig into a few more details with the Jetbuilt solution.

How Jetbuilt Saves Time & Money

One of the big benefits of using Jetbuilt is that there is instant access to current pricing from just about every audio, video, lighting, network, and security manufacturer.

This one feature saves so much time that it's worth using the tool just for access to all of that pricing in one spot.

But one of the benefits that I didn't fully appreciate at first was the proposal and request for proposal generation tool.

Jetbuilt can automatically take all of the equipment and budget numbers and format them into an attractive and organized document. You can even import product data sheets or other supporting information into the same document.

The budget numbers, proposal request, and returned bids can then be shared with your team, or you can invite contractors and suppliers to bid on your project using the exact format and information you've created.

It's easy to see how this could be helpful for contractors bidding on projects, but what surprised me after digging into the details is how easy it is for churches to get the same current product information as a contractor or supplier.

This creates a level of transparency and clarity in the bidding process that doesn't always happen when using other solutions.

Note: the pricing you see with Jetbuilt is standard "list price", unless you are an authorized dealer for the manufacturer. Only registered dealers or contractors can see "dealer cost" pricing.

The advantage of using this pricing mechanism for churches is that you get real-world pricing numbers for your budget.

This will also help you tell if a contractor is charging more than fair price for a component. (Most contractors will provide competitive pricing that is less than the manufacturer's list price.)

And another big plus: no more spreadsheets!

Who is it for?

Jetbuilt and other comprehensive software tools can be extremely helpful, but they aren't for everyone.

Small churches or those without a knowledgeable tech director likely won't find the benefit of using a solution like Jetbuilt.

Sometimes the best solution for smaller churches is to spend time getting to know a local or regional contractor and develop a quality relationship. Or team up with another church to share knowledge and resources.

Churches and technical directors that are considering new upgrades and system installations should definitely consider Jetbuilt as a budgeting solution.

Even if you don't need to use it after the project is complete, it is still worth the relatively small monthly fee to use the cloud-based software while you are planning and requesting bids for your projects.

Larger churches with a consistent stream of technology needs and projects will definitely benefit from using Jetbuilt on a regular basis.

The budgeting, proposal request, and collaboration tools can help save a lot of time and money in the long run.

Cost

Most pricing for cloud-based services is on a monthly basis. This lets you have access from anywhere with an Internet connection and there is no software to install.

You also get the benefit of receiving all updates to the platform automatically without extra cost.

Most project management and bidding software packages end up costing $100/month or more per user.

Jetbuilt has a very approachable pricing structure for churches that runs $49/month per user (at the time of this review, September 2017).

Most churches will only need the "standard plan" since the "enterprise plan" is more for contractors and bidders.

The time saved in gathering pricing is worth the cost, but there are a lot of other benefits that come with this solution.

The added level of detail in budget analysis, proposal requests, and organization make Jetbuilt a very attractive solution for church technology projects.

If you're interested in trying Jetbuilt, there is a 2-week free trial option.

And if you enjoy using the platform, you can get 10% off the monthly cost if you enter the discount code GCS17XD

(This is 10% off for life, not just for the first month or year. Paul and the team at Jetbuilt have made this special discount code available for a limited time, so definitely check it out and sign up if you're interested.)

Summary

Successfully planning, budgeting, and implementing your church technology projects involves a number of thoughtful steps.

  • Ask detailed questions
  • Get specific with your requests
  • Provide plenty of detail and information to bidders and suppliers

Approaching the process with diligence and patience is important. And it is equally important to seek out qualified advice when you need it.

  • Research the type of equipment that may be needed for your project
  • Get advice from experienced consultants, contractors, or other tech directors
  • Schedule demonstrations of key components if applicable

Then be sure to clearly communicate the details and prepare a responsible budget that is in line with the mission of your church and leadership team.

  • Create a budget using real-world pricing
  • Consider training and maintenance costs as part of your budget
  • Be clear about the cost and benefit of the equipment your are considering
  • Develop relationships with contractors or other service providers
  • Make sure the result of your purchase lines up with the mission and goals of your church

Consider using tools that can help facilitate a smooth planning and budgeting process. Make sure the right decision makers have access to the details so that everyone can make an informed selection.

  • Simple tools include Word, Excel, Pages, and Numbers
  • Google Drive can be a useful cloud service for enhanced collaboration
  • Asana, Basecamp, Slack, Trello, and many others can be useful platforms for communication, organization, planning, and management.
  • Budgeting and RFP software like Jetbuilt provides convenient access to current pricing and crystal clear proposals.

Whether you use the tips and tools mentioned above or other methods for planning your tech projects, know that faithful stewardship is about more than just numbers on the screen and finding the lowest price.

Please note that some of the links and discount codes included throughout this website are affiliate links and Great Church Sound and/or James Wasem will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. This is at no additional cost to you.

These are tools I personally have used or recommend because they are helpful and useful, not because of the commissions made if you decide to buy something.

Affiliate earnings and commissions help keep this site active and populated with fresh content. If you decide to purchase something through these links, I would like to say Thank You!

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