In the world of custom home building, challenges surround you on a daily basis. Cash flow issues, scheduling conflicts, subcontractor misunderstandings and client interference are some of the many concerns that are a part of doing business. Taking control of your environment and setting the tone for how you do business offers a level of freedom you don’t often hear about in construction.
It has been said that battles are won and lost before they are ever fought; business can be a full-time battle. The business of building has many opponents that can stand in the way of success. None are more formidable than prospects that become clients. The tone you set with a prospective client dictates the flow of your relationship, and it is at the very beginning that your success or failure is measured.
Clients want to be guided. It is during the prospect’s first interaction with your company that you have the opportunity to set the tone. Show any sign of weakness or lack of knowledge when talking about your profession and a sophisticated client will sense it and a negative tone will be set. If clients believe they can manipulate you and your company through the design/build process, make no mistake about it, they will do it.
Compromising your business principles to secure a design/build project is arguably the worst mistake a builder can make.
Clients will try to negotiate the terms of your agreement in their favor, but what they need to recognize is they can afford to build with you because of those same negotiating skills. They control the environment in their business and their intent is to now step into your business and control your environment. Do not let this happen. You need to demonstrate strength and skill, but most of all you must possess the ability to say no. If a client believes you need them more than they need you, the relationship will certainly start off on the wrong foot.
There is a difference between compassion and compromise. Compassion for your client is employed if for no other reason than it makes them feel better. Compromise is a one-way ticket to failure. There is not a builder in the world that is perfect for everyone. If you believe that your program is the best one for you and the client, then nothing should compromise your belief system. A client will sense your confidence and will almost always respond favorably. If the client responds negatively, the question must be asked, “Do I really want to build for that person anyway?”
Once you have a prospective client following the guidelines of your company, the tone must continue throughout construction. If you have deadlines, they must be met before submitting information is needed to build the home. Stay firm on your timelines and do not compromise. If the client knows that the penalty for not producing answers in a timely fashion is that you will pull off the job until that information is complete, they will respond to your program. Having the confidence that your procedures are effective and the fortitude to implement those procedures is what sets the profitable companies apart from those that struggle.
Setting the tone at the onset is paramount to your success. If you let clients slide on a deadline even once, you are setting yourself up for a combination of failure and misery. The design/build business is difficult enough, even when you are operating on your own terms. Most likely, a builder has the best intentions when considering compromising their practices. Unfortunately, the result of the compromise is the client receives what they want — more time. And you get what you don’t want — less money and more headaches.
Clients respond to rigidity and take advantage of flexibility. Creating an organized schedule that can be demonstrated on the front end of the project gives your client a written road map to follow. That level of rigidity allows your company to work within a routine that frees up time for the owner to do what he should be doing in the first place: looking for additional business opportunities. Give your client flexibility and you become a fireman. The schedule will be compromised, you will be chasing information, you will hemorrhage money, and you’ll realize in short order that you are not running your company; your company is running you.
The relationship between client and builder is similar to the relationship between a doctor and a patient. When it is determined a patient needs to have an operation, he assumes the doctor is the expert and that he has gone to great lengths to ensure the procedure is done safely and effectively. The patient doesn’t dictate to the doctor how and when the operation will be done. He selects a doctor because of his reputation and skill. He puts his health and welfare in the hands of the doctor.
As builders, we work tirelessly to build our reputation and ensure that our clients have the best experience. The design/build business is our area of expertise and the clients should feel safe putting the design and building of their dream home in our hands. If they don’t, then perhaps they should continue on their quest to find the right builder for them.
Setting expectations and establishing ground rules at an initial meeting ensures the journey from dream to reality is one that everyone cherishes long after the moving van pulls out of the driveway. As successful contractors, we don’t build to live; we live to build. A commitment to successfully selling your company to potential clients allows you to live by that motto.