I Never Say “No”

April 12th, 2010

I just returned from the NARI Spring Board Meeting in Phoenix. As you might expect, business is slow for many contractors, but not for everyone. I spoke with 2 remodelers who were having their best year ever.

I had to know why. I asked each what they were doing, and their message is captured in the title of this posting.

Don Van Cura in Chicago said that he will talk with anyone who calls, even if he doesn’t do the work they are looking for. He has removed all voicemail prompts from his phone, and his office manager takes all calls.

What he shared with me is that potential customers need direction, and support. He will refer people for work he doesn’t do to competent trade contractors and suppliers. He will also go out when someone wants something as simple as a new sink or faucet. He smiled when he told me this. These “service calls” became bigger projects when he got to the homeowner’s house and begin to review the project. The homeowner just needed a little help.

Greg Antonioli who works near Boston let me know that he does something very similar. He speaks with everyone, and takes the time necessary to take care of past customers, no matter what they need done. As a result, much of his work is now 2nd and 3rd projects for a very satisfied client base.

He also made another interesting comment. He said he had more referrals than ever before from people he hadn’t done work for. He will tell potential customers on the phone that he might not be the best person for what they need, and he will refer them to another contractor who does that type of work. As a result, he gets referrals from callers who were impressed with his customer service, and impressed enough to refer him to their friends.

We are in a relationship business. Be a resource, and guide potential callers when they have taken the time to call you. You never know what might come out of these calls

The Homeowner Emotional Roller Coaster

September 15th, 2009

If you have been involved with building for any amount of time, I’m sure you understand your trade.  What I also find is that we need to know more than understanding our building trade and how it works.  I say this because when we sell a project, we not only sell a job, but we also sell an experience.  One of the jobs we have besides running the project, is managing the homeowner.  Successful contractors manage the homeowner experience every step of the way.  One of the best things you can do with customers is to create realistic expectations.  If they have been watching Extreme Home Makeover, they may or may not understand how challenging a remodeling project can be.

To assist you with this, I created the Homeowner Roller Coaster.  The handout is a tool I use to demonstrate the ups and downs of a remodeling project.  It’s a wonderful conversation starter, and makes most homeowners laugh.  This is a good start for a sometimes difficult conversation.  If you would like a copy of the Homeowner Roller Coaster to use in your own company, please click on the link below.  Many contractors use this to help manage the homeowner experience, not only before the project starts, but as a “check-in” after work has begun.  It’s a wonderful handout and tool.  Please take advantage of it.

The Homeowners Emotional Roller Coaster

Establishing Project Ground Rules

September 14th, 2009

Most disagreements during a construction or home improvement project come from a lack of clear communications which leads to unfulfilled expectations.  What are a homeowner’s expectations?  Before a project starts, we can only guess what those expectations are!  If they have been watching Extreme Home Makeover, or some other home improvement show, they may get the idea that home improvement is a smooth process, and difficulties are minimal.  This is just not realistic, as most television programs don’t highlight homeowner meltdowns.

Successful contractors not only mange the project, but they manage the process.  You can effectively address homeowner expectations by using the ground rules agreement.  This ground rules agreement is about managing daily worksite expectations.  Before any project starts, you need to review a number of questions regarding the work area, including project supervision, dust protection, pets, children around the worksite, tool storage, landscaping, parking restrictions, and more.  The ground rules agreement allows you to review potential problem areas before they become problems.  The ground rules questions included here make sure that both and your customers are on the same page.  Here are some of the questions that help to establish clear project ground rules:

Click here to access the Ground Rules Agreement.

The Design Agreement: Stop Doing Free Estimates

September 11th, 2009

If you want to stop giving away free estimates and designs, the first step is to convince yourself that what you are doing has value.  If you aren’t convinced that your design and estimating efforts are worth money, you will communicate this to your clients in a flash.  Architects are paid for their time.  Interior designers are paid for their time.  You deserve to be paid too, if you are the one filling a design role.  This role may include some or all of the following:

1.  Meeting with the clients
2.  Comprehensive needs analysis interview
3.  Jobsite measurements
4.  Preparing conceptual drawings
5.  Meeting with clients again
6.  Extensive design/floor-plan consultations
7.  Meeting with subs to optimize the design
8.  Revisions as needed to the floor plan
9.  Preparing 1/4” drawings
10.  Elevations/perspectives
11.  Meeting with clients again
12.  Blueprinting costs
13.  Copies
14.  Telephone expenses

First, you have to overcome the typical homeowners “built-in” notion that you should provide free estimates.  Can you imagine going to your doctor for a free physical or going to your dentist for a free checkup?  Why do remodelers still offer to do 15-30 hours of work designing and estimating projects for clients before they ever sign a contract, much less get a penny for it?  You can’t afford to do it anymore.  Your time is too valuable.  If you are doing a smaller project like replacing a window or a door, then a design agreement isn’t appropriate, but common sense will tell you that.

More and more contractors are adding design to the full range of construction services they offer.  For some, this has become a profit center.  Whether a profit center or not, this agreement provides a way to receive payment for any design services separate from the construction agreement that may or may not follow.

Conceptual Drawings $  1st Payment 
Design Development $  2nd Payment 
Production Design $  3rd Payment 

Click here to see a sample design agreement.