It’s OK to say no

The first quarter of the year can be a bummer. As I write this, it’s 10 F outside, there is snow on the ground, and I have just mailed last year’s tax returns. 

Many of the contractors with whom I work are facing clients with the “post-holiday credit card, taxes are due, job is in limbo” blues. We all go through cycles in our businesses and sometimes the downtimes can seem interminable. 

For example, one of the builders I work with is coming off a shaky 2004 because of issues beyond his control, including employee turnover. Now that his issues are behind him he is hungry for a profitable 2005. 

So he was thrilled when some great leads were coming his way. One potential job in particular had dollar signs flying before his eyes. The lead came via a referral from a past client. The client had the funds and was ready to roll with the renovation. They spoke together quite extensively about the scope of the project and expectations on both sides when it suddenly hit the builder; “This is not my client.” 

It was a painful decision to let this project loose, especially because it was such a promising job coming off such a dismal year. But in the long run, this client did not buy into the design/build philosophy and would have aggravated and countermanded the builder every step of the way. In this case, not only was it a wise move from a sanity standpoint, but it also may have saved the builder money.

How could working for the wrong client cost your company money? For one thing, if the client does not have faith in your business or protocols, they may be constantly delaying progress with questions and suspicions about the work being done. And we all know that time is, in fact, money.

It’s easy to conceptualize saying no to a prospective client. It’s another thing to actually get the words “no thanks” out of your mouth. If you know your clientele’s demographics, including income, geography and style, then you should be able to recognize when someone does not fit that profile.

Maybe the customer wants you to work with materials you have never worked with before, or is interested in creating a cutting-edge green building. While advances in building technology should be embraced, do you really want to experiment with these new products and/or techniques (and your limited knowledge of them) on someone’s actual house? Imagine that, and let the cost overruns begin!

So how do you find out if your prospect is a match for you and your business? Many design/builders find that their clients tend to be homeowners who have had prior experience with a home building project. Based on this information they are open to — and excited by — the prospect of design/build. They seek a builder that offers full service. They value design. They are not looking to purchase their own building materials at the local big-box hardware store or hire their brother-in-law who does electrical work on the side from his firefighting job.

The key to communicating your unique value as a design/builder is how you look at yourself and your business. If you are totally committed to the process and understand the benefits, you need to relay that to homeowners in a professional manner, and thus avoid becoming part of one of those builder horror stories you’ve heard. You need to get your story out about the value of a design/builder’s service, accountability and professionalism.