This post is pointed at the members of the group who try to earn a
living with their tools, brains and brawn doing wood working. In my
career as a cabinet maker and custom closet designer, builder and
installer I have made countless sales calls on mostly home owners with
a sprinkling of commercial prospects.
I've been successful in a reasonable percentage of those calls but on
occasion ran into a potential client who was short on manners and long
on hubris. After receiving a fair bid they would say they could build
it a lot cheaper themselves.
My answer was something like, Does it pay Bill Gates to mow his own
lawn? I'm curious how some of you handle this type of know-it-all.
Really, the only way you *can* handle it is to say something like "If that's
what you prefer to do, I wish you the best. Thank you for your time, and if
you change your mind, you have my card."
And of course, *you* retain any plans or drawings which you may have made.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
I've often thought about this and if really enjoy doing the work, then
putting a value on your time is meaningless. If you're doing a particular
project just so you can save money, then it's becomes a job.
I do woodworking because I enjoy it and it because the projects that I work
on are ones that needed around the house.
Don't even try to debate this fact. The reality is that we all look at
everything this way. I often have a preset idea in my head and when the
quote exceeds it I indicate that it is a lot more than I wanted to spend, or
I tell them on the phone right away what ball park I'm in. Maybe you need to
ask you clients before the trip what they are expecting or have in mind.
"Ball Park". Every time a look at a job for my home I determine what makes
the most sense? Could I make more money working elsewhere to pay for a real
professional to do the job? In some cases I've done the identical job for a
client while I hire someone to do it at my house..
> My answer was something like, Does it pay Bill Gates to mow his own
> lawn? I'm curious how some of you handle this type of know-it-all.
The classic "I can do it cheaper" mentality.
You can't win that one, don't even try.
I agree. I used to be pissed off, then I was more pissed off because
I felt like they wasted my time. Now I am still annoyed, but I don't
take it personally.
This is what I do, and I certainly don't advocate it for others. If
it helps you or others somewhat, mission accomplished.
- Go to the house, be as polite as possible, gauge the response. If
they have screaming kids running around like banshees with one or the
other of parents trying to quiet them down, or they are trying to make
dinner with the TV blaring, or only one of the decision makers is
there, try to get out after measuring. Leave a card; run away. They
just aren't that interested, really just curious They are actually
taking advatage of the "free estimate" after watching a weekend of
- If you have both members of the design/decision/payment team on
deck, get to business immediately after pointless pleasantries.
Refuse coffee or drink
- Identify the materials needed and their availability, the amount of
work, and the total time involved. Let the client know what the scope
of the project is to give them an idea of what is involved to complete
- Make sure they understand any complications, delays, that may arise,
offer suggestions of anything that might help smooth things along
- Assuming you have been doing this long enough to know, give them a
rough estimate (with the usual caveats) no the high side to let them
know what you think it will cost
- ASK for feedback. You say - "I am not committed to that number and
of course it could be lower... but is that a number that fits in your
budget? Is that about what you expected?" If the answer is an
adamant no, get a feel for what they expect(ed) and see if you have a
product or service that will match their expectations. If you cannot
find common ground, shake hands a leave.
- DO NOT work on that project any further because "they just might be
calling you in the future" or "they like you the best" or "we would
really like to know what it would cost on the bottom line (offered in
a curious, not serious way)"
Remember, you do not owe them an estimate. Free estimates are not in
The Bill of Rights, If they are not a good client candidate for your
company, you DO owe them the courtesy of letting them know that you
aren't interested or that you are too busy. Likewise, they owe you
nothing for doing it (unless otherwise determined), and most likely
you won't hear from them again unless you get the work. I can count
on one hand how many times I have had someone call me out of plain
consideration to tell me they went with another contractor
I think part of the contracting process is to see if you and the
client are a good fit. I am long past giving the absolutely nastiest,
cheapest, low bid I could generate. Someone is always cheaper
anyway. And I really hate playing the game of low balling the number
then charging extra for every little thing. I like bidding a good,
And in almost 30 years of self employment, I have had clients do some
pretty rough and underhanded things. I have seen signed contracts
(with some of my friendly competitors) that have my exact verbage and
scope of work in their contracts - work I have spent literally days
One time one of my buddies (wouldn't lie, doesn't need the business)
said they were given the "specs" on a plain piece of paper with my
price shown as their own personal estimate.
My buddy was told, all he had to do was beat the price shown. When
you have spent many hours honing in a price and calling about
materials, this can be real ball buster.
I have seen my drawings done the same way, with my watermark removed,
as well as my company name.
I used to bid some specialty carpentry work for a upper end remodeler
here in town, and they would demand excruciating detail in my bids.
One day while there, I saw one of the secretaries copying >exactly<
the verbage of my bid into their contract. I was pleased, as it used
to take me more time to describe the work in a bid as it did to do the
take off. However, I was informed by this new secretary that they
always used my detailed bid as specs for that aspect of their work.
Contacting one of the job supers, he informed me that they >always<
used my specs, my takeoffs on material, and my price when bidding as
they knew I would do the work as I bid it. However, he told me that
they only used me when they couldn't find anyone cheaper. And you
guessed it, it wasn't all that hard since they provided my competitors
with my scope of work, my methods, and my material takeoffs from the
plans. That alone could save them 8 - 12 hours on the estimating and
Needless to say, I didn't need the experience in bidding and typing.
I never bid anything else with him.
Trust your instincts and your wallet. If they want your drawings,
sell them. Unless it is the nature of your business like California
closets, charge for drawings or extensive, complicated bids, applying
any fees towards your bid if you get the work. Simple straightforward
bids are hard to charge for, especially if you write them up on site
and hand them a copy. But anything else...
I don't mind having my bid shopped, nor my contract. Happens all the
time with all of us in the service industry. I certainly don't mind
any competition. I am thankful that with the years I have in the
business as a remodel/repair contractor, >all< of my business is
referral. That doesn't mean the I will get the job, but it does mean
someone has talked to a previous client that was happy enough to
OK, OK... off the soapbox now.
I have a young guy that worked for me years ago that is struggling to
get started, so I think this thread must have hit a nerve..
I can second this. I am not a full-time pro, but I do commissioned work.
On several occasions I have given people a ballpark rough estimate so they know
what they are in for before even starting and wasting my time with measure-ups
and plan drawings .... so if I go "that'll be in the ballpark of 350 to 450"
you can just bet they'll hear "that'll cost 350, max". Definitely, ballpark-
estimate on the high side ;-)
Couple of good friends of mine [repeatedly] would take on quotes for kitchens,
spend a couple of days measuring, drawing plans, drawing alternate plans, write
up a proposal and then go back with that to a [known miser] and be pissed off
because he didn't want to pay that much ... could've saved themselves a lot of
work by firing off a quick estimate. Which, i.m.o. they ought to have been able
to do since they did that kind of work for years.
firstname dot lastname at gmail fullstop com
On Mon, 19 Mar 2007 12:00:32 -0700, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
Both good points, other posts in this thread appear to confuse a bid
with detailed take off. This leaves a lot of room to be disappointed
and wasted effort.
If a job is more than simple, it is perfectly acceptable to charge
your client the time it takes to generate design drawings. (That's
what architects do.) It could just be an hour or two--these don't need
to be complete or indicate all the subtleties you'll actually need to
draw in building the thing, just enough that both parties can agree on
the task. If you know what you're doing, these will be enough to do a
takeoff to within about 10-20% the real price. Properly note this
contingency and the client sees the margin of error and recognizes
you're being honest. Throw in alternates for variations of wood
species or other choices, and allowances for purchasing items like
hardware or lighting that they may wish to upgrade.
If you can't do simple and quick design drawings to get to this point,
you (or the client) should hire someone else to do them. I know plenty
of designers, architects, and students who moonlight, it is no problem
these days to find someone. (Tip: India works while you are sleeping,
is a 12-hr turnaround, and charges 10% your cost.) A good drawing/CAD
program is a plus, but hand drafted typicals can be cut/pasted either
physically or electronically to do the job. Or if your work is mostly
the custom type, you probably already have the artistic skills to draw
quickly and accurately without relying on a library of drawing parts.
(A large mis-match between your skills of woodworking and drawing may
indicate you're over-reaching for your market.) Or grow the
relationship with someone you trust to do the actual shop drawings and
spend more time in the shop!
The best part about design drawings is that they help you gage a
client's commitment towards the project. And they are actually getting
something for their money. If they pay for the design drawings
(cabinet elevations at 3/8" or 1/2" scale, maybe a section or two at
1-1/2") even if they don't want to use you to build them, they have
still received some service for their minimal investment. They can
also take these to someone else to build without you feeling ripped
If a woodworker is doing complete shop drawings for an estimate, they
either don't have enough experience to make a reasonable estimate of
it or they don't mind taking the risk of loosing the value of their
Steve Hall wrote:
> Both good points, other posts in this thread appear to confuse a bid
> with detailed take off. This leaves a lot of room to be disappointed
> and wasted effort.
Memories of times past.
At one time in my career would do guaranteed take offs of electrical
equipment that is to be purchased by the mechanical contractor, but
installed by the electrical contractor.
Made the mechanical contractors warm and fuzzy and was good business
for my employer.
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