If you want to go broke, work for free

The construction market can be tough even during good times. There is always someone willing to work cheaper, cut corners, and even misrepresent their products and services. In today’s tighter economy, you see this even more. Being competitive without losing your shirt is a challenge.

While we may be tempted to work for free to get our foot in the door, it serves no one ... not you and certainly not your client. Preparing a simple bid based on a defined scope of work may not take much time and you can probably bid those jobs quickly and easily. But most jobs don’t come with a written scope of work.

Homeowners are opting to stay in their existing homes, remodeling and renovating instead of moving. The scope of these projects is dynamic and fluid. There are usually several paths to the finished project; you are at risk of either underbidding or overbidding if you bid it incorrectly. Your client isn’t well-served by either one.

The time you spend putting together a proper scope of work for your client is time well spent, but not free. Doing it properly and charging for the time you spend will result in a project that is well thought out and will save your client money spent on change orders and miscommunications.  

Most homeowners are realistic and don’t expect you to work for free. While some will be swayed by the smooth-talking contractor who gives them a number without really exploring their options and the details of the project, you may be better off without those clients anyway.

So how do you approach this issue with potential clients? A local contractor is straightforward and honest in his evaluation. He recently met a homeowner who had a vision of an extensive remodel. He explained to the client that he would need to do a set of plans to prepare a realistic material list and scope of work. From these documents he would create an estimate and a quote. He would invest the time to do this work and he needed a financial commitment from the client. He left that first meeting with a job and a check.

What happened here? The contractor placed value on his time and service. The homeowner understood and they have set the standard for their work together as they move forward. This is a win-win situation. The contractor and homeowner developed a relationship that will serve them both well throughout the project.  

What do we learn from this? If you want to work for free, stay home.  If you want to make money, place a value on all of your services.