If you want to make the best use of your time and not allow others to waste your time, don’t estimate major projects without a design agreement. A design agreement means a commitment has been made by your potential client.
Major project estimates require a significant time investment on your part. It takes time to design the project, estimate the cost, and write the contract (or proposal) for the project. You shouldn’t commitment that amount of time unless your potential client is also committed.
Sometimes a potential client will ask or even tell you they want you to prepare a complete proposal for them for “consideration” or so they can compare your proposal to the other companies they have called in to look at their job. Or they’ll walk you down the merry “let’s build a project” road, then tell you they don’t have any money, or they can’t get financing, or they decided it’s easier to move than remodel. If you’re doing estimates on major projects without a design agreement, you’re going to waste a ton of time and incur a lot of knots in your stomach.
Estimating projects without a commitment is an age old practice in this business that rarely works. When you spend your time driving around, giving out numbers to whoever asks, and hoping and praying that somebody will say yes, you are letting the client drive the wagon. It’s almost always a no win scenario for you. You can read about the proper approach to getting a commitment from your clients in our book, Profitable Sales; A Contractor’s Guide.
A design agreement is a two-way street. They’ve made a commitment to you and you’ve made a commitment to them. If you have a design agreement and the estimate folder has been sitting on your desk for more than a day or two, that’s a warning flag (or it should be) that you aren’t scheduling your time well. Today’s clients aren’t willing to sit and wait for you to prioritize their job and finally get around to providing a number and the paperwork to them for the job to be done. They want things yesterday. A delay of four or five days and you will likely get a phone call cancelling the whole procedure and will be left with nothing to show for the time you have put in to that point. After all, if you can’t schedule your time well enough to get the estimate done, how disorganized are you when it comes to building their project?
The best way I know of to get the estimate done quickly is to schedule a callback with the client while you are still in front of them. Now you have a deadline. And a commitment that you’ll do the work they hired you to do. This also cements the “deal” between you and your potential client that you take agreements seriously. They have a reason to hope you’ll do your part as well or better than anyone else they may have talked to about their project. Prove them right. Schedule your time to create the estimate and get it done as scheduled.