A string of comments on our website reminded us of the importance of looking at things from your client’s point of view. Are you giving them the information they need to be comfortable about the work you’re doing?
I’m a strong advocate for a firm fixed price quote. Your client should know the price they’ll pay before the work starts. But do they know exactly what work will be done?
When a home or building owner thinks they are getting X or Y, then starts to worry that you’re building Z, that can trigger a demand for transparency on everything, such as labor details, material invoices, and subcontractor agreements. They’re uncertainty on the project details can lead to uncertainty on everything else.
That’s why it’s your responsibility to make sure they have the details on what you will and won’t build for that price before the job is started. In writing. Because when they don’t know any details, they’ll start asking for all the details.
It all begins on the sales call. When you know that this is a client you can work with and that you can build the job within their budget, it’s time to ask for a commitment. Estimating a project takes time and your time has value, which is why you shouldn’t be estimating for free. We talk about that in these two articles, “Free Estimates” and “What It Looks Like When You Don’t Give Your Work Away“.
When you are satisfied that you have an accurate estimate completed for their job, you need to write a detailed contract for their job. I think this is the step that gets skipped all too often. In that contract, specify what is to be done, what parts, pieces and materials will be included. Include their selections and details on any allowances that might be required. Include a material escalation clause, and many other clauses that protect both parties. Lastly you include any legal language required by your state and any other language needed to make sure you can enforce the terms of the contract. We have more on the details of a contract in this article.
Take the contract back to the owner, explain everything they need to know, give them a day or two to review the contract, and set a time to come back and review the contract in detail. Answer all their questions, get their signatures and a check or credit card for the down payment and you should be good to go.
If the project is a small one and doesn’t require a great deal of estimating time, it’s still important to write an agreement that details the work you’ll do. You’ll remove the old bathtub, install a new one, reconnect all plumbing, and haul away the trash. You’ll build and stain a new deck that’s 24′ x 10′ with a 42″ hand railing on all exposed sides and 2 gates with steps from the ground to the deck, specifying the size and type of material, etc.
Giving them details, in writing, will give them confidence that you’re going to build the job they want. When they are confident knowing what you’ll do and at what price, you’ll reduce the questions, demands for itemization, and change work orders that can crop up after the job begins.
Remember, you’re the expert. They aren’t. There are a lot of flakes out there masquerading as contractors and they are causing all kinds of problems. Be one of the good guys. Communicate clearly, often, and put the details in writing.
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