Have you ever truly considered how much time it takes to provide an estimate?
The traditional process and my old way was: Receive a call, get excited, set appointment, drive to appointment, discuss the project, head back to other projects or office, after hours-review notes, put prices to notes, get quotes, set follow-up meetings with subs for more quotes, assemble complete bid, set appointment to present bid, drive to appointment to present bid, answer questions, talk about revisions (more time), wait for answer.
Think about how much time is invested in a project that you still do not know if you have. The point of this blog is to flip the switch and imagine the process from a time saving perspective.
First off- consider your time, how much time is spent and wasted on bidding. Estimating is a massive time sink that should be reserved for pre-qualified prospects. Prequalifying your potential customers is respectful of yours and their time.
Upon initial conversation I ask lots of questions about the customer and their objectives. I'd like to mention I ask about objectives and outcomes versus goals. It is a mindset approach as goals are static and outcomes leave open the possibility of a changing scope. It also shows flexibility and workability.
I begin by asking how they found me?
Have they had work done in the past?
Were they satisfied?
What would a successful project look like to them?
Are there any issues outside of the scope that would affect the project (schedule, pets, anything)?
I do ask how many bidders, if there are more than 3, I thank them for considering me and recuse myself from the process. I am happy to earn business at a ratio of 1:3 no more. Too much time is wasted. Let’s keep in mind they are interviewing you; you are also interviewing them.
We have all had tough customers and projects and I like to remind myself that I never lost money on a project I did not get. Sometimes losing is winning.
The next very important rule I follow is to not ask what their budget is…Ever! This may seem counter intuitive, however, that information is irrelevant to my bidding process. I bid fairly, regardless of their budget. This is not to say I don’t lead a conversation to pre-qualify. What I do is…discuss what other projects like theirs have cost in the past and ask if that fits within their idea for their project. After I share my past experiences, I ask how they would like to proceed or what is next. I let the question hang for their response. Silence is golden as they are thinking, let them think. Keep in mind, I have yet to schedule an appointment! Think of how much information is gathered in a phone call. Consider also doing a FaceTime or Zoom to visualize. No wasted time driving, meeting, scheduling, rescheduling…aka doing the dance.
Once I get a feel for the customer and their desired outcome, I walk them through my process and what working with me, and my team looks like. This discussion would include:
Potential schedule (theirs and mine),
What my time would be for a proper estimate,
product availability that could affect start date,
schedule a time to physically meet and go over project outcomes,
deposit amount and payment schedule.
Once they understand and agree to all of that, I set a meeting. All of this is done in a 20–30-minute call and no additional time sunk.
Now, fast forward to job walks and project outcome definition. Keep in mind, you are still interviewing each other. All you have invested at this point is a phone call and a drive to their site. Assuming you are still interested in proceeding, set a follow up meeting to present your estimate. I never send a bid in an email; I bring the estimate with a detailed outline including options and value engineering. I also repeat any of the concerns raised during the pre-qualification call. This is important, they need to know that their concerns were heard.
If there is any objection to price, or the comment of your price is too expensive, do not compromise on your price, now is the time to link your value and experience to your price. If you match someone else’s price, you are only hurting you and your reputation with the customer. You and only you know what it costs to run your business. This is all under the assumption that you priced fairly and with the margins you need to effectively run your business. This is not personal. If the “your expensive” comment does come up, simply say that it is the going rate and you are happy to perform the job they expect for them. If they move on and choose a competitor, thank them for the opportunity and wish them success on their project. Be professional, do not chase.
Remember you will never lose money on a project you didn’t get!
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