Another listener suggestion this week!
“Long time listener, first time caller. Wanted to reach out and see if you would discuss your client vetting process a little bit. I know that there have been several contractor-client relationship topics discussed regarding budget, timelines, communication, etc., but I am very interested in better understanding how you can weed out bad clients on the front end.”
I want to start by admitting that while I do my best to vet customers and designers prior to heavy engagement, I still at times get duped. In fact, I may or may not be getting duped on my current project, but that is another conversation and another podcast that I will be having on the main channel with Nick.
First thing you must do is develop a process and a system. However you see fit to interact with customers initially, do not budge from that standard. As soon as you do, you are playing by someone else's rules. I prefer to begin the conversation via email. I find people are more willing to speak freely and honestly via email rather than face to face or on the phone. I have a template of questions that I ask each and every lead. I do modify this to fit each inquiry, but essentially it fits one of two formats below…..
Thank you for reaching out. Can you provide me with a little more information regarding your project?
1. What is your timeline for getting the work completed?
If the customer tells me they want the project completed in a month, three months, or even six months, and I am booking out 12 months, I just saved everyone a ton of time by asking this question. I have also found that if a customer is willing to wait 12-18 months, then they want me to do the work, and are willing to pay.
2. Can you send me photos of the existing space?
This will give me an idea of the scope of work, their existing home, and it requires some work on their end. If they are not willing to send me photos or promptly complete this legwork, they are probably not serious about “NEEDING” TRG to do the project.
3. Have you engaged the services of any designers or architects?
This question shows me how serious the customers are about getting the work done. In my opinion and in my process a design is mandatory, so if they have not done this, I cannot proceed. This also affords me an opportunity to sell my services through helping them handle the design. If they do not have a design, I can help with that. That is part of our differentiation and our process, so it allows me to slide one foot in the door.
4. Do you have any inspirational photos?
Having photos that show their style, aesthetic, and design inspiration helps me accurately assess if their wants and needs match their budget. It opens the conversation regarding budget without downright asking about it. For example, “The kitchen photos that you sent are kitchens that in my experience are in the $150K and up range. Is that what you guys were thinking as far as budgeting goes for your home?”
5. Can you please send me an address for the project?
I always find the home, the neighborhood, what they paid for the home, what they pay in taxes, etc. This is an indication of how much money they are willing to spend and if they are a good fit for me. Generally speaking, if someone lives in a $300-$400K home they do not want to spend $150K on a kitchen, so I know that they may not be a great fit. It is important to note that I am not passing judgment on their financial situation, but I understand my market, my business, and where I need to be to make money. If customers cannot afford my premium, it does not make sense to waste their time or my own. Also, I cannot afford my own services for point of reference.
6. How did you hear about my company?
This question is extremely important. It gauges the quality of the lead. Personally knowing a customer or spending time on a project yields a higher quality lead than someone who found my name on a community facebook page. I want customers to want TRG, so if the lead or referral is not unique or specific, more often than not, I can count them out.
Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you so much for reaching out.
To be as transparent as possible and briefly explain how we approach our projects; our system is based on a design-build/cost-plus model, where we are hired to design and complete the job based around preliminary budgeting. I want to ensure customers understand that, and they are comfortable with this structure. Many people prefer to put a project out to bid.
This can be a massive turnoff to most customers. This is how I prefer to work, so putting this out there immediately reduces the chances of leading someone on who is not willing to work with your systems.
Given the small-scale nature of our company and our quality over quantity approach, we no longer look to competitively bid projects. In my experience, the structure of our company affords us a process, product, and level of execution that other contractors either cannot hit or do not have the patience to hit. That being said, I do not believe bidding projects is necessarily “apples to apples” for us.
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The key point here is that we are not looking to competitively bid projects. Most leads are looking to get 2-3 prices. If I can cut to the chase and avoid entertaining the bulk of those leads at the point of contact, I am only entertaining high-quality leads who want TRG. Again, this is my goal. To find the customers who want TRG and refuse to hire anyone else. I have afforded myself this luxury through remaining small and remaining lean. I would rather not work, than work for a rate below my standard rate. This is contingent on the market, but there is always work to be done, leads to chase, business to refine, and if I lower my barrier to engagement and begin taking work at a reduced rate, I will only suffer in the long run.
Now that we have that out of the way, I would love to hear more about your project. I would also love photos of the space if you are able to provide them.
1. Have you started working with a designer or architect?
2. Do you have a timeline in mind for getting the work done?
3. Do you have a general aesthetic in mind?
4. Have you started considering a budgetary range that you are comfortable spending?
5. Can you please send me an address for the project?
The reasons for asking the above questions have already been answered aside from directly asking about the budget. I do this for obvious reasons, but mainly to ensure that their needs are in line with the services that I offer. $75k may be a very realistic budget for a kitchen, but I would have trouble making money performing that caliber of kitchen. So I would rather get that out of the way from the get go and save everyone the time and headache.
Sorting out the answers to the above questions helps to ensure that we are on the same page as far as scope, price, and the level of services that we offer. If you are unsure of anything, have no idea what your project may cost, or have any other questions, please reach out. Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you.
I am summarizing my email to ensure I do not sound arrogant, ungrateful, or unwilling to work with a potential client. I must be firm yet compassionate. People do not like to be rejected or judged due to their financial capacity, and I by no means intend to do that. Again, I cannot afford my own services, but that is my sweet spot for capitalizing my business and maximizing my profit. I can only do a handful of projects a year, so my time is better spent vetting customers than chasing leads or doing projects that are not willing to pay my premium or work with my systems.
- Tyler Grace