Get clients involved

Some of us are working harder, longer hours and burning the candle at both ends to make a profit. Potential customers look for discount prices and profit margins get slashed. Designers and builders are constantly struggling with the issue of how much to charge their customers and what is a fair price for their services.

When a homeowner asks how much something costs, most salespeople go into a white knuckle panic. They become defensive, talk fast and become nervous in front of their potential customer. This is not a good situation.

Take a second or two to think it over before you blurt out a number you cannot erase from their memory. Trust me, the number you launch from your lips will be the number they hang you with. This task becomes increasingly challenging for the consumer if you do business with someone who requests multiple bids and looks for a great deal.

After weeks and months of receiving multiple bids, someone makes the observation, “Why are these bids so different from each other?” The reason is because some businesses know their true cost of labor, overhead cost and the profit margin needed to meet their responsibilities at the end of each month.


Most businesses struggle to figure out what their overhead, labor cost and profit margins are because the bottom line keeps changing every day. Take your accountant to lunch and ask him to help you understand the real numbers you need to charge. This will prevent you from becoming a nonprofitable company.

Our design firm recently proposed using Interactive Design and Build with a potential client (see February/March 2011 page 10). The builder agreed to pay us a small stipend to help his client see the project in 3-D.

We met with the wife and she explained the problems she was having with her house and how she could not visualize what her space would look like. Fortunately for us she had a set of existing plans of her home and with a few clicks of the camera we were online designing her master bathroom suite and attic expansion project.

After a few design hours we came up with a schematic plan that would meet the homeowners’ needs. The builder approved the design and we set the appointment for the following week.

After the presentation, the husband explained to the builder he had recently completed a large kitchen addition project and hired an architect to plan the project. He said how the traditional design process was long and painful, but the builder’s system was fully interactive. The builder and I looked at each other with confidence because we both knew at that moment our client discovered IDB.


The client was able to change the layout in real time which made him feel like he was a part of the process. More importantly, the process met or exceeded his expectations. You do not have to give away the store to get clients to sign a contract. If you do, you will not have a store to return to at some point in time.

People can see if you are genuine or if you are a complete fake. So save your time and your client’s time by being the real deal. Provide a way for them to become emotionally involved with your story and the design/build process. Remember you make your client’s behavior in the manner in which you choose.

Joseph Dellanno is the founder of My Design/Build Project, a Web communication application for design and build teams, and president of My Design/Build Coach, providing design/build business training. He is also president of Design Solutions Inc., a national design firm. Send email to Read past columns at