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Seven issues that upset clients. And when clients are upset, either you won’t make the sale or you might not get paid.

Not returning phone calls

This is a major complaint. It’s not unique to contractors, but it’s part of our reputation and that’s not good.

It’s not good when a potential client can’t get a contractor to call them about a project. It’s even worse after the sale is made. If your client has a question, or isn’t sure about something, or if they simply don’t like what is going on in their home or building, the best way to turn their concern into a full-fledged fight is to ignore them.

Calls from potential and existing clients should go to the top of your to-do list. The time spent dealing with their question is far less than the time spent cleaning up the mess when you ignore them.

Not showing up on time for appointments

Consider every appointment to be a promise to the one you’re supposed to meet. When you show up late, you’re breaking your promise. That’s no way to start a relationship.

When you set an appointment, be there, on time. If you’re going to be late, call to let them know why and to tell them when you will arrive.

Not building the job according to the contract

What I see in some arbitrations is the contractor discovered at some point that they underestimated the costs of a job. They’re about to lose money, so they go into damage control mode and try to figure out ways to cut the cost of the job.

Obviously there are all kinds of ways of cutting cost, but most of them result in the client not getting the job they wanted or were expecting. That’s a surefire way to upset a client.

Not building the job according to the plans

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this exact scenario happen on jobs. Someone fails to look at the plans, or they willingly ignore the plans and decide to build the job the way they think it’ll look best. Or they find an error on the plans and instead of checking with the owner / architect / designer / whoever drew the plans, they attempt to fix the problem on their own. Bad idea, guaranteed to get you in trouble.

Not writing additional work orders

This is one of the major reasons that contractors go out of business. The client requests a change and the contractor goes ahead with the change. At the end of the job, the contractor compiles all the changes on one change work order. And they wonder why the client is upset about the price. After all, didn’t the contractor do everything the client requested?

Clients don’t know what things cost. Frankly, most contractors don’t, either, until they sit with pencil and paper and estimate it. Before making any changes on a project, estimate the cost, write a change work order, get it signed and have it paid before the additional work is done. No surprises.

Not enforcing your punch list procedures.

Have you ever gone to collect your final check only to find (pick one) blue tape or yellow post-it notes stuck to everything the client isn’t happy about? We have an outline on how to handle the punch list in our book, Markup and Profit; A Contractor’s Guide Revisited. If you follow the procedure in our book, this won’t happen to you.

Not writing contracts

And last, but one of the greatest mistakes that can be made, is not writing a detailed contract for your jobs.

I took a call last week from a contractor asking how to deal with an owner who is refusing to pay overhead and profit on a job his company completed over a year ago. The amount due is over $100,000. I asked the contractor about his payment schedule and he said, “We don’t have a written contract, but I do have XX number of E-mails from the owner telling us to do the work.” He then told me that his attorney was working on the problem. I asked if his attorney specialized in construction law, he said, “No, he’s a personal friend.”

It is the little things in this business. If they don’t get done, or aren’t done properly, they’ll eat your profit quickly. Do them right and you will be paid on time and in full.

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